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New study shows hurricanes are getting stronger

The warming of our oceans has been proven to increase tropical cyclone strength
Hurricane Dorian moves up the Atlantic seaboard.
Hurricane Dorian moves up the Atlantic seaboard.(NOAA)
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 2:29 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2020 at 2:33 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Satellite imagery has been around for over 40 years, with the first images coming from U.S. satellite Explorer 6. The technology has advanced rapidly over the last four decades, and while the first images were incredibly basic (and nigh intelligible), the advances have lead to incredible progress in weather forecasting.

Hurricane forecasting, in particular, has been a major beneficiary to this progress. But the use of tropical satellite imagery has largely been used as a forecasting tool. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and University of Wisconsin researchers recently flipped that narrative, using past data to determine the strength of hurricanes from 1979 to the present in order to determine whether or not hurricanes are getting stronger as sea surface temperatures warm.

It is this generally accepted theory that the warmer the sea surface temperatures are, the stronger tropical systems can become. All tropical systems are fueled by the heat energy of the ocean, specifically the top 10-15 meters, and these storms thrive when the temperature is above 80°F. The more heat energy going into the storms, the stronger the storms will become, with the assumption that all other environmental factors remain constant.

The team at NOAA/UW-Madison went back to prove this via analyzing satellite imagery from hurricanes dating between 1979 and 2017. They found that there was a correlation between warming SSTs and tropical systems across the globe, with the highest increase in tropical cyclone strength occurring in the Atlantic Basin and Southern Indian Ocean.

The homogenized global TC intensity record is extended to the 39-y period 1979–2017, and statistically significant (at the 95% confidence level) increases are identified. Increases and trends are found in the exceedance probability and proportion of major (Saffir−Simpson categories 3 to 5) TC intensities, which is consistent with expectations based on theoretical understanding and trends identified in numerical simulations in warming scenarios.

Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades James P. Kossin, Kenneth R. Knapp, Timothy L. Olander, Christopher S. Velden Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2020, 117 (22) 11975-11980; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1920849117

While this study doesn’t address potential anthropogenic (human based) causes to warming, it does address warming global temperatures, along with SSTs, which point towards a continuation of increasing tropical cyclone strength. This is a trend that is worrisome (to say the least), especially here in eastern North Carolina.

Citations:

Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades

James P. Kossin, Kenneth R. Knapp, Timothy L. Olander, Christopher S. Velden

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2020, 117 (22) 11975-11980; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1920849117

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