Intense Storms Have Become More Common

Part of the Climate Change exhibition.

Rainstorms help sustain life on Earth by bringing much needed water. But there's a big difference between a restorative shower and an intense downpour that causes floods and landslides.

As our planet continues to warm, intense and destructive storms are likely to become more and more frequent over many land regions. In fact, they already have.

Why Does a Warmer World Mean Stronger Storms?

Anyone familiar with humid summers will tell you that warm air can hold a lot of moisture. Indeed, warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the oceans, transferring energy and water vapor to the atmosphere. The result is more intense storms that bring heavier rains and snows.

Does a Warmer World Mean a Wetter World?

No, rain will just fall in different places. Warming changes weather patterns, generally bringing more rain to ocean areas and less to land. Also, many land areas are experiencing rainstorms that are less frequent but more powerful and sometimes destructive.

Future Storms, Future Damage

Dense Populations

Myanmar: In 2008, an intense hurricane hit the densely populated coast of Myanmar (formerly Burma), killing tens of thousands of people. More intense storms would put low-lying, densely populated coastal areas, like some parts of Myanmar and its neighbor Bangladesh, at even greater risk of flooding and other damage from storm surges.

Coastal Regions

Gulf Coast, United States: An increase in violent storms would imperil valuable coastal power stations and oil and gas pipelines. Hurricane Ivan, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2004, uprooted underwater oil pipelines, cutting U.S. oil production by more than 40 million barrels over 6 months—the equivalent of almost 10 days of total domestic production.

Hillside Cities

La Paz, Bolivia: After days of heavy rain, hills around the Llojeta district collapsed in 2003, destroying eleven of fourteen local brick factories—linchpins in the local economy. More powerful storms will threaten cities and towns already at risk of land—and mudslides.

Urban Drainage

Barcelona, Spain: Intense bursts of rain are likely to become more common, and subway drainage systems in cities from Barcelona to Beijing may not be able to keep up.

Island Nations

Niue, South Pacific: Small island nations would be particularly vulnerable to more powerful storms. Tropical Cyclones Ofa in 1990 and Heta in 2004, for instance, devastated agricultural production in Niue, turning the food-exporting country into one dependant on imports for several years. Increased intense storms in US map

Storm Tracker

Intense storms became more frequent in much of the United States between 1948 and 2006,. Europe and parts of Asia saw similar increases, but long-term data are not available for much of the rest of the world.

Warming Water

Tropical cyclones—also called hurricanes or typhoons—are the most powerful storms on Earth and feed on warm waters at the ocean surface. Scientists debate whether warming ocean waters affect hurricane frequency and strength. Most experts agree, however, that warming is causing more intense rainstorms, tornados and other unusual weather phenomena.