Climate Change Could Make Hurricanes Stronger—and More Frequent

Existing research suggests that hurricanes could become stronger but less frequent thanks to climate change. But a new study says both could happen.

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Photo by NASA via Getty Images

A satellite image shows Hurricane Sandy as it approached the East Coast on Oct. 28, 2012

Maybe Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have gone through the trouble of putting together a 430-page report outlining a $19.5 billion plan to save New York from the threat of climate change had Hurricane Sandy not hit  last year and inflicted some $20 billion in New York City alone. But somehow I doubt it. There’s a reason that a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina highlighted the poster for An Inconvenient Truth, or that belief in man-made global warming tends to spike after extreme weather. Heat waves are uncomfortable and drought is frightening, but it’s superstorms—combined with the more gradual effects of sea-level rise—that can make climate change seem apocalyptic. Just read Jeff Goodell’s recent piece in Rolling Stone about what a major hurricane might be able to do to Miami after a few decades of warming.

But there was one hopeful side effect to climate change, at least when it came to tropical storms. The prevailing scientific opinion—seen in this 2012 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—is that while tropical storms are likely to become more powerful and rainier as the climate warms, they would also become less common. Bigger bullets, slower gun.

(MORE: The Most Destructive U.S. Hurricanes of All Time)

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, suggest that we may not be so lucky. Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the foremost experts on hurricanes and climate change, argues that tropical cyclones are likely to become both stronger and more frequent as the climate continues to warm—especially in the western North Pacific, home to some of the most heavily populated cities on the planet. But the North Atlantic—meaning the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast—won’t be spared either. Bigger bullets, faster gun.

(MORE: Tornadoes Were Just the Beginning. This Hurricane Season Is Going to be Stormy)

Emanuel is going up against the conventional wisdom and much of the published literature with this paper. But the reality is that we don’t have a very good grasp of how tropical cyclone formation or strength might change in the future. As Adam Freedman points out at Climate Central, hurricanes may be huge, but they’re still too small to be easily tracked by computer climate models, which do better on a larger scale. Emanuel embedded higher-resolution regional and local models into an overarching global framework. Emanuel’s “downscaled” model simulates the development of tropical cyclones at a resolution that will increase as the storm gets stronger. For each of the six IPCC global climate models, Emanuel simulated 600 storms every year between 1950 and 2005, then ran the model forward to 2100, using an IPCC forecast that has global carbon dioxide emissions tripling by the end of the century.

Emanuel’s simulations found that the frequency of tropical cyclones will increase by 10 to 40% by 2100. And the intensity of those storms will increase by 45% by the end of the century, with storms that actually make landfall—the ones that tend to smash—will increase by 55%. As Emanuel told LiveScience:

We see an increase, in particular, toward the middle of the century. The results surprised us, but we haven’t gotten so far as to understand why this is happening.

(MORE: Why Dwindling Snow — Thanks Largely to Climate Change — Might Dry Out Los Angeles)

OK, big caveats here. Emanuel is a very well-respected climatologist, but it always takes more than a single study to overturn existing scientific opinion—especially if that opinion is itself a little wobbly. Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry, who falls on the more skeptical side of the scientific debate on climate change, told this to Doyle Rice of USA Today:

The conclusions from this study rely on a large number of assumptions, many of which only have limited support from theory and observations and hence are associated with substantial uncertainties. Personally, I take studies that project future tropical cyclone activity from climate models with a grain of salt.

We’ll see in the decades to come whether Emanuel is right. But in a way, it may not matter all that much. As Sandy showed, hurricanes already pose a tremendous threat to our coastal cities. And that threat will continue to grow no matter what climate change does to tropical storm frequency or intensity because we’re putting more and more people and property along the water’s edge. Remember Miami? In 1926 the city was devastated by a Category 4 hurricane. (Sandy barely ranked as a Category 1 by the time it made landfall.) The difference is that there wasn’t much of a Miami back in 1926—the city’s population had just passed 100,000. Today more than 2.5 million people call Miami-Dade county home, and a hurricane of the same sort that hit in 1926 that hit now would cause $180 billion in damages. Whatever climate change does to hurricanes, we need to be ready.

