The Increasing Strength of Hurricanes

Hurricanes are large, spiraling storms accompanied by high-speed winds. They form over warm ocean waters and sometimes make landfall - having the potential for record levels of damage. If this wasn’t bad enough, there’s been a recent increase in Category 4 or 5 hurricanes - causing mass displacement, flooding, and even injuries. It seems as if hurricane season brings more destruction each year. Unfortunately, the rising intensity and damages of these natural disasters have been attributed to climate change. But why are hurricanes getting worse? What role does climate change play in this?

Due to rising global temperatures, there will be an expansion in the range of hurricanes - also known as tropical cyclones. While presently, hurricanes are mainly confined to tropical regions to the direct north and south of the equator, if the planet continues to warm at its current rate, we may see hurricanes in previously ‘safe’, mid-latitude countries. As the world warms, the difference in temperature between the equator and the polar regions will decrease, thus heavily changing the flow of the jet streams. This, in turn, affects where hurricanes and cyclones are formed. An example would be Subtropical Storm Alpha. The storm hit Portugal in September of 2020, causing relatively little damage yet shocking several scientists - Portugal has not historically been a hurricane-prone area. If we are to take this occurrence as confirmation of the expansion in hurricane range, several millions living in coastal cities - some even further inland - may soon be at risk.

Another aspect we have to consider is the increasing intensity of hurricanes: the rising risk level and the massive amounts of destruction. Scientists have determined that factors such as rising ocean temperatures, an increased level of precipitation (due to the warmer atmosphere left by climate change), and rising sea levels increase the severity of hurricanes. Rising sea temperatures and increased precipitation ease the process of a hurricane being formed. Increased sea levels contribute to excessive flooding and the destruction of coastal infrastructure. Increasingly common urbanization has also increased the chances of flooding, due to the difficulty of draining rainwater.

However, there is good news. While hurricanes seem to be increasing in intensity and wider in range, scientists predict that there won’t be an increase in the overall amount of hurricanes, although these predictions are still circumstantial at best. Additionally, due to the small number of hurricanes each year and the highly localized nature of each tropical cyclone, it is very hard to definitively identify trends - especially since hurricanes that don’t directly affect large populations are often glossed over.

Regardless, it is clear that climate change is only indirectly exacerbating the damage caused by hurricanes. If we wish to halt the worsening of already worrying natural disasters and weather phenomenons, we must cut down on carbon emissions and slow global warming - if not aim to reverse it entirely. The root of the problem lies with rising global temperatures - without addressing the harm of engaging in environmentally-harmful activities, we cannot prevent further disasters.

Further tragedies will continue to occur, unless we choose to put our planet first.


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