Climate change won't just make hurricanes more intense, it'll expand where they occur in an unprecedented fashion, or so says a new study published in Nature Geoscience. "This research predicts that the 21st century's tropical cyclones," meaning hurricanes and typhoons, "will likely occur over a wider range of latitudes than has been the case on Earth for the last 3 million years," says lead author Joshua Studholme of Yale. A press release explains the current mechanism, in which tropical cyclones typically "form at low latitudes that have access to warm waters from tropical oceans and away from the shearing impact of the jet streams—the west-to-east bands of wind that circle the planet."
The researchers' modeling involved the use of satellite observations, simulations, weather and climate projections, and "the fundamental physics governing atmospheric convection and planetary-scale winds." It suggests that as temperatures creep upward, the jet stream could "weaken or even split," which could allow hurricanes to form in the mid-latitudes—think near places like New York, Boston, Beijing, and Tokyo—though the study notes that "precise estimates for future migration remain beyond current methodologies."
The researchers state that the jury is still out among scientists as to whether climate change will increase the average number of tropical cyclones we see a year, which is about 90. "However, multiple lines of evidence indicate that we could see more tropical cyclones in mid-latitudes, even if the total frequency of tropical cyclones does not increase," says co-author Alexey Fedorov, also of Yale. (Read more hurricane stories.)