Are hurricanes getting worse? That's what climate models have long predicted, and now there's evidence: A new study finds that hurricanes have indeed grown more powerful in recent decades, LiveScience reports. "The trend is there and it is real," lead study author James Kossin tells the New York Times. "There's this remarkable building of this body of evidence that we're making these storms more deleterious." Worldwide satellite images between 1979 and 2017 show a roughly 15% increase in hurricanes hitting 100 knots, especially in the last 19 years of the time frame, per the study. The chance of a hurricane being Category 3 or worse has also risen about 8% every 10 years.
This echoes the notion that warmer water, which fuels hurricanes, is making them bigger and stronger. But greenhouse gases may not be the only cause. Scientists also point to changing sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, perhaps due to natural variability or lower sulfur emissions in fossil-fuel burning. That said, Kossin mostly agrees with the climate-change angle: "Global warming has made hurricanes stronger, but our results don't tell us precisely how much of the trends are caused by human activities and how much may be just natural variability," he says in a press release. (More than 11,000 scientists have issued a warning on that front.)