The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report (2007) states it is likely that “future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing [sea surface temperature increases]”. The scientific, peer reviewed studies used to inform the assessment, as well as studies that have since been published, indicate that climate change will affect the intensity, frequency and paths of strong storm and wave events. They also indicate a global trend towards increased intensity of hurricanes over the past few decades – most notably in the North Atlantic and Indian oceans. Coastal planning efforts rely on historical estimates of sea level, storm frequency and storm wave heights, and hundred year flood levels. This bias on historical data could leave many coastal communities unprepared in the face of climate change.
Hurricanes and typhoons (tropical cyclones) depend on warm water for energy. Consequently, warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical ocean will likely lead to (1) longer storm seasons, and (2) more frequent strong storms. Increases in catastrophic storms will adversely affect coastal communities, not only due to loss of property (erosion and destruction) and human lives1, but also reduced ecosystem health.2,3,4 The storms will also have major impacts hundreds of miles inland. When strong storms are coupled with sea level rise they bring taller waves that can reach farther inland. The frequency of 100-yr floods (floods that have a 1 % chance of occurring each year – or once in 100 years) are likely to increase. In addition, many beaches and coastlines are already strongly affected by erosion issues. Increases in waves, storms and sea level rise may make such regions uninhabitable.