TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — So far, the Atlantic hurricane season has been one of the quietest in many years, with only three named storms and no hurricanes. The slow start to the season feels even quieter because in recent years hurricane seasons – like the record-shattering 2020 season – have been hyperactive.
And while heightened activity is true of recent history, new research suggests that generally speaking hurricane seasons a century ago probably featured more storms.
In what many would consider a counterintuitive finding, a recent paper finds that global warming is actually causing fewer tropical systems.
This finding is not a surprise to climate scientists, for years this belief was the consensus view. But this new paper, produced by some of the world’s leading climate scientists, lends a lot of credibility to the theory.
Since 1900, the team of authors found a 13% decline in the number of storms globally and a 28% decrease in the Atlantic.
The reason for the decrease is still debated in the climate science community. But most seem to agree that it has to do with changes in temperature distribution, both from the equator to the poles, and also vertically from the ground upwards through the clouds.
In each case, the temperature contrast seems to be weakening due to overall warming and thus the circulations which result from temperature gradients are also weakening. In other words, the environment for tropical formation is becoming more stable which would promote less rising motion.
WFLA’s Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli spoke to one of the authors of the study, Dr. Michael Wehner from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, about the findings.
“This is the first study that really shows that this process of declining tropical storm and hurricane frequency is actually happening,” Wehner said. “The models have been suggesting this for a few years.”
But Wehner stresses that the decrease in storms overall does not mean climate change is making hurricane season less dangerous, “This decline – at least according to the models – is only in the weak storms – the named tropical storms and the category 1’s. By the time you get to Category 2 there is not much change and by the time you get to 4’s and 5’s there is an increase.”
So, although climate change may be spawning fewer storms, the storms that do form have a better chance of becoming destructive hurricanes. And major hurricanes cause 85% of the damage.