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What Caused the Rapid Intensification of Super Typhoon Haiyan?

By Diana Udel

What Caused the Rapid Intensification of Super Typhoon Haiyan?

By Diana Udel

During the AMS Hurricane and Tropical Meteorology meeting in San Diego last week, Rosenstiel School professor Nick Shay presented research on the role ocean warming played in the rapid intensification of last year’s devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia.

Shay’s study suggests that temperature fluctuations from semi-diurnal internal tides need to be analyzed to fully understand the causes of rapid intensification as the storm went over the warm pool of water in the western Pacific prior to landfall in the Philippines.

Using temperature, salinity and current data collected as Haiyan made a direct hit over the Japan’s Triton buoy (formerly a NOAA TAO buoy), along with satellite-derived data from the SPORTS climatology model (Systematically merged Pacific Ocean Temperature and Salinity developed by Rosenstiel School graduate student Claire McCaskill), Shay’s research team examined ocean warming conditions prior to Haiyan at the thermocline, a distinct ocean temperature layer that is known to fluctuate seasonally due to tides and currents.

 Internal tides are known to create large temperature fluctuations. Shay suggests that the upper ocean heat content was important in the rapid intensification of Haiyan similar to what is observed in the Atlantic Ocean basin. While the semidiurnal tides were amplified in the warming thermocline in this regime, they have to be removed from the data to accurately evaluate questions related to the roles climate change and oceanic warming played in the storm’s intensification.