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Study says warming may push more hurricanes toward US coasts

by Gabriel Martinez
2 comments
Hurricane trajectories

A recent study indicates that the warming of the planet is likely to result in an increased occurrence of more severe hurricanes heading towards the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, with a particular focus on Florida. While previous research has mainly focused on how human-driven climate change could influence the frequency, intensity, and moisture content of tropical storms, the current study, featured in the Science Advances journal, shifts attention to the crucial aspect of the hurricanes’ trajectories.

The lead author of the study, Karthik Balaguru, a climate scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, emphasizes that the alterations in steering currents are the key factor. According to Balaguru, these currents are gradually shifting storms closer to the U.S. coasts. In the Gulf of Mexico, the steering currents generally move from south to north, while on the East Coast, the usual west-to-east pattern is diminishing, potentially leading to more east-to-west movement.

Taking into account advanced climate and hurricane simulations, including a specially developed system, the study projects that under the most pessimistic warming scenario, the number of U.S. coastal impacts by storms could rise by approximately one-third by the close of the century. Particularly, the central and southern regions of Florida’s Atlantic coastline are predicted to experience an even more notable increase in hurricane hits.

There is some debate among climate scientists regarding the utility of focusing on worst-case scenarios, given that many calculations suggest a slowdown in carbon emissions. Balaguru argues that since his research places greater emphasis on steering changes rather than storm intensity, the extent of warming is not as significant a factor.

The study attributes changes in air currents to warming in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean, near the coast of South America. Different regions of the world are warming at varying rates due to climate change, with models indicating faster warming in the eastern Pacific area.

The study also highlights the influence of atmospheric waves, similar to the jet stream or polar vortex events, that travel west to east and are linked to temperature or pressure variations. These wave patterns disturb the atmospheric equilibrium, creating a counterclockwise circulation in the Gulf of Mexico. Consequently, this circulation brings about east-to-west winds in the eastern Atlantic and north-to-south winds in the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately affecting wind shear—a phenomenon where the difference in wind speed and direction at different altitudes impacts hurricane development.

The reduction in wind shear implies that hurricanes could become stronger, a point Balaguru stresses. Overall, the shift in steering currents and wind shear changes raises the risk of hurricane impacts on the United States, according to University of Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero.

While the study is generally regarded as coherent by external scientists, there are noted limitations. The study does not consider the birthplaces of storms, which is a crucial factor, and it assumes a global trend toward more frequent El Niño events, which could dampen Atlantic hurricane activity. However, recent observations suggest a pattern more similar to La Niña events.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hurricane trajectories

What does the study suggest about the impact of warming on hurricane paths?

The study indicates that as the planet warms, there is a higher likelihood of hurricanes being directed towards the eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, particularly affecting Florida.

How does this study differ from previous research on hurricanes and climate change?

While earlier studies focused on changes in storm frequency and intensity, this study uniquely emphasizes alterations in steering currents, which play a crucial role in determining the paths of hurricanes.

What role do steering currents play in changing hurricane trajectories?

Steering currents influence the direction in which hurricanes move. The study highlights shifts in these currents, which are pushing storms closer to the U.S. coasts, altering their paths and intensities.

What regions of the U.S. are at the greatest risk according to the study?

The study suggests that the central and southern parts of Florida’s Atlantic coastline are projected to experience a significant increase in the number of hurricanes hitting the coast.

How might the study’s findings impact hurricane predictions?

The study’s findings could enhance our understanding of how changing climate patterns can impact hurricane behavior, allowing for more accurate predictions and preparedness efforts in vulnerable regions.

Does the study take into account the potential slowdown in carbon emissions?

The lead author notes that while the study focuses on steering changes rather than storm intensity, it’s still valuable to consider worst-case scenarios, even in the context of potential carbon emission reductions.

What is the role of atmospheric waves in hurricane paths?

Atmospheric waves, akin to the jet stream, influence hurricane trajectories. The study discusses how these waves can disturb the atmospheric balance, affecting wind patterns and ultimately steering hurricanes.

Are there any limitations to the study’s conclusions?

External scientists acknowledge the study’s coherence but point out that it doesn’t consider storm birthplaces and assumes more frequent El Niño events, potentially missing some factors influencing hurricane activity.

How can the public use this information?

This study underscores the growing threat of hurricanes to specific U.S. coastal areas due to climate change. It can inform disaster planning, policy decisions, and community awareness efforts in vulnerable regions.

More about Hurricane trajectories

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2 comments

sciencegeek99 August 19, 2023 - 8:03 am

study talks waves, steering, and how hurricanes might change paths. wonderin’ if they’re onto somethin’ or missin’ some pieces.

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climatedude22 August 19, 2023 - 1:22 pm

this new study’s all about steerin’ currents and storms gettin’ closer to US. wonderin’ if it’s really all ’bout worst cases or if we’re slowin’ down pollution.

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