Fiona and Ian: what we know about the impact of climate change on hurricanes

After Fiona which hit the Magdalen Islands and Eastern Canada hard, the powerful hurricane Ian heading straight for Florida, after devastating western Cuba. What are the impacts of climate change on hurricanes? Alain Bourque, General Manager of the Ouranos Regional Climatology Consortium, provides an update.

• Read also: The landscape of the Magdalen Islands “completely changed into a hurricane”

First, climate change is not solely responsible for the passage of these hurricanes. However, we must “not be too hesitant to make links” between the two phenomena, indicates Alain Bourque, who also has training as a meteorologist.


Photo taken during the passage of hurricane Ian in Havana.

“Hurricanes have always existed, he says, but it is quite obvious that from the moment the climate is transformed, it will come to transform their frequency, their intensity and their duration.”

What is more difficult to determine, according to the climatologist, is the extent of the influence of climate change on hurricanes. Scientists, however, have an answer.

Hurricane Ian not far from the state of Florida


Hurricane Ian not far from the state of Florida

Fewer hurricanes, but more powerful hurricanes

“In the latest IPCC report, there is a fairly good level of confidence that with climate change, hurricanes would become less frequent in number, but the intensity of the strongest hurricanes would increase,” explains Alain Bourque.

Concretely, what this means is that we risk seeing more destructive category 4 and 5 hurricanes, like Ian.

However, the level of scientific certainty on the issue is not as high on the link between climate change and heat waves, he adds.

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An effect on the trajectory of Fiona

Climate change can also influence the path and strength of hurricanes, says Alain Bourque.

In the case of Fionathe abnormally high water in the Atlantic Ocean – two to three degrees Celsius higher than the historical average – may have contributed to giving it more strength.

Marie-Ève ​​Laure's backyard, before and after Hurricane Fiona

Photo courtesy Marie-Eve Laure

Marie-Ève ​​Laure’s backyard, before and after Hurricane Fiona

« Weather forecasting specialists repeated in their diagnoses that given the abnormally high temperature, they expected the hurricane to gain more strength, » he says.

For him, it is a concrete translation of the impact of ocean warming, linked to climate change, on a hurricane « which could very well have formed for all sorts of other reasons » than climate change.

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