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Increased risk of intense tropical cyclones due to climate change

27 April 2022
Human-caused climate change will make strong tropical cyclone conditions twice as probable by mid-century, putting large parts of the world at risk, according to a new study published in Scientific Advances. The analysis also projects that maximum wind speeds associated with these cyclones could increase up to 24%.

The study is published in Scientific Advances.

The analysis shows the frequency of the most intense cyclones, those from Category 3 or higher, will increase globally due to climate change, while weaker tropical cyclones and tropical storms will become less common in most of the world’s regions, with the only exception of the Bay of Bengal. 

Many of the most at risk locations will be in low-income countries. Countries where tropical cyclones are relatively rare today will see an increased risk in the coming years, including Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique and many Pacific Island Nations, such as the Solomon Islands and Tonga. Globally, Asia will see the largest increase in the number of people exposed to tropical cyclones, with additional millions exposed in China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. 

Despite being amongst the world’s most destructive extreme weather events, tropical cyclones are relatively rare. In a given year, only around 80-100 tropical cyclones form globally, most of which never make landfall. In addition, accurate global historical records are scarce and only span the last 30-100 years. This lack of data makes tropical cyclone modelling challenging and complicates local-scale risk assessments. 

To overcome this limitation, an international group of scientists led by climate scientist Nadia Bloemendaal from the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has used a novel methodology where historical data are combined with global climate models to generate thousands of  “synthetic tropical cyclones”. 

By creating a large dataset with these computer-generated cyclones, which have similar features to natural cyclones, the researchers were able to project the occurrence and behaviour of tropical cyclones over the next decades in the face of climate change, even in regions where tropical cyclones hardly ever occur today. The results were obtained at a global scale and with a very high resolution of just 10 kilometres.

The study could help governments and organisations better assess the risk from tropical cyclones, thereby supporting the development of risk mitigation strategies to minimise impacts and loss of life.