An explanation of why wind events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe wind storms are increasing over time.
As the atmosphere warms, there is more energy available for storms to create high-intensity winds. A warmer atmosphere also means warmer oceans, which feed storms that develop out at sea and make their way toward land.
What’s causing increasing wind speeds
In recent years, the intensity of extreme wind events, such as hurricanes, has been increasing, leading to concerns about the impacts on coastal communities and the environment. It also seems as though frequencies are increasing but this is mainly due to events pushing further northward and into areas they have not previously impacted or having more hurricanes reaching “major storm” status. There are several reasons for this trend, including:
- Climate change and sea surface temperatures: Rising global temperatures are leading to warmer ocean waters, which provide the energy that fuels hurricanes. The sea’s surface temperature is 1.5 ℉ warmer than it was in 1950 and will rise another 0.5 ℉ by 2050. Warmer waters also result in increased evaporation, leading to more moisture in the atmosphere, which can fuel stronger and more intense storms. With more water and power, these systems reach further inland and further north, are more intense, and last longer.
- Sea level rise: As sea levels rise, coastal communities are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of hurricanes and storm surges. Higher sea levels can lead to more severe flooding and erosion, as well as damage to buildings and infrastructure.
- Changes in atmospheric circulation: Changes in atmospheric circulation patterns can also play a role in the frequency and intensity of extreme wind events. For example, shifts in the location of the jet stream and other atmospheric features can alter the tracks of storms and increase the likelihood of storm formation.
- Natural variability: While there are several factors contributing to the increase in extreme wind events, it is important to note that some of this increase can be attributed to natural variability in the climate system.
Due to these environmental changes more hurricanes are reaching major storm status and are more likely to track further northward in the future. This is leading to hurricanes impacting areas that are not well prepared for the strength or likelihood of the storms occurring because they hadn’t previously. The impacts of increasing extreme wind events are far-reaching, affecting not only coastal communities, but also the environment, the economy, and public health.
Learn more by reviewing our wind methodology and taking action through wind solutions to invest in coastal resilience measures to protect communities and the environment from the impacts of these events. In addition, individuals and communities can prepare for these events by developing evacuation plans, stocking up on emergency supplies, and taking steps to reinforce their homes and infrastructure. By taking a proactive approach, we can help reduce the impacts of extreme wind events and ensure the safety and well-being of our communities and the environment.