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Kiwi climate scientist says storms like Hurricane Irma will become more common

A Victoria University climate science professor says rising temperatures across the globe will slowly lead to more vicious storms like Hurricane Irma which has caused death in destruction in the Caribbean this week.

Dr James Renwick this morning told TVNZ1's Breakfast that the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are about 1degC warmer than usual at the moment, which will be a contributing factor in the formation of storms like Irma.

"Climate change just encourages stronger storms," Dr Renwick said.

"As the climate warms there's more energy in the climate system so the chances of getting a really strong storm increase.

Read more: Florida bracing itself as Hurricane Irma threatens to strike after leaving 13 dead across the Caribbean

While not every storm would be a "blockbuster", there would be "more and more of this kind of thing as we go along".

Global sea levels have already risen by about 20cm in the past century, Dr Renwick said, and as those levels continued to rise the risk from storm surges to coastal areas will worsen.

This was especially important in places like New Zealand, where there is a lot of coastal settlement and infrastructure.

"We do get the remnants of tropical cyclones sometimes," Dr Renwick said.

"We've got an awful lot at stake in terms of economic value and lives."

Victoria University Professor James Renwick says hurricanes like Irma feed off warmer seas, so are more likely with rising temperatures. Source: Breakfast