Was Vanuatu Cyclone Caused by Climate Change?
Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Media hype calls the latest cyclone to hit Pacific island of Vanuatu “worst in history.” But actual scientific evidence shows cyclones have not increased in energy nor is there any evidence of a higher frequency.
The Pacific Ocean is a very large body of water, stretching thousands of miles between the Asian and American continents, and even more miles between Antarctica and the Arctic region. Despite what you see in typical tourist information brochures, it’s not all sand, sunshine, and calm seas.
Across the world, in London, England, The Telegraph reported “Cyclone Pam: Dozens feared dead in Vanuatu in ‘one of worst storms in Pacific history” and “Cyclone Pam: aid workers describe ‘utter devastation’ in Vanuatu” with the picture below and the caption “Local residents walk past debris as a wave breaks nearby in Port Vila, Vanuatu Photo: UNICEF Pacific/ Reuters.”
Looking at the photograph though, I wonder about the media claims of “destruction.” Certainly, neither the young lady nor the man shown in the picture seem to fear for their lives. Rather, it appears to be an “interesting” natural event, worthwhile to watch.
From time to time, wild storms are raging, the sea turns upside down and you’d wish to be somewhere else. The most recent cyclone, named Pam, just passed through the area. Pam is claimed to have had wind speed up to 165 miles/hour. No doubt, such winds are damaging anywhere in the world and can cause loss of life and destruction.
According to the Ghana Broadcasting Corp., “Powerful Pacific cyclone devastates Vanuatu.” At the moment, the details are a bit sketchy though “Eight people are reported dead, but it is feared that number will rise substantially as the scale of devastation is established across the nation’s 83 islands.” To prevent looting, the government has imposed a 6 pm to 6 am curfew.
The widely (in western media) claimed “devastation” of Vanuatu has not happened at all. Sure, the President of cyclone-hit Vanuatu urges global action on disasters as reported by Reuters, but even he did not claim “devastation” of the area. Furthermore, it took until the arrival of some aid groups three days after the storm went through to learn to blame “climate change” for the storm. Have such cyclones increased in frequency or intensity?
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a consortium of more than 100 member colleges and universities has been tracking the number of cyclones and their energy levels for many years. It is of interest to look at their accumulated cyclone energy graph for the last 40+ years.
As the graph shows, cyclones have not increased in energy over that time. Neither is there any evidence of a higher frequency.
The population of Vanuatu is estimated to 270,000 (in 2014) with some 50,000 people living on the main island of the New Hebrides, Shefa, and its capital Port Vila. You may just want to have a closer look at it on the Google Earth web site; simply copy the following coordinates (in bold) 17°45’S 168°18’E and paste them into the Google Earth query filed to have it take you right there. Then, consider what you see.
According to photius.com, the death rate in Vanuatu for 2014 is in the order of 4 per 1,000 inhabitants per year. So, just statistically, for the entire population of Vanuatu, it comes to approximately 30 persons per week who die from natural (non-cyclone) causes there.
So far, 24 deaths (4 days after the storm) have been reported following (but not necessarily caused by) the cyclone but the media claim “dozens feared dead.” Of course, the longer it takes to count the number of dead, the more will have succumbed to natural (non-cyclone) causes as well.
It is laudable to have aid organisations like Oxfam, the Red Cross, and several others rush to provide food, water and shelter to those afflicted by the ravages of the storm. However, in the long term, the best help the aid organisations can provide would be to provide advice on how to erect buildings and infrastructure that would limit the damage from future storms.
Let’s help them to help themselves.