Are Hurricanes and Tropical Storms Caused by Climate Change: The case of the Atlantic Region

The debate about global cooling, global warming, or climate change is decades-old, and it doesn’t suggest to ever disappear from political, scientific or sociological discussions. Generally speaking there is a consensus that climate changes over time. The debate is mainly focused on whether human activity contributes to it, and if yes, by how much. This article is aimed at looking at the debate narrowly – particularly whether hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic region are caused by climate change.

While, per my observation, opponents of the idea that climate change is caused by human activity seek every possible argument that could give human activity the benefit of the doubt as to whether it significantly contributes to destroying our planet, proponents tend to blame every natural disaster on human activity, and hurricanes are among them.

In order to test whether hurricanes and tropical storms – which will, in some instances, be collectively referred to as air movement in this article – are caused by human activity, data on hurricanes and tropical storms have been collected from Unisys, a website that synthesized official weather data from a variety of regions. For the purpose of this article, data from the Atlantic region was collected. Data on Unisys website were available from 1851 to 2013 at the time of writing this article.

Method of data collection

There are six variables available for each year:

  • The sequence number of the air movement
  • The name of the air movement
  • The period (date and month) during which the air movement occurred
  • The speed of the wind created by the air movement
  • The pressure of the air movement
  • The category of the air movement

Data was presented in an Excel spreadsheet using the copy-paste method for each year using seven variables:

  • The sequence number of the air movement
  • The name of the air movement
  • The year during which the air movement occurred
  • Type code for the air movement, used as a dummy variable
    • 1 represents hurricanes
    • 0 represents tropical storms, which also include extratropical storms, subtropical storms and tropical depression
  • Type code description to describe the dummy variable
  • Wind speed
  • Category of the hurricane – or 0 if the respective air movement is a subtropical, tropical or extratropical storm, or tropical depression

Data in the Excel spreadsheet was verified after its collection and adjustments were made if necessary. For example, if the dummy variable would indicate 1 for a tropical storm, it was corrected to 0 to properly correspond to the respective observation.


Simple tests were conducted using pivot tables to test for claims by proponents of the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. If they are correct, then it is expected that air movements would be occurring more often and at higher wind speeds.

Looking at the three pivot tables – Hurricanes, Tropical Storms, as well as Hurricanes and Tropical Storms – it could be observed that in 1969 there is a spike in patterns associated with air movement occurrences starting from 1969, most of which spike is attributed by tropical storms, while the fluctuations of hurricane occurrences has been relatively unchanged since then (see Hurricanes tab).

Regardless of year, the frequency at which different wind speeds have been occurring fluctuates for hurricanes until the speed of 90 miles per hour (MPH) at which point occurrence steadily decreases (see Hurricane Occurrences tab), and the same pattern can be observed for tropical storms until the speed of 60 MPH (see Tropical Storm Occurrences tab). From the two tables, it could be implied that high-intensity air movement registered over the period between 1851 and 2013 for the Atlantic region has been comparatively rare.


Based on the data collected, it is difficult to conclude either of the theories for the case of the Atlantic region. While it is true that on a yearly basis especially since the end of the 1960s the frequency of both tropical storms and hurricanes as types of air movement has increased (see Hurricanes and Tropical Storms tab), it is also true that the fluctuations of these occurrences have been greater, and mostly attributed to tropical storms. More research into the matter is merited, as well as application of deeper statistical analysis techniques and more data collection including but not limited to pollution data, temperature data and data on the cost of damages caused by air movements.

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Filed under Movies and Analyses, Statistics

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