August 22, 2018
Web Feature

Hurricanes Gained Strength More Quickly in the Central and Eastern Atlantic Ocean Over the Last 30 Years

A positive shift in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and changes in the large-scale hurricane environment are behind the increase in magnitude of rapid intensification

Hurricanes intensify in the Atlantic Ocean

A study led by PNNL shows that hurricanes intensify more quickly now than they did 30 years ago.

The Science

The magnitude of hurricane rapid intensification (RI)—when a hurricane increases in intensity by 25 knots or more in 24 hours—has increased in the central and eastern tropical Atlantic. Work by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that changes in RI are primarily driven by the current positive (warmer) phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).

The AMO is a natural cycle related to sea surface temperature, and is the prominent decadal climate phenomenon in the Atlantic. Increases in the upper-ocean heat content and a decrease in vertical wind shear fueled these increases in RI magnitude. In the western tropical Atlantic, where RI traditionally tends to occur, the changes were insignificant.

The Impact

Results from this study have substantial implications for the eastern Caribbean Islands, some of which were devastated during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. While some studies suggest a coming negative (cooling) swing of the AMO, others imply that the AMO may be amplified under global warming. The effect on hurricane RI shown in this study shows the need for better understanding of the AMO and its future.


Reference: K. Balaguru, G.R. Foltz, L.R. Leung, "Increasing Magnitude of Hurricane Rapid Intensification in the Central and Eastern Tropical Atlantic." Geophysical Research Letters 45(9), 4238-4247 (2018). [DOI: 10.1029/2018GL077597]

News & Publications

Published: August 22, 2018

Research Team

Karthik Balaguru and L. Ruby Leung, PNNL
Gregory R. Foltz, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory