An Anticipated Increase in Earth’s Strongest Storms

November 18, 2020 · 0 comments

GoniA little more than two weeks ago, Supertyphoon Goni blasted ashore in the Philippines with top sustained winds of 195 mph, becoming the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record. It topped STY Haiyan’s 190 mph land strike just seven years ago. With Hurricane Iota in the Caribbean explosively intensifying 100 mph in under 24 hours to reach Category 5 intensity Monday, it set a new record of five consecutive years of Cat 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic tropical cyclone basin. Among the seven catastrophic hurricanes, starting with Matthew in 2016, were Dorian and Irma, packing 185 mph and 180 mph steady winds, respectively, with peak gusts well over 200 mph.

Goni is the latest formidable example of an increasing trend in tropical cyclone intensity. While Goni established a new landfall wind intensity record, Iota and other recent major hurricanes Eta, Zeta, and Delta set or challenged records for most intense hurricanes so late in the season.

PercentilesJames Elsner of Florida State University says this is to be expected. His research stated in 2008 that there was an upward trend in the intensity of the most intense tropical cyclones. Rising ocean temperatures, as theory predicted, were driving the trend. And with oceans continuing to warm along with Earth’s climate since then, Elsner anticipated the continuing upward trend. New research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society confirms his prediction, finding that another 3.5 to 4.5 percent increase in intensity has occurred with the strongest tropical cyclones during the period 2007-19.

Globally, all basins show upward trends, Elsner says, with the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific revealing the steepest and most consistent upticks.