Hurricanes have occurred on a seasonal basis for centuries. Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30, but these destructive tropical storms can occur at any time. Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst tropical cyclones to hit the U.S. in recent history. Now, new scientific research shows that human-accelerated climate change is helping to create more massive tropical storms, making it far more likely that we’ll see more huge hurricanes in the future.

An international team of researchers, including several at Texas A&M University, recently published a compelling study regarding climate change and the intensity of hurricanes (also known as tropical cyclones). The scientists discovered that if a hurricane’s path carries it over large areas of fresh water, it will have greater potential to become a stronger storm.

To test their theory, researchers examined tropical cyclones for the decade 1998-2007, which includes about 587 storms.

“We tested how the intensity of the storm and others increased over a 36-hour period,” explained Ping Chang, professor of oceanography and atmospheric sciences and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies. “We were looking for indications that the storm increased in intensity or weakened and compared it to other storms. This is near where the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean, and there are immense amounts of freshwater in the region. We found that as a storm enters an area of freshwater, it can intensify 50 percent faster on average over a period of thirty-six hours when compared to storms that do not pass over such regions.”

The scientists say global climate change has a role in this phenomenon, since it causes variations in ocean temperature and salinity, especially in areas where large rivers run into the ocean. Understanding more about the effects of fresh water and salinity on hurricane intensity may help improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasting in the future.

 Main photo credit: NASA