Latest MIT study sees stronger links between climate change, hurricanes

Are hurricanes getting worse with global warming? The evidence suggesting so is piling up.

In 2005, MIT professor Kerry Emanuel wrote a research paper that described historical links between climate change and an increasing intensity of hurricanes.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit.

A new study out of MIT further strengthens the connection between climate change and the intensity and duration of hurricanes, although many unanswered questions remain.

The study, by postdoctoral fellow Ragoth Sundararajan and graduate student John Williams, uses a new technique that adds finer detail to computer simulations of global weather patterns. Emanuel's original study analyzed records of tropical cyclones--commonly called hurricanes or typhoons--from the middle of the 20th century in the North Pacific and North Atlantic and found that the duration of the cyclones and the highest wind speeds have increased by about 50 percent over the past 50 years.

The new study is purely theoretical, but it comes to a similar conclusion.

"It strongly confirms, independently, the results in the Nature paper," Emanuel said in a prepared statement. "This is a completely independent analysis and comes up with very consistent results."

Interestingly, the study shows a continuing increase in power in these tropical storms, but not nearly as much as the increase in power that's already been seen in the last few decades. The disparity has yet to be explained.

One possibility, Emanuel said, is that the increase in power in hurricanes in the last 25 years may not be tied to global warming at all, he stated. It also might be that the increase in power is tied to a faster increase in global temperatures.

Nonetheless, the idea that there is no link between hurricane intensity and warming is not supported by either study, he added.

And speaking of Hurricane Katrina, this story we posted here on Dr. Scott Zeller's first-hand account of providing support to Katrina victims is a great reminder of how bad the storm really was.

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