Intense hurricanes and typhoons could double by 2050, scientists say

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, defined intense storms as equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane or stronger. He noted that the likelihood of these storms will be higher in the coming decades and that more people will be affected by intense storms in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.

The researchers also found that the wind speed in these storms could increase by up to 20%, as well as a considerable increase in the frequency of Category 4 and Category 5 storms, by more than 200% in some areas.

“Our results also underline again that regions that currently have a (very) low risk could start to be really impacted by tropical cyclones as part of climate change,” said Nadia Bloemendaal, a climatologist at the University of Amsterdam. and lead author of the study. , told CNN in an email. “We found it shocking to see the disproportionate number of developing countries at risk from future climate change.”

The researchers used a statistical prediction system called STORM to generate 10,000 years of past and future climate conditions. They then used high-resolution wind speed maps to look at future changes at the local scale, “which is so important from a risk assessment perspective,” Bloemendaal noted.

The region around Hong Kong and parts of the South Pacific have the highest likelihood of an increase in high-intensity storms, scientists have found.

Tokyo – the world’s largest metropolitan area with a population of around 38 million – currently has a 4.6% chance per year of being hit by an intense storm. In the future, scientists found that this number increased to a probability of 13.9%.

Another notable jump was for Hawaii. Currently, Honolulu has a 4% chance each year of being hit by an intense hurricane. In the coming years, that number will be 8.6% – more than doubled, as the study suggests.

The researchers said their findings are likely due to rising sea surface temperatures around the world. Ocean temperatures have warmed dramatically in recent decades due to the burning of fossil fuels. The warmer water “will create more fuel for storms to intensify,” Bloemendaal said.

The only areas where scientists did not see intense tropical cyclones doubling in the future were the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Bengal. The frequency of intense storms remained “essentially unchanged” in the study, Bloemendaal noted, because atmospheric conditions there will become less favorable for tropical storms in the future.

“Global climate models predict increased atmospheric stability over this region under future climate conditions,” Bloemendaal wrote. “Due to this increased atmospheric stability, the overall frequency of tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to decrease, as conditions have become more unfavorable for tropical cyclone development.”

But she also noted that when tropical storms form in these regions, the warmer waters will provide additional fuel for the cyclone to intensify to a Category 3 or higher.

So while these scientists expect to see fewer storms in the Gulf of Mexico or the Bay of Bengal, they will be extremely powerful and costly.

Cost increase

Hurricanes and typhoons are responsible for more monetary losses than any other natural disaster. In the past decade alone, the study notes, the United States suffered $480 billion in losses from tropical storms and hurricanes.

Bloemendaal said this is one of the reasons why it is more important than ever to be able to forecast where the strongest storms will occur in the future.

A resident of Grand Isle, Louisiana looks through his home after Category 4 Hurricane Ida made landfall in August 2021.

“Our results can help identify locations subject to the greatest increase in tropical cyclone risk,” Bloemendaal said in a statement. “Local governments can then take action to reduce risk in their area, so that damage and fatalities can be reduced.”

Globally, 80 to 100 tropical cyclones form each year. But reliable records of these storms – which at one time could only be observed by ships or when they made landfall – only date back to around the 1960s, as long as scientists had weather satellites. It is therefore difficult to predict long-term changes in the context of the climate crisis.

With this new research, scientists say the world will have a clearer picture of what the future holds for nature’s most destructive phenomenon in the world.


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