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Climate change and hurricanes: Your questions answered

Will hurricanes become more frequent? Will hurricanes become more intense? The answer might surprise you.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There are two main questions when talking about climate change and hurricanes.

1. Will hurricane become more frequent?

2. Will hurricanes become more intense as the climate warms?

The answer just might surprise you.

The data suggests that yes, the ocean and atmosphere continue to warm, but it also shows that wind shear will increase. That's important because wind shear can rip hurricane apart or even prevent them from forming in the first place. That suggests the frequency of weaker hurricanes could drop over time. However, the storms that do form could be stronger thanks to those rising water temperatures. That water temperature is the perfect fuel to throttle these storms up.

Stronger hurricanes will be far more costly in terms of damages and deaths without action to make coastal and inland areas more resilient.

But we should say the study of storms and climate change is complicated because of the lack of historical data. It could likely take decades before we truly know the effects of climate change on hurricanes.

Hurricanes are also subject to other climate change-related influences, such as sea level rise and an area of expanding tropics due to higher global average temperatures.

According to the United Nations, climate change is defined by long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. But since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. 

Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures.

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