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Hurricanes to Deliver a Bigger Punch to Coasts

Hurricanes to Deliver a Bigger Punch to Coasts

Mozambique flooded coast after Cyclone Idai

When tropical cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique on March 14, a spokesperson for the UN World Meteorological Organization called it possibly the the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.

This massive and horrifying storm caused catastrophic flooding and widespread destruction of buildings and roads in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi feared the death toll might rise to more than 1,000people.

Cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, are intense wind storms that can take thousands of lives and cause billions of dollars in damage. They generate large ocean waves and raise water levels by creating a storm surge. The combined effects cause coastal erosion, flooding and damage to anything in its path.

Although other storms have hit this African coast in the past, the storm track for cyclone Idai is fairly rare. Warmer-than-usual sea-surface temperatures were directly linked to the unusually high number of five storms near Madagascar and Mozambique in 2000, including tropical cyclone Eline. Warmer ocean temperatures could also be behind the intensity of cyclone Idai, as the temperature of the Indian Ocean is 2 C to 3 C above the long-term average.

Climate change and ocean warming may be linked to the increasing intensity of storms making landfall and to the development of strong hurricanes reaching places not affected in recent history. These regions may not be prepared with the coastal infrastructure to withstand the extreme forces of these storms.

The Role of Climate Change

Scientists are working to improve their forecasts for hurricane winds and waves, and research on ocean and atmosphere interactions is boosting our understanding of the relationship between climate and the formation of hurricanes. Still, there is considerable uncertainty in predicting trends in extreme weather conditions 100 years into the future. Some computer simulations suggest possible changes in these storms due to climate change.

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