While millions of Americans face a massive cleanup in the wake of the latest natural disaster, researchers are quick to add that science tells us to expect more extreme weather sooner than later.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Oct. 15 used tide records dating back to 1923 to show that the severity of hurricanes is increasing. Specifically, warmer years are associated with greater numbers of storms and stronger storms. They are also associated with bigger storm surges—surges that caused billions of dollars in damage to New York City and New Jersey. Sandy's storm surge in lower Manhattan reached almost 14 feet, the largest ever recorded in the area.
An earlier study, published in Geophysical Research Letters in May, also suggested that rising ocean temperatures are increasing the intensity of storms. The researchers, led by Dev Niyogi of Purdue University, used satellite data from the last 25 years to see if these tropical cyclones are changing over time. They found that the storms are tending to intensify more quickly, and that they end up becoming higher category storms.
A third study, led by James Elsner of Florida State University, looked at hurricane data from across the world between 1981 and 2006. They published their data in the journal Nature in 2008. They found a 31 percent increase in strong storms (those in the top fifth in a ranking of storms by their intensities), from 13 to 17 strong cyclones for a 1.8º F rise in ocean temperature.