It’s not a wind-up: More cyclones will hit southern Africa
Trump denies climate change, but local researcher delivers worrying data for our region
US President Donald Trump dealt another body blow to climate change activists on Tuesday, and for Southern Africa the timing couldn’t have been more ironic.
As Trump rejected his own experts’ dire climate change warnings, an expert at Wits University warned governments in the region to prepare for more – and more severe – tropical cyclones.
Jennifer Fitchett, a researcher at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, said this was due to rising sea temperatures caused by global warming.
Her warning, in a paper published in the South African Journal of Science, came as Trump said his “high levels of intelligence” meant he did not believe the US’s latest climate assessment.
This is a 1,600-page document based on rigorous research by 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies. It highlights the enormous risks of disaster resulting from human-induced climate change.
Fitchett said: “Category 5 tropical cyclones, the strongest category of storms, have only recently emerged in the south Indian Ocean. Since 1989, their frequency of occurrence has increased. This increase poses a heightened risk of storm damage for the south Indian Ocean island states and the countries of the southern African subcontinent.”
She said “storm damage” would result from “strong winds, heavy rainfall and storm surges associated with these storms, and the large radial extent at category 5 strength”.
Writing for The Conversation, Fitchett said: “Based on the progressive trend over the past three decades, their [tropical cyclones'] frequency is likely to keep increasing.”
This was happening because sea-surface temperatures were rising and often hit the 26°C needed for tropical cyclones to form.
“These temperatures are being recorded more often and over a larger area of the ocean now than in the past. That’s because the air temperatures that heat up the sea surface are rising due to greenhouse gas emissions.”
Many of the cyclones remained out at sea, but conditions were changing to the extent that they could batter the land. “Southern African governments must respond proactively to this new threat,” said Fitchett, who added on Twitter that an exact time frame could not be predicted but the storms were likely before the turn of the century.
“These results provide a concerning outlook for the South Indian Ocean. The region comprises a number of economically developing countries and small island states, which cannot afford large capital investment in infra-structural adaptation measures to mitigate against the threats of tropical cyclones,” she said.
Cyclones that hit land had “devastating impacts on the livelihoods, habitat, economy and natural environment of the country affected”.