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Intense tropical cyclones are set to double by 2050

According to new research led by the University of Southampton, anthropogenic climate change will make strong tropical cyclones twice as frequent by 2050, putting many parts of the world at risk. Experts argue that maximum wind speeds associated with these cyclones could increase by about 20 percent.

Although they are among the world’s most destructive extreme weather events, tropical cyclones are relatively rare, with only about 80 to 100 forming annual around the globe. By combining historical data with global climate models, the scientists generated hundreds of thousands of “synthetic tropical cyclones” in order to predict the frequency with which such events may occur around the world over the next decades, while climate change intensifies.

The results suggest that the frequency of the most intense tropical cyclones (from Category 3 or higher) will double globally, while weaker tropical cyclones and storms will become less common in many areas of the world. An important exception may be the Bay of Bengal, where the scientists project a decrease in the frequency of intense cyclones.

Many of the areas highly at risk for such extreme events will be lower-income countries, such as Cambodia, Mozambique, Laos, and many Pacific Island Nations, including Tonga and the Solomon Islands. Asia will most probably see the largest increase in the number of people exposed to tropical cyclones, with millions of people facing severe risks in China, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea.

“Of particular concern is that the results of our study highlight that some regions that don’t currently experience tropical cyclones are likely to in the near future with climate change,” said study co-author Ivan Haigh, an associated professor of Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton. “The new tropical cyclone dataset we have produced will greatly aid the mapping of changing flood risk in tropical cyclone regions.”

“Our results can help identify the locations prone to the largest increase in tropical cyclone risk,” added study lead author Nadia Bloemendaal, a postdoctoral fellow at the Free University of Amsterdam. Local governments can then take measures to reduce risk in their region, so that damage and fatalities can be reduced. With our publicly available data, we can now analyse tropical cyclone risk more accurately for every individual coastal city or region,” she concluded.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer   

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