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Cyclones and Climate Change: Joining the Dots

This ScienceBrief review summarises what we have long feared – the connection between tropical cyclones and climate change. In short, yes it is connected and climate change is accelerating the frequency of tropical cyclones.

Human induced climate change leads to warming of the ocean, which in turn is fueling more cyclones. India was hit with 2 cyclones in a gap of just 2 weeks. Pre-monsoon cyclones have been on the rise and the intensity of the cyclone has increased drastically.

The destructive power of individual Tropical Cyclones (TC)  through flooding is amplified by rising sea level, which very likely has a substantial contribution at the global scale from anthropogenic climate change. In addition, TC precipitation rates are projected to increase due to enhanced atmospheric moisture associated with climate change. 

Although scientists are uncertain whether climate change will lead to an increase in the number of hurricanes, there is more confidence that warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels are expected to intensify their intensity and impacts. Stronger hurricanes will be far more costly in terms of damages and deaths without action to make coastal (and inland) areas more resilient.

Hurricanes have been linked to several climate change related influences:

Warmer sea surface temperatures could intensify tropical storm wind speeds, potentially delivering more damage if they make landfall. 

Sea level rise is likely to make future coastal storms, including hurricanes, more damaging.

  1. Observations since about 1980 show that, globally, the intensity and rate of intensification of TCs has increased slightly. Studies also found that the a 2 degree temperature rise will potentially increase the intensity of cyclones by 5%

  2. The global average proportion of intense TC occurrence (category 3 or higher; i.e., 1-minute maximum wind speeds of 50 m/s or higher) has increased since 1979, and the proportion of category 4-5 storms (winds 58 m/s or higher) is projected to increase substantially under a warming climate.

  3. Since 1971, tropical cyclones have caused devastation worth $700 billion in damages globally, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

Climate change is not just greatly destructive to the planet and it’s inhabitants, it is also very expensive for the economy. We need urgent mitigation and restoration.

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