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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 05/14/2008

Bangladesh's Example for a Post-Nargis World

By Andrew Freedman

Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which exacted a staggering human toll on the politically isolated and poor country of Myanmar, has demonstrated once again that there is an urgent need for a more robust infrastructure in developing countries for issuing and disseminating warnings of natural hazards. Unlike when the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami hit in 2004, government officials had at least one and a half days of warning before Nargis' arrival as a Category Three or Four cyclone on May 3rd. However, it's doubtful that the Burmese military-led government was able to get word to the residents of the hardest hit Irrawaddy delta region in time for them to protect themselves. Even if the warnings had reached this area, it's unclear what, if any, storm shelter options were available to people.

webster.jpg
Dr. Peter Webster. Photo courtesy Georgia Institute of Technology

To get a firsthand perspective on how to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of weather warnings in developing countries, I turned to Peter J. Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who is one of the lead scientists involved in a flood warning project in Bangladesh, Myanmar's low lying neighbor. Webster has directed the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh (CFAB) project since 1999, and he is also a prominent scholar of tropical cyclones. For example, one study he served as the lead author of in 2005 broke new ground and proved controversial when it demonstrated a potential link between global climate change and tropical cyclone intensity.

The following are portions of our Q&A, which was conducted via email over the weekend. In it, Webster shares his perspective on what went wrong in Myanmar, what is going right in neighboring Bangladesh, and how climate change may complicate matters.

Keep reading for Andrew Freedman's Q&A with Dr. Peter Webster. Also, see our full forecast through the weekend.

CWG: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has reported that it gave
 Burmese authorities 36-hours warning of the cyclone's strength and likely location of landfall. Based on your experiences in Bangladesh and elsewhere, what are some of the issues that the government of a poor, developing nation faces in order to get the word out to the people who are most likely to
 be affected by such a storm? 


But I wonder if the IMD forecasts and warning were like shouting a warning to a deaf and blind person crossing a freeway that he/she is about to [be] run down.

PW: The WMO has a number of regional centers, one of which is located in India and is responsible for all of the North Indian Ocean forecasts and warnings. At the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), forecasts are made with horizons of two to three days. Hence the warning of the "WMO" 36 hours in advance... But I wonder if the IMD forecasts and warning were like shouting a warning to a deaf and blind person crossing a freeway that he/she is about to [be] run down.

In order for the forecast to be useful, it has to be passed on to the governmental authorities who, in turn, need to pass it on to the people who are most in danger. And note too, that the people who are most in peril are often the poorest of the poor. So a forecast is one thing. Getting it to the people is something else. This "end-to-end" forecasting system requires planning. To be fair, tropical cyclones (and major ones at that) are rare in Burma-Myanmar. But, perhaps the point is why didn't Myanmar have a general disaster plan which they could have implemented for Nargis?

Something can be learned by the Bangladesh experience. In 1971 the Bohar Tropical Cyclone took 300,000+ lives principally drowned by storm surge. In 1991, about 100,000 were lost in similar circumstances. An almost identical storm to the 1971 [one] landed last November and about 10,000 were lost. Why this decrease in death rate with very similar storms? Bangladesh tried, with international help, to do something about it. Along the coast, cyclone shelters were built and sea walls (rather mounds) were erected and earth mounds were constructed. People had somewhere to go if they could be warned...

How is the danger ([of a] flood or tropical cyclone) communicated? There was essentially no communication in 1971 and by radio in 1991. This latter improvement has the flaw that someone has to be at a radio receiver and somehow this message has to be communicated down to the household. No easy job. BUT, in the event of the 2007 storm (Sidr) and the floods of last year, communication was swift all the way to the villager. This was accomplished by the development of cell phone networks. For example, our 8-day forecasts of flooding along the Brahmaputra [River] were communicated within hours to all those concerned.

Although the 10,000 lost with Tropical Cyclone Sidr was large, it was reduced by better forecasts and effective communication. I think that even with the improvements that have been made (forecasts and communication) there always will be a large loss of life. After all, delta regions are flat and there are limited places to where people can be evacuated. There are no freeways!

CWG: How does this cyclone compare with past cyclones in the Indian Ocean? 



PW: Nargis fits well with the storms of the recent past. It was a major tropical cyclone (category four) when it hit but unusual in its east-northeast trajectory. What is dangerous about a category four tropical cyclone is that it has the potential for very large storm surges. And the trajectory couldn't be worse. It moved eastward along an east-west delta coastline so that the northward winds ahead of the storm piled up vast amount of water onto the essentially flat [land]. The situation could not be worse.

CWG: Is there any evidence of a climate change-related trend in cyclones in
 the Indian Ocean?

