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Storm Intensity Increase

More heat and water in the atmosphere and warmer sea surface temperatures are increasing storm precipitation and could provide more fuel to increase storm wind speeds. Storm intensity is measured by the maximum surface wind speed or the minimum sea level pressure. Climate change affects many of the factors that can result in greater storm intensity. It leads to additional latent heat available in warmer air, and an increase in the meridional (or poleward) temperature gradient, which increases available potential energy.

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Climate science at a glance

  • Climate change is making storms wetter.[1]
  • Climate change attribution science has shown that climate change contributed to the sheer volume of moisture in the atmosphere for several storms including Hurricane Sandy, Snowmaggedon, and the Boulder floods.[2]

Background information

What are storms?

At the most basic level, a storm is any interruption of the prevailing atmospheric pressure and wind fields that causes high winds and precipitation. There are many types of storms including rainstorms, thunderstorms, snowstorms, and tropical storms. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies a storm as “severe” when it produces at least one of the following: wind gusts of 58 mph or faster, hail one inch in diameter or larger, or a tornado. Storms that form in the tropics are called tropical cyclones. When a tropical storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. Hurricane intensity is usually measured by a storm’s wind speed. Category 5 hurricanes are the most intense and have wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or higher. Surface pressure is another indicator of hurricane intensity, and some say is a better benchmark for hurricane damage potential.[3]

US studies attribute intensifying storms to climate change

Select a pillar to filter signals

Air Mass Temperature Increase
Arctic Amplification
Extreme Heat and Heat Waves
Glacier and Ice Sheet Melt
Global Warming
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Land Ice and Snow Cover Decline
Land Surface Temperature Increase
Permafrost Thaw
Precipitation Falls as Rain Instead of Snow
Sea Ice Decline
Sea Surface Temperature Increase
Season Creep/ Phenology Change
Snowpack Decline
Snowpack Melting Earlier and/or Faster
Atmospheric Moisture Increase
Extreme Precipitation Increase
Runoff and Flood Risk Increase
Total Precipitation Increase
Atmospheric Blocking Increase
Atmospheric River Change
Extreme El Niño Frequency Increase
Gulf Stream System Weakening
Hadley Cell Expansion
Large Scale Global Circulation Change/ Dynamical Changes
North Atlantic Surface Temperature Decrease
Ocean Acidification Increase
Southwestern US Precipitation Decrease
Surface Ozone Change
Surface Wind Speed Change
Drought Risk Increase
Land Surface Drying Increase
Intense Atlantic Hurricane Frequency Increase
Intense Cyclone, Hurricane, Typhoon Frequency Increase
Intense Northwest Pacific Typhoon Frequency Increase
Tropical Cyclone Steering Change
Wildfire Risk Increase
Coastal Flooding Increase
Sea Level Rise
Air Mass Temperature Increase
Storm Surge Increase
Thermal Expansion of the Ocean
Winter Storm Risk Increase
Coral Bleaching Increase
Habitat Shift or Decline
Parasite, Bacteria and Virus Population Increase
Pine Beetle Outbreaks
Heat-Related Illness Increase
Infectious Gastrointestinal Disease Risk Increase
Respiratory Disease Risk Increase
Vector-Borne Disease Risk Increase
Storm Intensity Increase
Tornado Risk Increase
Wind Damage Risk Increase
What are Climate Signals?