Nature has published a major analysis concluding that higher sea surface temperatures caused by global warming are creating stronger hurricanes. The net effect of global warming on the frequency of hurricane formation remains uncertain. Global warming causes sea surface temperatures to increase, but it also causes wind shear to increase, which disrupts hurricane formation.
However, this new study concludes that the effect of global warming on hurricane intensity is to make them stronger.
From the study:
The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature this week. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon.
James Elsner, a climatologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and his colleagues have now found that the strongest tropical storms are getting stronger, with the most notable increases in the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans. Very strong storms, Elsner says, can more easily overcome any inhibiting effects of shearing winds than weaker storms, and go on to reach their maximum possible strength.
The team statistically analysed satellite-derived data of cyclone wind speeds. Although there was hardly any increase in the average number or intensity of all storms, the team found a significant shift in distribution towards stronger storms that wreak the greatest havoc. This meant that, overall, there were more storms with a maximum wind speed exceeding 210 kilometres per hour (category 4 and 5 storms on the Saffir–Simpson scale)
“It’ll be pretty hard now for anyone to claim that cyclone activity has not increased,” says Judith Curry, an atmospheric researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study….
“People should now stop saying ‘who cares, storm activity is just a few per cent up’,” says Curry. “It’s the strongest storms that matter most.
Obviously this study does not bode well for those living on the Gulf Coast in hurricane territory, and gives us yet further incentive to address global warming by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
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