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Typhoon Fanapi strikes Taiwan, causes floods in the south

Typhoon Fanapi satellite photo by NASA

Image from NASA Earth Observatory

Typhoon Fanapi (颱風凡那比) was the first typhoon to directly hit Taiwan this year. It made landfall at Fengbin in Hualien County at 8:40am on Sunday 19 September. The typhoon packed winds that exceeded 200 kilometres per hour. It also caused a Foehn wind which resulted in elevated temperatures in Taitung on Sunday morning.

Rainfall from Typhoon Fanapi

Some of the areas that experienced the heaviest rainfall were also the ones affected by Typhoon Morakot in August last year. Some locations in Pingtung County recorded over 1,000 millimetres of rain. According to the Central Weather Bureau website as of 5pm Monday Majia in Pingtung County had recorded 1,123.5 millimetres of rain. Shangdewen in Sandimen Township of Pingtung County had recored 1,007 millimetres in the same period. 

Rainfall from Typhoon Fanapi

The heavy rains resulted in flooding in areas of Pingtung County and Kaohsiung City and County. Television news is reporting that the floods in Kaohsiung City are the worst in 50 years. Focus Taiwan (CNA) reports:

In southern Taiwan, the wind damage was not that great but the area suffered severe flooding as the storm dumped about 600 millimeters (mm) of rain on that region.

“Several districts in Kaohsiung County, including Gangshan, recorded the highest volume of rainfall in history Sunday, ” Chi Feng-hsiung, a Kaohsiung City government official, said Monday.

The typhoon caused flooding in 77 boroughs in the southern city, wrecking the personal property of residents in the area, according to Kaohsiung City government statistics.

Kaohsiung residents blamed the city’s sewage and drainage system, which they said was not designed to handle the volume of rain brought by Fanapi.

The system was designed for the drainage of a maximum of 321 mm of accumulated rainfall over a 24-hour period. However, on Sunday, the 24-hour accumulated rainfall in several areas of Kaohsiung City and County exceeded 576 mm.

The extent of the flooding led Premier Wu Den-yih to note that facilities need to be upgraded to cope with climate change. CNA reports:

Flooding to the extent experienced as a result of Fanapi was expected to happen just once in 200 years, far exceeding what the existing flood control facilities are able to deal with, Wu said while visiting an emergency operations center in Taipei.

“Because of severe climate change, all public flood control facilities — no matter whether they are expanded existing ones or completely new — need to be designed with the possibility of such heavy rainfall in mind, ” Wu said.

Typhoon Fanapi and the associated floods highlights the vulnerability of many areas in Taiwan to extreme rainfall events. Planning for future events needs to take into account the effects of climate change. As the memory of Typhoon Morakot is still vivid many people were better prepared and knew how to avoid the risks in this case. It also seems the government took a far more proactive approach to dealing with the storm. Perhaps it was part show for political purposes, but that is far better than the slow and ineffective response to last year’s far more serious Typhoon Morakot.

There was also plenty of online activity related to the typhoon. The @taiwanfloods Twitter account has been busily tweeting Chinese-language updates about the typhoon and floods. The Storm2k forum has a very active discussion about the typhoon. The site has lots of meteorology buffs and storm chasers discussing the storm. There is lots of technical information plus a few on the ground observations.

Tony Coolidge posted some photos on his blog of damage to a high school in Tainan County. Kerim posted a video on YouTube showing the strength of the wind in Hualien. Michael Turton posted some videos of the typhoon in Taichung County. Troy Simpson had several posts reporting the impact of the typhoon in Kaohsiung. He has some videos of the typhoon as it hit and photos of the aftermath. Sandy has some photos of the post-storm damage in Neipu, Pingtung County. Barking Deer News has some updates on the condition of mountain trails. @ItsLesleyBee posted some photos of her flooded school on twitpic.

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After the storm


Comment from mike
Time 28 September 2010 at 4:42 am

“The extent of the flooding led Premier Wu Den-yih to note that facilities need to be upgraded to cope with climate change.”

Upgrades to “facilities” because of “climate change”?

David, as I’m sure you realize, there are critical questions to ask about what “facilities” Wu has in mind and the nature, scale and costs (and to whom) of these “upgrades”. For example, how feasible is it to actually dig up and adequately modify the existing sewage systems in a place like downtown Kaohsiung City, or even somewhere out in the sticks like Gangshan? What would the cost structure for a project like that look like relative to the costs of the typhoon, and where would the money come from?

