by John Lawrence
Super Typhoon Haiyan
Super Typhoon Haiyan, the largest typhoon to hit land in human history, impacted the Phillipines on November 7 with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour along with torrential rain. The lives of 25 million people were affected. As many as 10,000 may have lost their lives. It was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, and the only difference between it and a hurricane was its name. Hurricanes are called typhoons in certain parts of the world and cyclones in others. Since they are the same weather phenomenon, why confuse people? In this era of globalization let’s globalize the names too and call them all hurricanes.
Unofficial estimates of one-minute sustained winds of 195 mph with gusts up to 235 mph would make Haiyan the most powerful storm ever recorded to strike land. Emerging from the Phillipines, the weakened typhoon also struck Vietnam as an intense tropical storm. The most damage was caused by storm surges. In Tacloban, the Phillipines, storm surges were at the height of a two story building. The destruction was reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
According to Wikipedia:
Both political leaders and climatologists have connected the typhoon to climate change. During the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference(which was coincidentally held concurrently with the typhoon), Yeb Saño, the lead negotiator of the Phillipines delegation, received a standing ovation when he declared a hunger strike:
“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate; this means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight.” — Yeb Saño
Climatologists have consequently published analyses correlating the increasing intensity of storms with the progression of global warming. As Saño continued his hunger strike, several delegates, including American delegate, Collin Reese, joined him in fasting. Sixty people from Climate Action Network, an umbrella group of environmental non-governmental organizations, also joined the hunger strike.
There was widespread devastation from the storm surge in Tacloban City, with many buildings being destroyed, trees knocked over or broken, and cars piled up. The low-lying areas on the eastern side of Tacloban city were hardest hit, with some areas completely washed away. Flooding also extended for over half a mile inland on the east coast of the province. Roughly 90 percent of the city was destroyed. Journalists on the ground have described the devastation as, “off the scale, and apocalyptic”. Most families in Samar and Leyte lost some family members or relatives; families came in from outlying provinces looking for relatives, especially children, who may have been washed away. The entire first floor of the Tacloban Convention Center, which was serving as an evacuation shelter, was submerged by the storm surge. Many residents in the building were caught off-guard by the fast rising waters and subsequently drowned or were injured in the building.
After the storm there were more than 6 million displaced people and 1.9 million homeless. There was widespread looting. On November 14, a correspondent from the BBC reported Tacloban to be a “war zone,” with tanks and armed military personnel entering the city. Safety concerns prompted several relief agencies to back out of the operation, and some United Nations staff were pulled out for safety reasons. Throughout the city of Tacloban itself, people began looting from homes as stores had been completely emptied.
As of December 4, the official death toll from Super Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) hit 5,719 as the arduous process of counting bodies continues. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 1,779 people are still missing. The typhoon is also estimated to have caused $390 million in damaged infrastructure and the same amount again in ruined crops.
Tornadoes in US
On November 17, 24 tornadoes hit the state of Illinois. The tornadoes killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 2,400 homes. Two of the tornadoes that touched down were the strongest November twisters ever recorded in the state. “This was historic,” said Dan Smith, a meteorologist in Lincoln, Ill. It was Illinois’ deadliest November day of tornado strikes in the 63 years that records have been kept.
In Indiana, 28 tornadoes touched down that day — a record for any November day there, but no one was killed. Three people were killed in Michigan. Besides the reported tornadoes, there were 358 reports of damaging wind and 40 reports of large hail.
The tornado that hit the central Illinois community of Washington was one of the two most powerful EF-4 tornadoes and stayed on the ground for more than 46 miles — at least 16 miles longer than any of the other tornadoes. The tornado was a half mile wide when it struck Washington and destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 homes. Seven people have died from the tornadoes in Illinois. A total of 147 people were injured — 125 of them in Washington.
There were also 460 reports of high winds or straight-line wind damage from the mid-Mississippi Valley to New Jersey and the Lower Hudson River Valley of New York during this outbreak. The National Weather Service issued almost 150 tornado warnings on Nov. 17 alone.
At least 600,000 customers in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan were without power. The storms accounted for more than half of the tornado warnings issued in Illinois since 1986, the National Weather Service said.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called it “the deadliest series of tornadoes Illinois has ever had in the month of November.” Governor Quinn has declared 15 counties in Illinois state disaster areas. Risk Management Solutions, a California-based company specializing in assessing the toll of storms and other disasters, said early estimates on property damage from the storm could reach $1 billion. The most extensive damage was in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, the company told Reuters.
One of the characteristics of these large storm systems like Super Typhoon Haiyan and the midwest tornadoes is that they are almost continent wide, and they almost always come with damaging winds even when there are no tornadoes. However, they have not been so large up to now that help couldn’t be mustered from surrounding unaffected areas. The financial damage resulting in their being declared disaster areas is fast surpassing the Federal government’s ability to pay. What then?
Of course all the storm victims interviewed for the evening news vowed to rebuild displaying that American “can do” spirit which won’t let something as simple as a devastating tornado get them down. Just once I’d like to see one of those interviewees mention global warming as the cause of all their misery and call for an unprecedented effort to mitigate the situation by limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Instead they plant an American flag amid the rubble and vow to rebuild.