Haiyan Kills Hundreds, Prompts New Salvos in Climate Wars

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2013 12:05 pm
Typhoon Haiyan as seen from the International Space Station on Nov. 9, 2013. (Source: Karen L. Nyberg/NASA)

Typhoon Haiyan as photographed by astronaut Karen L. Nyberg on Nov. 9, 2013 from the International Space Station. (Source: Karen L. Nyberg/NASA)

How strong was Super Typhoon Haiyan when it tore into the Philippines on Nov. 7?

Predictably, I’m afraid, that scientific question has become intensely politicized. Here, for example, is Marc Morano’s headline at Climate Depot:

Media/Climate Activists ‘Hype False Claims’ About Typhoon Haiyan As Scientists Reject Climate Link — Claim of ‘strongest storm ever’ refuted — Climate Depot Special Report.’

Over at Watts Up With That?, Anthony Watts proclaimed:

Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda — another overhyped storm that didn’t match early reports

Estimates of the death toll are varying wildly right now, from the hundreds to more than 10,000. Regardless of the exact number, I’m sure the friends and family of the many people who perished, and the thousands who have lost their homes, would not at all agree that the storm was “overhyped.”

Nor would the gentleman quoted in this video:

Click for video

Click for video

“It was like a tornado just passed us, and the tornado lasted for four hours. The hotel was just crumbling. At first it was the ceilings that went off and then the roofs just started flying in all directions, and then the water just started coming…”

There are, in fact, conflicting reports about Haiyan’s strength at landfall. Remote sensing by satellites indicated peak wind speeds of 190 to 195 miles per hour, prompting Jeff Masters, director of Meteorology at Weather Underground, to say it was the “strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history.” Meanwhile, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration pegged the storm’s peak gusts at 171 miles per hour.

We’ll have to wait for further scientific analysis to get a better fix on Haiyan’s actual strength at landfall. But regardless of the final number, and whether the storm actually was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record, the grim news coming out of the Philippines shows unequivocally that it was devastating.

And using the storm to score political points, even as many thousands of Filipinos are in misery, seems unseemly to me — to say the least.

The politicization, of course, centers on the question of what role, if any, climate change may have played in the storm. Climate change activists themselves didn’t waste time to use the storm for political purposes. Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director for 350.org, had this to say at the Huffington Post the day after the storm struck:

Carbon dioxide is the steroids that leads to grand-slam storms like Haiyan.

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds to me like an argument for cause and effect. And arguing now, before any scientific analysis has been done, that carbon dioxide led to Haiyan is simply bogus. Plain and simple.

My colleague Andrew Freedman at Climate Central got it just right when he addressed the issue of climate change and Typhoon Haiyan in this way:

Hurricane researchers contacted by Climate Central said Haiyan is an example of the type of extreme storm that may become more frequent as the climate continues to warm. But there is more consensus about the stormier future than there is about the present. The researchers also urged caution in attributing Haiyan’s strength to global warming, given the lack of evidence that manmade global warming has had any detectable influence on Western Pacific typhoons, let alone tropical cyclones in general (an umbrella term that includes typhoons and hurricanes).

So for now, can we please call a truce in the climate change wars and just help the Filipinos recover?

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Listen to engineers rather than to priests. Engineers enjoy a good construct, gods enjoy a good test of faith. Now, let’s kill a hurricane.

    Hurricanes are heat engines powered by ocean surface evaporation. Lay a down a thin surface layer of oil, say 250 microns, and the hurricane starves. Haiyan was about 320 miles wide. The needed volume of oil is h(pi)r^2. In cubic centimeters, (0.025 cm)(pi)[(5.15×10^7 cm)/2]^2 = 10^14 cm^3 or 52 million m^3, density =0.886 g/cm^3. The Philippines could have saved itself with the planetary annual production of palm (dendê) oil. Add 12% soybean oil to keep everything dissolved at room temperature.

    Crude palm oil is $(USD)788/tonne. Raw cost of salvation is less than $4 billion. US cost of its Afghanistan war is $218 million/day. Saving the Philiipines is a 21-day pause (including the soybean oil). It’s piddles.

    • Kheewaa Brar

      dont experiment on nature dont touch human make lot of damage on earth keep your knowledge its because us nature now collect back every thing

    • Elias Chan-Sui

      Do you truly want to combat hurricanes by polluting the oceans?

