New Study: Climate Change Has Doubled the Number of Category 4 and 5 Storms Striking East and Southeast Asia

The atmospheric-ocean heat engine. It’s a pretty simple mechanism for pumping up the power of storms. But as simple as it is, the results can be devastating when this engine gets revved up by human-forced climate change, according to a new study released Monday in Nature Geoscience.

The Heat Engine in Action

As the ocean surface warms, it heats the local atmosphere. This generates an updraft that pushes higher and higher into the air above. Heat also causes water at the ocean surface to evaporate. This evaporated water is borne up on the winds and air currents rising above the heating water. A low-pressure system forms and the water vapor condenses into clouds which ultimately become thunderstorms. The Coriolis effect gives it all a nudge and the storms and clouds start to spin…


(Pacific Ocean typhoon paths from 1980 through 2005. A new study shows that the destructive power of landfalling typhoons in East and Southeast Asia has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1977. Meanwhile, the number of category 4 and 5 storms striking land has doubled. All impacts due to ocean-surface warming related to human-caused climate change. Image source: Commons.)

The process described above happens every day at the ocean surface. Sometimes these storms form into the powerful cyclones we call hurricanes and typhoons. Under normal global temperature conditions, the kinds and intensities of these storms are what we have generally come to expect. But if you add heat to the Earth System, as we do when we burn fossil fuels and dump carbon into the atmosphere, the whole storm formation process gets amped up — and produces the powerful outlier storms that have become more common over recent years.

Add Human-Forced Warming and End up With More Powerful Storms

The fact that such added heat tends to generate more powerful storms has been a generally accepted part of our understanding of climate science for some time now. However, it was not until recently that this signal of rising storm intensity became visible in the science. Now, a new study published today in Nature Geoscience indicates that’s exactly what’s happening in parts of the Western Pacific.

It’s a pretty earth-shattering revelation with multiple climate change-related findings which are worth reading about in full here. These findings boil down to the following:

  1. The number of category 4 and 5 storms striking southeast Asia has doubled since 1977.
  2. The overall destructive power of storms striking this region has increased by nearly 50 percent over the same period.
  3. This increase in powerful storms has been caused by ocean warming related to climate change.

Standing alone, any one of these findings would be significant. Taken together, they paint a picture of significantly rising risk of storm damage and related loss of life due to climate change in one of the world’s most highly populated regions. In other words, the storms firing and running in to land in this region are not the same as they once were. They have been dramatically altered by the massive volume of greenhouse gasses hitting the world’s atmosphere due to fossil-fuel burning, accumulating over the decades.

The study notes that:

Here, we apply analysis to corrected data and show that, over the past 37 years, typhoons that strike East and Southeast Asia have intensified by 12 to 15 percent… a nearly 50 percent increase in instantaneous destructiveness… with the proportion of category 4 and 5 storms doubling or even tripling… We find that increasing intensity of landfalling typhoons is due to strengthened intensification rates which are, in turn, tied to locally enhanced surface warming on the rim of East and Southeast Asia.

Ramping Storm Intensity

This scientific study helps validate and clarify what many weather and climate observers have already noted during recent years. The destructiveness of storms striking land in East and Southeast Asia is not normal. And, land-falling category 4 and 5 storms are occurring with greater frequency over broader regions.


(Four Pacific typhoons take aim on Southeast Asia during July of 2015. A new study finds that the landfall intensity of storms like these is increasing due to human-caused climate change. Image source: NOAA.)

The Western Pacific basin is now capable of producing storms like Haiyan, whose destructive intensity at landfall was mostly theoretical decades before. This increase in intensity has been observed during a period of rapid Earth warming. And with more warming in store, the storms are likely to grow even more intense. From the Nature Geoscience study:

The projected ocean surface warming pattern under increased greenhouse gas forcing suggests that typhoons striking eastern mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan will intensify further. Given disproportionate damages by intense typhoons, this represents a heightened threat to people and properties in the region.


Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s, Wei, M. and Xie, S.


Asian typhoons becoming more intense, study finds


The Coriolis effect

Leave a comment


  1. Griffin

     /  September 6, 2016

    Great post Robert. Yet another reason why warming up the oceans is a really dangerous thing for humanity! And yes, this one sure falls in line with what the “eye test” has been telling us over the last few years.

  2. Energy in = Energy out – someplace. Its the Law…

  3. Griffin

     /  September 6, 2016

    Considering the source (knowledgeable and trustworthy), this can be filed under the name of “things we would like more info on!”

    • Working on this first thing tomorrow. File under ‘more disturbing stuff that really pisses me off because we haven’t assigned the resources necessary to it to provide clear tracking and informed analysis.’

