Climate Change Is Causing Slower, More Devastating Hurricanes

If hurricanes seem worse than they used to be, youíre not overreacting. Recent hurricanes have dumped more rain and lingered a lot longer than they did decades ago. And some scientists think that might be a consequence of climate change.

New research shows that hurricanes are slowing down as they march inexorably along their paths of destruction. While a slower hurricane sounds less threatening, itís not; itís actually worse.

“Nothing good comes out of a slowing storm,” James Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate told†National Geographic. “It can increase storm surge. It can increase the amount of time that structures are subjected to strong wind. And it increases rainfall.”

Kossin is the lead author of a new study published in the journal “Nature.” He looked at 70 years worth of data collected between 1949-2016. Kossin discovered that hurricanes and typhoons have slowed down during this period by a worrisome 10 percent.

hurricane impact

Photo credit: Thinkstock

How is climate change to blame? Itís all about ocean temperature. During that same 70 years, the Earthís temperature rose. And according to the study, as the Earthís temperature warms, atmospheric circulation changes.

While that circulation will vary around the planet according to location and season, anthropogenic — human-caused — global warming now weakens tropical circulation during the summer months. Thatís hurricane season, which is typically worst from August through October.

The study posits that because the ambient environmental wind carries hurricanes along their paths, when that wind slows due to warming, the hurricanes slow down too.

In addition, anthropogenic warming increases the water vapor carried in the atmosphere, which makes it rain more. The combination of these two phenomena spells trouble for hurricane-prone areas, like the states which border the Gulf of Mexico and the southern to mid-Atlantic ocean.

One need not look too far in the past to understand that hurricanes are doing more harm than ever:

  • Hurricane damage costs about $28 billion a year, in a normal year. Florida accounts for 55 percent of that number, Texas 13 percent and Louisiana 9 percent.
  • August 2017ís Hurricane Harvey cost a whopping $125 billion. Eighty-eight people died. The storm stalled over Texas and affected 13 million people there and in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
  • September 2017ís Hurricane Irma caused $50 billion in physical damage and an estimated $100 billion in economic damage. It was considered the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
  • September 2017ís Hurricane Maria roared into Dominica and Puerto Rico, causing an estimated $85 billion in damage. While the official death toll is 64, a Harvard study says itís closer to 4,600 dead.
  • October 2016ís Hurricane Matthew killed 546 in Haiti and 49 in the U.S. It caused $10 billion in damage in the U.S, and a total of $15.1 billion along its path.

There are 1.2 million Americans in coastal areas of the U.S. at risk of ďsubstantial damageĒ from hurricanes, according to the†Congressional Budget Office.

Kossin isnít the only scientist exploring why weíre feeling such increased impact from hurricanes. In May 2018, Ethan Gutman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research published the results of his own study.

Gutman used modeling to project how 22 hurricanes from the last 13 years might strike us under a scenario assuming a warmer climate. Assuming a 5 percent warmer planet, Gutmanís team determined that future hurricanes would be 9 percent slower and would drop 24 percent more precipitation.

No matter how you look at it, scientists predict our hurricane scenarios will only worsen if we allow the Earth to keep warming. Itís a sad state of affairs when so many scientists agree that something must be done and yet so many politicians refuse to act.


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing

Chad A
Chad Anderson4 months ago

Thank you!

Angela K
Angela K7 months ago


Dan B
Dan Blossfeld7 months ago

Perhaps your area is some sort of anomaly. Here is the Midwest, our winters have been shorter, but snowier, and our summer have been hotter and wetter. We have heard similar stories in the East (at least the Northeast). Most people (especially the farmers) prefer it this way.

Amanda M
Amanda M7 months ago

Maybe now our neighbors will quit snarking on us for acknowledging the FACT of climate change, working hard to DO something about it, and for our being "storm preppers" on top of that. Here in Maryland we get everything from hurricanes to blizzards to even the odd tornado, and it's getting worse every year. Winters are shorter, we're getting less snowfall during them (this year, like the past five, we only had ONE snowstorm, whereas in previous years our total snowfall for an entire WINTER could be measured in feet!), summers are getting hotter and dryer, and the thunderstorms we do get cause major flooding because they stall out over us. Just ask the people in the southern part of our county and over in Ellicott City three counties over if you don't believe us! And the climate change deniers STILL say that humans did not cause climate change and that it's not real. HAH!

Henry M
Henry M7 months ago

If only we could cut CO2 emissions.

Winn A
Winn A7 months ago


Cathy B
Cathy B7 months ago

Thank you.

Ruth S
Ruth S7 months ago

There has always been major changes in the weather patterns: 100 yr. floods, major snows in winter, major droughts, etc. I don't think today is any different.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld7 months ago

Which is worse? A slower, weaker hurricane which dumps more rain or a faster, stronger hurricane which has higher winds, but less rainfall.