Climate change could double the number of major hurricanes and typhoons by 2050, study finds

Thanks to climate change, the number of hurricanes and typhoons rated as Category 3 storms and higher could double by the year 2050, a new study concludes.

Using computer modeling, the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, concluded that, as global air and water temperatures continue to rise due to excess greenhouse gas emissions, the increase in the number of major hurricanes and typhoons will affect a larger number of people.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale assigns a number value to hurricanes and typhoons. Category 3 storms contain sustained winds of over 111 miles per hour. Category 4 storms pack winds of at least 130 mph, and a Category 5 storm contains sustained winds of 157 mph or higher.

According to the new study, climate change will help increase the wind speeds of major hurricanes by as much as 20% over the next 28 years, as well as the overall frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms by more than 200% in some parts of the world.

"Our results also reemphasize that regions that currently have a (very) low risk could start to be really impacted by tropical cyclones under climate change," Nadia Bloemendaal, a climate scientist at the University of Amsterdam and the study's lead author, told CNN. "We found it shocking to see the disproportionate amount of developing countries at risk for future climate change."

The predicted increase in the frequency of major hurricanes and typhoons is not evenly distributed in areas that already see tropical cyclone activity. While Miami is projected to see a modest annual increase in probability of experiencing a major hurricane in a given year (from 3.6% at present to 4.0% by 2050), Honolulu is forecast to see that probability more than double (from 4.0% to 8.6%) over the same span, the study found.

Satellite view of Hurricane Katrina.
Total property damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was estimated at $108 billion. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Earlier this month, researchers at Colorado State University issued a report predicting another above-average Atlantic hurricane season. The report foresees at least 19 named storms, four of which will become major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

“We estimate that 2022 will have nine hurricanes (average is 7.2), 19 named storms (average is 14.4), 90 named storm days (average is 69.4), 35 hurricane days (average is 27.0), four major (Category 3-4-5) hurricanes (average is 3.2) and nine major hurricane days (average is 7.4)," the report stated. "The probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall is estimated to be about 135% of the long-period average.”

Numerous studies have linked warmer ocean water with higher-intensity tropical cyclones. What is less clear is whether climate change is increasing the total number of hurricanes and typhoons lower in intensity than those that achieve major status, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes on its website.

"Based on complex modeling, NOAA has suggested that an increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes is likely, with hurricane wind speeds increasing by up to 10%. Warmer sea temperatures also are causing hurricanes to [become] wetter, with 10%-15% more precipitation from cyclones projected in a 2 degree C scenario," NOAA's website states. "Recent storms such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017 (dropping over 60 inches in some locations), Florence in 2018 (with over 35 inches) and Imelda in 2019 (44 inches) demonstrate the devastating floods that can be triggered by these high-rain hurricanes."