Oct 30, 2023 - News

Hurricanes are getting stronger faster, research shows

Gulf water flows through a broken section of Pine Island Road after Hurricane Ian made landfall last year. Photo: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Hurricanes are growing more intense more quickly.

Driving the news: That's according to new research that showed the hurricane intensification rate between 2001 and 2020 was up to 29% higher than the rate between 1971 and 1990.

  • The research by Rowan University climate scientist Andra Garner connects the increase to human-caused climate change — an outcome that scientists have long warned of.

Why it matters: Stronger hurricanes mean higher risks for Floridians, many of whom are still grappling with the devastation caused by Category-4 Hurricane Ian last year and, earlier this year, Hurricane Idalia, which slammed the Big Bend region as a Category 3.

Plus: Higher wind and flood risks mean higher insurance payments, Axios' Brianna Crane reports. Florida is already home to the highest insurance premiums in the country.

  • Homeowners in the Tampa Bay area will likely continue to see rate hikes due to extreme weather risks, according to estimates from the First Street Foundation, a climate data nonprofit.

What she did: Garner examined National Hurricane Center data over the past 50 years.

What she found: Between 1971 and 1990, which Garner refers to as the "historical period," storms took 36 hours to accelerate by at least 57 mph. In the "modern era" (2001 to 2020), hurricanes intensified by that amount in just 24 hours.

  • Recent examples of the trend include hurricanes Ian, Harvey, Irma and Maria.
  • Those were also among the most expensive storms of the last decade, with Ian being the costliest storm in Florida's history in part because of how many people have moved here, per a report from Swiss Re, a global reinsurance firm.

The latest: The trend continued into this year with Hurricane Otis, "one of the biggest, most high-stakes hurricane forecasting failures in years," Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • That system leaped from a tropical storm to a Category-5 monster within 24 hours, slamming into Mexico's Pacific coast at 165 mph.
  • September's Hurricane Lee, too, quickly developed into a powerful storm, which Garner attributed to this year's record-high Atlantic Ocean temperatures.

What she's saying: Emergency management officials should make the potential for rapid intensification — and the difficulty of predicting it — clear when communicating with at-risk communities, Garner said in a news release.

  • And the research shows the need for urgency in addressing climate change. "If we don't make some pretty big changes and rapidly move away from fossil fuels, this is something we can expect to see worsen in the future."

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