Climate change is making hurricanes and their impacts worse. But as with all aspects of hurricanes, the hows and whys are complicated. Just as we’re still learning about how hurricanes themselves work, there remains much to be done to fully understand how our warming climate is changing these storms.
Part of the reason for this uncertainty is that, while we have plenty of robust and trustworthy models that can predict how hurricanes will behave in the future, our actual physical data-collection capabilities are not quite as extensive. Hurricanes can’t be studied in the same way storms on land are, where we have weather-monitoring and data-gathering technology in everyone’s backyard. All we can do to study these water-based storms is fly a plane through them (which we only do with storms that threaten the U.S.) or look at them from above with a satellite. And our satellite data only goes back to the 1970s. That means trends and changes over time are hard to spot.
All that said, as every hurricane season passes, scientists are seeing that the storms are behaving just as the models are predicting. They are growing stronger, they are holding more water, they are dumping more rain, and they are causing bigger floods. But there are a few other nuanced and more mysterious changes happening with these storms that may or may not be the result of climate change. Here’s a look at what scientists knows for sure—and what they’re still trying to put a finger on.