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Did Climate Change Intensify Supertyphoon Haiyan?

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At the UN climate talks in Poland, Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation has announced he will refrain from eating until participants make "meaningful" progress. In his address, Sano linked the terrible devastation in the Philippines after Supertyphoon Haiyan to climate change.

"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw."

The images trickling back from the Philippines in the media are heartbreaking, but do we know whether climate change caused or intensified this immense, record-breaking cyclone? It's complicated. Climate scientists are very hesitant to blame a single event on global warming. That said, here's my take: It's fair to say that climate change likely made this deadly storm deadlier.

The Philippines is already in a precarious situation. It's a low-lying archipelago sitting atop warm Pacific Ocean waters. Temperature is important to consider here, because warm waters make storms stronger. Haiyan would probably have been monstrously destructive regardless of climate change due to its location and the dense population. We also know that sea level rise has been occurring significantly faster in the Philippine Sea than elsewhere around the world, which worsens flooding and storm surges.

Supertyphoon Haiyan has been devastating and the region faces many additional challenges in its aftermath. International aid groups are working to bring relief to the survivors (here's how you can help) as delegates continue negotiations at the U.N. summit on climate change. Meanwhile, note that Haiyan has brought something additional to those of us watching half a world away: A glimpse of the future.

For more on the relationship between climate change and storms, take a look at my co-author Chris Mooney's book, Storm World.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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