How Will Climate Change Affect Hurricanes?

Before Tropical Storm Fay (2008)

One area of hot debate is how climate change will affect hurricanes. Some people have the image that things will only get worse with hurricanes becoming stronger, more frequent and making landfall on the US coast more often. However, current scientific research is working to obtain a better estimate on what exactly the impact of climate change will be on hurricanes. The latest scientific consensus has emerged to show that there is a projected decrease in hurricane frequency for the Atlantic and that the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes will have increased wind speeds by 5-10 mph and will occur slightly more frequently (Knutson et al. 2010). Thus, for a given season there will be fewer storms, but the ones that do form have potential to be ever so slightly stronger.

During Tropical Storm Fay (2008)

While all this information is important, what about where they will go? Will climate change have a large impact on where hurricanes make landfall? To answer this question, I am looking at changes in tracks from differences in the atmospheric circulation and genesis location (where a storm forms) in a future climate. As with the other hurricane-related impacts, results suggest minor changes in tracks to occur for the Atlantic. There is a projected decrease of ~2-3 storms per decade over the Western Caribbean and Southern Gulf of Mexico and a slight increase in tracks that stay over the open ocean. So, what does that mean for the US East and Gulf coasts? It tells us that for June through November, the coasts will still be vulnerable to the threat from hurricanes.

-Angela Colbert
Graduate Student
Meteorology and Physical Oceanography
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