Are hurricanes getting worse?
History has demonstrated that major hurricanes, sometimes arriving in pairs, have been part of Atlantic and Gulf coastal life for centuries. Even lake bottom sediments in Texas and Florida reveal more catastrophic hurricane landfalls 1,000 to 2,000 years ago than have happened more recently. Over the last 150 years, the number of major hurricanes hitting Texas has been the same when Gulf of Mexico water temperatures were below normal as when they were above normal. Harvey's record-setting rainfall totals in Houston, TX were due to its slow movement, which cannot be traced to global warming (August 2017 was quite cool over most of the U.S.), combined with substantial land subsidence preventing rivers from draining more rapidly to the ocean.
Major hurricane strikes in Florida since 1900 have, if anything, become somewhat less frequent and less severe. What has changed in Florida, again, is coastal development. The Miami - Fort Lauderdale metroplex now has a population of over 6 million, whereas a little over 100 years ago it was nearly zero. As a result, our vulnerability to major hurricane strikes has increased dramatically.
Even with no change in hurricane activity, hurricane damages will continue to increase along with wealth and infrastructure in coastal areas. It is only a matter of time before our first trillion-dollar hurricane catastrophe occurs.
The follwoing plot produced by Dr. Ryan Maue shows that the total wind energy in global tropical cyclones has varied considerably since the 1970s:
There continues to be great uncertainty and disagreement among climate experts whether global warming should cause a change in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones.
|(page last updated 12/14/2019)
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