Understanding the Danger: What Causes Typhoons?

January 23, 2009 / No Comments

In 2006 the world saw a major hurricane that caused arguable the greatest damage to human wealth in the history of mankind. United States bore the brunt of anger and venom unleashed by Hurricane Katrina and while people who have been struck by the tragedy are still recovering from it, rest of the world is seriously starting to ponder about tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons.

What are typhoons?

super typhoon sepat Understanding the Danger: What Causes Typhoons?Image courtesy of ruei_ke

While all of the just differ in name because as a race we still are unable to come to common conclusions, typhoons are just intense tropical storms that occur in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. That line is demarcated by the International Date Line and the equator. The word typhoon seems to have many origins and all of them date back to ancient Greece and the Greek god of winds- Typhon. Subsequently different languages and nations across the planet have adopted different altered versions of the name.

A tropical cyclone is classified as a typhoon when formed in the North-West Pacific region, measures above 10 on Beaufort scale and has wind speeds of above 55 mph. In short, it is a scary, wet windy depression that causes immense destruction if and when it does hit land in full fury.

What causes Typhoons?

typhoons clouds Understanding the Danger: What Causes Typhoons?Image courtesy of PhillipC

What causes typhoons is a question that has been puzzling the best scientific minds across the planet since long and while we do have substantial understanding of the basic conditions that facilitate a typhoon, exact reasons still are unknown.

Warm water surface is the basic reason for the formation of the low pressure area. Warm waters surrounded by cold conditions inevitably create low pressure and unstable atmosphere above them. Water temperatures of at least 26.5 °C (79.7 °F) are needed down to a depth of at least 50 meters to start a typhoon.

Next is the abundant supply of water around the eye of the storm, ensuring that high humidity will fuel the typhoon constantly helping it grow in size. This is a giant that needs to feed constantly on water. Typhoons also need to maintain a distance of at least 5 degrees north of the equator to sustain and develop. Considering all the conditions needed for their formations, one would imagine that typhoons and tropical cyclones would be a rare occurrence. But off late, that seems not to be the case. Why is it so?

Impact of global warming on typhoons

So by now the general school of thought is that the petty environmentalists are willing to blame global warming for everything and anything that changes in the world climate pattern. The fact though is that whether you like it or not, growing carbon emissions and global warming are having significant impact on formation of typhoons.

The basic condition for a typhoon to come alive is warm waters and with growing global temperature and melting polar ice caps, that would not be too hard to find in years to come. This along with irregular weather patterns and dry drought conditions on land increase chances of typhoons.

According to a UN report, tropical cyclones will grow both in number and intensity in the coming century because of variant global climate patterns caused by both human and natural causes. With no known and proven method to tackle typhoons (except evacuation when a warning is issued), one can expect more scenarios like Hurricane Katrina if our luck goes bad and more of these hit land. Let’s just hope they stay away from heavily populated areas…