Here’s the impact global warming has on hurricane season, according to forecasters

Warmer atmosphere means stronger storms, not more of them

News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells talks to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane research scientist at Colorado State University, about climate change's impacts on hurricane season and other trends forecasters have discovered.
News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells talks to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane research scientist at Colorado State University, about climate change's impacts on hurricane season and other trends forecasters have discovered.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Most scientists agree that the globe is warming.

Over the course of the last century, the water temperature of the tropical Atlantic has increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

With that in mind, it only makes sense that the global warming is leading to an increase in hurricane activity -- or does it?

News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells posed the question to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in the seasonal hurricane forecast.

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According to Klotzbach, the main threat is not storms getting stronger. He believes the main impacts of climate change will be deeper impacts from rising sea levels.

“Most of the changes that we see with hurricanes are primarily due to not necessarily the storms themselves getting stronger, but they’re more like tertiary impacts ... as well as sea levels continue to rise, we’re likely to see the storm surge penetrating farther inland. Just because the background sea level is higher as well as with the warmer atmosphere, because it can hold more moisture and therefore can bring more rainfall,” Klotzbach said.

Klotzbach said when the atmosphere warms, things tend to stabilize top to bottom. That makes for some stronger storms, not necessarily a lot more of them.

“When it comes to the number of storms, you don’t necessarily expect to see an increase in the overall number of storms, perhaps just the storms that do form, perhaps reaching a little bit higher intensity. But when you warm the ocean surface, you also warm throughout the atmosphere. And that tends to stabilize the atmosphere a bit, which tends to take a little bit of the edge off and just the overall warming of the ocean temperatures, which would lead to stronger hurricanes if we didn’t have the atmosphere warming as well,” he said.

When it comes to the increased numbers of storms in an average season, Klotzbach said that has as much to with technology being able to see all storms, weak and unorganized systems.

“I mean, the hard part is, with the named storms as they are, obviously, we’re naming a lot more storms now than we used to for weak, short-lived storms. And so that is a tricky thing. And so there’s about, on average, since 2000, there’s about two short-lived storms, so two storms lasting two days or less per year that are named now that wouldn’t have been named even prior to that just due to improved satellite technology,” Klotzbach said.

This spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started discussion of moving the date of the start of the hurricane season up to May 15 from June 1. Klotzbach is not a fan of starting the official hurricane season earlier.

“You are seeing some of these early season storms, but in general, they’re fairly weak and short-lived. On average, by Aug. 15, we have one hurricane,” he said. “So it’s hard from a message, necessarily from a messaging perspective. If we say hurricane season starts May 15, then we go for three months and don’t have a real hurricane, that doesn’t help much.”

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About the Author:

Tom Sorrells is News 6's Emmy award winning chief meteorologist. He pinpoints storms across Central Florida to keep residents safe from dangerous weather conditions.