Increased Hurricane Intensity
Nick Bradford

Did you know?

  • From 1980-2018, tropical cyclones have caused the most damage, have the highest average event cost, and are responsible for more deaths than any other billion-dollar weather and climate disaster type in the US. 
  • In a warmer climate, hurricane precipitation is projected to increase by about 20% near the eye of the storm and the average storm intensity is expected to increase 2-11%.

Many environmental factors contribute to the development of a tropical cyclone. These include, but are not limited to, ocean water temperatures, atmospheric temperatures, air moisture levels, distance from the equator, and wind speeds and directions. Whether or not a tropical cyclone is categorized as a tropical storm or hurricane depends on its maximum sustained wind speed.

The intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes and the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has increased since the 1980s.These increases are due in part to warmer sea surface temperatures in the areas where Atlantic hurricanes form and pass through. An active area of research involves determining how much of this sea surface temperature increase can be attributed to natural causes versus human causes and whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will continue to increase in the future.

While there is uncertainty as to whether the frequency and duration of hurricanes will increase, scientists project that storm intensity and rainfall rates will increase in the future. Hurricane-related impacts can be magnified by other environmental factors such as increasing sea levels. Additionally, a growing concentration of people and properties in coastal areas where hurricanes strike can result in increased damages when these storms make landfall. For example, sea levels rose a foot over the last century off the coast of New York City. As a result, the storm surgeflooding, and associated damages to infrastructure and communities were more severe when Hurricane Sandy hit than they would have been a few decades ago.

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