Last week we witnessed the cataclysmic force unleashed by a super typhoon.
Yolanda cut a wide trail of death and destruction across central Philippines and left a lasting imprint as a national nightmare.
It will be a nightmare that will be recurring. Weather scientists fear Yolanda will not be the last monster storm to ravage the Philippines.
A study published in the Science journal just weeks before Yolanda struck offers an ominous insight into the climatological changes that are happening in the Pacific Ocean. The study suggests that the Pacific, the biggest body of water in the planet, is warming 15 times faster in the last 60 years than it did during the previous 10,000 years.
What is causing this dramatic temperature rise? One theory is that the Pacific has been soaking up heat released by greenhouse gases and storing it, much like a battery stores energy. The theory makes sense. Climate experts have been baffled by findings that for the last decade, global temperatures have stabilized. There seems to be a pause in global warming, but where has the excess heat gone? One likely answer: the Pacific.
The study found that the layer of warm water in the ocean surface has expanded. Coral bleaching, which occurs when corals literally boil and die off as water temperatures rise abruptly, bears this out. Bleaching is a growing blight that threatens coral reefs in the Pacific.
But more than threaten marine life, the warming of the Pacific plays havoc on the weather.
The Pacific Ocean is the ideal breeding ground for typhoons. Warm water fuels the engine of a storm system, and the ocean’s vastness provides a limitless supply of it. Add hot air and you have the ingredients to stir up a typhoon.
Consequently, the warmer the water, the hotter the air, the stronger the typhoon.
The Pacific spawns dozens of storms every year but only a few grow to be a cyclone or typhoon. Fewer still intensify into a super typhoon.
What the weather experts find troubling is that in the last decade or so, the number of monster storms has been on the rise.
That spells bad news for the Philippines, which lies on the eastern fringe of the Pacific.
Every year we count the lives lost and the massive devastation left by destructive storms that blow in from the Pacific. And last week, a storm powered by 300-kilometer-winds wiped out entire communities and killed perhaps thousands.
Despite its best efforts to prepare for Yolanda’s onslaught, the government is finding itself faced with a disaster of biblical proportions. The question now is how will it prepare for the next monster storm.
The World Wildlife Fund-Philippines offers a suggestion. In its study, Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts, the organization laid out a strategy “to help city planners and decision makers assess climate impacts, identify opportunities and decide on life-saving sustainability strategies to allow Philippine cities to retain their economic viability in a climate-defined future.”
“As important as providing relief goods and medical services are to make major Philippine cities climate-resilient. Climate change effects are becoming more and more unpredictable and there’s no way to know which town or city will get hit next,” WWF-Philippines warns.
The national government needs to start drawing up plans now, before the next super typhoon blows our way.