Hurricanes are putting people and constructions at risk. For coastal communities, even a small hurricane can prove devastating because it leaves behind social, economic, and physical destruction.

Imelda, Irma, Harvey, Dorian, Katrina and Humberto are only some of the names that make people have nightmares at night.

Hurricanes are part of the climate system, especially in some geographical regions, but research proves that there has been an increase in hurricane activity in the world’s oceans lately. Predictions state that there won’t be more hurricanes, but it’s quite likely to be more intense than in the past.

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How do hurricanes form?

You may have heard about typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. They all are the same weather phenomenon, strong tropical cyclones that prove how fiercest nature’s fury is

But how do they form?

The process behind hurricane creation is simple. A small atmospheric disturbance near a tropical ocean can lead to a hurricane. When the water temperature is warm enough, around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmospheric conditions supportive, with uniform winds and moisture, a tropical cyclone can easily grow. In the Atlantic region, the phenomenon is first called a tropical depression, as it evolves and gets stronger it becomes a tropical storm and when the wind gets over 74 mph, it’s named hurricane.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association states that a weather disturbance like a thunderstorm can become a hurricane when it’s formed above warm ocean waters. Between 5 and 20 degrees latitude, below Florida and Texas and above South America, the conditions are perfect for tropical cyclones.

Are they more frequent than in the past?

The general rule states that the warmer the water temperature is, the more heat energy it can produce and the higher the probability for a hurricane to grow. It’s reasonable to state that as the planet receives more greenhouse gases, the possibility of typhoons activity increases.

Even if the storm intensity is expected to grow because of favourable conditions, their intensity can stay the same or even decrease. So, the probability is the planet to see fewer hurricanes, but more devastating than ever.

It’s complicated to identify a trend in the number of hurricanes because scientists rely on the data they receive from satellites. Since 1985, the average number of hurricanes is 80 a year.

Are they stronger?

A study from 2013 states that they registered a global increase in the strength of hurricanes. The proportion of category 4 and 5 typhoons is higher. Global heating is one of the factors that increase the strength of tropical storms.

It’s interesting to note than as the power of category 4 and 5 hurricanes increased, the one of category 1 and 2 is lower. Therefore, there is a balance between tropical cyclones resulted from their capped nature. The study concludes that climate change leads to a slight increase in hurricane strength.   

Factors that boost their destructive potential

The oceans absorbed over 90% of the excess energy climate change generated. Human-made global warming conditions are behind extreme weather. Rising ocean temperatures lead to the intensification of hurricanes. Because warming is more pronounced in the North Atlantic region, communities along the coast are more prone to facing tropical storms. This is why it’s advisable to check home insurance cost and choose the solution that protects their belongings. Some typhoons are strong enough to wipe entire communities out, so their only chance to rebuild is to insure their properties.

Because oceans expand, so do seas. Their expansion mixed with melting land-based ice cause sea level to rise with over 7 inches annually. The bad news is that it’s expected the rise of the sea level to accelerate in the following decades. Higher sea levels give storms a better starting point so they approach shores more powerful.

Growing population density is another factor that boosts hurricanes’ destructive potential. 40% of the USA population lives in coastal regions. By building their homes near the ocean, people exposed themselves to tropical storms.

Rising ocean temperatures lead to stronger North Atlantic tropical storms

Warm ocean temperatures strengthen cyclones development when the other conditions are conducive. For a hurricane to form, it needs high humidity and constant winds at various altitudes. It can grow only when the water temperatures are over 79-degree Fahrenheit. Because the ocean and sea levels grow and the temperatures are warmer, ocean water provides warm moist air that powers storms.

Warm air and higher ocean temperatures are other two factors that generate more intense hurricanes. Warm air holds more water vapour when compared with cold air, and high air temperatures also make water vapour content to grow. Increased moisture works like fuel for tropical storms because it makes them stronger. Global warming leads to an increase in the average precipitation rate of cyclones.

Because ocean temperatures are higher, there is less cold so more chances for hurricanes to form. Subsurface ocean water works like a braking mechanism for storms because cold waters can weaken and even stop them. But when the ocean temperature rises and the deeper waters are warmer than usual, the natural braking mechanism fails to stop hurricanes. When Katrina met deep warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico it intensified.

However, it’s important to note that not all changes in climate influence hurricanes. When the wind speed registers large changes at different altitudes above the ocean, it can prevent storm formation. Climate change can affect vertical wind shear in some areas in the Atlantic Ocean.

The bottom line is that climate change makes hurricanes more intense, and it’s highly advisable people to lower the amount of greenhouse gases they release. But, because at present the climate continues to warm, it’s expected the intensity of hurricanes to rise while the number of tropical storms to stay unchanged. Scientists predict that cyclones will bring higher wind speeds and precipitation rates.

How communities prepare for facing hurricanes is crucial for their survival.

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