  • Buddy199

    Actor George Clooney declared the arguments of global warming skeptics to be “stupid” and “ridiculous.” Clooney made the remarks to reporters on the eve of Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines.
    Well, he’s a famous movie star so he must know what he’s talking about, and that’s good enough for me.

  • Elias Chan-Sui

    I don’t understand the gist of your argument. Are you saying that the increased carbon in the atmosphere does not have an effect on the weather?

    If you know and acknowlege that increased carbon in the atmosphere increases it’s temperature as well as the temperature and chemistry of the oceans, then how can anyone with a brain think that the weather as a whole (including all local events) is not affected by global warming?

    • Buddy199

      Here’s how:


      19 September 2012

      Extreme Weather

      “Better models are needed before exceptional events can be reliably linked to global warming.”


      • Elias Chan-Sui

        All weather is linked to solar, atmospheric, oceanic and geologic factors. While better models will help predict weather, they won’t change the fact that the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are warmer. For anyone to imply that local weather is somehow isolated from all weather is an attempt to be too clever.

        No one can have any model which shows that warmer or colder atmospheric and oceanic temperatures don’t affect weather both globally and locally. It’s impossible.

        • DISGUST3D

          Your argument can be used against you. How do you explain the many small storms that occur in such a climate so suitable for large storm formation?
          The fact is that these types of super storms have occurred regardless of the current climate conditions throughout history. And the article correctly points out that only their frequency may increase with a warmer climate.

          • Elias Chan-Sui

            My point is that all of the weather whether a planet is cooler or warmer is directly connected to it’s temperature. All of the weather. Therefore, saying that this severe storm is directly related to a warmer ocean and atmosphere is 100% correct. Trying to say that we can’t prove that it’s connected is ridiculous.

            Yes, all types of weather events occurred throughout history but saying that they weren’t attributable to the global weather patterns of the time is 100% false.

          • Buddy199

            That’s like saying the 2nd Amendment constitutional right to bear arms is directly responsible for an individual murder in Detroit.

          • Elias Chan-Sui

            … really? Is that your analogy? Please show me how that nonsensical political analogy equates to my statement that global weather effects localized weather events?

          • DISGUST3D

            It is not ridiculous. Your logic dictates that higher temperatures mean more and stronger storms, and my point is that storms in the north pacific are, and have been, occurring regularly in cold waters and cold air temps as regularly as tropical storms. So what’s the driving factor there? Something else besides high temps I would guess.

            To make a generalization about one attribute of a planetary weather system, such as it’s temperature, is to ignore a vast amount of other factors that contribute to the formation of “a storm”. There have been “super storms” in milder climates. And there have been more storms in milder climates at times. The opposite is also true. But, using your logic, the average intensity of storms and the average frequency of storms should be higher now by far than they use to be just 50 years ago. And that’s simply not the case.

            I agree that storms will probably get stronger and more frequent in the future, but temperature is only one factor to consider in such a complex system. Haiyan could have happened in a colder climate. Therefore it is not directly related to a warmer one. Not ridiculous at all.

        • Buddy199

          Unlike the editors at Nature or the author of this blog, you sound like a AGW Religionist, automatically and forcefully rejecting any scientific data or opinion that clashes with your Dogma.

          • Elias Chan-Sui

            No one can say that all weather is isolated from global weather. All weather is determined by global weather. Small events, large events, every weather event is what makes up GLOBAL WEATHER.

            You don’t need a PhD to understand that a globally cooler planet will have different weather than a globally warmer planet.

            I challenge any 5th grader through Nobel Laureate to show me the mechanism and data which can allow a local weather event to be completely disconnected from any planet’s global weather conditions.

          • DISGUST3D

            Well I have to admit to having an advantage over a fifth grader, but; “You don’t need a PhD to understand that a globally cooler planet will have different weather than a globally warmer planet.”, different weather – yes. But cooler does not automatically relate to milder storm patterns or vice versa. Dampening effects or intensifying effects come in more than one color. Jet streams, prevailing winds, ocean currents, land masses, albedo, etc., all of these things and many more effect global weather as much as temperature. Raise the temperature all you want but if you have the wrong wind pattern or not enough water extent and you have nothing but a very hot day with scattered thunderstorms at best.

            Blizzards with winds that rival hurricanes need very little heat to form. An arctic world is not storm free.


      Alternatively, why are there so many small storms in such a climate conducive (as you say) to larger storms?

  • Andrew W

    Doesn’t the wind speed depend in how it’s being measured? Some places use averages of different lengths of time, that could affect the differences.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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