It has been challenging to detect trends of tropical cyclone (TC) properties due to temporal heterogeneities and short duration of the direct observations. TCs impact the ocean surface temperature by creating cold wakes as a “fingerprint”. Here we infer changes of the lifetime maximum intensity (LMI), size and integrated kinetic energy from the cold wakes for the period 1982–2019. We find a globally enhanced local cold wake amplitude 3 days after the LMI of − 0.12 ± 0.04 °C per decade whereas the cold wake size does not show any significant change. Multivariate regression models based on the observed ocean cooling, the TC translation speed and the ocean mixed layer depth are applied to infer LMI and TC size. The inferred annual mean global LMI has increased by 1.0 ± 0.7 m s −1 per decade. This inferred trend is between that found for two directly observed data sets. However, the TC size and the TC destructive potential measured by the integrated kinetic energy, have not altered significantly. This analysis provides new independent and indirect evidence of recent TC LMI increases, but a stable size and integrated kinetic energy.