Global Warming to Decrease Hurricanes, Study Says

May 19, 2008

Global warming may reduce the number of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Basin by 2060, a new study says. But it adds that the storms that do form may be slightly stronger and wetter.

The study, conducted by scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the latest development in a contentious debate about whether global warming is influencing hurricanes.

The new research suggests that the number of hurricanes each summer could decrease by about 18 percent.

Major hurricanes—those with winds in excess of 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour—could decline by about 8 percent.

Currently about ten Atlantic hurricanes form—two to three of them major—during an average season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.

One of the ways that global warming could reduce hurricanes is by increasing upper-level winds—known as wind shear—that can inhibit hurricane formation, said lead author Thomas Knutson.

The study also suggests that hurricane winds could increase by about 2 percent, and rainfall within 30 miles (48 kilometers) of a hurricane's center could increase by 37 percent.

The study, which appears this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, focuses on the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Recent Data

Knutson said the new study was based on a computer simulation that used hurricane data dating back to 1980.

Detailed data covering a longer period is not available, he added.

"It would be nice if we could run tests based on data all the way back to 1900," Knutson said. "But we don't have adequate large-scale atmospheric data going back that far."

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