Article image

Warming waters will drastically increase frequency of extreme storms

Researchers at NASA have confirmed that the frequency of severe storms will substantially increase as a result of climate change. By the end of the century, more extreme rainfall events will coincide with rising temperatures across tropical oceans.

The study, which was led by Hartmut Aumann of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was focused on 15 years of data collected by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument. The researchers used the data to examine the relationship between average sea surface temperature and the onset of severe storms.

The team found that extreme storms, which were defined as those producing at least 0.12 inches of rain per hour over a 16-mile area, usually developed when the sea surface temperature was higher than 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The study also revealed that 21 percent more storms develop for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the surface temperatures rise.

“It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment. Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year,” said Aumann. “But our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans.”

Based on current climate models, if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise steadily, the surface temperatures in tropical waters could increase by as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. This scenario would boost the frequency of extreme storms by 60 percent, according to the study authors.

“Our results quantify and give a more visual meaning to the consequences of the predicted warming of the oceans,” said Aumann. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage and so on, unless mitigating measures are implemented.”

The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Paid for by

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day