Climate Change: Hurricanes Getting Stronger; Cyclone Amphan Pummels Bengal

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

As the COVID-19 pandemic concentrates our attention, other pressing global problems haven’t gone away.

The main one: increasingly severe storms,  caused by climate change. The names by which we call these – hurricane, cyclone, typhoon – depend  on where we are.

Monday the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published a study, Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades.

As the Washington Post tells the story in The strongest, most dangerous hurricanes are now far more likely because of climate change, study shows:

A new study provides observational evidence that the odds of major hurricanes around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming. The implications of this finding, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are far-reaching for coastal residents, insurers and policymakers, as the most intense hurricanes cause the most damage.

The study, by a group of researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, builds on previous research that found a trend, though not a statistically robust one, toward stronger tropical cyclones.

Tropical cyclones are a category of storms including hurricanes and typhoons worldwide. The findings are consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the world warms, given that hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean waters and water vapor in the air, among other factors.

Amphan Arrives, Right on Schedule

And as I write this, right on schedule, cyclone Amphan. is pumelling the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, and Bangladesh. This is the biggest storm of its type in more than a decade (see Cyclone Amphan live updates: Storm nears West Bengal’s Digha, landfall to start from 4pm onwards). Although it has weakened in classification  since Monday evening, this is still an extremely severe cyclonic storm.

The storm has recently made landfall at Digha, in West Bengal, and rain and wind are expected to continue through at least tomorrow.

Last year, both Bangladesh and India had success in evacuating vulnerable people who were in the path of another serious storm, cyclone Fani,  and  leading them to shelters, saving many lives, and registering mere dozens of  casualties,  Although people didn’t die in multitudes, there was nonetheless considerable damage:  buildings, power stations, water systems, foliage, and wildlife  (see Climate Change: The Wrath of Cyclone Fani; and More Mangroves: Protecting Tropical Coastal Areas from Cyclone Damage).

This year, more than three million in the path of Amphan have been evacuated. Yet there are complications compared to laat year.

This storm arrives as India has just begun phase 4 of its national COVID-19 lockdown. So far, India has stemmed the catastrophe that many had feared would overwhelm its health care system and has recorded far fewer deaths and infections than either the U.S. or the U.K., despite its much larger population.The infection rate in some states – Maharashtra, Gujarat, and the National Capital Region is high- and some fear disease incidence will skyrocket once the lockdown is fully lifted. Still, the case numbers so far stand at 101,139, with 3,163 deaths, and 4,970 cases in the last 24 hours. But even moreso than elsewhere, these numbers are suspect, as India has extremely narrow  criteria for testing for the infection (see Coronavirus May 19 Highlights: Record 1,08,233 samples tested in a day, says Health Ministry.)

Despite its overall performance in managing COVID-19 spread, the Modi government has done a poor job helping migrant workers return from their jobs in the major metros to their villages.(see Saving Citizens, Killing the Poor: India and COVID-19.) Each day it seems brings a report of another calamity: a horrific road accident between  trucks bringing migrants home,  or sixteen crushed to death by a goods train while they slept on a rail bed to avoid cops ( (Tired migrants sat on tracks for rest, fell asleep. 16 run over by train.)

The lockdown has disrupted transportation nationwide, India has a widespread, efficient, cheap national rail network – one of the largest in the world – but the lockdown shut down the trains, and limited service has just recently restarted. Airlines, both domestic and international routes, remain shuttered.

Many storm shelters had been temporarily converted to COVID-10 quarantine centers. Authorities are scrambling to find new shelters, and many people are refusing to go to facilities that until recently had served as quarantine centers, even though they have ostensibly been cleaned. Shelters will no doubt be found and used, yet it is difficult to maintain social distancing in such facilities (see Amphan: India and Bangladesh evacuate millions ahead of super cyclone,) So I imagine Amphan’s casulties, when we include the consequences of COVID-19 infections, will exceed Fani’s – regardless of the as-yet unknown severity  of the storm and the path it ends up taking. The current trajectory has it narrowly missing the heart of Kolkata. But how much wind will blow and how much rain will fal l- we just don’t know.

What we can bet on, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science study, is that such storms will only worsen in future years, long after we have learned how to prevent, cure, or at least manage COVID-19,

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  1. The Historian

    I’m not trying to hijack your story because it is incredibly important but you should know that there is a weather-related emergency going on right now in this country in Midland, MI. It isn’t getting much press coverage and I only know about it because a friend who used to live there emailed me about it last night.

