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It has been a stormy week. Apparently, Huracan, the weather god is not happy. Last week, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda to locals) rocked the island chain of the Philippines. It is being called the most powerful storm ever. In its wake, an estimated 2,300 people died, and thousands more are now homeless. 200,000 pregnant Filipinos will give birth in the next month in post-storm chaos—without customary medical supplies, hospital services, or adequate post-natal food or care. Foreign governments pledged support; however, aid was slow to arrive on islands awash with ruined building and impassable roads. Survivors were left without food, potable water, a change of clothes, or shelter.
A few days later, on November 10th, a cyclone named 0A3 hit the Puntland region of Somalia on the east coast of Africa. This cyclone was less deadly; however, it too wiped out infrastructure and isolated victims in already remote areas. Compared to Super Typhoon Haiyan, 0A3 seems insignificant. Tell that to the families of the 300 people who died, or the approximately 30,000 stranded without food, water, or shelter.
How a Storm is Born—
Hurricane, cyclone, typhoon. They are all terms for the same meteorological phenomena: tropical disturbances that form over the ocean and use the energy from warm water to power twisting winds with massive power and punishing amounts of rain. The only difference between them is where they form. James Chubb from the UK’s Meteorological Office explains how and where hurricanes form, and why this band of the ocean is the perfect breeding ground for hurricanes. Luckily, cyclones do not form year-round. Cyclone season usually corresponds to summer and warmer water temperatures. In the north hemisphere, that is April through November. In the southern hemisphere, it is November through April.
For a comprehensive overview of hurricanes, look to the National Geographic feature, Forces of Nature. It examines what causes hurricanes and why they are so destructive, explores hurricane hot spots, and presents case studies. Scroll over the icon on the left side of the black menu bar. Click on the third icon, hurricanes. The hurricane chapter has seven sections. Click on section one to discover What is a Hurricane? Watch What Causes a Hurricane? (section two). Be sure to click ‘next’ to initiate the interactive feature. Visit section three to explore a three-dimensional hurricane. For a cross-section of a hurricane, visit the CBC News interactive and select two for a slice view that reveals how a hurricane feeds itself, and how a hurricane strike includes punishing winds and rain that precede and follow the eye.
Return to the National Geographic site and continue your tour of hurricanes. The word may change from region to region but all cyclones/hurricanes/typhoons share common characteristics. Section four shares the characteristics of cyclones and the scale used to measure each storm. Follow the link at the bottom of the first text box to ‘Change the Intensity’ and visualize the difference between a category 1 storm and a category 5 storm. Super Typhoon Haiyan was a category 5 storm. Astronauts on the International Space Station could view it from space. That is a big storm.
Understanding a hurricane is powerful is different than seeing the apocalyptic scene it leaves in its wake. View the effects of a hurricane in section five. Considering the power of hurricane winds and the deadly effect of storm surge, predicting the path of each hurricane is crucial. Learn how scientists track storms (section six). Section seven challenges you to put your knowledge to the test; can you create a category 5 storm? What happens to the storm when you tweak the conditions?
You learned about how hurricanes develop and the damage they deliver. Now, revisit some of history’s most damaging hurricanes. Click on ‘Map’ on the blue menu bar. Finally, examine six Case Studies. Why do you think some stronger storms were less destructive than weaker storms? What do these case studies have in common?
For older students, Discovery News shares how storms are named. (If you are underage, cover your ears at 1:11 to avoid hearing a random curse word.) Then, test your hurricane knowledge with the Discovery News fact or fiction quiz.
We experience wind and rain regularly. What makes hurricanes different is their wind speed, rain levels, and storm surge. These factors mean hurricanes effect the environment and communities with more severity than a typical rainstorm.
Quite coincidentally, the United Nations was scheduled to meet last week in Warsaw to discuss the effects of global warming on the environment. One question on everyone’s mind in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, “Does global warming increase the likelihood of super storms?” It is a question that scientists will continue to study.
The World Responds—
Super Typhoon Haiyan ripped across the Philippines on November 8. The Associated Press interactive shares images of Super Typhoon, and the damage it delivered. View the two videos at the top of the page: The Aftermath and Haiyan’s Approach. Scroll down to see four before and after views. Scroll down again and check out the storm’s path, the damage estimates in Tacloban, and the relief funding. Scroll down again to learn more about the Philippine economy, and one final time to see how this typhoon compares to others that have hit the Philippines.
Survivors of the two cyclones that ravaged Somalia and the Philippines are counting on international aid. Immediate aid efforts will focus on delivering food, medicine, and water to residents. It will cost billions of dollars and take years to clean and to rebuild the buildings, roads, and businesses. However, as news correspondents report, the damage makes it challenging to deliver aid to Puntland and to the Philippines. Foreign governments have pledged to help with immediate aid and future rebuilding.
If the scope, and your distance from the devastation leave you feeling powerless, do not despair. There are ways for everyday people to help Filipinos in need. Reliable non-government agencies are also sending food, clothes, water, and medicine. Your pledge will join others and provide much needed aid. There are also ways to help in the digital age.