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Atlantic Hurricane Season

September 10 marks the statistical peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. Based on data gathered since 1851, it’s been more likely for a hurricane [or tropical storm] to be active on this date than on any other in the entire season — from June 1 to November 30.

Climate scientists, meanwhile, take a longer view: how will hurricane numbers and intensity change as the greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm the planet? The answer: not sure yet.

Since sea surface temperatures have been rising, and the warm ocean is the energy source for hurricanes, you’d think it's guaranteed that hurricanes would get more frequent and powerful as the century progresses. That’s what climate scientists thought at first too, as recently as the mid-2000’s. But recent research says it’s more complicated than that.

Warm water is important for hurricane formation, but wind shear is another factor — and some research shows that wind shear may increase in a warming world. So in recent years, climatologists began to think we’d have fewer Atlantic hurricanes on average, but that the ones that did manage to form would be stronger. Just a couple of months ago, however, even newer research has suggested there will be more and stronger hurricanes on the way.

None of this means the scientists can’t make up their minds. It means that the research is still in progress: the more scientists learn, the more confidence they have in their projections.

But whether or not storms get more or less frequent, or get stronger or weaker, there is one thing that we do know. Between rising sea levels and coastal population growth, whenever hurricanes do make landfall, the damages they inflict will likely be greater.

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