How Climate Change Will Alter Tropical Cyclones and Hurricanes in the 2030s

Posted on 8/20/21 1:10 PM

TCS, NOAA, and NASA publish new research offering clues for climate change adaptation.

Experts are issuing an “above normal” forecast for the 2021 hurricane season, which kicked off June 1 and will peak sharply from late August through October. 

The highest number of tropical cyclones typically form over these three months. Tropical cyclones are among the most hazardous natural disasters in the U.S., and new research co-authored by scientists at The Climate Service (TCS) shows their frequency and intensity is only poised to grow.

These realities make it even more imperative that businesses and municipalities plan for climate change adaptation at an appropriate scale to meet the evolving challenge.  

Thanks to advances in data science and predictive modeling, the level of information available on climate change impacts has grown, enabling organizations, investors, insurers and cities to better prepare for — and mitigate the effects of — natural disasters.

How will tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin change as climate change pushes atmospheric temperatures upward? 

This was the key research question tackled by scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and TCS.

In their paper recently published in the Journal of Climate, “U.S. Tropical Cyclone Activity in the 2030s Based on Projected Changes in Tropical Sea Temperature,” the scientists found that tropical cyclones will likely become more frequent each year, with the majority of the increased events showing higher wind intensities. In terms of regional variation, the tropical cyclone pathways are projected to shift eastward. 

This eastward shift of tropical cyclones suggests that Florida’s Gulf Coast will have an increased tropical cyclone hazard, while the Western Gulf and the Mid-Atlantic will have a decreased hazard. The northwestern Gulf Coast and the U.S. East Coast show no significant change in the analysis. 

The human implications of these storms are high. For people living in Florida and along the Atlantic Ocean, the Environmental Protection Agency says increased cyclone and hurricanes mean:

  • Greater hurricane wind speeds and rainfall rates, coinciding with greater flooding of coastal homes and infrastructure 
  • Worsening freshwater flooding and coastal storm surges
  • A decrease in insurability and higher premiums related to wind damage
  • Less resilient and more vulnerable cities, roads, railways, ports and water supplies, potentially leaving people trapped or without power or basic supplies for longer periods of time

One element that’s important to weave into the conversation is the tracks that the storms follow, says Dr. James Kossin, a senior scientist who recently joined TCS and a co-author on the paper.

“Whether there will be more or fewer cyclones, whether their intensity will increase, these are all highly relevant and important questions,” he explains. “But part of the conversation around extreme storms must focus on how climate change is affecting the way they move. 

“Research shows that in recent years, extreme storms have begun moving more slowly from one point to another, which is devastating for people on the ground. It happened with Hurricanes Harvey in 2017 and Dorian in 2019 — and, as we saw, these storms resulted in more rainfall, damage, displacement and loss. There is a growing list of storms that stalled out over land, which indicates this troubling phenomenon is likely to continue.”

This research can improve estimates of potential hazards in the next decade — and motivate proactive measures.

Dr. Kossin is on the team that studies physical hazards alongside experts including Dr. Timothy Hall and Dr. Terence Thompson. In the case of hurricanes and cyclones, for example, this team will simulate synthetic hurricanes to understand the probability of above-average winds in a specific location.

This research, as well as external literature, feeds into the efforts of TCS’s impact team, which combs literature to translate the probability of the actual hazard into the probability of loss, illustrating financial risk. Their expert assessment of the literature creates a bridge between hazard and impact, converting climate and extreme weather predictions into quantifiable risk.

Sophisticated climate risk platforms can perform extensive, detailed analyses on the physical impacts to properties, including the potential ramifications of hazards like slow-moving tropical cyclones. 

As a result, advanced climate scenario analysis capabilities are helping hundreds of organizations and communities assess and respond to real-world problems linked to climate change.    

Projections for heightened natural disasters make it even more imperative that businesses, communities, and investors can reliably assess, monitor, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

Key action steps can include:

  • For financial institutions: Assessing risk data related to their assets and portfolios in financial terms. When organizations are able to put a price on climate change, they can map their physical and transition risks and opportunities posed by climate change — including tropical cyclones — and plan accordingly. Financial institutions that can provide climate risk transparency and quantification will be able to decrease their environmental impact and better respond to ESG interests.
  • For the insurance industry: Combining the results from both catastrophe and climate risk models to enhance overarching risk management and mitigation strategies. To better understand and mitigate financial losses related to catastrophic weather events, the insurance industry has long depended on sophisticated catastrophe risk models. There’s just one drawback: these do not currently take into account the threats from a changing climate, such as increased tropical cyclone activity. Combining catastrophe and climate risk models enables investors to take a holistic view and provide clarity on the impact adaptation investments, portfolio risk profiles, real estate values, and insurability.
  • For real estate managers and investors: Conducting robust analysis of the physical impacts of natural disasters to properties and communities. Real estate investors should be able to quantify the risks they’ll face from climate change and have the ability to perform scenario analysis, which is critical for mapping climate risks. In turn, climate risk analysis can supplement due diligence efforts and strategic portfolio management, and provide critical intelligence for buying, selling, and pricing decisions that affect real estate values. 
  • For communities: Drawing up plans to mitigate impacts to underserved communities. Like businesses, communities with fewer resources to build resilience and recover after weather events will suffer the most significant losses. Municipalities can partner with experts in climate risk analytics to study climate risk through the lens of societal factors and detail impacts to various constituents, taking proactive steps to improve access to strengthen and protect economies, infrastructure and commerce.

TCS’s Climanomics® platform provides these capabilities and more, mapping to the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework. As a result, organizations including banks, asset managers, and Fortune 500 firms are assessing their physical and transition risks as well as opportunities posed by climate change. 

Transforming Research Insights into Practical Intelligence

The scientists’ tropical cyclone research provides regional specificity for impending climate change risks at a critical time period for infrastructure development. 

Communities, investors, and corporations should be using robust data and analytics to assess how climate will affect the landscape — and to take action that saves lives, cost and resources.

With these critical insights, we can plan ahead to adapt to climate change in a timely, equitable manner. 

Learn more about how to measure and analyze risks related to climate change and start taking more informed actions today.

Topics: Insights

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