Noru became a super typhoon in 6 hours. Scientists say severe storms are becoming increasingly difficult to predict


Residents in the small resort of Polillo are used to bad weather – their island is located in the northeastern Philippines, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, where storms usually gather strength and turn into typhoons.

But even they were surprised by the intensity of Typhoon Noru, locally known as Typhoon Karding, which turned from a typhoon to a super typhoon in just six hours before it hit the region earlier this week.

“We’re used to typhoons because we’re where storms usually hit,” said Armiel Azas Azul, 36, who owns Sugod Beach and Food Park on the island, a bistro under palm trees where guests drink coconut juice in tiny straw juice. huts.

“But everything is very unpredictable,” he said. “And (Noru) came very quickly.”

The Philippines sees an average of 20 tropical storms each year, and while Noru did not cause as much damage or loss of life as other typhoons in recent years, it stood out because it gained strength so quickly.

Experts say fast-growing hurricanes are set to become much more common as the climate crisis fuels extreme weather, and at the same time it will become harder to predict which storms will intensify and where they will track.

“The challenge is to accurately predict the intensity and how quickly the categories can change, for example from a low pressure area intensifying into a tropical cyclone,” said Lourdes Tibig, a meteorologist and climatologist at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

The same thing happened in the United States last week, when Hurricane Ian downgraded from a Category 1 storm to a powerful Category 4 hurricane before making landfall along the southwest coast of Florida on Wednesday.

Such rapid intensification, as it is known in meteorological terms, poses challenges for residents, authorities and local emergency workers, including those in the Philippines, who increasingly have no choice but to prepare for the worst.

When Azul received a warning that Typhoon Noru was approaching the Philippines last Saturday, he began his usual preparations of setting up his generator and tying up loose ends.

At that stage, Noru was forecast to make landfall on Sunday as the equivalent of a Category 1 typhoon.

But as the storm approached, it strengthened into a super typhoon, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, making landfall on Sunday afternoon with ferocious winds that whipped up waves and battered properties along the coastline.

Typhoon Noru toppled beach huts and coconut trees at Sugod Beach and Food Park in Polillo Island, Quezon Province, Philippines.

Azul said his community was lucky to have a TV signal at the resort, and once they found out the typhoon was much stronger than predicted, his staff brought in all of the bistro’s outdoor furniture and tied up the roofs of their guest houses, while the local government units evacuated the people living near the coast.

“But parts of the island that have no internet connection and rely only on radio signals may not have received the message in time,” he said.

The typhoon wreaked havoc on the resort town as strong winds toppled beach huts and damaged nearby fishing cages.

Azul added that the coconut trees that were planted all over the island about a decade ago after typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) hit the area had just started to bear fruit, but now they were completely gone.

“We have to pick up the pieces and rebuild again,” he said.

Typhoon Noru hit Sugod Beach and Food Park in Polillo Island, Quezon Province, Philippines.

On the main island of Luzon, Noru left a trail of destruction in Nueva Ecija province, known as the country’s “rice granary.”

Ruel Ladrido, 46, a farmer owner in Laur, Nueva Ecija, said his rice paddies were not flooded, but strong winds damaged his crops.

“It didn’t rain hard near me, but the winds uprooted some of my fields. It will affect our harvest this season, but what can we do? I don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we’ll have to replant,” he told CNN on Tuesday.

Strong winds caused by Typhoon Noru leveled rice paddies at Ladrido Farm in Laur, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.

As of Friday, 12 people have died in Noro’s wake, including five rescue workers in Bulacan province, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Estimated damage to agriculture reached about 3 billion Philippine pesos (about $51 million), affecting 104,500 farmers and fishermen and destroying more than 166,630 thousand hectares of farmland, according to the NDRRMC.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, is already vulnerable to typhoons, but as sea levels rise and ocean temperatures rise, storms are expected to become more powerful, according to research published in 2018.

The study found that stronger hurricanes carry more moisture and track differently. They are also “exacerbated by sea-level rise, one of the most certain consequences of climate change.”

A separate study published last year by researchers at the Shenzhen Meteorological Innovation Institute and the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that typhoons in east and southeast Asia now last two to nine hours longer and travel an average of 100 kilometers (62 miles). . ) more internal than four decades ago. By the end of the century, they could be twice as destructive.

Therefore, it will become more difficult to predict their course and predict those that will quickly gain strength or undergo rapid intensification – defined as when the wind speed increases by at least 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour) in 24 hours or less.

Although rare, the Philippines is no stranger to this phenomenon as 28% of all tropical cyclones that hit the country dating back to 1951 underwent rapid intensification based on official data, according to University of the Philippines professor Gerry Bagtasa . Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology.

Bagtasa said factors such as high humidity, warm ocean surface temperatures and low wind shear determine the scale of rapid intensification, but these weather metrics “do not have to be unusual in their values” to create rapid intensification.

He noted that Typhoon Noru’s track in the Philippine Sea before making landfall was “just average for this season” and wind shear – or the change in wind speed and strength with height in the atmosphere – was not exceptionally low .

Bagtasa also said forecasters have difficulty predicting rapid intensification in the Pacific because although satellite tracking has improved, there is not enough data to predict worsening weather patterns.

“There are also many unprecedented events occurring recently around the world, and since forecasters usually rely on their past experiences, new events can ‘throw off’ forecasts, so to speak,” he said.

Mirian Abadilla, a doctor and municipal health worker in Cabangan, Zambales Province, Luzon Island, Philippines, has been involved in her community’s disaster response since 1991.

She says in that time, hurricanes have become harder to predict and her community has no choice but to prepare for the worst.

“Hurricanes are definitely getting stronger because of climate change and are becoming harder to predict,” he said. “But every time we get hit by a hurricane, we try to keep improving our disaster response – that’s the only way we can stay alert.”

He said local governments held meetings as Typhoon Noru approached the coast to review relief and rescue plans.

“Filipinos are getting better at disaster preparedness… because we need to be,” he said.

Every province, city, municipality and barangay in the Philippines is required to follow the national disaster risk reduction and management system under a law imposed in 2010 to address the island nation’s climate vulnerability.

Local governments must conduct preemptive evacuation based on forecast warnings from the National Weather Service and are advised to conduct regular disaster rescue drills with responders and host community information seminars.

Residents wade through floodwaters after Super Typhoon Noru, in San Miguel, Bulacan province, Philippines, September 26, 2022.

In a press conference on Monday, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. praised local government units for “doing a good job” explaining the situation to the local population as Noru approached. and for conducting evacuations that may have prevented mass casualties.

But he also seemed to recognize the unpredictability of the storms that regularly threaten the Philippine coast and the need to always be prepared.

“I think maybe we got lucky at least this time, a little bit,” Marcos Jr. said.

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