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Hurricanes in the U.S. Have Become Larger and More Damaging, New Study Finds

The University of Copenhagen study found that damaging hurricanes are three times more likely to occur now than 100 years ago.

We now have more significant and more damaging hurricanes that are three times more likely to occur now than 100 years ago. A sobering study led by the University of Copenhagen researchers has used new methods for discovering these facts. 

The researchers themselves are in awe as they described this increase as "unequivocal." 

There is a link to global warming, but other factors also come into play. 

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Hurricane observation

Hurricanes and tropical cyclones are considered to be the most destructive natural disasters on the planet.

Furthermore, they cost the planet a pretty penny in reconstruction efforts. For instance, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost approximately $125 billion in reparations, let alone emotional distress. 

Researchers have been grappling with the questions revolving around how to compare storms in different areas. One such question is: could the increase of damage be linked to the fact that more people and wealthier people are now living in these hurricanes' paths of destruction? 

Past research did point toward the rise in damages being linked to wealthier populations, and not to a change in hurricane frequency. 

However, the University of Copenhagen study debunks the former statement to a certain extent.

Hurricanes in the U.S. Have Become Larger and More Damaging, New Study Finds
Hurricane Katrina flooding in New Orleans. Source: cgcolman/Pixabay

What did the new study discover?

The team of researchers looked at over 240 storms' data between 1900 to 2018. Instead of focusing on economic damage, they looked at the amount of land that was destroyed during these storms. 

The study used the example of Hurricane Irma that made landfall in Florida in 2017. 

During that storm, around 1.1 million people were living within the 10,000 sq km of the hurricane's path. With an estimated $194,000 income per capita, the researchers came to the conclusion that the total wealth in the area amounted to $215 billion

The hurricane cost $50 billion in reparations, which accounts for 23% of the wealth in the area. Taking that 23% of the 10,000 sq km, the total area of destruction came to 2,300 sq km

By using similar numerical deconstructions of areas, wealth, and population over the past 100 years of storms, the study was able to have a more realistic comparison in relation to the amount of damage that occurred over the decades. 

In doing so, the researchers discovered that the amount of the most damaging hurricanes has increased by 330% per century.

This, they believe, is due to the rise in global temperatures. 

The study was published in PNAS.

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