Environment

Introducing Tropical Cyclone Larry

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMar 20, 2006 10:48 AM

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Yikes. Australia got slammed today, or yesterday--not sure as to the timing, but it was apparently a Category 5 storm, perhaps even up to the time of landfall. Australia's last really big one was Tropical Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the city of Darwin in 1974, and which had the distinction of being very tiny, yet nevertheless very deadly. In fact, if you go the Wikipedia link for Tracy, there's a fascinating image comparing this storm with the biggest typhoon ever recorded, 1979's Super Typhoon Tip. Tip was the size of the entire Western half of the United States. By comparison, Tracy was about the size of a big city. Just goes to show you that when it comes to hurricanes, size doesn't always matter. The landfall of the most recent storm--Larry--also serves to remind us that we aren't the only part of the world that has to deal with hurricanes. Not even close. There are some 80-85 tropical cyclones per year globally, in seven different ocean basins. And the planet may be making a run for an eighth basin. Two years ago around this time, the first hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic ocean hit Brazil. At least one scientific paper links this development to climate change--not in the sense that global warming caused this individual storm (named Catarina), but in the sense that global warming may change the South Atlantic in such a way as to make it more hospitable to similar hurricanes in the future. In any case, when it comes to Larry, I will try to follow the aftermath of this storm to the extent that I can, even though I was supposed to be taking a break from blogging. The American media seems very interested in the story. So far, though, none of the early news reports seem to contain any detailed mention of the effect of the storm surge--which, with a Category 5 storm, could have been massive....

CORRECTION: I, and many in the media, were confused because we did not realize that Australia uses a different tropical cyclone categorization scale than the Saffir-Simpson scale used in the U.S. So this storm was almost certainly not a Category 5 by our standards--probably was closer to a Category 3....

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