60-Second Earth

Hurricanes Move Away from Equator with Expanding Tropics

Since the 1970s the locations where tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons) reach their maximum intensities have shifted toward both poles at a rate of about 35 miles per decade. David Biello reports


They’re technically called tropical cyclones. But these powerful storms are better known as hurricanes in the U.S. and typhoons in Asia. The violent weather systems wreak havoc on coastlines and islands in tropical areas, as the name implies. 
But it looks like tropical cyclones may be moving into areas not currently considered tropical, when the storms reach maximum strength. That's according to a study in the journal Nature. [James P. Kossin, Kerry A. Emanuel and Gabriel A. Vecchi, The poleward migration of the location of tropical cyclone maximum intensity]
Researchers looked at the global record of tropical cyclones since the 1970s. That's when such storms started to be reliably monitored by satellites. Using those data, the researchers pinpointed the place on the globe where each storm reached its maximum intensity.

The record reveals that peak cyclone location has been shifting toward both poles at a rate of about 35 miles per decade, roughly one-half a degree of latitude.
Of course, tropical zones themselves are expanding. And the researchers suggest the cyclone shift may be linked to that growth, which is connected to more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a result of human activity. All of which means that new regions will be at risk for stronger storms as tropical cyclones spread to higher latitudes.
—David Biello
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

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