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Storm Surge And Low-Lying Philippines Made A Deadly Combination

Residents wade through flood waters on Sunday in Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
Jeoffrey Maitem
Getty Images
Residents wade through flood waters on Sunday in Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

The worst part of Typhoon Haiyan, which is thought to have killed as many as 10,000 people in the Philippines, was storm surge, NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on All Things Considered.

Joyce spoke with storm surge expert Carl Drews, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. Dawes says the surge was greatest at Tacloban City, where the Leyte Gulf narrows into the San Pedro and San Pablo Bay.

"That is about the worst path and the worst place for surge," Drews says.

Much the same thing happened during Katrina and last year's superstorm Sandy, when a massive wall of water was pushed up into New Jersey's Raritan Bay and Long Island Sound.

Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest-ever tropical cyclone to make landfall, according to Jeff Masters, meteorologist and co-founder of the Weather Underground. When it smashed through the central Philippines it was generating 1-minute average winds of 195 mph, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory's Joint Typhoon Warning Center (an alternate 10-minute measure from the Japan Meteorological Agency put Haiyan's winds at 145 mph at landfall).

Those tremendous winds drove even more water ashore because sea-level rise due to climate change has been occurring four to five times faster in the eastern Philippines because trade winds and currents have been piling up more water in the western Pacific, according to William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Where the typhoon hit, it was relatively low ground," Thorkil Aarup, a scientist with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in Paris, which monitors storms and storm preparedness worldwide, tells Joyce. "It was difficult to evacuate to places where you had safe cover."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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