Tropical Cyclone and Climate Change According to the IPCC

19 11 2021

Dale C. S. Destin|

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, recently issued its report: Climate Change 2021, The Physical Science Basis. Living in the Caribbean, I was particularly interested on what it had to say about the poster child of climate change–tropical cyclones (tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes). This is of particular interest to me and the Caribbean public, which there must be clarity on for the purposes of, among other things, adaptation planning since climate change mitigation is virtually a lost cause.

Global Annual Total of Named Storms (Subtropical Storms, Tropical Storms and Hurricanes) Showing no Significant Trend

Having interrogated the document and obtained the answers, I present my findings in an interview report format for simplicity and clarity:

Dale Destin: Has climate change caused an increase in the number of tropical cyclones globally?

IPCC: There is low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones (A.3.4).

DD: Has there been an increase in the strength of tropical cyclones, due to climate change?

IPCC: It is likely that the global proportion of major (Category 3–5) tropical cyclone occurrence has increased over the last four decades (A.3.4).

DD: Are tropical cyclones producing more rainfall?

IPCC: Event attribution studies and physical understanding indicate that human-induced climate change increases heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones (high confidence) but data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale (A.3.4).

DD: Will climate change cause an increase in the number of tropical cyclones?

IPCC: The total global number of tropical cyclones is expected to decrease or remain unchanged (medium confidence) (TS.2.3)

DD: What is the projection for tropical cyclone strength?

IPCC: The proportion of intense tropical cyclones (categories 4-5) and peak wind speeds of the most intense tropical cyclones are projected to increase at the global scale with increasing global warming (high confidence) (B.2.4).

As real as climate change is, the impact on tropical cyclones–the poster child for climate change, is limited, at best, thus far. While it is “likely” that there may be an increase in the global number of major tropical cyclones over the last 40 years, there is low confidence in any increase over the long-term.

While currently climate change has had a limited impact on tropical cyclones, this is likely to change for the worst in the future. The overall total global numbers of tropical cyclones may not change but there is high confidence that there will be an increase in categories 4-5 tropical cyclones.

Tropical cyclones have been made the poster child of climate change; however, based on the IPCC Report, they have not earned this poster-child position, yet.

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