Intensification in Atlantic hurricanes is more common than ever before, and more dangerous.

A recent study has pinpointed a concerning trend in Atlantic hurricanes: they are now more than twice as likely to rapidly intensify, turning from minor hurricanes into powerful, catastrophic storms. This alarming revelation is a result of warming ocean waters acting as a potent fuel source for these storms.

The study examined 830 Atlantic tropical cyclones since 1971 and found that in the last two decades, storms escalated from Category 1 minor hurricanes to major hurricanes in just 24 hours 8.1% of the time. In contrast, this occurred only 3.2% of the time from 1971 to 1990. Major hurricanes are defined by wind speeds of at least 111 mph.

The intensification of hurricanes presents numerous challenges. It makes it difficult for those in the path of the storm to make informed decisions between evacuation or sheltering in place. Meteorologists can’t yet predict the severity of rapidly intensifying storms, and emergency management is more complex. The devastating impacts of such storms, like Hurricane Maria in 2017, which is estimated to have caused nearly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, show the urgency of addressing this issue.

Andra Garner, the study’s author and a climate scientist at Rowan University, points out that this trend has become more common over the last half-century, coinciding with the warming of ocean waters. Oceans have been breaking heat records monthly in recent years, with around 90% of human-induced excess warming being absorbed by the oceans.

While rapid hurricane intensification happens along the entire Atlantic coast, it is more pronounced along the East Coast. Garner’s research also indicates that hurricanes everywhere are intensifying faster than in the past.

These findings underscore the need for addressing climate change and reducing carbon emissions. If emissions continue at current rates, the trend of increasingly rapid hurricane intensification is likely to persist and worsen, according to Garner. The consequences of inaction could be devastating, both in terms of human lives and infrastructure damage.