Study: More Severe Hurricanes as Global Warming Ramps Up

Scientists now say increased global warming in the years to come is likely to result in fewer hurricanes.

The kicker? The storms we do get may be more severe than ever.

According to a panel of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) experts, global warming will likely spur a smaller number of more intense hurricanes, which will be characterized by increased wind speeds and greater damages.

"[The findings] should be a stern and stark warning that America needs to be better prepared and protected from the devastation that these kinds of hurricanes produce," said James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"We've really come a long way in the last two years about our knowledge of the hurricane and climate issue," added study co-author Chris Landsea, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane researcher.

While the study found the number of hurricanes could decline by between 6 and 34 percent, wind speed, an indicator of overall storm strength, would rise by 2 to 11 percent-the latter number meaning roughly a 60 percent increase in damage potential, according to Kerry Emanuel, another co-author. 

For NOAA's Tom Knutson, this is only the latest in a body of evidence indicating that global warming is driving an increase in hurricane severity. 

Knutson's January report projected a 28 percent increase in damage near the U.S. in the Atlantic hurricane basin partly due to global warming-all this despite fewer overall storms.

The earlier study suggested that ‘category 4 and 5' Atlantic hurricanes, considered the most serious, could nearly double by the end of the century.

Published: February 23, 2010