FSU researcher to study effect of global warming on hurricane risk

Armed with a $140,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a Florida State University professor is hoping to get to the bottom of a hotly debated topic: the role global warming is having on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes along our nation’s coastlines.

James Elsner

“We’re certainly seeing the planet warm up, and we’re seeing the seas get warmer and glaciers melt, but whether we’re seeing increases in hurricane intensity is another issue,” said geography Professor James Elsner.

The two-year grant will allow Elsner to develop statistical models based on past data to understand how changes in the climate influence the probability of strong hurricane winds in certain locations. Elsner has already developed risk models for the U.S. coast as a whole, but this project focuses on developing models that will allow researchers to examine the risk over smaller areas, such as cities or sensitive coastal ecosystems.

“It’s possible that we’ll see increases in hurricane intensity over the planet as a whole, but it’s also possible that certain regions, perhaps even Florida, could see a decrease,” he said. “We could see the stronger storms moving away from Florida.”

The project builds on Elsner’s research to better understand and predict the threat of hurricanes, which is important for government and industry if they are to accurately assess and manage catastrophic risk.

“In any given year, you’re not likely to see a hurricane but averaged over many years the question is, “Is your risk increasing?” and that’s the answer we’re trying to find out,” Elsner said.