How will these resources help you?

More people will face the devastating effects of tropical storms as our ocean temperatures and atmospheric moisture levels rise. There is more consistent agreement that storms will spread poleward, beyond equatorial regions. However, will they be more frequent as the hurricane season extends, will they be more intense, with Category 6 so-called ‘mutant storms', or both? Assessing the evidence for this is common in exams in GCSE and A-level Natural Hazards units. These resources will help students make sense of the conflicting geographical information and help develop their AO3 and AO4 skills.   

The theory

Hurricanes and Climate Change

published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, (2020)

This is a very student-friendly article on the links between climate change and hurricanes. Logic dictates that warmer temperatures leading to warmer oceans lead to more hurricanes, but scientists are uncertain. This article concludes that there may be a trade off between frequency and intensity, in that storms could be more intense but less frequent. Sea level rise will certainly increase the effects of storm surges on coastal communities, and storms are likely to be distributed wider towards the poles as ocean temperatures rise. The article contains a link to an interactive map of $billion extreme weather events in the USA. This is a very accessible article for GCSE and A-level students to be able to confidently tackle questions on the future of tropical storms. 

The research

Global Warming and Hurricanes: An Overview of Current Research Results

by Tom Knutson, published by Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, (2022)

This document reviews a wide range of research into the links between hurricanes and global warming. In summary, the key findings are that coastal inundation will increase, atmospheric moisture content will increase due to human-induced warming, and there is projected to be an increase in Category 4 and 5 storms, as well as a shift poleward as waters get warmer. This summarises the content of most textbooks, however this report encourages A-level students (and stretches and challenges GCSE students) to think critically about these broad findings as they interpret the wide range of geographical information, particularly in terms of regional variations and levels of confidence in the findings. A range of maps and graphs support the evidence provided, with links for students that would like to investigate particular studies further.

Mutant storms?

Has Climate Change Created Mutant Storms?

by Earth Stories, published by YouTube, (2021)

According to this watchable (though somewhat sensationalised) documentary, storms are 'mutating' as human-induced climate change warms water and loads the air with moisture, and storms will increase in frequency and intensity and become more erratic. The video begins with Hurricanes Harvey and Michael. Although they were forecast, their intensity caught coastal populations by surprise. The later storm was born in the Gulf of Mexico, so had little time to intensify, yet soon became a Category 5 hurricane. The video continues with Hurricane Sandy, and its erratic left turn as it reaches the coast of New York, an unusual feature of storm paths. It ends with Hurricane Dorian as an example of extreme intensity. Unlike the previous resource, this documentary suggests that past weather data is not a good indicator of what is to come. Students will be equipped with a range of case studies and will benefit from consolidating their knowledge of storm formation and the ingredients needed. 

The end of the world?

This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America

by Jeff Nesbit, published by Picador, (2019), 9781250238627

This harrowing book emphasises that human-induced climate change is leading us fast to the point of no return for the planet. We now have a small window to act, with the writer stating that: 'The clear solutions are in front of us. All we have to do is take action.' This book aims to bring home the stark realities of the problems that will lead us to act, otherwise the planet awaits a dire future. Chapter 10 focuses on Category 6 Hurricanes, with the combination of warmer oceans and more water in the atmosphere leading to sustained windspeeds in excess of 200mph (320kph). The writer refers to these as ‘grey swan’ events; high consequence events that can now be predicted and prepared for. He suggests that the devastation from Hurricane Florence in 2017 pales in comparison. The book and extracts from this chapter will be thought provoking for students, and reviewing the research results in the resource 'Global Warming and Hurricanes: An Overview of Current Research Results' will allow them to think critically about this.

Audiovisual clip

Bang Goes the Theory - What causes a storm surge?

published by BBC, (2014)

This clip shows what causes a storm surge and why.

Further materials

Climate change will more than double the risk of intense tropical cyclones by 2050 by University of Southampton, published by Science Daily, (2022) Read this article
Future hurricanes will roam over more of the earth, study predicts by Jim Shelton, published by Yale News, (2022) Read this article
Hurricanes and Global Warming (Podcast minutes 1-8) by BBC World Service: Science in Action, published by the Educational Recording Agency Listen to this podcast
David Newell is Head of Geography at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex. He has held the GA’s Secondary Geography Quality Mark since 2015, and has worked as a Specialist Leader in Education, advising schools on improving their Geography provision.

Text © David Newell, 2022.