The BBC reports, under this headline Climate change: Bigger hurricanes are now more damaging

One of the big questions that scientists have wrestled with is how to compare storm events from different eras. Is the increase in financial damages recorded over the last century simply down to the fact there are now more people living in the paths of hurricanes, who are generally wealthier?

Previous research has concluded that the rise in damages was related to wealth, and not to any statistically significant change in frequency.

However this new paper challenges that view.


By working out similar figures for events across the last century, the researchers were able to make what they say are more realistic comparisons


The authors found that the frequency of the most damaging hurricanes had increased by a rate of 330% per century.

And they believe that is mainly due to rising temperatures.

The report implies that the previous science has failed to validate the idea that hurricanes are getting worse because of climate change but that this new work, unambiguously, clarifies that there is a relationship caused by a changing climate.

Not everyone agrees. Roger Pielke (sometimes accused of being a climate skeptic but also a published expert on extreme weather) disagrees and argues the new results are flawed:

The bottom line here is that a fatally flawed paper on climate science passed peer review at a significant journal. It used a dataset found online that had not undergone peer review, much less any quality control.

The original paper is published in PNAS here. The associated press release claims:

Hurricanes are becoming bigger, stronger and more dangerous -- an improved calculation method now shows a clear tendency

(I mention this explicit claim to avoid any answers claiming that the problem is how the media interpret a technical paper: the key claim in in the press release and the paper. The issue isn't what the media said, but what the paper claims).

So who is right: the new paper or Pielke? Has science now shown that climate change has already caused a large upward trend in hurricane frequency and damage?

Note a related question has been asked before, but the recent paper makes an explicit claim that the science has changed and this question is focussed on that claim.

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    "a dataset found online that had not undergone peer review" Genuine question: Is it common to peer review datasets, rather than conclusions from datasets?
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 16, 2019 at 2:11
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    @Oddthinking Yes, and some funding sources now require data to be both published and peer-reviewed. It's gaining faster in "model sciences" like meteorology and climatology. For an overview, see: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/04/11/…
    – bishop
    Nov 16, 2019 at 6:16
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    He has commented as pundit. He's not an expert. His father is the meteorologist. His own speciality is punditry. (With a well-honed sideline in sophistry)
    – 410 gone
    Nov 18, 2019 at 15:48
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    Prof Pielk Jr is making the error of assuming that a lack of statistical evidence for an increase is evidence that there isn't an increase. That is a fundamental statistical error as hypothesis tests are not symmetric, and you would also need to perform an evaluation of the statistical power of the test. skepticalscience.com/statisticalsignificance.html . It is also worth noting that Pielke accused the author of "pure statistical malpractice" on his Twitter account and refused to acknowledge his error when it was pointed out. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
    – user18604
    Nov 21, 2019 at 12:28
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    Pielke's own biography at the end of the Forbes article says 'I have degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science'. He is not qualified as a climate scientist. If this climate science paper has errors, then it is for the climate science community to address them through peer-review.
    – Jay Moore
    Nov 21, 2019 at 15:00

1 Answer 1


Short answer: Maybe yes.

Long answer: There's still a lack of papers and data making a clear correlation between global warming and the frequency and strength of storms. There's one study suggests maximal hurricane winds to be increasing in the last thirty years as well they process of formation is faster. But as far I can find there's not much increase beyond "slight".

Another thing to consider is population growth in risky areas, it can only increase the damage toll and I was unable to find a proportional increase in investment in disaster prevention and mitigation for all the affected areas.

The bottom line as far I can tell is the damage, measured in the billions of dollars figures, must fluctuate in accord with the population growth and the "casualty statistical economic evaluation" for each location.

Why it's possible yes? Because if you think the global climate as an inhomogeneous system, more energy it gets (warming) more strong and frequent will it's energy concentrations (storms). It's like a letter soup, more letters you put in it more and more lengthy words can randomly form.

Some external links:










  • 4
    There is an important distinction to make between papers that forecast stronger or more frequent storms in the future and this that study the historic data. This question isn't about the future but about the historic record and whether or not that recent analysis is reliable. Some critical analysis needed, not least because newspaper headlines keep telling us one thing (storms are getting worse). But the question is: does the science agree?
    – matt_black
    Nov 18, 2019 at 14:56
  • @matt_black An important distinction for sure, I'meditting the answer
    – jean
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:16
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    And it is also super important to understand causation and correlation. The jump from correlation to causation is non-trivial, and is extremely hard to do with scientific rigor for something like the weather system of an entire planet (until we can start creating control planets...)
    – Nelson
    Nov 22, 2019 at 8:20
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    @matt_black "not least because newspaper headlines keep telling us one thing (storms are getting worse)." your main critical sources is a magazine article. Your will probably find that science does not have a single position on this kind of question where there is significant uncertainty. "Does science agree?" is not a binary issue in such cases.
    – user18604
    Nov 27, 2019 at 7:45
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    @matt_black the popular press does not generally care about consensus, they tend to just get excited about each new paper that comes along. If you read the IPCC reports they are quite cautious about their statements on these issue which shows where the mainstream scientific view actually lies. Note the BBC article doesn't suggest that there was a confident consensus position on this, but that it was the subject of uncertainty/lack of information.
    – user18604
    Nov 28, 2019 at 14:37

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