Hurricanes Katrina and Irene were deadly and costly. But scientists say we may see even stronger storms as the world heats up.

Hurricane clouds over ocean

Hurricanes gain and lose wind speed based on the temperature of the ocean water below. It’s why they form in the tropics and break apart over cooler water and land.

And it doesn’t take a huge shift in the sea-surface temperature to make a difference. A one degree Fahrenheit rise in ocean temperature can increase a hurricane’s wind speed by 15 to 20 miles per hour – enough to shift a storm to the next category of severity.

ELSNER: “With warmer oceans caused by global warming, we can expect the strongest storms to get stronger.”

That’s James Elsner of Florida State University. He says that although hurricanes could grow more severe, climate change won’t necessarily bring more of them.

James Elsner
James Elsner

ELSNER: “The sky is not falling with regards to these storms. We’re not going to see some kind of nightmare scenario where storms are just going to start attacking the coast.”

”Hurricanes Click To Tweet

But just one storm can cause extreme devastation to coastal towns and cities. And as the world warms, we’re setting the stage for severe hurricanes that could do even more damage than what we’ve seen before.

Reporting credit: Andrew Lapin/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Hurricane cloud photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Hurricane and tornado climate
Did climate change set the scene for hurricanes like Patricia?
A swirl of books on hurricanes
Global warming and hurricanes

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...