top of page

What does Climate Change have to do with the increased strength of Atlantic storms?

Long term changes in temperature and weather patterns are referred to as climate change. Such changes can be natural, due to the changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions. According to scientists, extremely warm Atlantic surface temperatures have contributed a lot to increased storm activity. A scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James P. Kossin states that “It’s very likely that human caused climate change contributed to that anomalously warm ocean”.

Hurricane Lorenzo moving through the eastern North Atlantic Ocean, as seen as from NASA’s Terra satellite.

CREDIT: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Some government agencies, such as NASA’s Climate division, are questioning: “How can Climate impact storms over Earth’s tropical oceans?”. Are there any possible connections between climate change and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heavy downpours, floods, blizzards, heatwaves, and droughts? After all, it appears like extreme weather is in the news virtually every day these days, and people are definitely paying attention. NASA would also question how climate change may affect certain extreme weather and natural climatic occurrences such as El Niño and La Niña.

NASA’s co-director of the Center for Climate Sciences at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Joao Teixiera states that there is no easy answer towards this issue. “Within the scientific community, it’s a relatively well-accepted fact that as global temperature increases, precipitation will very likely increase as well. Beyond that, we’re still learning.” says Joao.

Flooded streets in LaPlace, La., on Monday. New York Times

Scientists are confident that the warming of the planet is changing the way storms behave. On 31th August 2021, Hurricane Ida strengthened overnight, becoming a Category 4 storm in just a few hours. The significant increase in strength raises concerns about the extent to which climate change is impacting storms in the Atlantic Ocean. According to scientists, extremely warm Atlantic surface temperatures have contributed to increased storm activity. “It’s very likely that human-caused climate change contributed to that anomalously warm ocean,” said James P. Kossin, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Climate change is making it more likely for hurricanes to behave in certain ways.”

Here are a few examples.

1. Higher Winds

Hurricanes are growing stronger, according to scientific evidence. Hurricanes are complicated, but one of the important elements determining how powerful a specific storm develops is ocean surface temperature, because warme water offers more of the energy that generates hurricanes. “Potential intensity is increasing,” said Kerry Emanual, an atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We predicted it would go up 30 years ago, and the observations show it going up.” Stronger winds cause toppled power lines, damaged roofs, and severe coastal flooding when combined with increasing sea levels. “Even if storms themselves weren’t changing, the storm surge is riding on an elevated sea level,” he added. He used the example of New York City, where sea levels have increased by nearly a foot in the last century. “If Sandy’s storm surge had occurred in 1912 rather than 2012,”he went on to say, “it probably wouldn’t have flooded lower Manhattan.”

2. Wider-ranging storms

Climate warming is expanding the zone where storms may form because warmer water helps feed them/ There is a “migration of tropical cyclones out of the tropics and towards subtropics and middle latitudes,”according to Dr. Kossin. More storms might make landfall at higher latitudes, such as the United States or Japan.

3. More volatility

Storms are expected to strengthen faster as the temperature warms, according to studies. Researchers are still puzzled as to why this is happening, but the pattern appears to be unmistakable. Dr. Emmanuel discovered in a 2017 research based on climate and hurricane models that storms that strengthen quickly – those that increase their wind speed by 70 miles per hour or more in the 24 hours before impact – were uncommon from 1976 to 2005. He calculated that their chance in those years was roughly once every century on average.


bottom of page