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Global warming is making hurricanes stronger, study says – USA TODAY

  • Scientists studied 40 years of satellite images to reach their conclusions.
  • Tropical cyclones are some of nature’s most powerful and destructive storms.
  • Much of the death and destruction from hurricanes comes from storms of Category 3 strength or higher.

Who says we can’t control the weather?

Human-caused global warming has strengthened the wind speeds of hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones around the globe, a new study released Monday said.

These storms, collectively known as tropical cyclones, are some of nature’s most powerful and destructive storms. Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, for example, laid waste to portions of the Bahamas last year as the storm’s 185-mph winds cut through the nation like a buzzsaw. 

Scientists studied 40 years of satellite images to reach their conclusions.

“Our results show that these storms have become stronger on global and regional levels, which is consistent with expectations of how hurricanes respond to a warming world,” said study lead author James Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Category 5 Hurricane Dorian laid waste to portions of the Bahamas last year as the storm's 185-mph winds cut through the nation like a buzzsaw, killing dozens of people.

Global warming, aka climate change, is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, which release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. This has caused the planet to warm to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors. 

The study was led by scientists from NOAA and the University of Wisconsin and was published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the study, said the findings were “much in line with what’s expected,” according to the New York Times.

Scientists said that the chances of hurricanes becoming a Category 3 or higher have increased each of the past four decades. Much of the death and destruction from hurricanes comes from storms of Category 3 strength or higher, which are known as “major” hurricanes.

“The change is about 8% per decade,” Kossin told CNN. “In other words, during its lifetime, a hurricane is 8% more likely to be a major hurricane in this decade compared to the last decade.”

The study only looked at hurricanes’ wind speed, not their rainfall or storm surge, Kossin said.

The research builds on Kossin’s previous work, published in 2013, which identified trends in hurricane intensification across a 28-year data set. However, says Kossin, that timespan was less conclusive and required more hurricane case studies to demonstrate statistically significant results.

“The study agrees with what we would expect to see in a warming climate like ours,” said Kossin. “It’s a good step forward and increases our confidence that global warming has made hurricanes stronger.”

NOAA will release its forecast for the 2020 hurricane season on Thursday. Most forecasts from other research groups are calling for an active season, which has already gotten underway with Tropical Storm Arthur spinning off the Southeast Coast this week. 

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