Q: Is this another sign that the global warming nightmare is coming upon us?
Mooney: I’d be careful about saying that. There’s good evidence that global warming should affect tropical cyclones … in some way and probably make them stronger on average. But when you get a catastrophe like this, global warming isn’t the direct cause, and it really doesn’t explain why there’s been so much suffering.
You really have to look at other factors in order to figure out why a storm can hit the United States and only a couple die, and a storm can hit Myanmar and tens of thousands of people die. That has much more to do with socioeconomic conditions, forecasting systems, lack of evacuation, lack of communication to the populace, and all these other things.
Q: Is this another case of a perfect storm, where, as in Katrina, it happened to hit just wrong and was something that played on all the vulnerabilities that that area faced?
A: It’s certainly looking like that. You had something with Nargis that you didn’t have with Katrina. Katrina, we saw it coming days in advance. We saw a Category 5, and we were just sitting there waiting. Well, Nargis rapidly intensified at the last minute. It had been a fairly weak storm, and then it just started exploding even as it headed toward the coastline. So people didn’t even know there was a bad storm coming until maybe just 24 or 48 hours out. And it kept getting worse and worse and worse, and then it hit a vulnerable place.
Q: But you had written about Nargis, gosh, more than a week in advance and indicated that this would be a pretty bad storm.
A: Yeah, I blogged about it. I wrote about it over at the Daily Green. I track cyclones, so whenever I see something developing in the Bay of Bengal, and I see the ocean temperatures are really warm … you just know that it can’t be good. I didn’t know how strong the storm was going to get, but I knew that the ocean temperatures were warm and I knew that it was already completely formed – and it had this ocean ready to pounce and ready to draw energy from. If you look at the Bay of Bengal, it sucked a couple of degrees Celsius out of the ocean and flung that at the coastline.