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Think hurricanes are only people and family types of storm? Think again. Researchers have found the storms kill more than 1,000 people annually.
For the third time in five years, the Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1.
But what are the ingredients that make a “barbecue hurricane” a real thing, and what can be done to mitigate against its effects?
In a world first, a team of researchers has been tracking the changing behavior of these major storms, revealing more than ever before just how they change over time. The data sets are being compiled into a series of master hurricane guides, and the first one is online.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a year of major storms: Irma, Jose, Katia, and Maria were the biggest names on the summertime Atlantic storm calendar.
The researchers say they’ve found that for some storms, frequency has changed, and for others — like Hurricane Harvey — magnitude has increased. This shift has happened despite increases in predicted solar activity in the years leading up to each season.
“We’re talking about 100s and hundreds of years of something fundamentally different in the climate and changes in some of the chemistry in the atmosphere and ocean,” says Adam Sobel, the principal investigator on the project at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
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Hurricane Harvey is estimated to have caused some $180 billion in damages — making it the second most expensive storm in the United States’ history.
The Carnegie study says since last century, the number of named storms (the most “monstrous” kind), number of hurricanes and of hurricane-strength winds has all increased in the Atlantic.
The team found that the number of hurricanes that reached Category 3 and higher is 3 times higher than during the 19th century.
And what is attributed to our changing climate could be expected to be even more significant if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.
By interacting with the composition of the atmosphere and ocean, clouds and a moist, warm environment created by hurricane-like storms can trap heat and cause the warming to be greater. As a result, these storms may have little gas left to propel them out to sea when it’s all said and done.
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This year’s hurricane season will pose many new challenges: we’re going to see an increasing number of hurricanes and with warmer temperatures more intense storms. These conditions could make the 2017 hurricane season even more dangerous.
Sobel says a person in New Orleans can expect more damage than when the city was being hit by Katrina in 2005. And he expects New York to experience more of the high winds, flooding and some of the casualties related to a high-end storm.
“There are simply going to be more storms than there would have been in the past, which will mean higher costs and a greater potential for casualties,” he said.
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While Sobel says it’s too early to tell if any of this will happen, for the first time the Atlantic hurricane season is going to be tracked from the same point in time. Each storm in the year will be accounted for, but Sobel says the number of hurricanes will be the only number of data points.
The topography of the Atlantic, known as the Cindystone structure, is a grid of ocean basins which help to feed a deep Atlantic pool (a kind of unseen ocean reservoir). Each basin acts like a funnel, sucking heat out of the ocean and holding it deep. With changes in ocean temperature, storm height and strong winds the gas needed to propel the storm is usually available.
Sobel says there’s still a lot of work to be done, but he and his colleagues have established the Atlantic hurricane cycle in reasonable time periods and have compared them with heat and solar activity.
While the Carnegie’s data will be the first such database, he notes there have been large efforts made to learn how these storms are made. It’s in part thanks to this small group of researchers that other researchers will be able to look to as the climate changes.
The Carnegie reports that the overall change in Atlantic conditions has been less than 20 years.
It’s not a guarantee but he says some way of predicting some of these patterns may be possible for the future. So if a hurricane comes your way, don’t let its eerie, red sky color fool you.