Hurricanes thriving on global warming

Bigger, faster, more powerful

An MIT Professor says that hurricanes have been getting more powerful over the last few decades, and warns that the trend is likely to continue. He says that global warming is a contributory factor.

In a paper appearing in the online edition of the journal Nature Kerry Emmanuel, professor of meteorology in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, writes:

"My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in [hurricanes'] destructive potential, and - taking into account an increasing coastal population - a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century."

Emanuel analysed data from tropical cyclones dating back to the middle of the last century, tracking the amount of energy released by each storm, the duration of the storm and its top windspeed. He found that since the 1970's, the storms have become more energetic, around half as fast again, and last on average 50 per cent longer.

The results are broadly in line with computer simulations of the impact of climate change on hurricane intensity. The increase has also happened in parallel with an increase in the average surface temperature of the world's oceans. Some of this temperature increase can be ascribed to global warming, Emanuel says. ®

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