Nav: Home

Tropical storms likely to become more deadly as climate changes

March 20, 2019

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Tropical storms are likely to become more deadly under climate change, leaving people in developing countries, where there may be a lack of resources or poor infrastructure, at increased risk, new research from Oregon State University shows.

Under most climate models, tropical storm-related deaths would increase up to 52 percent as the climate changes, said Todd Pugatch, an associate professor of economics in the College of Liberal Arts at OSU and the study's author.

"Tropical storms can strike quickly, leaving little opportunity to escape their path, and the impact on developing countries is significant," Pugatch said. "Understanding the effects of these storms, and how those effects may change as the climate changes, can help governments and people better prepare in the future, and hopefully save lives."

The findings were published recently in the journal World Development.

Pugatch's research focuses on international economic development. Climate change will likely have the greatest impact on vulnerable populations in the developing world. Mortality risk is the most basic form of vulnerability to natural disasters, so Pugatch wanted to better understand how mortality and climate change might be linked.

His first step was to attempt to quantify the effects of tropical storms on mortality in Mexico from 1990 to 2011. He used meteorological data to measure storm strength and death records to estimate storm-related mortality.

If deaths in a Mexican state exceeded historical norms for a particular month, the model attributed those deaths to the storm. This methodology has the ability to avert the subjectivity of official death counts and get to a more authentic number, Pugatch said.

He found that tropical storms killed approximately 1,600 people during the study period.

"Whether a particular death is caused by a storm isn't always obvious," he said. "There may also be political motivations to alter counts. Officials might overstate counts to draw more aid money or understate the number of deaths to make the government appear more competent."

The next step for his research was to simulate how the number of storm-related deaths would be impacted by climate change. He used climate modeling scenarios to see how increased weather volatility due to climate change might have impacted deaths during the study period of 1990 to 2011.

In five of six scenarios modeling climate change impacts on storm frequency and windspeed, a measure of storm intensity, deaths would have increased, with the highest projection showing a 52 percent increase.

However, one simulation showed a decrease of up to 10 percent, because in that scenario, the frequency of tropical storms decreases enough to reduce deaths. The other models fell within the two extremes, but death rates rose in all but one.

"If the decrease in storm frequency outweighs the increase in severity, storm-related deaths could fall," Pugatch said. "Most indications are that storms are more likely to become more deadly as the climate changes."

The findings look specifically at Mexico, but similar results are likely to be seen in other developing countries, where natural disasters can be particularly devastating because communities lack essential resources, Pugatch said.

"I wouldn't expect these results to apply to the same extent in developed countries like the U.S.," he said. "But there is some relevance to the U.S. Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey showed that strong storms can lead to tremendous loss of life and physical damage even in the U.S."

More research is needed to understand how climate change may alter storm frequency and severity in the future, Pugatch said. Public policy may also play a role in mitigating or exacerbating the effects of tropical storms, he said.

"The more we understand the mortality effects of storms, the more we can use that information to develop strategies to prepare," Pugatch said. "Investing in strengthened response systems now could avert future deaths."
-end-


Oregon State University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.