Climate warming to boost major hurricanes in active Atlantic seasons

oceans on map of world
Clouds from a HiFLOR global model simulation, showing three hurricanes in the Atlantic and one in West Pacific (Figure Remik Ziemlinski)

New NOAA research that looks at the devastating 2017 Atlantic hurricane season projects that if similar weather conditions occur in the future, it’s likely that the number of major hurricanes (category 3 and higher) would increase by two in a similar active year at the end of century.

This increase would be driven by predicted climate warming, according to the research appearing today in Science.

The finding was reported by a team at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) that included lead author Hiroyuki Murakami, who conducted the research while an associate research scholar with the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton University

Last year’s six major Atlantic hurricanes included landfalling hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that unleashed destruction on and caused loss of life in communities across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The three hurricanes caused an estimated $265 billion in damages during a year that shattered all records for U.S. economic losses due to severe weather.

Global model identifies climate influence

Hiroyuki Murakami
Hiroyuki Murakami. Photo by Maria Setzer

Using a high-resolution global climate model called HiFLOR, developed at GFDL, scientists were able to accurately predict the active hurricane season in June 2017. Scientists then conducted additional experiments with HiFLOR that found it was a remarkably warm tropical Atlantic Ocean, relative to the global tropical ocean, which was the main driver of 2017 hurricane activity.

“This new method allows us to predict hurricane activity as the season is happening as well as take into consideration the likely contribution of climate warming,” said Murakami, a climate researcher at GFDL. NOAA scientists use ocean temperature data showing the relative warmth of the tropical Atlantic to help create vital hurricane season outlooks.

In addition to Murakami, the research team included Emma Levin of Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY, Thomas Delworth and Richard Gudgel of GFDL, and Pang-Chi Hsu of Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, China.

The study, “Dominant Effect of Relative Tropical Atlantic Warming on Major Hurricane Occurrence,” by H. Murakami, E. Levin, T. L. Delworth, R. Gudgel and P-C Hsu, was published in the journal Science on Sept. 27, 2018.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Article courtesy of NOAA.