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Why was Typhoon Yolanda so strong? Scientists chime in

There is no argument that Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) is one of the world's strongest storms ever in recorded history—but how did it get to be that way?
At the 19th Climate Change Summit in Poland on Monday, Naderev Saño addressed 190 delegates from all over the world. "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” said the Philippines’s representative, pertaining to the devastation that Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) inflicted upon the city of Tacloban in Leyte. “We can fix this. We can stop this madness.”
“Madness” is certainly an appropriate description for Yolanda’s rampage. With winds that clocked in at an average strength of 195 mph (314 kph), the typhoon left chaos and destruction in its wake – a city in ruins, a population rendered homeless and desperate, and countless bodies strewn all over the streets.   
As countless volunteers scramble to deliver relief goods and medical assistance to the victims, the world wonders: How did Yolanda grow strong enough to single-handedly lay waste to an entire city, and are there more storms like it to come?
Climate change and other weather factors
Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), believes that Typhoon Yolanda was a “sobering reality” – a wake-up call for humanity to take action on carbon emission reduction and assist developing countries that suffer greatly from the effects of climate change.
Typhoons (called cyclones in the northwestern Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic and northeastern Pacific oceans) draw strength from the warm air and water on the ocean’s surface. As an increase in air temperature speeds up the evaporation of water into vapor, it seems logical to conclude that as the globe gets warmer, storms become more potent and frequent.
No simple answers
While this is sound reasoning, climate specialists believe that the explanation behind the genesis of Yolanda – and the actual impact climate change had on it – is not as simple to determine as it seems.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that while the intensity of storms has indeed been observed to increase with global warming over three decades, the data was limited to the North Atlantic.

The lack of evidence regarding the degree of influence manmade global warming has over typhoons in the western Pacific means that scientists are unable to use this data to establish a conclusive link between climate change and typhoon strength in other parts of the world. 
However, the simultaneous increase in both extreme weather phenomena and greenhouse gas emissions cannot be disregarded. Furthermore, newer analytical methods are rapidly making it possible to attribute extreme weather events to climate change with higher levels of certainty.
Some experts suggest other occurrences in nature to explain the incredible power of Yolanda. Julian Heming, a UK-based expert on tropical cyclones, points to the Madden-Julian oscillation – an atmospheric fluctuation that leads to a periodic increase in warm air over the ocean – as the source of this phenomenon. Meanwhile, research oceanographer Gabe Vecchi mentions “weather fluctuations and climate variability,” and believes that global warming had a “very small” contribution to Yolanda’s intensity.
Nevertheless, scientists generally concur that a hotter climate does have an incremental effect on typhoon strength, and that this would become more evident as time progresses. In a report presented to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) in 2012, atmospheric scientist Bruce Wielicki stated that humanity is “geo-engineering the planet whether [it wants] to or not.”
Poor living conditions
Other meteorologists believe that the extent of the damage done by Typhoon Yolanda resulted from the living conditions of the citizens in the affected areas. A World Bank study from 2012 states that more than 4 out of 10 Filipinos live in “storm-prone” cities with populations in excess of 100,000. For a small archipelago that holds the distinction of having the world’s 12th largest population, those numbers are quite alarming, but hardly surprising.
Brian McNoldy, a researcher from the University of Miami, attributes 75 to 80 percent of the devastation to the “human factor”. McNoldy believes that, due to the homes’ substandard materials and flimsy construction, a storm of lesser strength could have caused almost as much damage. As Norman Cheung from the Kingston University in London puts it: “Weak connections between roofs and walls expose the buildings to consistent extreme wind force. The marked change of internal and external pressure made them collapse completely.”
A theory suggesting that Yolanda was created by “microwave pulses” – a supposed attempt at weather manipulation – recently made the rounds on social media.

However, experts such as Dr. Mahar Lagmay and Dr. Gerry Bagtasa were quick to disprove this theory.
Philippines is still vulnerable
Regardless of the actual reasons behind Yolanda's birth, the inescapable truth is that the Philippines remains frighteningly susceptible to intense weather disturbances. In a span of only 20 years, the country has seen its sea levels increase at three times the rate of the rest of the world – one of the many reasons why the country is extremely vulnerable to climate change.
“We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life,” Saño affirmed. “We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life.” — TJD, GMA News