Story at a glance

  • Climate change is raising the temperatures of the Earth’s oceans.
  • Tropical cyclones, which form over warmer waters, have become stronger in recent decades.
  • A new study shows that there is a relationship between the rising temperatures and intensity of tropical cyclones.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied the increasing intensity of tropical cyclones since the 1980s using satellite data. Each decade, a hurricane has become about 8 percent more likely to be a major hurricane, meaning category 3 or higher, Jim Kossin, author of the study, told CNN.


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"Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes (category 3 to 5)," Kossin told CNN. "Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk."

While researchers had previously theorized that global warming was making these extreme weather events more dangerous, this study went back farther than previous research, showing that the trend spanned multiple decades. 


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Tropical cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons require a specific set of conditions in order to form and grow. Warmer ocean temperatures in areas where cyclones form are allowing them to become stronger and more destructive, according to the study. 

"Like all aspects of climate, there is an element of natural variability at play," Kossin told CNN. "Our study does not formally disentangle the natural causes from the human-activity causes, and the trends we found are most likely due to a combination of both."


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Published on May 20, 2020