Nagris and Katrina
United Nations relief workers are slowly gaining access to victims of Myanmar’s catastrophic cyclone, as the ruling junta took a small step in accepting foreign aid today. Cyclone Nargis killed at least 22,980 people in Myanmar over the weekend, although some are putting the death toll as high as 100,000. Around a million people have been displaced from their homes.
As Nargis hit, some meteorologists drew comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. "When you look at the satellite picture of before and after the storm the effects look eerily similar to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in how it inundated low-lying areas," Ken Reeves, director of forecasting for AccuWeather.com, told the AP. And as with Katrina, scientists are beginning to speculate about Nargis’ potential causes — one of the deadliest in Asia’s history.
Some are saying that one of multiple causes could be climate change — the same argument some scientists have made about Katrina. Both storms were massive, and climate scientists say that global warming can lead to increasingly severe natural disasters, such as cyclones.
The Indian advocacy group the Center for Science and the Environment has called Cyclone Nargis a "sign of things to come." "While we can never pinpoint one disaster as the result of climate change," said the group’s director Sunita Narain, "there is enough scientific evidence that climate change will lead to intensification of tropical cyclones."
She went on to say that "the victims of these cyclones are climate change victims and their plight should remind the rich world that it is doing too little to contain its greenhouse gas emissions."
But also as with Katrina, scientists and environmentalists are split on the issue of whether climate change really is a cause of natural disasters. The American Meteorological Society says there is evidence both for and against the argument that global warming is a factor. Some data even shows that warmer ocean temperatures could actually reduce the strength of cyclones and hurricanes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last year that tropical cyclones were likely to become more severe, with heavier rain and winds, by 2100. But the only consensus among climatologists is that such a trend can only be determined in the long term, with several years of data.