Friday, May 09, 2008

Two thoughts on the tragedy in Myanmar

First off, I'm not sure what's more tragic: the damage caused by the cyclone or the paranoid Myanmar government's refusal to let in outside aid workers -- letting their own citizens die. As an American citizen, this especially pisses me off because it's not too often that I agree with the decisions of my president. I fully support Bush in his offer to give aid to the suffering Myanmar people, so please, for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, take it. I assure you want we treat your country like Iraq, OK?

Secondly, given the destruction this cyclone has caused, I think we should all know its name and what it looked like.

Cyclone NargisMeet Cyclone Nargis. It's shown here about to smack into Myanmar. At full strength,the category 4 storm had winds humming at 135 mph, but its power decreased slightly before landfall. To put this into perspective, Hurricane Katrina made landfall with 125 mph winds. So as storms go, Nargis and Katrina are roughly the same beast.

But Katrina was formed in August, at the height of summer; Nargis formed in the spring. Spring is not the usual time for powerful cyclones to form. Sure, the waters surrounding Myanmar will be warmer because it's closer to the equator than New Orleans, but not by much -- the capitol Rangoon is at the same level of latitude as Puerto Rico, yet we never hear about such strong tropical storms ravaging our hemisphere this early in storm season. So what gives? Maybe the Indian Ocean is different. Maybe they have early storms like this all the time..?

This is unlikely, as Cyclone Nargis is the first storm of the North Indian Ocean cyclone season. But I decided to do some more poking around on Wikipedia to see if I could find a powerful Asian cyclone like Nargis that had formed early in May -- and came up empty handed. The closest notable storm I could find was Typhoon Chataan of 2002, which was akin to Nargis's strength but formed at the end of June. The other storms I clicked on formed in July, August, October, and even November... But May was absent.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many speculated that global warming played a role in such a strong storm like it being formed. Which is possible, though many strong storms have formed at the end of summer. Cyclone Nargis is remarkable for its strength and how early in the season it formed. This there something wrong here? Is Nargis just a freak of nature or is something being overlooked?

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