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Cyclone Freddy and Future Storms

Cyclone Freddy and Future Storms

There's a decent chance you haven't heard of Cyclone Freddy, so you're already scratching your heads, and that's not your fault–western media does a terrible job of covering events in the global south and particularly African nations. Freddy was a massively powerful, incredibly long-lived storm system that began back in February off the coast of Australia, and crossed the entire Indian Ocean to strike Madagascar and the southeastern coast of Africa.

Briefly, in case you're unfamiliar, cyclone is the generic name for a rotating storm system that occurs over warm waters. In the Atlantic Ocean they're called hurricanes, and in the Pacific they're mostly called typhoons–everywhere else, they're called cyclones. All the same type of thing. Also some people call trucks lorries and elevators lifts. Science cannot, at present, explain why.

We're talking about this particular storm because it is an excellent example of the kind of monster that climate change breeds, and with increasing frequency. Now, the odds of a Freddy coming to a coast near you are probably pretty low (assuming most of my readers are from the US) due to the jet stream, which would keep a storm from camping on one location for very long. But it is possible to generate a storm that's about as long-lived, causing destruction over a wide swath of countries, as with the 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane that hit the Bahamas, North Carolina, then re-crossed the Atlantic to strike off the coast of Portugal. Still relevant, still possible.

Cyclone Freddy

Forming off the western coast of Australia on February 4th, Cyclone Freddy traveled west across the Indian Ocean–a rare enough event on its own–making its first landfall in Madagascar on February 21st. That's the lifespan of your average storm, right there, just in the crossing. But due to the warm waters in the Mozambique Channel, Freddy immediately strengthened after landfall and hit south of Vilankulos, Mozambique, the next day. The system weakened considerably, but managed to move back out over the channel and regain strength, striking Mozambique and Malawi for a third landfall on March 11th. Freddy finally dissipated after well over a month on March 15th. Residents of Mozambique and Malawi are picking up the pieces, with a death toll estimated above 300 people.

Over the course of its life, Freddy grew and weakened multiple times, becoming a Category 5 storm at one point as well as shrinking into a disorganized system. But during its record-breaking life of over five weeks, it had accumulated more energy than any previously recorded storm. This is referred to, naturally, as Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE. ACE measures wind strength over the course of a storm's life. Freddy had more ACE than entire seasons of Atlantic hurricanes. So not only was Freddy the longest lasting, one of the furthest-traveled, and held the highest number of intensifications, Freddy had several hurricanes-worth of energy in it. Which is what initially got me thinking about this newsletter.

While Cyclone Freddy is not the most lethal storm ever–not by a longshot–its staying power, reformation, and overall strength is a troubling preview of the sort of cyclones the world could see in the future. It's often not just raw power that determines a storm's lethality, but a combination of factors, including human negligence. The Bhopal Cyclone, linked above, killed 300,000 people in then-East Pakistan in 1970 due in part to a lack of information sharing from India's weather service. There is an opportunity here, if one wants to call it that, for eco-fascists to do some damage. It's not a long walk to imagine a fund-starved National Weather Service lacking the ability to adequately alert certain communities to a coming storm while folks who pay for AccuWeather (see the Last Week Tonight episode) get the warning they need.

Future Storms, Insurance

Cyclone Freddy is an outlier–as is every single storm when talking about climate change, in a way. The one thing that we can say safely is that storms are going to increase in strength and rainfall due to the general increase in global temperatures and the higher moisture content of warm air. It doesn't mean that one storm in particular is going to be devastating, but it will probably be more devastating than without climate change. And, of course, the planet is still getting warmer. It isn't just cyclones we have to worry about, either; virtually every weather phenomenon is increasing in strength and frequency. How many 1000-year events did we hear about last year? And isn't California behaving according to prediction? Wicked droughts quenched, not by seasonal rains, but by brutal atmospheric rivers that buried towns in snow and flooded cities?

Climate change is fighting us in a war of attrition. As such, what gets thrown at us doesn't have to be a knockout blow each time. The fact that we keep seeing records shattered in recent years is almost distracting from the fact that every single storm, every fire, every drought, wears away at our foundations. We built this world with money instead of goodwill, and that means each storm, no matter how small, costs money. When that money runs out, it will become difficult to live some places in the United States (and the world).

We've talked about insurance before. The insurance market in Florida, in particular, is becoming less and less tenable. As our various national natural disasters worsen, the fragility we're seeing in Florida will spread to other states–like Louisiana, for instance, where it's already begun. Sea level rise is about as certain as the tide, if slower, and that will push homeowners inland at best. At worst, it sets off a migration of climate refugees, in and out of the United States, in a housing market that is already too hell-bent on making a dollar. It won't take a Freddy to unhouse people long-term.

El Niño

La Niña ended recently, after a three-year cycle. While we are currently in a neutral period that is expected to last until or through summer, El Niño conditions will likely follow after. The weather, broadly, get warmer and drier in the northern US and colder and wetter in the southern states, with the biggest effect seen in late winter months. El Niño also, as we've talked about, decreases the chances of hurricane formation in the Atlantic (while increasing formation in the Pacific).

Temperatures, globally, will rise during an El Niño, and they may rise some while we are in this neutral period, as well. This rise isn't exactly an artifact of our measurements but they also don't mean quite what we might think–the heat brought about by El Niño was already on the planet, it was just moved around. Any climate alarmists breaking their wrists tweeting about us being over 1.5C are probably in it for the clicks rather than data–which isn't to say it's not an important milestone, or terrifying, but it isn't the whole picture. At the same time, you might have conservatives in your ear talking about how mild our winter has been (next year). The solution, I suppose, is to delete your Twitter account. That's actually a pretty good prep.

At the end of the day, what we should do about El Niño and Cyclone Freddy and climate change all boil down to the same solutions: end capitalism, treat one another with dignity, quit burning every damn drop of oil on the planet, and grow beans. Some of these things aren't in our hands alone. But some of them are. Choosing to make yourself and your family resilient to disaster, choosing to educate yourself on these issues and to learn applicable skills, preparing, in short, for this one facet of that ever-looming collapse–that's in your hands. It's going to be easier to do it today than tomorrow.