When I met Florin Diacu, I almost felt like I was in the presence of a great power. This, after all, is the man who predicts megadisasters. He’s one of the world’s top analysts specializing in the ‘science’ of forecasting the next major catastrophe – tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, rapid climate change, hurricanes, collisions with asteroids or comets, stock-market crashes, and pandemics. He’s here at the Banff International Research Station, and doing a public talk on using math to predict the next catastrophe.
So I asked him about the recent natural disaster in the Philippines: was the extent of the power of Typhoon Haiyan fully predicted by scientists?
We knew very well the path of the hurricane and the authorities evacuated some 800,000 people but it wasn’t enough. It was such a strong hurricane –we call it hurricane here, in Asia they call it typhoon and in Australia they call it cyclone, but it’s all the same thing. With any hurricane we can predict about three days in advance a very good approximation of its path, but what we’re not so good at yet is predicting the strength of the hurricane. About two days before this one hit, we knew it was going to be particularly strong. The problem was logistics, not that science couldn’t predict it. They tried their best ….but time was short.