The storm surge scare

A storm surge caused this in Tacloban.

A storm surge caused this in Tacloban.

Of all the devastation resulting to massive loss of life and property brought about by deadly typhoons, the most feared now is how super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) ravaged and practically made Tacloban a ghost city because of its destructive storm surge.

Before Yolanda, there never was any mention of the phrase storm surge, much less a warning given by weather forecasters of its danger. Unbecoming it may be to thank Yolanda for it, but the truth is that it has taught us important lesson of awareness and preparedness in preventing unnecessary loss of lives.

But what is a storm surge? How come we are scared of it now? Why are we hearing about it only after the onslaught of Yolanda?

A storm surge is a rise in water level caused by a combination of wind and low atmospheric pressure (depression). It is the most destructive force of a hurricane or a typhoon, depending on where it is emanating from: over warm tropical oceans for cyclone, and over the western Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas for typhoons. Because this is happening away from land, the water can escape and move away from the building storm. But as the typhoon/hurricane moves toward land and the depth of the water becomes shallower because of its path, the ever-increasing wall of water does not have a chance to flow away. Instead it is built up around the eye of the typhoon/hurricane and forms huge waves. What this means is that the stronger the winds or the larger the storm the higher the surge. These mountainous waves pound against the land and anything in its path – structures, vehicles and people.

A storm surge can also become much more destructive if it occurs during high tide (an increase in water level due to the Moon’s gravitational pull on Earth).

I had been questioning myself if, indeed, this phenomenon was not happening before. I asked this because growing up in Baybay, Leyte, we always go swimming in the sea which was just a walking distance from the house. We experienced a lot of strong typhoons in our days living in Baybay, and purposely going out and excitingly watching the huge waves crushing the shores of the town.

What I have noticed, however, when I visited Baybay, after several years of taking up residence in Cebu and leaving the place for good, is that where we had a wide shoreline before, now it is gone as the tide ebbs and flows way inside the shore, reaching in fact where bamboo houses of fishermen used to stand.

I could only attribute the sea encroachment to the effect of global warming which caused the level of seawater to rise. In fact it is because of climate change that people in the island nations in the Pacific are worried that if nothing is done they will ultimately find themselves under the sea in due time.

So, the rise in sea level being a reality, could it not be that this is the main reason why we are experiencing storm surges now in the country?

And, is it not more reasonable, conclusive, in fact, to say now, that the storm surge becomes even more destructive because of the Moon’s gravitational effect on the sea level?

Indeed, we have reason to be scared now of the storm surge, but it does not really mean to say that it did not exist before. It did, but it lacked the level that would allow it to go easily over board and cause a tsunami-like destruction of the place when a strong typhoon is developed in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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