Climate modeling confirms historic records showing increase in hurricane activity

Traces of the Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 to 2019. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / NASA / NOAA

When predicting how storms may change in the future, it helps to know something about their past. Judging by historical records dating back to the 1850s, hurricanes in the North Atlantic have become more frequent over the past 150 years.

However, scientists have questioned whether this upward trend is a reflection of reality or simply an artefact of unbalanced record keeping. If 19th century storm trackers had access to 21st century technology, would they have logged more storms? This inherent uncertainty has prevented scientists from relying on storm records and their models for clues about how climate influences storms.

A study funded by the National Science Foundation of the United States published in Nature Communication uses climate modeling, rather than storm records, to piece together the history of hurricanes and tropical cyclones around the world. The study results support the idea that North Atlantic hurricanes have increased in frequency over the past 150 years, as historical documents suggest.

In the models studied, major hurricanes, and hurricanes in general, were more frequent today than in the past. And those who made landfall seemed to have grown more powerful, carrying a more destructive potential.

Oddly enough, while the North Atlantic has seen an overall increase in storm activity, the same trend has not been seen in the rest of the world. The study found that the frequency of tropical cyclones globally has not changed significantly over the past 150 years.

“Evidence points to, like the original landmark document, a long-term increase in hurricane activity in the North Atlantic, but no significant change in global hurricane activity,” says study author Kerry Emanuel of MIT. “It will definitely change the interpretation of the effects of climate on hurricanes – that it really is the regionality of the climate, and that something has happened to the North Atlantic that’s different from the rest of the globe. This may have been caused by global warming, which is not necessarily globally uniform.

Climate modeling confirms historic records showing increase in hurricane activity

More information:
Kerry Emanuel, Atlantic tropical cyclones reduced from climate reanalyses show increasing activity over the past 150 years,Nature Communication (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-27364-8

Provided by the National Science Foundation

Quote: Climate modeling confirms historical records showing an increase in hurricane activity (2022, January 5) retrieved on January 5, 2022 from .html

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