A lot of people have been asking me if global warming had anything to do with the development and intensity of Typhoon Haiyan.
As I will explain below, the answer is potentially both no and yes.
This was a massive storm. If you put it over the United States, the diameter across to its farthest rain bands would stretch from Florida to Michigan. Amazingly, the area damaged by this storm is about the size of the state of Montana.
I am still waiting for actual wind measurements (if any wind instruments survived, that is) from the hardest hit areas so, until I receive those reports, I’ll have to rely upon the satellite estimates. Just before approaching the Philippine coast, satellites estimated the sustained winds surrounding its eye at 195 mph, with gusts to 235 mph.
That makes it a much stronger hurricane (remember that a typhoon is a hurricane with another name) than both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sand, and you know what kind of damage those caused.
In fact, for those of you old enough to remember Hurricane Camille back in the 1960s, Typhoon Haiyan may have been even slightly stronger than that. So, has there been a stronger storm than Haiyan?
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To the best of our knowledge, there has officially only been one: Cyclone Olivia hit the northwestern part of Australia with an astounding measured wind gust of 253 mph on 10 April 1996, which has officially been certified by the World Meteorological Organization as the strongest non-tornadic wind gust in recorded world history.
Alright, back to my original question: Did global warming cause this storm and make it the monster it became?
First of all, I have spoken to many climate scientists about the future of hurricanes in our warming world. Many scientists are now starting to agree that the future will bring FEWER hurricanes but, since our ocean waters are rapidly warming, those hurricanes that do form in otherwise favorable conditions have a better chance of becoming stronger. Plus, with rising sea levels, the storm surge with these storms will penetrate farther inland.
So, the bottom line is that our warming climate did not cause Typhoon Haiyan to form – this storm may have formed anyway. However, warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels may have made it a stronger storm with greater impact.