The Current Debate on the Linkage Between Global Warming and Hurricanes

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Abstract

Following Hurricane Katrina and the parade of storms that affected the conterminous United States in 2004–2005, the apparent recent increase in intense hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin, and the reported increases in recent decades in some hurricane intensity and duration measures in several basins have received considerable attention. An important ongoing avenue of investigation in the climate and meteorology research communities is to determine the relative roles of anthropogenic forcing (i.e., global warming) and natural variability in producing the observed recent increases in hurricane frequency in the Atlantic, as well as the reported increases of tropical cyclone activity measures in several other ocean basins. A survey of the existing literature shows that many types of data have been used to describe hurricane intensity, and not all records are of sufficient length to reliably identify historical trends. Additionally, there are concerns among researchers about possible effects of data inhomogeneities on the reported trends. Much of the current debate has focused on the relative roles of sea-surface temperatures or large-scale potential intensity versus the role of other environmental factors such as vertical wind shear in causing observed changes in hurricane statistics. Significantly more research – from observations, theory, and modeling – is needed to resolve the current debate around global warming and hurricanes.

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