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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Emanuel, K. A. The dependence of hurricane intensity on climate. Nature 326, 483–485 (1987)
Knutson, T. R. & Tuleya, R. E. Impact of CO2-induced warming on simulated hurricane intensity and precipitation: Sensitivity to the choice of climate model and convective parameterization. J. Clim. 17, 3477–3495 (2004)
Landsea, C. W., Nicholls, N., Gray, W. M. & Avila, L. A. Downward trends in the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes during the past five decades. Geophys. Res. Lett. 23, 1697–1700 (1996)
Chan, J. C. L. & Shi, J.-E. Long-term trends and interannual variability in tropical cyclone activity over the western North Pacific. Geophys. Res. Lett. 23, 2765–2767 (1996)
Pielke, R. A. J., Rubiera, J., Landsea, C. W., Fernandez, M. L. & Klein, R. Hurricane vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean: Normalized damage and loss potentials. Nat. Hazards Rev. 4, 101–114 (2003)
Pielke, R. A. J. & Landsea, C. W. Normalized U.S. hurricane damage, 1925–1995. Weath. Forecast. 13, 621–631 (1998)
Emanuel, K. A. The contribution of tropical cyclones to the oceans' meridional heat transport. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 14771–14782 (2001)
Pielke, R. A. J. & Landsea, C. W. La Niña, El Niño, and Atlantic hurricane damages in the United States. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 80, 2027–2033 (1999)
Gray, W. M. Atlantic seasonal hurricane frequency. Part I: El Niño and 30 mb quasi-biennial oscillation influences. Mon. Weath. Rev. 112, 1649–1668 (1984)
Goldenberg, S. B., Landsea, C. W., Mestas-Nuñez, A. M. & Gray, W. M. The recent increase in Atlantic hurricane activity: Causes and implications. Science 293, 474–479 (2001)
Bister, M. & Emanuel, K. A. Dissipative heating and hurricane intensity. Meteorol. Atmos. Phys. 50, 233–240 (1998)
Emanuel, K. A. A statistical analysis of tropical cyclone intensity. Mon. Weath. Rev. 128, 1139–1152 (2000)
Henderson-Sellers, A. et al. Tropical cyclones and global climate change: A post-IPCC assessment. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 79, 19–38 (1998)
Southern, R. L. The global socio-economic impact of tropical cyclones. Aust. Meteorol. Mag. 27, 175–195 (1979)
Emanuel, K. A. The power of a hurricane: An example of reckless driving on the information superhighway. Weather 54, 107–108 (1998)
Mallen, K. J., Montgomery, M. T. & Wang, B. Re-examining the near-core radial structure of the tropical cyclone primary circulation: Implications for vortex resiliency. J. Atmos. Sci. 62, 408–425 (2005)
Weatherford, C. L. & Gray, W. M. Typhoon structure as revealed by aircraft reconnaissance. Part I: Data analysis and climatology. Mon. Weath. Rev. 116, 1032–1043 (1988)
Powell, M. D., Vickery, P. J. & Reinhold, T. A. Reduced drag coefficients for high wind speeds in tropical cyclones. Nature 422, 279–283 (2003)
Camargo, S. J. & Sobel, A. H. Western North Pacific tropical cyclone intensity and ENSO. J. Clim. (in the press)
Saunders, M. A. & Harris, A. R. Statistical evidence links exceptional 1995 Atlantic hurricane season to record sea warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 1255–1258 (1997)
Levitus, S., Antonov, J. I., Boyer, T. P. & Stephens, C. Warming of the world ocean. Science 287, 2225–2229 (2000)
Rayner, N. A. et al. Global analyses of sea surface temperature, sea ice, and night marine air temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4407, doi:10.1029/2002JD002670 (2003)
The author is grateful for correspondence with S. Camargo, C. Guard, C. Landsea and A. Sobel.
Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The author declares no competing financial interests.
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)
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)
Text to accompany Supplementary Figure S1. (DOC 19 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Emanuel, K. Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature 436, 686–688 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03906
Representation of Tropical Cyclones by the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications Version 2
Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (2020)
Possible influences of a La Niña event on a continuous tropical cyclone landfall event in east China
Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics (2020)
Scientific and technological power and international cooperation in the field of natural hazards: a bibliometric analysis
Natural Hazards (2020)
Long-term temperature and precipitation trends in the Luquillo Mountains, and their relationships to global atmospheric indices used in climate change predictions
Caribbean Journal of Science (2020)
Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2020)