    Because of our wanton disregard for our infrastructure in this country, two dams have failed in Michigan causing a record flood to hit the town of Midland, population of about 41,000.

    This is a quadruple whammy for that small town because:
    1. Covid-19 is alive and well there: 76 cases and 8 deaths.
    2. At least 10,000 people have been ordered to evacuate because of the flood waters. Try doing that while still social distancing.
    3. Dow has a chemical plant there right in the way of the flood waters. Chemicals loose in the flood waters just makes things worse, but,
    4. What you probably don’t know is that Dow has a TRIGA reactor on site there, and TRIGA reactors don’t require secondary containment. Now this reactor is just a test reactor and is small so there won’t be a Fukishima event there, but it is still worrying. Let’s hope the building the reactor is in can withstand the structural forces imposed by the flood, although I doubt that a flood of this size was ever included in their operating basis.

    I wonder how many of those guys with guns who were threatening Gov. Whitmer are now rushing to Midland to help.

    1. juno mas

      Actually, the Midland, MI flooding is simply a corollary to the article. The same heat energy that warms the Indian Ocean to create more intense cyclones also allows more moisture in the atmosphere, generally. Hence, the 4-7 inches of sustained rainfall over Michigan that created the conditions for the dual dam failure and intensified flooding (greater than any prior flood stage). AGW has broad consequences. More intense cyclones (hurricanes) is but one.

    2. CanChemist

      It’s being covered on CNN now, but they left out the reactor part. Any idea how much material on site? TRIGA are usually very small scale research reactors. And they are still encased in very thick concrete, but yeah…

    3. Synoia

      Historian, I sadly suspect a lack of Civil Engineers in your circle.

      Civil Engineering considers Dams “Temporary Structures”, because the weigh of water deforms the earth in the dam, which leads to Dam Failure, or a damn failure.

      It’s not “will it fail,” but “what is it’s estimated lifetime.”

      Here is an example:

      After 60 years of serving the people of Zimbabwe and Zambia, routine monitoring of the Kariba Dam has identified the need for rehabilitation works to ensure its longevity, long term efficient operation into the future and its continued contribution to energy security and economic prosperity in the region.

      Massive work after 60 years of life!

      If the Kariba Dam dam failed, it would cause the downstream Chorora Bassa dam wall to fail and scrape a huge channel from Lake Kariba to the Indian Ocean.

      1. The Historian

        Perhaps you missed this:
        “Because of our wanton disregard for our infrastructure in this country, two dams have failed in Michigan causing a record flood to hit the town of Midland, population of about 41,000.

        That dam should have been drained and abandoned or repaired years ago. Only a third world country would leave a dam like that in place and do nothing but leave it to its fate.

  2. thoughtfulperson

    “…other pressing global problems haven’t gone away.

    The main one: increasingly severe storms, caused by climate change. The names by which we call these – hurricane, cyclone, typhoon – depend on where we are.”

    Storms are and can be huge disasters, AND heat is actually the biggest killer, as in heat waves. Does not do as much damage to property, not as dramatic for TV viewing, but there are more deaths due to weather from heat waves. I suspect in the long term, damage to crops from drought or flood will indirectly starve quite a few as well.
    A small quibble, maybe storms are just as bad in overall impact as heat waves. Both these, along with droughts and floods, are pressing global climate problems we are seeing already. Likely to see on larger scale sooner or later. Here’s a link I just found fyi –

  3. Bsoder

    If I may suggest, while the number, and strength of a hurricane, cyclone, and typhoon (All the same just depends where you are), are interesting, there is a measurement called ‘ACE’, which is the amount of accumulated energy a/ all the storms produce. The larger the number the more havoc there is being dispensed on the world. The media loves to focus on the optics of the obvious, but the energy released has effects lasting years. It is extremely disruptive. Like ice melting, high ACE values, means serious is underway.

  4. Ian Ollmann

    I’m sad to learn she lost her job, but I don’t see any other sensible way out for her. Anyone who has been trained as a scientist knows that the truth is everything. If you are being paid to produce falsified results, why bother? You can just make up falsified results. No need for costly experiments. No reason to spend millions on research. The only way forward for a scientist is hard truth. You have no carreer otherwise. In this case it was no career either way. I’m sure she will land on her feet. A reputation for honesty is all you have as a scientist.

    Also accusing scientists of insubordination is just laughable. Challenging authority is their job. Authority is wrong, almost always. You can’t be a scientist and simply follow orthodoxy. That isn’t science. Science is the search for what is new in the story. If you don’t want to be challenged, don’t hire scientists.

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