On the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in Brighton

By Kevin Turner

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8th 2013. The final death toll is still not yet known, but is expected to be in the region of 8,000 people. Millions of people have been affected by damage to property and are in need of urgent aid to survive.

Haiyan is considered to be one of the most powerful tropical storms ever. However the precautions taken seem to have reduced the human impact – the similar storm which hit the coast of Myanmar in 2008 is estimated to have killed over 130,000 people.

Although many people have suggested this cyclone is a direct result of man-made climate change, the view in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is more cautious:

Projections for the 21st century indicate that it is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged, concurrent with a likely increase in both global mean tropical cyclone maximum wind speed and rain rates. [1]

 In other words it is the intensity of storms that is expected to increase, not the frequency. The IPCC is also clear that individual events cannot be attributed to climate change.

Could an event like this happen in Brighton in the future? Well, a major storm hit the UK in November 1703. In a Times article exactly 310 years after the storm, it was reported that:

Huge waves also hit the coastline along the Channel and at the fishing town of Brighthelmstone — today’s Brighton — houses close to the shore were washed away. [2]

The estimated loss of life was 8,000 people, mostly sailors, with storm surges causing particular problems – a remarkably similar human impact to Haiyan. Even here in untropical Brighton the long-term risk of extreme weather events is not zero. Maybe those who live in areas such as Brighton Marina should not think of storms as something which only happen in faraway places.

Kevin Turner is Principal Lecturer in Brighton Business School. His teaching includes the research elective for undergraduate business students on Climate Change & Global Business Operations.

[1] Technical Summary section 5.8.4 of the fifth IPCC Assessment Report 2013, available from www.ipcc.ch.

[2] Weather Eye: The fall of Eddystone lighthouse, The Times, November 27 2013

Picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barrygoble/


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