Hurricane landfalls may grow more intense with climate change

Research shows less shear would favor stronger storms

By Mark Collins - Meteorologist

Hurricane Florence aiming at the U.S. East Coast at peak Category 4 intensity south of Bermuda before weakening to a Cat. 1 at landfall.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla - Future hurricanes may become more intense as they track toward the East Coast.

An atmospheric barrier guards much of the East Coast from powerful hurricanes, but global warming could make it less effective as soon as 20 years from now.

The protective barrier is due to strong vertical wind shear, which typically shields the coastline from hurricanes coming from the tropical Atlantic.

Scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and NOAA authored a study showing climate change could alter wind shear in a way that sends stronger hurricanes to the East Coast. 

Stronger hurricanes develop in areas with warmer sea surface temperatures and when vertical wind shear is low. 

Computer simulations showed how man made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere weakened the vertical wind shear along the East Coast, and in turn, furthered hurricane intensification in the region.

One of the authors, Mingfang Ting, says: “Once the natural protection is eroded by greenhouse gas warming, we may experience unprecedented hurricane intensification along the East Coast that can lead to stronger landfalling storms and higher storm surges in the future,” Ting explains. “This is on top of the stronger tropical cyclone strength expected from the warmer sea surface temperature that we are already aware of. Home owners and policy makers have to take this into account when planning for coastal development and protections.”

The impacts of stronger hurricane landfalls may show up soon as some models point to effects occurring around the year 2040. 

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