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Explainer: How climate change is fueling hurricanes

A man on a motorcycle drives past downed power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona on September 19, 2022 in Higuei, Dominican Republic. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

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SEPTEMBER 20 (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona, which hit Puerto Rico and then the Dominican Republic, got off to a quiet start to the season. read more

Scientists have yet to determine whether climate change has affected Fiona’s strength or behavior, but there is strong evidence that these devastating storms are getting worse.

Here’s why:

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Is climate change affecting hurricanes?

Yes, climate change is making hurricanes wetter, windier, and generally more violent. There’s also evidence that it’s causing storms to move more slowly.

Without the oceans, the earth would be hotter due to climate change. But over the past 40 years, the ocean has absorbed about 90% of the warming caused by emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Much of this ocean heat is contained near the surface. This additional heat can add to the intensity of the storm and create stronger winds.

Climate change could also increase rainfall brought by storms. Warm air can hold more moisture, so water vapor builds up until the clouds break, causing heavy rain.

During the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season (one of the most active on record), climate change increased hourly rainfall for hurricane force storms by 8% to 11%. study Published in Nature Communications.

Global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict that a 2°C increase in temperature could increase hurricane wind speeds by up to 10%.

NOAA also predicts that the rate of hurricanes reaching the strongest level (Category 4 or 5) could increase by about 10% this century. To date, less than one-fifth of the storms since 1851 have reached this intensity.

How will climate change affect storms?

The typical “season” of a hurricane is changing, and a warming climate is creating conditions for storms to occur more months of the year. Hurricanes have also landed in areas far beyond historical norms.

In the United States, Florida has the most landfalls, with more than 120 direct hits since 1851, according to NOAA. In recent years, however, some storms have peaked in intensity and landed farther north than in the past. Polar shift Scientists say this could be related to rising global and ocean temperatures.

Allison Wing, an atmospheric scientist at Florida State University, said such trends are a concern for mid-latitude cities such as New York, Boston, Beijing, and Tokyo, where “infrastructure is taking a storm.” We are not prepared,” he said.

Hurricane Sandy was only a Category 1 storm, but when it hit the Northeast Coast in 2012, it was the fourth most costly U.S. hurricane on record, causing $81 billion in losses. .

In terms of timing, hurricane activity is common in North America from June to November, peaking in September after warm waters form over the summer.

But the first named storm to land in the United States is pushing the start of the season a little further into May, more than three weeks earlier than in 1900. study It was published in Nature Communications in August.

November 2021 data show earlier-than-normal cyclone formation in April and May in the Bay of Bengal, Asia, since 2013, prior to the summer monsoon. study in a scientific report.

However, it is unclear whether climate change is affecting the number of hurricanes that occur each year.A team of scientists recently reported Ascent detection Hurricane frequency in the North Atlantic over the past 150 years, according to their study, published in December in Nature Communications. However, research is still ongoing.

How are hurricanes formed?

Hurricanes require two main elements: warm ocean water and moist, moist air. When warm seawater evaporates, its thermal energy is transferred to the atmosphere. This intensifies the storm winds. Without it, hurricanes cannot intensify and disappear.

Cyclone, Typhoon, Hurricane – What’s the difference?

Although technically the same phenomenon, these large storms have different names depending on where and how they formed.

Storms that form in the Atlantic or central and eastern North Pacific are called “hurricanes” when wind speeds are greater than 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour). Until then, it was known as a “tropical cyclone.”

In East Asia, storms that occur in the Northwest Pacific are called typhoons, and storms that occur in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific are called cyclones.

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Reporting by Gloria Dickey. Edited by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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