Storms and Climate Change

Coastal erosion in Alaska
Coastal erosion in Alaska.

USGS image by Benjamin Jones.


In light of the 2005 hurricane season, many researchers began wondering whether changing climate had anything to do with the increased number and intensity of tropical storms. Researchers have found that the number of hurricanes making landfall on North America has not actually increased over the past century; however, the storms themselves are changing in response to increased sea-surface temperatures (Karl et al. 2009). In the eastern Pacific, the number of storms has decreased, but the strongest hurricanes have become stronger since the 1980s.

satellite image of equatorial Atlantic from Africa to Caribbean with colored band where storms develop
Tropics region in the Atlantic and Caribbean with where many hurricanes and tropical storms develop.

NASA image.

In the Atlantic Ocean, the destructive power of hurricanes has increased since 1970, and the intensity is likely to increase during the 21st century with higher peak-wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge height and strength (Karl et al. 2009). In particular, the strongest storms (category 4 and 5) have increased in intensity (Karl et al. 2009). Furthermore, extratropical storms have shifted northward in latitude and have become stronger and more frequent in the past 50 years (Karl et al. 2009). Investigators project that the northward shift will continue, and these storms will become stronger and more frequent, with greater wind speeds and more extreme wave height (Karl et al. 2009).

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    Last updated: June 26, 2019


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