Although opinions vary on the correlation between global warming and the increased number of hurricanes, scientists agree that changes in Earth’s temperature intensify hurricanes’ impacts. Higher sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures have been shown to contribute to stronger hurricanes. Since 1970, sea temperatures have warmed by an average of 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade. Global warming also causes the Earth’s lower atmosphere to become warmer and moisture levels in the atmosphere to increase, thus causing more intense storms.
As of 2019, elevated emissions of greenhouse gases are projected to reduce vertical wind shear along the U.S. East Coast. High vertical wind shear de-intensifies landfalling hurricanes before they come to shore. A reduction in wind shear, therefore, portends longer and stronger hurricanes.
Most of the global warming that has occurred over the last century is likely due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases caused by humans. According to the IPCC AR5, global warming has contributed to a rise in sea levels that in turn caused higher coastal inundation levels over the past half-century.
Tropical cyclone rainfall rates show over a 66% chance of increasing in coming years as well due to anthropogenic warming and a surge in atmospheric moisture content. Studies project an increase in rainfall rates by an average of 10–15% within 100 km of the storm for a two-degree Celsius global warming scenario.
More research is needed to prove that the increase in hurricanes from 1966 to 2013 is a direct result of global warming. However, it’s clear that in the North Atlantic Basin alone, the long-term average number of tropical storms was about 11 annually, with six becoming hurricanes. From 2000 to 2013, the average was about 16 storms per year, including approximately eight hurricanes.
Scientists predict longer and stronger hurricanes in coming decades as a result of global warming, or changes in Earth’s atmospheric temperatures. Globally, tropical cyclone intensities are forecasted to increase by an average of one to 10 percent according to model projections for a two-degree Celsius global warming. Additionally, global proportions of tropical cyclones that reach intense levels — Category 4 and 5 — will likely increase by 45–87% over the course of the 21st century due to anthropogenic warming.
Global warming contributes to longer and stronger hurricanes for several reasons, including:
- Hot oceans: Warmer oceans caused by global warming are fuel for hurricanes.
- Higher sea levels: A rise in sea levels make hurricanes worse when strong winds push seawater ashore and prompt massive flooding.
- Increased moisture in the atmosphere: Warmer air caused by global warming can hold more moisture. Thus, hurricanes pick up more vapor before dumping it on Earth’s surface.
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