Extreme Weather Toolkit: Tropical Cyclones

Hurricanes and Climate Change: What We Know - 2020 Hurricane Season

Warming oceans fuel stronger tropical cyclones that bring more heavy rainfall and higher storm surge when they make landfall.

Tropical cyclones, which include hurricanes and tropical storms, can generate multiple devastating hazards including storm surge, flooding, winds of 100 mph or more, and tornadoes. 

Those living near coasts are especially vulnerable to these tropical cyclone hazards and the risks of injury, death, and property damage. 

Tropical cyclones are the most costly weather and climate disasters in the U.S by far. They account for over half of the total cost of all billion-dollar disasters since 1980. 

Eight of the 10 most costly weather disasters in the U.S. were hurricanes. The top three (Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, and Ian) caused an estimated $472 billion in damages.

Warming of the surface ocean due to human-caused climate change is fueling an increased proportion of intense tropical cyclones and contributing to an increased fraction of storms that undergo rapid intensification

Since 1979, human-caused warming has increased the likelihood of a hurricane developing into a Category 3 or higher by about 8% per decade. The latest IPCC reports conclude that the proportion of very intense (Category 4 and 5) tropical cyclones is projected to increase globally with continued warming. 

Although the frequency of tropical storms is not necessarily increasing, sea level rise can amplify the storm surge potential when storms do occur, putting coastal residents at particular risk. 

Higher tropical cyclone rainfall rates are expected with further warming. Greater rainfall intensity can increase the risk of inland flooding, which accounts for more than half of past U.S. hurricane deaths.

Updated: April 2024


These resources explore the science, trends, and local impacts of tropical cyclones

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