Climate Change May Cause More Powerful but Less Frequent Hurricanes

First Posted: May 19, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Climate change may be altering the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. Scientists have found that global change could be the driving force behind fewer and yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms.

It all has to do with ocean temperatures. While there had been some discussions previously about how warmer ocean temperatures affected the intensity of a hurricane, the researchers wanted to explore this concept more in depth.

Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates it provides the energy that a storm needs to ramp up into a hurricane. In addition, higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

The scientists found that over the past 30 years, storm speeds have increased on average by 3 miles per hour. The researchers also found that there were 6.1 fewer storms than there would have been if land and water temperatures had remained constant. Essentially, there was a tradeoff between frequency and intensity.

"In a warmer year, stronger but fewer tropical cyclones are likely to occur," said Namyoung Kang, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In a colder year, on the other hand, weaker but more tropical cyclones."

The findings reveal that as climate change continues, we may see fewer but more powerful storms. This has important implications for coastal cities that can be in the way of these tropical storms.

But what do we have to expect for this year's hurricane season? For the 2015 Atlantic storm season, which begins June 1, the Weather Channel has projected a total of nine named storms, five hurricanes and one major hurricane. The 30-year average, in contrast, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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