The future of hurricane season in a warming world: Fewer, but stronger storms

One of the tools they use is a familiar one: The weather radars that you see everyday.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 3:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is home to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Along with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, it tracks tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic and eastern and central North Pacific.

One of the tools they use is a familiar one: The weather radars that you see every day.

“So we have four radars in the state of Hawaii. There’s one on the south shore of Kauai, there’s one on Molokai, and then there’s two on the Big Island,” said Bob Ballard, CPHC science and operations officer.

Those radars didn’t exist when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992.

But their locations are based on where tropical cyclones have approached the island in the past.


“The two main directions that we’ll have impacts from is moving in from the east. For example, Douglas in 2020 or Olivia in 2018,” said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Bravender. “Or something moving up from the south, like Iniki in 1992, or more recently, Hurricane Lane, approaching us from the south in 2018.”

That’s based on history. But the future may change that.

“Storm tracks, hurricane tracks, they shift more northerly toward our region in the central Pacific in the coming decades with the warming climate,” said Brad Romine, a coastal geologist with the UH Sea Grant College program and the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center.

He’s been tracking climate change and the warmer waters predicted around the Pacific. “The other thing that climate models are also point to is an increasing frequency of severe El Niño events,” Romine said.

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The warmer water are already having an impact.

“There’s an earlier advance of intense hurricanes in (the western Pacific) from the late season to the early season,” said state climatologist Pao-Shin Chu, explaining how tropical cyclones are developing earlier in the season.

“This is almost like a worldwide phenomenon,” he said. “It’s not only occurring in the central Pacific.”

Chu pointed out Super Typhoon Mawar, which devastated Guam, formed in the early part of the season.

The research hints at another worrying trend.

Chu said he expects fewer tropical cyclones to form, but those that do develop will be stronger.

“We’ll have more intense hurricanes in the future,” he said. “In the long-term, we’re probably going to have to look at elevating some things, moving some things back away from the coastline in our most vulnerable areas, just to get things ― development ― out of the way of these increasing hazards,” Romine said.