So my guess, after looking back over the last few years is that we are seeing a signal of global warming in the North Indian Ocean.

PW: Records over the Indian Ocean are not the best. There are a number of gaps in the records even in the satellite era in the early 1970s. But we do know two things: the storms that have occurred in the past few years (Gonu, Sidr and Nargis) have all been category four and five, and the sea surface temperature (SST) in the Indian Ocean has warmed more than any other tropical ocean basin.

We published a paper in Science in 2005 (you can get a copy here, follow the link to "downloadable papers.") We noted that [the] intensity of tropical cyclones had increased over the 1970-2004 period and that the number of category fours and fives has doubled. We found this increase in intensity to be consistent with the increase of SST in that a warmer ocean provides more fuel to create stronger storms. So my guess, after looking back over the last few years is that we are seeing a signal of global warming in the North Indian Ocean.

CWG: How effective have local resident point persons been in Bangladesh in
-disseminating flood forecast information in areas that lack the
 infrastructure (electricity etc.) through which to spread the word about
 impending flooding? 



PW: As I mentioned earlier: enormously important. Cell phone technology solves the electricity problem of course. Earlier in the year I was in India in some very remote parts of the country. But, no matter how large the town or how small the village, I could communicate locally and overseas by cell phone. Towers a few miles apart are sound investments compared to land lines.

CWG: What are some of the key steps that a government of a poorer, low lying country can take to improve their capacity to respond to weather and climate-related disasters, and their resiliency when such disasters occur? 



PW: The first thing is national and governmental commitment as has happened in Bangladesh. The second is the willingness to accept that there is a need for outside help. The third is to realize that each country has special vulnerabilities and that there are solutions for each. The fourth is to develop a communications network to transmit in an efficient manner state-of-the-art forecasts to where they can be used.

One of the problems for Bangladesh is how do you balance flooding problems with the impact of tropical cyclones? You build sea mounds to help protect from storm surge but that same sea mound will slow the release of water following flooding. But the common issue is that the storm shelters and mounds where people can go work for both floods and storm surges.

By Andrew Freedman  | May 14, 2008; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, International Weather, News & Notes  
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Comments

The caption under the picture says Georgia Tech University. There is no such school. It is the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Posted by: George P Burdell | May 14, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Thanks George -- now corrected.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

US lists polar bear as threatened species:
"[Interior Secretary] Kempthorne also said, though, that it would be "inappropriate" to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change."

Posted by: Anonymous | May 14, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Anon @ 3:37 was me.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Can either of you offer any evidence to refute anything found in the two youtube videos found here http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2008/05/14/global-warming-tutorial-media-should-be-required-take

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

What do you all think about Dr. Webster's comment that Nargis, taken together with other recent strong tropical cyclones in the North Indian Ocean, is indicative of a climate change-related trend?

Also, I find it interesting that so much could be accomplished in terms of improved weather warnings in Bangladesh with the increased availability of simple yet life-altering technologies, such as cell phones. Yet in Myanmar, the government won't allow such communications technology to spread, thereby limiting the opportunities for a new weather warning system there. In fact, some people are saying that the government deliberately avoided warning people of the approaching storm. See the discussion on Jeff Masters' Weather Underground blog, for example.

Posted by: Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I would prefer to see raw data. Show me the raw data on Sea surface temperatures for that area over the last 5 years and then I will render an opinion on his comments.

If you watch the two youtube videos found at the link I posted above, you will see that he offers raw data while providing his opinion/interpretation of the data. Good luck refuting any of it.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

What do you think of Demetris Koutsoyiannis's recent paper? Specifically what do you think of his conclusion (concerning the state of climate modeling) that "This makes future climate projections not credible."

His paper can be found here -
http://www.itia.ntua.gr/getfile/850/2/documents/2008EGU_ClimatePredictionPr.pdf

His conclusions can be found on the last page of the presentation.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

According to this map -
http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/climo.html

Sea surface temperatures are below normal for the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.

How does that square with Dr. Webster's statement? It seems to be at complete odds with his statement, doesn't it?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

As far as the polar bear being declared a threatened species, this is precisely the type of thing I have come to expect from President Bush and his administration.

Let's review some facts -
1. In 1972 the polar bear population was estimated at approximately 5,000.
2. Today, the estimates for the polar bear population vary between 20,000 and 25,000.
3. At bare (pun intended) minimum, the polar bear population has quadrupled in the last 35 years.
4. There are two recent studies that I am aware of which prove that the current state of climate modeling is completely unreliable and inaccurate.

So the polar bear population has quadrupled and recent studies prove the climate models unreliable, and President Bush's administration adds the polar bear to the endangered species list. Classic!

