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Will Climate Change Increase Damage from Hurricanes?

A rapidly growing body of research examines the potential for climate change to produce stronger hurricanes and tropical storms – and therefore greater storm damage.

A meta-analysis of these studies led by Abt Global’s Matthew Ranson, Ph.D. – the first such quantitative review – finds that hurricane damage is expected to increase most significantly in the North Atlantic basin, an area including the Caribbean and the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S.

The article – “Tropical and Extratropical Cyclone Damages under Climate Change,” published in September in the journal Climatic Change – found that a 4.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures could lead to 63 percent more hurricane damage in the North Atlantic basin by the end of the century. Damage from tropical cyclones in the western North Pacific and wind storms in Europe could grow by 28 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

“Recent scientific estimates suggest climate change will reduce the number of hurricanes that form, but could make the largest storms even more powerful and destructive,” said Ranson, lead author of the article and Associate at Abt Global. “Looking at damages, 90 percent of the studies we examined predict that climate change will increase economic losses from hurricanes in the North Atlantic.”

Ranson and five other authors examined 478 estimates of temperature-damage relationships from 19 studies in research funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The results in the examined research varied widely. A few studies predicted that hurricane damages could increase by more than 200 percent, while most research foresaw more modest damage increases.

“The science and economics are still uncertain. The most likely scenario is that the overall effects will be small, but there is also a risk of very large increases in storm losses from climate change.” Ranson said.

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