Amplifying Impact: How Global Warming Intensifies Hurricanes, Floods, and Droughts

Scientists have predicted for decades that the burning of fossil fuels will lead to an increase in average temperature and the emergence of more dangerous extreme conditions in the future. A branch of science that has emerged over the last 20 years, called extreme event attribution, firmly links global warming to severe weather events more definitively. Several hot waves, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires – including events making headlines in 2023 – are now consistently linked to climate change.

Global Warming Intensifies Hurricanes, Floods, and Droughts

  1. Which extreme weather is most closely linked to climate change?

Heatwaves are weather events that are directly linked to human-induced greenhouse gas pollution. And with heat, dryness, and air, they exacerbate wildfires. This is why scientists are so confident that climate change is making wildfires worse in places like Western America, Australia, and elsewhere. (The wildfire season in America is two months longer compared to the 1970s and 1980s.) Global warming is intensifying tropical cyclones, also known as typhoons or hurricanes, though they might not occur more frequently. The warm ocean water and moist air – two outcomes of global warming – provide additional fuel for tropical cyclones and other storms.**

  1. What’s happening with the oceans?

In 2023, record-breaking warm oceans have fueled multiple typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes, including Hurricane Hillary which rapidly intensified upon reaching California in August. In just 24 hours, it transformed from a Category 1 storm into a Category 4 major hurricane. The rapid intensification, where a storm’s winds increase by 35 miles per hour in a day, is fueled by the warm climate. According to the US National Hurricane Center, Hillary’s winds strengthened by a notable 65 nautical miles (75 miles per hour) in just 24 hours. The warm sea waters and moist air – two impacts of global warming – provide extra fuel for tropical cyclones and other storms.**

  1. What other types of weather will be intense in 2023?

Following the hottest June, July became the world’s hottest month on record in 2023, pushing the year toward being the hottest on record. Heatwaves affected North America, Asia, and Europe; record temperatures were recorded in China. The extreme weather affected Northern Hemisphere regions from America to Eastern Asia, leading to floods and violent storms. Record wildfires burned 13.9 million hectares (34.3 million acres) of land across Canada and spread smoke across South America, turning the skies over New York City and Washington orange and leading to unhealthy air levels in June. After India experienced intense heat and recorded temperatures above 49 degrees Celsius (120.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in New Delhi last year, pre-monsoon temperatures in parts of India set new records in July – a concerning development for power grids, crops, and millions of laborers.**

Global Warming Intensifies Hurricanes, Floods, and Droughts

  1. How certain is global warming?

Since 2011, the majority of extreme weather events – around 70% – have been found by researchers to be either more likely or made more severe due to global warming. This calculation is based on the assessment by Carbon Brief, a UK-based non-profit, which covers developments in climate science.**

  1. Is cold weather affected too?

Climate change has shortened winters and reduced the likelihood of heavy snowstorms and extreme cold. However, Earth’s poles are warming faster compared to other places, and this has consequences. For example, the record cold experienced by Texas in February 2021, which impacted the Texas power grid, was due to a disruption in the polar vortex – a band of winds that typically bottle up the cold in the Arctic – letting frigid air spill into many parts of America.**

  1. Where is this heading?

According to the most authoritative source, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the world has warmed by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the mid-19th century. At the current rate, this increase is projected to reach 1.5 degrees by the 2030s – a threshold identified by United Nations member countries and supported by scientists beyond which global warming becomes significantly more dangerous. The IPCC states that from there, the intensity of extreme weather increases rapidly, doubling at 2 degrees of warming and tripling at 3 degrees.**

  1. What are the consequences?

According to a Lancet Planetary Health study, over 5 million people worldwide die annually due to excessive heat caused by climate change, and heat-related deaths are rising. Apart from changing the way we live, climate change is also affecting several economic indicators, as a significant portion of the global economy, including agriculture, travel, and insurance, has to deal with weather-related risks. Swiss Re estimated that in 2020, insurers suffered losses of over $89 billion from disasters, making it the fifth costliest year in a decade for the industry, with a large portion of these costs stemming from natural disasters.

 

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