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Fifth National Climate Assessment - Read the Report

Assessing the effects of climate change on tropical cyclones


Hurricane Harvey led to widespread flooding and knocked out power to 300,000 customers in Texas in 2017, with cascading effects on critical infrastructure facilities such as hospitals, water and wastewater treatment plants, and refineries. The photo shows Port Arthur, Texas, on August 31, 2017—six days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Gulf Coast. Credit: Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez, U.S. Air National Guard.

New research shows that the destructive power of individual tropical cyclones is likely to increase over this century.

New research led by NOAA scientists found that as global temperatures and global average sea level continue to rise throughout this century, the destructive power of individual tropical cyclones (including hurricanes, tropical storms, and typhoons) is likely to increase.1 The assessment, conducted by a World Meteorological Organization science team, evaluated modeling studies of how tropical cyclone activity is expected to change in response to 2°C (3.6°F) of human-caused climate change.

Much of the heat trapped by increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels from human activities has been absorbed by the ocean, causing oceans to warm and sea level to rise. Under 2°C (3.6°F) of warming, modeling results show that sea level rise over the coming century will lead to more severe storm surge inundation and flooding from tropical cyclones, assuming no other changes. Damage risk from storms will likely be further heightened by higher tropical cyclone intensities as well as increased tropical cyclone rainfall rates due to a warmer, moister atmosphere. Together, these changes will likely increase the potential damage from individual storm events, and the changes are projected to accelerate, particularly under high future emission scenarios. Changes in future tropical cyclone frequency, size, and storm tracks are still uncertain, and could reduce or further exacerbate these risks.


1 Knutson, T. et al., 2020: Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment. Part II: Projected Response to Anthropogenic Warming. Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-18-0194.1

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