  4. labmonkey2

     /  September 6, 2016

    NatGeo had this today:

    To put it bluntly, if the oceans weren’t there to protect us, our lower atmosphere would have already heated up by 36 degrees Celsius, says Dan Laffoley, principal advisor of marine science and conservation for IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme.

    Needless to say that we’re in ‘hot’ water now… :/

    • coloradobob

       /  September 6, 2016

      Long ago, I bought a copy of “Direct Use of the Sun’s Energy” by Farrington Daniels. A new paperback now sells for $29.95 on Amazon. I was interested in space heating, the price of batteries and collectors for electricity at time didn’t even rate with me.

      But , as with making electricity, space heating is all about storage. Your heat battery. This led to terms called “Specific Heat” and “Thermal Mass”. Terms used to describe the heat holding capacity of everything from nitrogen gas to lead. Well the scale of “Specific Heat” uses fresh water as it’s base , that’s 1. Everything around you holds less heat than a gallon of fresh water. There are just a hand full of substances that can hold more heat, and all of them go trough a phase change as they heat up.

      Remember, water can go through 3 phase changes. It’s the only thing on our planet that can do that. And it’s all controlled by heat. If we look to the gases in our atmosphere as a measure heat , their “Specific Heat” is around 0.15 to 0.20, the salt water in our oceans is well over 1.

      As Leif Erik Knutsen said :
      Energy in = Energy out – someplace. Its the Law…

      And water is the enforcer of this law.

      If we could only turn Senator Snowball into a cod, he would swim back and tell us all just how hot the oceans are.

  5. George W. Hayduke

     /  September 6, 2016

    Read a similar article to @labmoney2’s

    What is the most likely manifestation of this that we would see? More powerful storms than we already have or a rapid overall warming event?

    • The oceans will act to keep the Earth cooler than it would otherwise be. And the current rate of warming is pretty amazingly fast when you consider geological timescales. That ocean heating is a big part of it. The rate of warming going forward depends mostly on how much fossil fuels we continue to burn. As it stands, the current greenhouse gas forcing locks in 3-4 C warming over the multi-century timescale (if you believe Hansen, as I do). That’s one reason why we need to stop fossil fuel burning as quickly as possible and then work to go carbon negative soon after.

      • I saw a new video from Climate State last night

        If the heat that went into the oceans had went into our atmosphere, it would have warmed by 36°C

        • Exactly. The physical nature of the oceans helps to moderate our climate. However, when it comes to tracking the amount of heat that’s already been added, you’d better look to the oceans — because more than 90 percent of global warming is working on that insulator.

          In other words, the high thermal capacity of the oceans is both a moderator and an inertia. Once you get the oceans moving, temperature-wise, it’s practically impossible to avoid a certain degree of warming and Earth System changes. This is an issue of setting the pendulum in motion.

          In any case, none of these physical properties really changes the physical dynamic of Earth System sensitivity to climate forcing. It’s more to illustrate how far we’ve gone down the path of warming. Current forcing, in my view, gets us to 3-4 C long term without further net ghg additions through fossil fuel burning or significant carbon feedbacks.

  6. June

     /  September 6, 2016

    It seems like the number of tropical cyclones/hurricanes experiencing rapid intensification has increased as well.

  7. coloradobob

     /  September 6, 2016

    These cyclones aren’t just aiming at Asia. There are looking for a place to condense their heat. They have 2 choices, make really tall clouds, and rain like hell, or go to the poles. and rain like hell.

  8. coloradobob

     /  September 6, 2016

    Years ago I went to the Dinosaur National Monument .
    How can all these giant animals be killed in one stroke?

    Answer :
    The storms were really really violent

    • coloradobob

       /  September 7, 2016

      The flood deposit of dead dinosaurs , think about how much energy it took to do this. When the deniers say it’s all OK. The flood story is much older than we ever dreamed.

  9. coloradobob

     /  September 6, 2016

    Puny humans.

  10. coloradobob

     /  September 7, 2016

    Man is too small to effect the Earth .

    There are over 7 Billion of us , and we invented H bomb.

  11. coloradobob

     /  September 7, 2016

    Now the best album of the 20th century –


  12. coloradobob

     /  September 7, 2016

    Bloomfield , and Bishop

  13. wili

     /  September 7, 2016

    Thanks for following up on this important study. We should be very clear that the increase in both storm intensity and in storm frequency translates into an increase in deaths and destruction of livelihoods. We can now see that these extra deaths are caused by our out of control carbon emissions from fossil-death-fuels. The corporations that have profited from this carnage should be viewed with the same moral revulsion as a Pol Pot regime, or as the Third Reich.

    But all of us need to look in the mirror and ask whether we can’t do more to both reduce our direct use, and to engage in the political struggle to delegitimize these companies and the corrupt, anti-science and anti-life agenda they promote.


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