Cyclones and Climate Change: a Chaotic Connection

Mozambique has experienced two devastating tropical storms within the space of six weeks: Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, there is no record of two storms of such power-hitting Mozambique in the same season. Because of climate change, such storms will be a common sight in the future.

WHAT ARE CYCLONES?

Cyclones are tropical storms formed in hot, humid regions over the ocean. The warm moist air rises up from the sea surface, which forces the surrounding cooler air to sink down to replace it. This movement of air forms a large spinning form of winds, clouds and rain which speeds up until it develops into a full cyclone.

Full-blown cyclones have an “eye” and an outer “wall”. The “eye” of the cyclone is a calm zone of water at the centre of the storm. This “eye” is surrounded by a “wall” of fast-moving and violent winds and storm surges. A storm surge is a rise above normal sea levels because of strong winds. When these surges hit the land, they cause deadly floods and destruction.

HOW IS CLIMATE CHANGE CONNECTED?

Climate change is the warming of the planet due to ‘greenhouse gases’ like carbon dioxide (CO2) collecting in the atmosphere. CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels like coal for fuel. The gas builds up in the atmosphere and traps excess heat from the sun, causing the planet to heat up. Climate change doesn’t directly cause cyclones, but it does make them far more severe and more common. This happens for two reasons:

Firstly, the warming of the planet means that the ocean is warmer. This means that the sea surface is more regularly at and above 26°C: the ideal temperature for cyclones to form. This means that cyclones will be more frequent.

Secondly, this warming of the oceans means that the ice at the north and south poles melts. This means sea levels rise as more water enters the oceans. The higher sea levels mean that storm surges reach greater heights than before. This means the floods are worse and can extend further, causing more damage and loss of life.

WHAT IS THE REAL-LIFE IMPACT OF MORE CYCLONES?

In March, Cyclone Idai killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar. It also forced thousands into temporary camps and caused an estimated $1 billion worth of damage. Six weeks later Cyclone Kenneth hit, killing 48 people and affecting 250,000 others. According to UN Official Gemma Connell, some villages have been entirely destroyed: “They look like they have been run over with a bulldozer”.
What can we do?

Reducing our carbon emissions is essential to limit the effects of climate change. We can do this by:
Eating less meat, as a vegetarian diet produces less CO2.
Planting more trees: forests absorb CO2 from the air rather than add more.
Voting for governments who care about reducing the effects of climate change.

SOPHIE PAMPLIN

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