Residents of the small resort island of Polillo are used to severe weather: their island is located in the northeast of the Philippines, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, where storms often build up strength and become typhoons.
But even they were stunned by the intensity of Typhoon Noru, known locally as Typhoon Karding, which went from a typhoon to a super typhoon in just six hours before hitting the region earlier this week.
“We are used to typhoons because we are located where storms usually land,” said Armiel Azas Azul, 36, owner of Sugod Beach and Food Park on the island, a bistro under palm trees where guests drink coconut juice on tiny roofs. straw. shacks
“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 didn’t 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-developing typhoons will become much more common as the climate crisis triggers extreme weather events, while at the same time it will be more difficult to predict which storms will intensify and where they will follow.
“The challenge is accurately forecasting intensity and how quickly categories can change, for example from an intensifying low pressure area to 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 as Hurricane Ian upgraded from a Category 1 storm to a powerful Category 4 hurricane before making landfall along Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday.
Such a rapid escalation, as it is known in meteorological terms, creates challenges for local residents, authorities and emergency workers, including those in the Philippines, who increasingly have no choice but to prepare for the worst.
When Azul received warning that Typhoon Noru was approaching the Philippines last Saturday, he began his usual preparations of setting up his generator and tying down loose items.
At the time, Noru was predicted to make landfall on Sunday as the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane.
But as the storm closed in, it strengthened into a super typhoon, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, and made landfall Sunday night with fierce winds that kicked up waves and battered coastal properties.
Azul said her community was lucky to have a television signal at the resort, and as soon as they learned the typhoon was much stronger than forecast, her staff brought in all of the bistro’s outdoor furniture and tied down the roofs of their summer houses. guests, while local government units evacuated people living near the coast.
“But other parts of the island that don’t have an internet connection and just rely on radio signals might not have gotten the message in time,” he said.
The typhoon damaged the resort town, as strong winds toppled beach huts and damaged nearby fishing cages.
Azul added that the coconut palms planted across the island about a decade ago after Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) hit the area had only just begun to bear fruit, but were now completely wiped out.
“We have to pick up the pieces and rebuild again,” he said.
On the main island of Luzon, Noru left a trail of destruction in Nueva Ecija province, known as the country’s “rice barn.”
Ruel Ladrido, 46, a farmer owner in Laur, Nueva Ecija, said his rice fields were not flooded but the strong winds damaged his crops.
“It didn’t rain much 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 plant again,” he told CNN on Tuesday.
As of Friday, 12 people had died in the wake of Noru, including five rescue workers in Bulacan province, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
Estimated damage to agriculture ballooned to about 3 billion Philippine pesos (about $51 million), affected 104,500 farmers and fishermen, and damaged more than 166,630,000 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 warm, storms are expected to become more powerful, according to research published in 2018.
The study found that stronger typhoons carry more moisture and move differently. They are also “aggravated by rising sea levels, one of the surest 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 between two and nine hours longer and travel an average of 100 kilometers. (62 miles). ) farther inland than four decades ago. By the end of the century, they could have double the destructive power.
As such, it will be more difficult to forecast their trajectory and predict which ones will quickly gain strength or quickly intensify: is 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, with 28% of all tropical cyclones that have made landfall in the country since 1951 undergoing rapid intensification according to official data, according to Gerry Bagtasa, a professor at the University of the Philippines. Institute of Environmental Sciences and Meteorology.
Bagtasa said factors such as high humidity, warm ocean surface temperatures and low wind shear determine the scale of rapid intensification, but those weather readings “do not have to be extraordinary in their values” to create rapid intensification. .
He said Typhoon Noru’s path through the Philippine Sea before making landfall was “just average for this season” and that wind shear, or the change in wind speed and strength with height in the atmosphere, it was not extraordinarily low.
Bagtasa also said forecasters are finding it difficult to predict rapid intensification in the Pacific, because although satellite monitoring has improved, there is not enough data to forecast worsening weather events.
“There are also many unprecedented events happening around the world recently, and since forecasters generally rely on their past experiences, new events can ‘throw up’ forecasts, so to speak,” he said.
Mirian Abadilla, a doctor and municipal health officer in Cabangan, Zambales province, on the Philippine island of Luzon, has been involved in her community’s disaster management response since 1991.
She says that by this time, typhoons have become more difficult to forecast and her community has no choice but to prepare for the worst.
“Typhoons are definitely getting stronger due to climate change and are getting harder to predict,” he said. “But every time we get hit by a typhoon, we try to keep improving our disaster response; that is the only way to stay alert.”
She 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 have to be,” he said.
Every province, city, municipality and barangay in the Philippines must follow the national disaster risk reduction and management system under a law imposed in 2010 to address the climate vulnerability of the island nation.
Local governments are required to conduct precautionary evacuation based on projected warnings from the national weather department, and it is recommended that they hold regular disaster rescue drills with first responders and hold informational seminars for communities.
In a press conference on Monday, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. praised local government units for “doing a good job” in explaining the situation to local people as Noru approached. and to carry out evacuations that may have prevented mass casualties.
But he also seemed to acknowledge the unpredictability of the storms that regularly threaten the Philippine coast and the need to always be prepared.
“I think we could have been lucky at least this time, a little bit,” Marcos Jr. said.