Stronger, Slower Hurricanes Spell Big Trouble in a Warming World

Recent research by Stephan Rahmstorf and others shows that hurricanes are growing stronger due to human-caused climate change. Unfortunately, this is not the only destruction-enhancing impact. Due to changes in atmospheric circulation, the forward speed of hurricanes is also slowing down. Which makes their destructive effects last longer over a given region.

(Stronger, slower hurricanes means longer-lasting destructive impacts.)

According to new research published by Nature and written by James Kossin, the forward speed of hurricanes in the tropics is slowing down. This slow-down is driven by a weakening of tropical atmospheric circulation. Such weakening has been identified by climate studies for decades and is associated with a warming climate.

As the Earth warms, the Hadley Cell expands and slows, the poles warm faster than the lower latitudes generating more blocking patterns in the middle latitudes, and the Walker Cell also slows down. The net effect is that steering currents for hurricanes are weaker, which reduces their forward speed.

(Observed reduction in hurricane forward motion since 1950. Image source: A global slow-down in tropical cyclone translation speed.)

Reduced forward speed means that hurricane impacts such as strong winds and heavy rain persist for longer periods over a given area. Such longer persistence produces more damage and higher rainfall totals.

Since storms are already increasing in intensity due to warming ocean surfaces, rainfall rates and wind speeds are on the rise. However, these much more powerful storms are becoming brutally slow. The net effect is a pretty terrible combination for cities and regions facing the climate change enhanced storms of today and tomorrow.

(Not a fluke event. The catastrophic flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey is much more likely to occur in a warming world as storms intensify and persist for longer periods over a given region. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

With the world having already warmed by about 1.1 C above 1880s averages, and with the oceans continuing to gain a tremendous amount of heat, we have already seen substantial changes to hurricane severity. However, if fossil fuel burning continues, that severity — both in terms of storm strength and persistence, is likely to continue to increase along with their related catastrophic effects.

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  1. PlazaRed

     /  June 13, 2018

    Thank you Robert for this new and disturbing blog post.
    We in Spain have been suffering from well above average rainfall that has been causing all sorts of flooding problems in the north of the country, added to this there has been weeks of thunder storms which have not only caused flash flooding but also a lot of crop and fruit damage during the spring time growing season. I personally lost over half the apples on one tree in a single thunder storm.

    Here is a link to a graph which is correct is also very disturbing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • John S

       /  June 14, 2018

      Denier website it seems.
      In the comments there’s “I do believe our emissions are tiny when compared to the might of a couple of volcanoes”… several posts I put up to refute all got taken down within few minutes. Not allowed to use facts saying humans are responsible apparently.
      I’m still a bit taken back by what amounts to barefaced lie by the moderator.


    • John S

       /  June 14, 2018

      Market Watch is a News Corp publication, and News Corp outsource comment moderation to ICUC, at least for Australian mastheads, possibly global.

      “Many media organisations outsource their comment moderation to media management corporations such as Canada-based ICUC, which handles on-site comments around the clock for News Corp Australia.

      Alan Oakley, News Corp’s network editorial director, says ICUC reads through hundreds of thousands of comments a month across all the media group’s mastheads. News Corp made the switch three years ago.”


  2. Suzanne

     /  June 13, 2018

    Front page just a bit ago at WP….”Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade”

    Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.

    The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded. If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they had hoped.

    The result also reinforces that nations have a short window — perhaps no more than a decade — to cut greenhouse-gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • wili

       /  June 14, 2018

      Shepherd et al 2018,

      Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017:

      The Antarctic Ice Sheet is an important indicator of climate change and driver of sea-level rise. Here we combine satellite observations of its changing volume, flow and gravitational attraction with modelling of its surface mass balance to show that it lost 2,720 ± 1,390 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2017, which corresponds to an increase in mean sea level of 7.6 ± 3.9 millimetres (errors are one standard deviation). Over this period, ocean-driven melting has caused rates of ice loss from West Antarctica to increase from 53 ± 29 billion to 159 ± 26 billion tonnes per year; ice-shelf collapse has increased the rate of ice loss from the Antarctic Peninsula from 7 ± 13 billion to 33 ± 16 billion tonnes per year. We find large variations in and among model estimates of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment for East Antarctica, with its average rate of mass gain over the period 1992–2017 (5 ± 46 billion tonnes per year) being the least certain.


  3. Dave McGinnis

     /  June 13, 2018

    One result of hurricane research I read elsewhere, suggested that only certain storms would benefit from tropospheric warming. This warming is accompanied by stratospheric cooling, and only the strongest storms would be able to penetrate the tropopause and gain the benefit of this cooler air aloft. This is a plausible physical mechanism for increasing numbers of major hurricanes and rapid intensification as well. Slowing forward speeds also aids intensification ordinarily. We have certainly learned a great deal in the last ten years, enough to think the next ten may be even more formidable as you rightly point out.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. A. Randomjack

     /  June 14, 2018

    Just heard about this
    Sometimes, I get so upset…
    Anyone saw any of these measures in their country?

    Article 6
    In carrying out their commitments under Article
    4, paragraph 1 (i), the Parties shall:
    Promote and facilitate at the national and, as appropriate, subregional and regional levels, and in accordance with national laws and regulations, and within their respective capacities:
    the development and implementation of educational and public awareness
    programs on climate change and its effects;
    public access to information on climate change and its effects;
    public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses; and
    training of scientific, technical and managerial personnel;
    Cooperate in and promote, at the international level, and, where appropriate, using existing bodies:
    the development and exchange of educational and public awareness
    material on climate change and its effects; and
    the development and implementation of education and training
    programs, including the strengthening of national institutions and the
    exchange or secondment of personnel to train experts in this field, in
    particular for developing countries.

    The whole convention here:


  5. Genomik

     /  June 15, 2018

    Wow this is sobering. This says there’s a 51% chance of a rainstorm between 2018-2060 that rivals the massive one of 1862. If it happened today many dams would collapse and the ensuing flooding would kill vast numbers and cost a Trillion Dollars.
    This is a article published in Nature Magazine so very well peer reviewed.

    That’s crazy train. This could happen in most peoples lives as it could even happen this winter.



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