Behind the Forecast: Warmer global temperatures leading to stronger hurricanes

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Science Behind the Forecast: Warmer global temperatures leading to stronger hurricanes

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Hurricane season starts on June 1, and a new study is diving into how stronger hurricanes like last year's devastating Dorian may become part of our new normal. Warmer temperatures worldwide appear the be the source of these intensifying storms.

The study, which was lead by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the University of Wisconsin, dove into four decades of satellite images. The scientists' conclusion: hurricanes have become stronger on both global and regional levels.

Tropical Storm Arthur formed Saturday in the waters off Florida.
Tropical Storm Arthur formed Saturday in the waters off Florida. (Source: NOAA)

A hurricane’s potential to become a Category 3 or higher, which meteorologists classify as major hurricanes, has increased over the past 40 years. According to researchers, a hurricane is eight percent more likely to become a hurricane in this decade compared to the previous one.

For a hurricane to form, the following is needed: a preexisting weather disturbance, low wind shear (change in wind speed or direction over a particular distance), sea surface temperatures at least 80° over a depth of 150 feet, and an area of thunderstorms. Once wind speeds reach 74 mph the storm, is officially a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. A Category 3 storm has winds of 111 to 129 mph.

(Source: Business Insider/National Hurricane Center)

As sea surface temperatures rise, the ocean provides more fuel for hurricanes meaning we could see stronger storms. 2018 was the hottest year on record for the planet’s oceans. Our oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that greenhouse gases trap in our atmosphere. A one degree Fahrenheit rise in ocean temperature can increase a hurricane’s wind speed by 15 to 20 miles per hour, according to Florida State University professor James Elsner.

This new study mainly looked at the storm's wind speed, but it's important to note that rainfall and storm surge can also cause incredible amounts of damage.

The 2020 hurricane season got off to an early start when Tropical Storm Arthur formed on May 16.

NOAA released its 2020 forecast; in line with others calling for an active season.
NOAA released its 2020 forecast; in line with others calling for an active season. (Source: NOAA)

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