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The “destructive power” of tropical storms in the Pacific Ocean, known locally as typhoons, could double by the end of the century, according to a new study.
The average typhoon could last around five hours longer, with average wind speed at landfall increased by 6 percent, and it would travel 50 percent further inland, according to the projections of researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area Weather Research Centre for Monitoring Warning and Forecasting in Shenzhen.
These changes would collectively make typhoons twice as damaging — and they already are well underway. Between 1979 and 2016, typhoons increased in duration by two to nine hours and penetrated 30 to 190 kilometers farther inland, the researchers found. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science. Its findings are based on a scenario in which average global temperatures reach 3.7 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100, which is a likely outcome if greenhouse gas emissions remain high, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So far, temperatures have risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius from that baseline.
The effects of these stronger storms are visible in recent Asian cyclones such as Typhoon Rai, which hit the Philippines on Dec. 16. On Monday, the Philippine government raised the number of confirmed deaths from Rai to 388. There are an additional 60 people still missing and an estimated 500,000 left homeless after winds or flooding damaged or destroyed 482,000 houses.
Previous studies have found that higher average global temperatures, due to emissions of greenhouse gasses, are causing more intense storms, because warmer weather causes more evaporation. Other studies have concluded that storms from warmer seawater temperatures ramp up quicker.
“More Asian inland regions may be exposed to further severe typhoon-related hazards in the future as a result of climate change,” the lead author of the study, Francis Tam Chi-yung, a professor of Earth System Science at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post. The most affected areas will include major cities such as Hong Kong and Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.
Hong Kong was hit by super-typhoons in 2017 and 2018, causing widespread damage from flooding and the impact of heavy wind, such as trees being toppled.