Cyclone which caused Indonesia's devastating floods a result of global warming: Experts

Seroja was the 10th cyclone to hit Indonesia since 2008 and the strongest to date, killing over a hundred people.
Seroja was the 10th cyclone to hit Indonesia since 2008 and the strongest to date, killing over a hundred people.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Rising sea temperatures due to global warming were responsible for tropical cyclone Seroja, which triggered devastating floods and landslides in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara islands on Sunday, Indonesia's weather agency has said.

More than a hundred people lost their lives in the disaster.

The 10th cyclone to hit the country since 2008 was the strongest to date, driven by a 4 deg C spike in the temperature of the surrounding waters, Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) chief Dwikorita Karnawati said on Tuesday (April 6).

"Seroja is the first one to bring tremendous impact because it hit the land. It's uncommon," she added.

Indonesia's last major tropical cyclone, Cempaka, formed in the sea in November 2017, and largely dissipated when it hit landfall.

But, unlike its predecessor, Seroja struck the islands even as it was still developing, with wind speeds in the eye of the storm reaching 85kmh, said Professor Dwikorita.

BMKG said on Wednesday the cyclone was in the Indian Ocean, south of West Nusa Tenggara. It was moving south-west away from Indonesia towards Australia.

Seroja, though, was expected to trigger rains of moderate to high intensity, along with lightning and strong winds, across central and eastern parts of Java, Bali, East and West Nusa Tenggara, until Friday.

Rough seas with high waves were also forecast in the waters surrounding East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara.

Prof Dwikorita noted that the frequency of tropical cyclones in Indonesia had intensified. Previously, they occurred once in two to four years on average, but since 2017, they appear once or twice each year.

"We need to realise that mitigation to global warming is necessary. Otherwise, such (tropical) cyclones will become regular occurrences each year," she said.

Dr Andung Bayu Sekaranom, secretary at Gadjah Mada University's Centre for Natural Disaster Studies, said that climate change would raise the intensity of cyclones in terms of wind speed and rainfall.

Coastal regions will bear the brunt of storm surges from tidal waves, accompanied by strong winds.

"An early warning system for high waves is very beneficial to alert residents or fishermen to avoid coastal activities," he told The Straits Times, adding that coastal protection plants could help alleviate the impact of storm surges.

Further inland, one should expect worsening floods and landslides, said Dr Andung.

Consequently, he said, mitigation efforts must focus on the management of watersheds, which have been mostly damaged by land conversion, particularly deforestation.

As many as 124 people were killed following the disaster over the weekend in East Nusa Tenggara, said Dr Raditya Jati, National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman, on Wednesday. Two people were killed in West Nusa Tenggara.

More than 70 people remained missing across East Nusa Tenggara. At least 129 were injured, and more than 13,000 people were displaced.