Global Warming’s Evil Spawn: Bigger, Badder Hurricanes

The intensity of future hurricanes will increase by up to 45 percent by the end of the century.

Hurricane Sandy smacks the Eastern seaboard in October 2012. (Photo: NASA)

Jul 9, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Brace yourselves, coast dwellers.

A new report from the nation’s leading hurricane expert concludes that in the decades to come, hurricanes will not only possess fiercer winds and be able to wallop our shores with even more salty rainwater, but they’ll also be occurring way more often.

Lead author Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT, used computer models to deduce that the frequency of tropical cyclones—the umbrella term for hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical storms—will increase between 10 and 40 percent by 2100. Right now about 90 tropical cyclones form each year in the world’s oceans.

The intensity of these future storms will increase by 45 percent by the end of the century. (In other words: The category 1 and 2 storms of today could be the category 3 and 4 storms of tomorrow.) And, what’s worse, the size of storms that actually make landfall will grow by 55 percent.

It remains to be seen if, as hypothesized last year, meteorologists will have to invent a category 6 storm. For now, 200 miles per hour is about the highest that hurricane winds can theoretically get—and only three land-falling storms have come close in the past century. When Hurricane Sandy made landfall in October 2012, its top speed was 80 miles per hour.

I shudder to imagine the damage that, say, 150 mph would have done.

The new study flies in the face of the consensus of most climate scientists, including the IPCC, which has said that “in most ocean basins, tropical cyclones are likely to become less frequent as the world warms, but that the storms that do occur are likely to contain stronger winds and heavier rains.”

Said Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry to 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.

So, should you sell your beachfront condo in North Carolina?

Well, yes, but we’ve known that for some time now.