Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes

Hurricane Florence Nears the East Coast September 12, 2018. Image: NOAA

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Key Takeaways:

  • There has been no increase in hurricanes as the planet has modestly warmed.
  • Even the U.N. IPCC agrees, finding no increase in the frequency or severity of hurricanes.
  • The United States recently went through its longest period in recorded history without a major hurricane strike.
  • The United States recently experienced its fewest total hurricanes in any eight-year period.
  • Florida, America’s most hurricane-prone state, recently underwent its longest period in recorded history without any hurricanes.

Short Summary:

Devastating hurricanes occurred long before the invention of automobiles and coal-fired power plants,
and real-world hurricane activity shows little, if any, impact from global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has largely agreed with this view. In its 2018 interim report, IPCC stated there is “only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.”1 Similarly, in the IPCC’s AR6 WG1 report, released in August 2021, the IPCC noted,

“Identifying past trends in TC [tropical storm] metrics remains a challenge,” a statement that essentially admits scientists have yet to identify a solid measurable upward trend in the data.2

The IPCC’s findings are well supported by objective hurricane and tropical storm data.3 (See Figure 1.)

Most importantly for Americans, the impacts hurricanes have on the United States are at an all-time low. The United
States recently went more than a decade (2005 through 2017) without a major hurricane—a hurricane measuring
Category 3 or higher—making landfall. That is the longest such period in recorded history.3

The United States also recently experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight year period in recorded history (2009 through 2017).4 Additionally, America’s most vulnerable state for hurricanes, Florida, concluded an 11-year period without a landfalling hurricane of any size in 2016, the longest such period in recorded history.5 The Gulf of Mexico also recently benefited from its longest hurricane-free period in recorded history (2013–16).

Figure 1: Graph showing global hurricane frequency since 1970

Figure 1. This figure shows that global hurricane and tropical cyclone activity is not increasing. Even with the slight uptick in the number of tropical storms in 2021, it is still below the peak recorded in Source: Ryan N. Maue, “Global Tropical Cyclone Activity,” Climate Atlas, accessed March13, 2022, http://climatlas.com/tropical/frequency_12months.png.

References:

  1. Sonia Seneviratne and Neville Nicholls, coordinating lead authors, et al., “Changes
    in Climate Extremes and their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment,”
    Chapter 3, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance
    Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). A Special Report of Working Groups I and II
    of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge
    University Press, 2012), accessed August 14, 2021, https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/
    uploads/2018/03/SREX-Chap3_FINAL-1.pdf
  2. Sonia I. Seneviratne and Xuebin Zhang, coordinating lead authors, et al., “Weather
    and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate,” Chapter 11, Climate Change
    2021: The Physical Science Basis. A Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth
    Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge,
    U.K.: Cambridge University Press, in press, August 2021), accessed September 6, 2021,
    https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Chapter_11.
    pdf
  3. Ryan N. Maue, “Global Tropical Cyclone Activity,” Climate Atlas, accessed February 1,
    2022, http://climatlas.com/tropical/frequency_12months.png
  4. Doyle Rice, “U.S. Experiencing Record Hurricane Drought, Just 4 Strikes in 7 Years,”
    USA Today, July 12, 2016, https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2016/07/12/ushurricane-
    drought/86990408
  5. Barbara Hollingsworth, “U.S. Hits Record 129 Months Since Last Major Hurricane
    Strike,” CNS News, July 15, 2016, https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbarahollingsworth/
    us-hits-record-129-months-last-major-hurricane-strike
  6. University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, “Global
    Warming Increases Wind Shear, Reduces Hurricanes, Climate Model Shows,” Science
    Daily, April 18, 2007, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070417182843.
    htm

Climate At A Glance is a Project of The Heartland Institute
Email: think@heartland.org