A Force of Nature: Hurricanes in a Changing Climate – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet – NASA Climate Change

by | Jun 1, 2022 | Climate Change

In Brief:

Due to global warming, global climate models predict hurricanes will likely cause more intense rainfall and have an increased coastal flood risk due to higher storm surge caused by rising seas. Additionally, the global frequency of storms may decrease or remain unchanged, but hurricanes that form are more likely to become intense.

From June 1 to November 30, many Americans turn their eyes to the tropics — not just because they’re dreaming of beach vacations, but because it’s hurricane season. Called by many names depending on where you live (hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones), scientists call these storms tropical cyclones. This is because they are large, rotating storms that need tropical conditions to form — so they originate mostly in the tropics.

Note: Technically, hurricanes are tropical cyclones that have winds of more than 74 miles per hour (about 120 kilometers per hour). However, “hurricanes” will be used as a general term in this article to include tropical storms, which are tropical cyclones below hurricane intensity.

With that said, let’s talk about some science behind hurricanes and how they may change due to global warming.

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Recipe for a Hurricane

What is vertical wind shear?

This term refers to the change in wind speed and/or direction as you travel upwards in the atmosphere. Why does this matter for a hurricane? Think of the center of a hurricane as a tower of blocks that you push with your hands. If you push the top and bottom in the same direction and with the same strength, the tower can stay intact as it moves along the floor (i.e., low vertical wind shear). If you push the top and bottom in different directions or with different levels …

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