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Will Climate Change Create Deadlier Tropical Storms?

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Five days after tropical cyclone Idai cut a swathe through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, the confirmed death toll stood at more than 300 and hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk,.

Weeks after the deadly cyclone Idai tore through Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, the human toll is still being tallied. Entire communities remain submerged, more than a thousand people lost their lives—more than 600 where the storm hit hardest in the coastal Mozambican city of Beira—and outbreaks of cholera continue to deliver fresh misery to hundreds of families. With more than three million people’s livelihoods affected so far, the tropical cyclone is one of the most devastating to ever batter the Southern Hemisphere. But is this just more of what we can expect as climates warm? A new study suggests Cyclone Idai may well be the future, as tropical storms potentially become deadlier due to worsening climate change.

“Cyclone Idai is another tragic example of the destructive potential of windstorms. These disasters can be particularly devastating in developing countries, where infrastructure and state capacity are weakest,” says Todd Pugatch, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University and author of the new research published in the journal World Development.

Tropical storms start when frenzied high-speed winds and moisture swirl around low-pressure air pockets above hot ocean waters. What these storms are called depends on where they form: hurricanes over the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, cyclones over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

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