Hurricanes are slowing down as climate warms, increasing flood threats

Jun 09, 2018, 20:52
Hurricanes are slowing down as climate warms, increasing flood threats

As storms move slower, they can unload more heavy rain and pound coastal areas longer, increasing damage potential.

The slower a cyclone moves over the ocean, the more moisture and intensity it gathers; the slower it moves over the land, the more time it spends drenching it. With polar regions warming faster than other parts of the globe, that is altering pressure gradients, reducing the winds that push these storms.

Experts believe that continued global warming will increase the severity of tropical storms, but they also believe this anthropogenic warming will increase rainfall.

"Nothing good comes out of a slowing storm", says James Kossin, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Weather and Climate in Madison, Wisconsin, and author of the first paper, published today in the journal Nature. It points directly to the example of Hurricane Harvey, whose catastrophic rains were enabled by the storm's lingering in the Houston area for such a long period.

"The poles tend to become disproportionately warmer than the tropics do under global warming", Kossin said. Atlantic storms that make landfall moved 2.9 miles per hour (4.7 kph) slower than 60 some years ago, it said.

Unhurried hurricanes also mean strong winds blowing more often over the same place and possibly more storm surge, Kossin said. So it isn't clear just how much of the change that Kossin found is actually attributable to human-induced climate change.

"My study is pretty far from an attribution study", he said.

"I was not surprised by his findings", she says. That may mean bad news for people residing in their path.

To understand the relationship between climate change and hurricane speeds, Kossin analyzed the paths of 7,585 tropical cyclones from 1949 to 2016.

"These trends are nearly certainly increasing local rainfall totals and freshwater flooding, which is associated with very high mortality risk", he said. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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