MORE: Food Recycling: Composting the Big Apple


Global warming hysterics: Hurricanes are now going to be more frequent

Headline today: No hurricanes yet this year, a first for August


I have looked into this articles claim.

Here is the latest science from NASA ....

'Brown Ocean' Can Fuel Inland Tropical Cyclones July 16, 2013

In the summer of 2007, Tropical Storm Erin stumped meteorologists. Most tropical cyclones dissipate after making landfall, weakened by everything from friction and wind shear to loss of the ocean as a source of heat energy. Not Erin. The storm intensified as it tracked through Texas. It formed an eye over Oklahoma. As it spun over the southern plains, Erin grew stronger than it ever had been over the ocean.

Erin is an example of a newly defined type of inland tropical cyclone that maintains or increases strength after landfall, according to NASA-funded research by Theresa Andersen and J. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia in Athens.  

Before making landfall, tropical storms gather power from the warm waters of the ocean. Storms in the newly defined category derive their energy instead from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture – a phenomenon that Andersen and Shepherd call the "brown ocean."

"The land essentially mimics the moisture-rich environment of the ocean, where the storm originated," Andersen said.

The study is the first global assessment of the post-landfall strength and structure of inland tropical cyclones, and the weather and environmental conditions in which they occur.

Scientists produced a schematic to categorize inland tropical cyclones, highlighting a newly described sub-category called tropical cyclone maintenance and intensification events, or TCMIs.Image Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen


Why should we believe an arm chair amateur climatologist like you when not even the REAL scientists have ever said their crisis is "inevitable", just possible and likely and maybe and....

Prove me wrong!


TIME magazine in 1977: Beware the Coming Ice Age.,  But then TIME magazine 2006: Be Very Afraid of Global Warming. 

So which is it? If Sandy's path had been 50 to 75 miles more easterly of New York and New Jersey, we never would have heard all the crap. 








Ironically, the people who complain about Big Oil's exorbitant extortion of the public are also their staunchest political supporters.


I know many do not want to be confused by the facts, especially when they do not agree with alarmist opinions and such. But the facts are clear, tropical cyclone activity and intensity are DECREASING. NOT INCREASING. The following study cited below clearly contradicts the alarmist and politicians who want to take your money by increasing costs and taxes for this so called climate change. Go read:

Recent historically low global tropical cyclone activity

Ryan N. Maue

Article first published online: 20 JUL 2011

Look at the data, WITHOUT welding goggles for glasses and you will see that both hurricane/tropical cyclone intensity and frequency are declining over the past 40 years.



For starters the paper has a misleading title, it should have read:
“Ryan_Maue_FSU_Global_ACE_ levels_historical_lows”
because ACE is a one eyed indicator of actual cyclone intensity and doesn't serve as an accurate measure of a cyclone's total energy expenditure, nor its potential destructive power.

Maue uses the ACE method for rating hurricanes.  For anybody that knows anything about hurricanes, this is such a primitive measure that it hardly deserves serious consideration. 

“The ACE index is a wind energy index, defined as the sum of the squares of the maximum sustained surface wind speed (knots) measured every six hours for all named storms while they are at least tropical storm strength.”

ACE does not take into account moisture/water content, nor does it factor in cyclone size. 

ACE happens to be the easier data to collect and has it purposes, but when trying to understand global warming’s impact on cyclones, it is decidedly horse’n buggy stuff that has no right being waved around without seriously considering the full spectrum of the available science, something Deniers refuse to do.   

A far more accurate and revealing methodology is the Integrated Kinetic Energy (IKE) scale which measures total kinetic energy.  On that scale, Sandy was the second most energetic hurricane in recorded history.

I recommend that you quit getting your science from political sites like the weatherman's WUWT and from fossil fuel shills who are bought and paid for and instead go to such sites as the NOAA, NASA, and the NSF.


