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Tomorrow Today

Meteorologists on Storm Tracks

Interview: Our studio guest is Professor Uwe Ulbrich, a meteorologist from the Free University in Berlin. We ask him about the problems facing typhoon researchers.

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Science still can't predict exactly WHEN it's going to hit or WHERE. Why is that such a challenge?

Uwe Ulbrich:
What we do have is predictions of the track and in the short term we know pretty well. But to say two days ahead it's very difficult, because of the details of the typhoon structure.

And are you going to do any new developments in this area to improve predicting when and where they're going to hit?

Yes, of course, there are research programs on that. We are trying to learn more about the details. How different structures of rainfall -- it is not circular like the clouds -- influence the path and the tracks of the typhoons.

Now in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan that we've had in the past week, I've read that tropical typhoons in the Pacific have increased in strength and number over the past thirty years, but I've also read that they've stayed the same. So which is true?

Probably, it's both. It depends on the time you're looking and the parameters that you're looking at. So some people say the question is whether this a typhoon and others say what is the maximum intensity or what is the area covered by the extreme winds. So there are different parameters about how to measure the intensity and then the question comes up has it increased, or not, and it depends on the parameters.

Has it got anything to do with climate change? Do we have to expect that we are going to see more severe typhoons with climate change?

Well, there's a potential at least. Because climate change has, of course, been warming temperatures and warming ocean temperatures as well. And the heat that comes from the oceans is the main factor for the existence of a typhoon. If it increases there is a high potential of stronger and even more typhoons.

Is this going to be discussed at the UN conference in Warsaw, do you think?

I think it should be discussed, but there is not only the sea surface temperature, but other factors. So the IPCC report, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climactic Change, says well this is not well-known yet, if typhoons are going to increase. So I rather think they are talking more about impacts and I would hope that they would into the impact side there.

Now in the most recent climate report that we had out, scientists have said with 95percent certainty that climate change is human-induced. But it's become a political matter and it's as if negotiations have frozen. Have we now left it too late?

Well, I think that the question comes up what to do with it. I mean 95percent probability, you can say that is almost sure. But politicians must decide how to deal with it.

There are different measures and they're all costly. Who is going to pay?

So what changes have to happen then?

I am a scientist and what I would wish is that science is supported in order to help make these problems smaller than they could be. One of these instances, for example, is getting better data and getting better research on these issues in order to say can we do adaptation or not?

Uwe Ulbrich, thank you so much for joining us on Tomorrow Today.

(Interview: Anne O'Donnell)