Global extreme events - Tropical storms

Referenc - IPCC AR5 WG1

Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and floods impact all levels of society and can lead to large economic costs, population displacement and loss of life. This page outlines the latest research on whether we’re experiencing more tropical storms globally, whether they’re due to climate change and what we can expect in the future.

Are tropical storms i.e. hurricanes, typhoons increasing in frequency or intensity?

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report concluded that confidence remains low for detecting any long-term changes in tropical cyclone activity. However, it is virtually certain (>99% probability) that the fre­quency and intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic has increased since the 1970s.

Are these changes due to human activity?

The mechanics of tropical cyclones and how they interact with our changing climate is extremely complex. While there is not clear evidence that climate change is increasing or decreasing the frequency of these storms, there is strong evidence that increasing sea temperatures increase the intensity of tropical storms when they develop. Heavier rainfall is also expected as global temperatures rise because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Additionally, rising sea levels increase the risk of coastal flooding as tropical storms make landfall.

How are tropical storms expected to change in the future?

It is likely (>66% probability) that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain unchanged. At the same time, there is a likelyincrease in both the maximum wind speeds and rates of precipitation for tropical cyclones globally.

The future influence of climate change on tropical cyclones is likely to vary by region, but the specific characteristics of the changes are not yet well quantified and there is currently low confidence in region-specific projections of frequency and intensity. Having said that there is medium confidence that precipitation will be more extreme near the centres of tropical cyclones making landfall in North and Central America; East Africa; West, East, South and Southeast Asia as well as in Australia and many Pacific islands.


Related Pages

Weather extremes and climate change

UK & Global extreme events - Heatwaves

UK & Global extreme events - Heavy rainfall

UK & Global extreme events - Drought

UK & Global extreme events - Cold

UK & Global extreme events - Wind storms