Like I said, this is precisely what I have come to expect from the current administration.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Personally I don't think you can link events within a short period of time and point towards global warming. That would be like looking at the last few winters and saying that our lack of snow is due to global warming, just a shortsighted approach in my opinion.
Also, in regards to the polar bears, I haven't read to much into their "state" as far as population, habit endangerment, and scarcity of food sources, etc., but I surely hope they did their research on this one. I think that listing animals as threatened or endangered is something that should be respected if you will, and not used as a way to make a statement(which will reduce the effectiveness of such designations in the future.)

Posted by: arnoldkh | May 14, 2008 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Re Bob Carter's misrepresentations (YouTube linked above):
See here.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Re Indian Ocean/Bay of Bengal SST's:
The below-average temps are as of May 12, after the cyclone passed by that area and undoubtedly caused upwelling of colder water. The longer term data show warm temperatures as far back as mid-April.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Re Koutsoyiannis:
- If he's claiming that the models can't predict the exact trend over 18 years at certain specific locations, he's correct.
- If he's using that to imply that the models are totally incorrect, he's wrong.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Re tropical cyclone/global warming connection:
As detailed in Chris Mooney's excellent book, the jury is still out on that one.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 9:54 PM | Report abuse

More about Bob Carter can be found here.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Discussion of polar bear issue is here.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Steve, I followed the first link re Bob Carter and read every last word at that site. I even followed a couple links that I found there.

I get the impression that you didn't actually watch either video. I say that because the link in question doesn't discuss any of the points/facts that are in the video.

As an irrelevant side note, I got a particular kick out of the date of the page you sent me to. It was posted April 15, 2005. The video and the charts and data therein goes up to 2008.

I asked if either of you could "offer any evidence to refute anything found in the two youtube videos". Refute means to prove to be false or erroneous or to prove to be in error. I asked for "evidence" to "refute". You provided a link to an old website which didn't discuss the video or any of the points therein. I sincerely hope all of the readers take the time to watch the videos and then go look at what you offer up as evidence of errors contained with that video. Let them judge for themselves if they think what you provided is even relevant.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 11:32 PM | Report abuse

The cyclone formed in the Indian Ocean in late April and made landfall in Burma on May 2nd. So I probably should have linked to the May 1st SST anomaly data. That would have the most accurate. That data can be found here -
http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/data/anome.5.1.2008.gif

And the April 28th data can be found here -
http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/data/anome.4.28.2008.gif

Continued in next post.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 14, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

The link discusses many of the same issues which Carter was repeating in the video.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 14, 2008 11:59 PM | Report abuse

The full track of the cyclone can be found here -
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Nargis_2008_track.png

If you open up several browser tabs and look at the track and the SST charts, you will see that the storm spend its entire life in water that varied between 0.5 C colder than normal and 0.5 C warmer than normal.

Can you please provide a link to the peer reviewed and published paper that postulates the increased intensity of tropical storms due to an increase of 0.5 degrees C?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Steve, can you please be specific? Which specific point that Mr. Carter raises in the videos is discussed at the link you provided?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 12:05 AM | Report abuse

I have no desire to discuss the polar bears. Like I said before, that is precisely the kind of bone-headed action I have come to expect out of the current administration.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse

Steve, did you watch the two videos?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Yes.
Mr. S

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | May 15, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Since you watched them, why won't you be specific and list each point that Mr. Carter raised in the videos which is refuted at the link you provided? I don't understand why you refuse to be specific.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. S., were you or Mr. Freedman able to locate a peer reviewed and published paper which postulates an increase in the intensity of tropical storms due to an increase of 0.5 degrees C?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

It has been over 28 hours and neither of you have offered any evidence to refute the claims made by Mr. Carter in the two youtube videos found here -
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2008/05/14/global-warming-tutorial-media-should-be-required-take

In case someone reading this has not seen the two videos, in those videos Mr. Carter proves, point by point, why the theory of man made global warming is false.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 15, 2008 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: Has it occurred to you that maybe Steve and Andrew have neither the time nor the energy to respond to every one of your questions that are often tangential to the point of their posts? They're under no obligation to do so. They're basing their statements on the conclusions of peer reviewed scientific assessments (namely the IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the US Climate Change Science Program). If you have a problem with the conclusions of these assessments, it is suggested you go directly to the source (the authors of the papers and the assessments) rather than hijacking the comment section of every column here. Comments directly pertaining to the substance of the columns are welcome.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | May 16, 2008 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Of course it has occurred to me that maybe Steve and Andrew have neither the time nor the energy to reply. But Steve did reply and his reply did not address the question and so I sought clarification. That seems rather reasonable to me.