They've been predicting stronger hurricanes for several years, and the opposite keeps happening. Sooner or later, just by chance, they will be right...and they'll say "aha! We told you!"

Why would any single person in the world believe any predictions made by climate scientists? Astrologers have a better record.  That's pure simple fact. 


@KevinLenihan They have not been wrong, that is just more Denier nonsense.  Sandy was the second most energetic hurricane in recorded history. 


@clearfog @KevinLenihan There you go, picking out one storm as proof. Hurricanes have been significantly less frequent and less severe for several years now. And each of those years they predicted the opposite. I think the last strong year was the Katrina year. Look it up.

Warming has stopped for the last 16 years. Ice is accumulating in the ant-arctic. Oceans are rising mostly at the same rate that they have for the last 3000 years(some acceleration, but nothing like predicted). 

Everything the climate is doing is completely consistent with conditions expected for a climate emerging from a centuries long cooling period. Which it is(the little ice age).

I don't deny that possibility of anthropomorphic warming. I deny that the people studying it are doing science. They resist contradictory data like medieval priests. We need to apply some real science here to see what's going on.


@KevinLenihanNatural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate's sensitivity to CO2.

Start looking at the science


@TroyOwen @KevinLenihan (1) CO2 also goes up when the planet warms. So the causal relationship is not clear. In fact, the record shows CO2 going up AFTER the climate warms. Even in Gore's video, if you look closely and ignore his misdirection. (2) no one disputes CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it certainly IS in dispute how much warming will occur due to rising levels. (3) the past indicates the climate is always changing. Do you wish to stop all change? Just man made change? How do we know how much of the change is man made? (4) is it possible that man made warming is just enough to prevent the coming ice age? When I say coming, I mean within the next few thousand years, but possibly soon. (5)since the climate is ALWAYS changing and always has been, what is this balance you seek? Since it has never existed, do you propose we create one? (6) I have looked at the science. And I don't advocate ignoring it. It should be studied vigorously. But science by definition means formulating theories and testing them by making predictions. So far the predictions have not worked well at all. They just haven't. To deny that is unscientific. 


@KevinLenihan@TroyOwen Actually CO2 goes up AFTER the Earth cools. Not warms. That is part of the problem, we are in a warming phase set to become cooler we have more CO2 now than anytime in 600,000 years. It has never been seen by this planet since.

Look at the satellite data from NASA, no theory no computer model. 

Look at EVERY Glacier on the planet, no theory there either. 

Yes we do know how much CO2 and greenhouse gasses we produce every year.  The burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use results in the emission into the atmosphere of approximately 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year worldwide, according to the EIA.

I look at evidence I can see, and I am seeing it.


@TroyOwen @KevinLenihan Nope. CO2 goes up after warming. I'll use a graph on a pro-Global warming site.

Now, this site goes on to explain that CO2 goes up AFTER planet warming because the oceans warm. There is a lag of 600 to 1000 years. But the reason CO2 goes up is conjecture. Some of the CO2 rise is likely due to increased biomass, or possibly from other sources such as volcanic. 

The article then explains that the CO2 fuels the planet's warming which was initially caused by solar changes. But again, that is pure conjecture, and likely is made to support the theory. And it leads one to wonder what eventually causes the climate to cool again, since the CO2 should lead to runaway warming, if it's true that warming leads to increased CO2 which in turn leads to more warming. 

You see the problem? Scientists agree that warming is produced historically by solar changes. Global warming scientists say this warming was enhanced by CO2 increases, and the current warming is initiated by CO2 increases. Let's look closely at this.

(A) climate scientists version: in the past, warming was initiated by solar changes, then enhanced by CO2 rises.

(B) skeptics: in the past, warming was initiated by solar changes and CO2 rises followed but had little impact on climate

If A is correct, the problem is this: how did the planet ever cool? How did it ever come out of the warming cycle? Wouldn't the CO2 increase cause a runaway effect?

If B is true, the climate cools when the solar activity returns to normal. 

If A can not be explained, then the theory has a major, major problem.

