Tropical Cyclone Seroja Hits Indonesia

Cyclone Seroja. Image: Zoom.earth.us

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Rescue efforts are underway across several islands in eastern Indonesia and East Timor after Tropical Cyclone Seroja struck the region last week. The storm’s heavy rains and powerful winds led to flash flooding and landslides, damaging homes and roads. At least 8,424 people have been displaced by the storm, and at least 128 have died. On Lembata island, the downpour from the cyclone dislodged pieces of hardened lava on the side of a volcano, wrecking homes below. Seroja is the 15th storm in the Australian region cyclone season. 

Why This Matters: Devastating storms like Seroja can completely upend peoples’ lives, and warming oceans are making storms more dangerous, with stronger winds and more rain. In Indonesia, tropical cyclones used to be rare, according to weather agency head Dwikorita Karnawati.  

Seroja is the first time we’re seeing tremendous impact because it hit the land. It’s not common,” she told a news conference, noting that climate change could be the reason.

Since climate change leads to tropical storms with heavier rains — as the U.S. saw during last year’s hurricane season — the devastating floods and landslides that have already caused much damage are also making rescue efforts more difficult. 

 

Warmer waters, wetter storms

The connection between warming temperatures and increased precipitation is one of the best-understood weather impacts of the climate crisis. As Yale Climate Connections explains, “Simply put, the warmer the air is, the more moisture it can hold and the more rain it produces.” Every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature means the atmosphere can hold about 7% more moisture. (So keeping within the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees C also means stopping the atmosphere from taking in 10% more moisture.) 

In a hurricane or cyclone, the effect is even stronger, creating a massive increase in rainfall. Research by MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, a meteorologist and climate scientist who studies cyclones, finds a sixfold increase in the chances of a rain-drenched storm like Hurricane Harvey since the late 20th century. 

 Go Deeper: How can scientists detect the footprint of climate change in extreme weather events? Through the quickly developing field of attribution science!

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