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Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years


Theory1 and modelling2 predict that hurricane intensity should increase with increasing global mean temperatures, but work on the detection of trends in hurricane activity has focused mostly on their frequency3,4 and shows no trend. Here I define an index of the potential destructiveness of hurricanes based on the total dissipation of power, integrated over the lifetime of the cyclone, and show that this index has increased markedly since the mid-1970s. This trend is due to both longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities. I find that the record of net hurricane power dissipation is highly correlated with tropical sea surface temperature, reflecting well-documented climate signals, including multi-decadal oscillations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, and global warming. My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century.

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Figure 1: A measure of the total power dissipated annually by tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic (the power dissipation index, PDI) compared to September sea surface temperature (SST).
Figure 2: Annually accumulated PDI for the western North Pacific, compared to July–November average SST.
Figure 3: Annually accumulated PDI for the western North Pacific and North Atlantic, compared to annually averaged SST.

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The author is grateful for correspondence with S. Camargo, C. Guard, C. Landsea and A. Sobel.

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Correspondence to Kerry Emanuel.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

This describes methods that were used to correct the raw hurricane wind speed data to account for changing measurement and estimation techniques over the years since airborne reconnaissance began in 1945. (DOC 72 kb)

Supplementary Figure S1

This shows the relationship between maximum wind speed and minimum sea level pressure in the raw hurricane data, in the data corrected by using a uniform wind-pressure relation, and a final correction. (JPG 57 kb)

Supplementary Figure S1 Legend

Text to accompany Supplementary Figure S1. (DOC 19 kb)

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Emanuel, K. Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature 436, 686–688 (2005).

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