No current tropical storms.
Ocean Temperatures and Typhoon Haiyan
A remarkable warming of the sub-surface Pacific waters east of the Philippines in recent decades, due to a shift in atmospheric circulation patterns and ocean currents that began in the early 1990s, could be responsible for the rapid intensification of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Hurricanes are heat engines, which means they take heat energy out of the ocean, and convert it to kinetic energy in the form of wind.
It’s well-known that tropical cyclones need surface water temperatures of at least 26.5°C (80°F) to maintain themselves, and that the warmer the water, and the deeper the warm water is, the stronger the storm can get. Deep warm water is important, since as a tropical cyclone tracks over the ocean, it stirs up cooler water from the depths, potentially reducing the intensity of the storm.
When both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita exploded into Category 5 hurricanes as they crossed over a warm eddy in the Gulf of Mexico with a lot of deep, warm water, the concept of the total heat energy available to fuel a hurricane – the Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential (TCHP) – became one that gained wide recognition. The Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines has the largest area of deep, warm water of anywhere on Earth, and these waters have historically fueled the highest incidence of Category 5 storms of anywhere on the planet.
Super Typhoon Haiyan tracked over surface waters that were of near-average warmth, 29.5 – 30.5°C (85 – 87°F.) However, the waters at a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) beneath Haiyan during its rapid intensification phase were a huge 4 – 5°C (7 – 9°F) above average. As the typhoon stirred this UNUSUALLY WARM WATER to the surface, the storm was able to feed off the heat, allowing Haiyan to intensify into one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever observed.
The warm-up is due to an increase in the surface winds blowing across the region – the trade winds – which have caused a southward migration and strengthening of the North Equatorial Current (NEC) and the North Equatorial Counter Current (NECC). The strong trade winds have pushed a large amount of water up against the east coast of the Philippines in the past twenty years, resulting in a rate of sea level rise of 10 mm per year – more than triple the global average of 3.1 mm/yr.
This extra sea level rise contributed to the storm surge damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan. Sea level rise data from Legaspi in the Eastern Philippines shows a rise of about 305 mm (12 inches) since 1949. For comparison, global average sea level rose 7.5″ (190 mm) since 1901. Part of the rise along the eastern Philippine coast is from tectonic processes – the subsidence of the Philippine plate under the Eurasian plate – but most of it is due to the stronger trade winds piling up warm water along the coast, and the fact that warmer waters expand, raising sea level.
There may also be a greater chance of super typhoons and higher storm surges affecting the Philippines, due to the warmer sub-surface waters and re-arranged ocean currents.