And: yes, we know how much CO2 is put into the atmosphere. I never questioned that. What I questioned was the degree of its effect.

As far as the glaciers, well, some are advancing, some are retreating. It would seem more are retreating, but that is to be expected...because we ARE in a period of warming. Even if man never existed, we would be in a warming period. The little ice age ended a century and a half ago, and we are slowly returning to the warmer temperatures that dominated before the little age age. Evidence suggests it was warmer a thousand years ago than it is now.

You might question this evidence that it was warmer during Roman and medieval times. Good! That's science. Now start questing ALL the evidence, and you'll be taking a scientific approach. 


@KevinLenihanThe question of “which comes first, the temperature or the CO2 rise?” has been much like the proverbial “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question.

But there are no Glaciers advancing, the snowline for the entire Himalaya's is 500 feet higher than 50 years ago we now only have 14 of the 50 or so Glaciers in Yellowstone.

September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 11.5 percent per decade, relative to the 1979 to 2000 average. Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum each September.  The September 2010 extent was the third lowest in the satellite record.

Data from NASA's Grace satellites show that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland are losing mass. The continent of Antarctica (left chart) has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of ice per year since 2002.

These are things that are seen and measured. You may argue "Man isn't a main factor." but just looking around for the past 50 years tells me that we are.

30 Billion tons a year should tell you that much, comparing Volcanoes to that, Volcanoes emit 1% or so.


@TroyOwen @KevinLenihan

(1) ant-arctic sea ice is actually growing:

(2) satellites have not been around long at all, a fraction of a second on the global time scale. 

(3) as I said, we are in a natural warming period, and there is no serious doubting that. Is there manmade warming also? Maybe, but we would be warming either way. Until we hit the next ice age.

(4) arctic ice and glaciers are in mild retreat. Not even close to what the models predicted. They are retreating exactly as would be expected under natural warming conditions. And we ARE in a warming period.

(5) Saying "look around for the past 50 years" is evidence of a non-scientific approach. I've heard others argue "don't you believe we are harming the planet?" Yes! I do believe that, with all my heart. We are destroying the oceans among other things. But this has NOTHING to do with global warming! It's a separate issue. 

I will take a moment to provide the answer I thought you were going to to my question above: if CO2 increases are caused by warming from solar changes, and then the CO2 in turn fuels global warming on its own, why doesn't warming cycle out of control?

The scientists answer is that the warming causes ice to melt, which cools the oceans, which cools the climate. So there is an oscillation.

But that does not answer the question in a satisfactory way. You said above that CO2 is causing increased energy in the system,with nothing to balance it off. Ice melting would temporarily cause a rebalancing, but in the long run, it would still be the case that energy is being added to the system. So if true, than the oscillation should be a gradually rising one. Correct? It should oscillate between warming and cooling, but each time the warming should be stronger. Is this what the record indicates?

No. Simply, no.


@TroyOwen @KevinLenihan Also keep in mind: 

(1) real science embraces skepticism, rather than name calling(not you, but others who refer to "deniers".

(2) real science does not hide data and methods(as global warming "scientists" famously do).

(3) real science consists of: observe, theorize, predict. If the predictions do not work well, there are problems with the theory. Admit the problems, and continue on. Don't force damaging solutions on the world when the theories have not had much predictive power. That's politics, not science.

(4) if you want to recognize that some skeptics might be funded by the fossil industry, you need to look beyond the surface. The companies making the most money out of green energy...DRUM ROLL PLEASE...the fossil fuel industries! Look it up. The energy companies have learned to capitalize on green energy. They are actually funding much of "green" science.

Also, you can't think that the global warming science does not have its own funding problems. Do you suppose that ANYONE in the science community whose study results don't confirm warming will get funded? No fricking way! You want funding in that field, you better play ball. Heck, if you want a degree in climate science, chances are you are already a screaming Leftie, but if not, you will not go far. You don't think this bias impacts the way data is tabulated and represented? Just like politicians know how to skew their polling, so do scientists with their data. Thus the determination to pillory any skeptics.

Nope. It ain't science.