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,