UNITED STATES—November 21, 2019—A new study has found that large, destructive hurricanes are making landfall on the U.S. more frequently compared with data from a hundred years ago, according to ABC15 News. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that as the climate is changing, the frequency of extremely destructive storms is increasing.
Using a new metric called “Area of Total Destruction,” a Danish research team has begun measuring hurricanes by comparing the value of what was actually destroyed to the potential of what could have been destroyed, according to Ars Technica. Hurricanes are often measured by the cost of damage, but this method normalizes the wealth of a particular region, resulting in a more accurate measure of the total destructive power of storms.
“It’s the most damaging ones that are increasing the most,” said study lead author Aslak Grinsted, a climate scientist at the University of Copenhagen, according to ABC15 News. “This is exactly what you would expect with climate models.”
With this method, it is clear that larger, more powerful storms are hitting the U.S. at an increasing rate. Since 1900, 247 hurricanes have made landfall on the U.S. Storms with an area of total destruction of 467 square miles or more make up the top 10% of hurricanes, and these are striking the U.S. 3.3 times more frequently today than in 1900.
Of the 20 most destructive storms since 1900, 8 have happened in the last 16 years, which is a statistically significant amount, according to ABC15 News. Additionally, the two most damaging storms occurred in the last two decades: Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To understand how powerful these storms were, researchers calculated the average area of total destruction of all the storms studied at 159 square miles. Hurricane Katrina’s destruction came in at 2,942 square miles, and Hurricane Harvey’s at 4,570 square miles, or 30 times larger than the average.
While there are other ways to measure the power of hurricanes, such as barometric pressure, that may yield different results, using the metric of total destruction suggests that the increasing ocean temperatures climate scientists have observed may be creating more powerful storms with more frequency than has been previously seen in the last century.