Climate Change: Hurricanes are strengthening faster


A new study published on 7th February 2019 reveals that the intensity of Hurricanes is increasing and that the cause of this is Climate Change.

Let’s go directly to the alpha source and see what this is all about.

Recent increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates

Published in Nature Communications, it explains that tropical cyclones that very rapidly intensify have a considerable financial and human impact, hence gaining an understanding why we are observing upward trends in tropical cyclone intensification rates does truly matter.

Side Note: The generic term “Tropical Cyclone” describes an intense rotating weather system. We use the word “Hurricane” when they happen in the Atlantic, and the word “Typhoon” when the happen in the eastern Pacific.

Key Finding of the Study

Emphases in mine …

…We compare the observed trends to natural variability in bias-corrected, high-resolution, global coupled model experiments that accurately simulate the climatological distribution of tropical cyclone intensification. Both observed datasets show significant increases in tropical cyclone intensification rates in the Atlantic basin that are highly unusual compared to model-based estimates of internal climate variations. Our results suggest a detectable increase of Atlantic intensification rates with a positive contribution from anthropogenic forcing and reveal a need for more reliable data before detecting a robust trend at the global scale….

The phrases “significant increases” is really not something you want to read when discussing the current trends in Hurricane intensity.

What exactly is new about this study?

Climate science has been predicting an increase in Hurricane intensity, so what exactly is new about this study?

Their specific focus was upon the rate at which the rapid intensification of storms happens – the amount of time it takes for a weak storm to build up and becomes a full Category 4 or 5 Hurricane. In other words, it is not about the ultimate intensity of a storm or the number of storms, but instead is about the amount of time it takes for very minor storms to escalate into life threatening monsters. It is this rate of intensification that is happening even more rapidly, and the root cause is climate change.

Is this a surprise?

Not really. This has in fact been expected.

This other study (Emanuel, K. Will global warming make hurricane forecasting more difficult? Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc.98, 495–501 (2017) … found that the number of Tropical Cyclones that undergo rapid intensification before U.S. landfall is projected to significantly increase in the late 21st century compared to the late 20th century.

This study (Bhatia, K., Vecchi, G., Murakami, H., Underwood, S. & Kossin, J. Projected response of tropical cyclone intensity and intensification in a global climate model. J. Clim.31, 8281–8303 (2018)) … projected a dramatic increase in the global incidence of rapid intensification due to global warming.

Both of the above used completely different methodologies to predict exactly this.

Subject Matter Expert Comments

Lifted from a Washington Post article here …

…“There’s just a whole host of issues that come along with rapid intensification, and none of them are good,” said Jim Kossin, one of the study’s authors and also a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration….

…“Rapid intensification is exceedingly dangerous because people, they’re not warned adequately, they’re not prepared, many of them don’t evacuate,”…

…Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at MIT, said the new results make theoretical sense — that storms are intensifying faster as the climate warms. 

“One theoretical prediction, backed up by modeling results, is that intensity change should increase faster with global warming than intensity itself,”…

…“Rapid intensification is a nightmare for hurricane forecasters especially for storms nearing land,” added Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with “As the climate warms, some ocean regions may disproportionately see more intense and rapidly intensifying storms.”…

… Benjamin Strauss, chief executive and chief scientist at the research organization Climate Central, said the study seems in line with a growing body of research identifying the fingerprints of climate change in extreme weather events.

“This is a case where science seems to be following common sense. We’ve had so many badly destructive hurricanes strike the U.S. over the last 15 years that it’s hard not to feel something is amiss,” Strauss said.

“The intuition is easy: If you turn up the heat under a pot of water, it can shift quickly from simmer to boil,” Strauss added. “But the science of attributing hurricane characteristics to climate change has been difficult and requires a lot of computing power. This team has done important work, and I suspect it foreshadows a great deal more findings in the same direction.”

Further Reading

For a further overview of the study, I can recommend that Washington Post article – Hurricanes are strengthening faster in the Atlantic, and climate change is a big reason why, scientists say (link in tweet below as well)

You will also find a good overall summary of all the recent Hurricane related research here.


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