I find it disingenuous to offer up a broad blanket statement such as "They're basing their statements on the conclusions of peer reviewed scientific assessments ..." as if every single statement they have ever proffered can be supported by those institutions. Perhaps you haven't read this particular column, but you will note that Mr. Freedman offered up the opinion of Dr. Webster, and not the IPCC. I simply inquired about peer reviewed documentation supporting the assertions made by Dr. Webster. So far, none has been offered.

This column is tagged "climate change". Every single question I posed has been directly related to "climate change". Some of my questions have been directly related to the cyclone Nargis and the claims made by Dr. Webster. Is there some other place to ask such a question? This would seem the logical place for that.

I actually took the time to follow the link in Mr. Freedman's article and read the paper Dr. Webster authored on the subject. This portion of Dr. Webster's paper gave me pause -

There is also a hypothesized relationship between SST and the maximum potential hurricane intensity (8, 9). However, strong interannual variability in hurricane statistics (10-14) and the possible influence of interannual variability associated with El NiDo and the North Atlantic Oscillation (11, 12) make it difficult to discern any trend relative to background SST increases
with statistical veracity (8). Factors other than SST have been cited for their role in regulating hurricane characteristics, including vertical
shear and mid-tropospheric moisture (15).

So I asked if there were any other peer reviewed papers supporting the theory that a 0.5 C rise in SST would lead to more intense cyclones. Given the above quote from Dr. Webster's own paper, that would seem like a very reasonable request. No one has offered any info on such a paper. But Steve was kind enough to send me to Amazon to buy a book by a journalist.

It has now been over 30 hours and no one has offered any evidence to refute the claims made by Mr. Carter in the two youtube videos found here -
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2008/05/14/global-warming-tutorial-media-should-be-required-take

In case someone reading this has not seen the two videos, in those videos Mr. Carter proves, point by point, why the theory of man made global warming is false.

Mr. Q.

PS. I am working from the assumption that if an article is tagged "climate change", it is permissible to discuss "climate change" in the comments section. If that is incorrect, please let me know.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 16, 2008 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Q: You're granted the issue of SSTs is on topic. The Bob Carter stuff is tangential.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | May 16, 2008 2:18 AM | Report abuse

Is that you Steve?

Fine, I will hold the Bob Carter stuff for a later column where it is directly related. But you will see it again. Sure you wouldn't rather try to answer it now, rather than later?

Keeping it on topic -
Shouldn't Dr. Carter have included this little itty bitty disclaimer (like he did in his paper), when he answered Mr. Freedman's question -
However, strong interannual variability in hurricane statistics (10-14) and the possible influence of interannual variability associated with El NiDo and the North Atlantic Oscillation (11, 12) make it difficult to discern any trend relative to background SST increases with statistical veracity (8).

That seems like one heck of a disclaimer to me.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 16, 2008 2:31 AM | Report abuse

Mr Q et al,

I will be happy to send you the long-term sea-surface temperature records for the Indian ocean either totally or regionally. They show strong upward trends. Send me a message at pjw@eas.gatech.edu if you would like to see these. But I don't want to get into an argument if there is global warming or not. I offer you the data to make up your own minds re the SST. I am in the middle of a proposal writing binge at the moment (nothing to do with TCs) and will not be able to get around to any requests until the end of next week in any event.

The thrust of the interview, I thought, was about developing country infrastructure, global warming or not! Even if there is no warming there are ever increasing populations and increased risk on that basis alone.

Let me know what you would like

Sincerely

PW

Posted by: Peter Webster | May 16, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see your data Dr. Webster. Thank you very much. I will email you this weekend.

Do you archive your data on line anywhere? A simple link to that data would have been very convenient.

I went to NASA's web site and created a SST trend map for the month of April spanning 8 years, 2000-2008, and it clearly shows that the Indian Ocean is has either remained flat or cooled. It doesn't show any warming at all for Indian Ocean for the month of April in the last 8 years. None.
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/do_nmap.py?year_last=2008&month_last=4&sat=-1&sst=1&type=trends&mean_gen=04&year1=2000&year2=2008&base1=1951&base2=1980&radius=250&pol=reg

You can reproduce the map by going here -
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/maps/

For Data Sources -
Land select None
Ocean select Hadl/Reyn_v2

For Map Type -
Select Trend

For Mean Period -
Select Apr

For Time Interval -
Select 2000 - 2008

For Base Period -
Leave default 1951 -1980

For Smoothing Radius -
Select 250 km

For Project type -
Leave default regular

I realize that you are very busy and that you probably can't respond to this comment. I only mention it to give you an idea of where I am coming from. Again, I would like to say thank you for your offer to show your data. I sincerely appreciate it and I will take you up on it.

Sincerely,
Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 16, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't the stuff about the polar bears tangential?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | May 16, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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