Thongchai Thailand

A Hurricane Question

Posted on: November 14, 2020

10 years on from Hurricane Katrina: What have we learned? | Carbon Brief

A Quora question:

What is the impact of global warming on Hurricane frequency?


Tropical cyclones in the West Pacific Basin are called Typhoons. Those in the North Atlantic Basin are called Hurricanes. In the other four cyclone basins, they are called Cyclones. There are six cyclone basins in all.

The theoretical impact of global warming on tropical cyclones derived from climate model simulations is summarized in a now famous paper called Knutson 2010. What Tom Knutson says in that paper is this: Global warming will impact tropical cyclones by way of higher sea surface temperature that will provide a greater amount of energy to the cyclones.

Long term trends in the total cyclone energy for all six cyclone basins should therefore show a rising trend over time scales of more than 30 years. Total cyclone energy can go up two ways – the number of cyclones that form can go up or the average energy per cyclone can go up or both. Knutson says it’s mostly the latter, that is global warming will make the average cyclone energy of all cyclones in all six basins higher and higher.

The the only thing you can test for is the long term trend in total cyclone energy. There is no testable implication for individual basins such as the North Atlantic where Hurricanes form. And there is no testable implication for frequency alone because intensity must also be taken into account for total cyclone energy.

Therefore, in answer to your question, climate science does not have any way to relate only the frequency of tropical cyclones in only the North Atlantic Basin (where tropical cyclones are called Hurricanes), to global warming. For more info lease see:

Tropical Cyclones and SST

Thomas Knutson

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