Environment

Four decades of data shows hurricane winds are growing stronger

Four decades of data shows hur...
Hurricane Harvey over North America in 2017, as seen by Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16
Hurricane Harvey over North America in 2017, as seen by Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16
View 1 Image
Hurricane Harvey over North America in 2017, as seen by Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16
1/1
Hurricane Harvey over North America in 2017, as seen by Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16

Scientists studying weather and atmospheric physics have uncovered evidence that climate change is making hurricanes more fierce, and as time goes by, a fuller picture is emerging of this global trend. A new study looking at nearly four decades of data has shown that in almost every part of the world where hurricanes form, their strongest winds are indeed getting stronger, with global warming thought to be a key contributing factor.

The study was carried out by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and led by James Kossin.

The atmospheric research scientist had previously published work detailing a trend of hurricane intensification based on 28 years of data, along with other significant changes in hurricane behavior. This included a 2014 study that revealed tropical cyclones are traveling farther north and south, and a 2018 study showing that they are moving more slowly across land, posing a greater risk of flooding. Meanwhile, studies from other groups have also described how some hurricanes are getting stronger far more quickly than they were 30 years ago.

Kossin and his colleagues have now expanded the scope of their examinations to include global hurricane data from between 1979 and 2017. The analysis drew on geostationary satellite data and involved using infrared temperature readings to measure storm intensity, with the researchers describing this as a more uniform approach than what had been available previously.

“The main hurdle we have for finding trends is that the data are collected using the best technology at the time,” says Kossin. “Every year the data are a bit different than last year, each new satellite has new tools and captures data in different ways, so in the end we have a patchwork quilt of all the satellite data that have been woven together.”

Through its analysis, the team found that in nearly every part of the world were hurricanes form, their maximum sustained winds are growing more fierce. Kossin says this is consistent with projections based on atmospheric physics and global warming, though there remains work to do to understand the exact role human activity plays in the severity of the storms.

“Our results show that these storms have become stronger on global and regional levels, which is consistent with expectations of how hurricanes respond to a warming world,” says Kossin. “It’s a good step forward and increases our confidence that global warming has made hurricanes stronger, but our results don’t tell us precisely how much of the trends are caused by human activities and how much may be just natural variability.”

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

8 comments
aksdad
Nah. Clown scientists trying to make the data show something that isn't there. Global data on hurricane frequency and strength show nothing but random variation, which is incredibly disappointing to pseudo-scientists who just know in their hearts that only bad things come from the minipuscule 1° C of warming over the last century, so they torture the data until it says what they tell it to. Contrast that with data on accumulated cyclone energy here: http://models.weatherbell.com/global_running_ace.png. There is no scientific, meteorological basis for thinking modestly warmer global temperatures would cause more powerful winds. Wind strength is determined by the steepness of the pressure gradient which is related to the amount of temperature DIFFERENCE, for example between colliding weather fronts or between cooler air blowing across a warm ocean surface. If the air and water are both warmer, and there isn't much temperature gradient, winds are mild.
Sándor Dávid Papp
Aksdad is right. Global warming actually decreses the air speed and formation frequency of storms. At higher temperatures, the absolute moisture level of the air is higher, hence the heat capacity of the air is also higher. Higher heat capacity decreases the temperature differences in the air, thus weakens the power source of winds.
Cryptonoetic
But, but... my science is the One True Science!
Signguy
Also consider how weather is manipulated by "people" using HAARP. Storms are "driven" to be more devastating than normal.
Catweazle
Borne out neither by the historical hurricane data nor by the atmospheric physics. Still, I suppose it's grounds for another grant application.
Trylon
Hmm. A peer-reviewed journal article or a bunch of armchair experts. Whom to believe?
KADC
It seems New Atlas is attracting some science-denying trolls away from their YouTube and Facebook alt-right/conspiracy-theorist echo chambers, but at least they're reading articles based on actual science for a change so ultimately that's probably a good thing.
Eddy
Re Signguy I remember when I was younger and it was trendy to follow UFO and conspiracy theory blogs that a huge thing was made of HAARP regarding weather manipulation including photos of a massive antenna system. Don't know if it still exists or what it was for, no one would answer the questions and it died a natural death like UFO's when everyone had an inconvenient mobile so there were no excuses for no photos.