Also, where is the evidence to suggest that “climate change” created Typhoon Fanapi? I presume you have none, in which case your intellectual integrity would surely require of you that this assertion…

“Planning for future events needs to take into account the effects of climate change.”

… be removed or a suitable caveat added to indicate the conjectural nature of the predicate.

Comment from David Reid
Time 29 September 2010 at 12:11 am

Mike, I agree that it is difficult to connect a single typhoon or weather event to climate change. However, the impacts of climate change are well understood. Sea levels are rising. In Taiwan there have already been changes in the temporal distribution of rainfall.

Please read an article I previously published on this blog, Drought, water and climate change. The article notes the findings of two articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Another article I wrote titled Taiwan’s disappearing coastline talks about rising sea levels. Again it draws on findings of scientific research. Read through all the posts tagged climate change if you want more.

Investments in new infrastructure can’t be made just on the basis of historical experience. They need to be made on the best predictions of future weather patterns resulting from climate change. Of course thorough economic analysis of the costs should be done, but I stand by what I have written.

Comment from mike
Time 29 September 2010 at 2:54 am

“However, the impacts of climate change are well understood. Sea levels are rising. In Taiwan there have already been changes in the temporal distribution of rainfall.”

Well first, it is one thing to measure changes in the distribution and volume of rainfall over time, but it is quite another to attribute any such measured variations to “climate change”, or more specifically, to increases in greenhouse gas emissions. If you know of no evidence to clearly support the implied connection, then perhaps in future you should consider disciplining your use of implicature with your sense of honesty.

Second, your assertion of rising sea levels is not clearly supported by anything in the links you provide; the Taipei Times article on beach erosion from March last year hedges the assertion in what should be embarassing caveats:

“…some geologists believe the situation has been exacerbated by rising sea levels — a result of global warming.”

That is not acceptable evidence. That piece cites research on beach erosion which appears far narrower in the scope of its conclusions, to wit: falling volumes of sediment deposits from rivers due to sand extraction and related infrastructure projects. Perhaps some of the papers you mention (not accessible to me) do provide clear support for the assertion of rising sea levels; if they do, perhaps you’d be good enough to supply actual quotations?

“Investments in new infrastructure can’t be made just on the basis of historical experience.”

Of course not – but mind that little qualifier “just”, for neither should historical experience be dismissed as irrelevant.

“They need to be made on the best predictions of future weather patterns resulting from climate change.”

I will allow that investment decisions must take account of possible changes in the future – that much is common sense – but there are two significant problems with that statement.

The one you will already have in mind concerns skepticism over predictions of future weather “resulting” from greenhouse gas emissions. You might balk at the sneer quote-marks there, but you surely are aware of the recent scandals concerning the IPCC and its “predictions”, not to mention earlier revelations involving other climate change research institutions. The point is that some of those wilder predictions are not to be trusted (for the moment I will pass over in silence some of the more moderate predictions).

Yet a more serious problem is that many of the relevant “predictions” to investing in new or rennovated infrastructure are not weather or climate related, but rather about human use of water. Briefly, the problem is that whilst the economics governing the distribution and nature of human use of resources like water are highly susceptible to changes (and on a large enough time scale given market innovation, unpredictable changes), infrastructure investments, at least as they are typically conceived as large scale projects that must necessarily be carried out by State agencies, are very long term, very expensive and, once completed, are sunk costs.

Let’s suppose that it is possible – right now – (and I do actually suppose this) to develop water harvesting and recycling solutions which would obviate much of the need for current sewage system design. Let us suppose further that, because of increasing politicisation of weather impacts (with them apparently being due to greenhouse gas emissions, even though the evidence for this assertion seems murky), the government decides to rennovate existing sewage infrastructure in ways consistent with its original architectural principles. Not only would this be a very expensive sunk cost (even assuming nothing goes wrong), but it would also create the unobserved cost of disincentivising market provision of alternative systems of water management, which would not only be an environmental loss, but a rather significant economic loss too.

Perhaps you might employ a little more care and thoughtfulness about your assertions on climate change and what to do about it in the future.

Comment from David Reid
Time 1 October 2010 at 9:49 am

My discussion with Mike continues over here.