Tri-Cities scientist finds rapidly developing, intense hurricanes likely in the future

Researchers with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory said the Atlantic is a 'breeding ground' for these hurricanes

Hurricane Ian Courtesy: NASA

RICHLAND, Wash. — A team of scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found the Atlantic Coast will continue to get battered by powerful and damaging hurricanes. Their research will be published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Over the years, we’ve seen some of the most impactful hurricanes, leading to years long recovery efforts as communities try to rebuild and become resilient.

Before they know it, the next super storm has formed and heads straight for their homes.

Now, we have a better understanding why hurricanes along the Atlantic Coast are getting worse.

PNNL scientists looked at data, starting from 1979 to look at the rates of which hurricanes intensified.

In simple terms, our world is warmer and according to climate scientist Karthik Balaguru, a warmer Earth means rapidly intensifying hurricanes and a heightened risk of flooding along the US Atlantic Coast.

“Our findings have profound implications for coastal residents, decision- and policy-makers,” said Balaguru. “And this isn’t specific only to the Atlantic. It’s happening in several prominent coastal regions of the northern hemisphere.”

Balaguru’s team found the Atlantic Coast is unique; made up of a slew of environmental conditions making it more conducive to hurricane formation. They also looked at the Gulf of Mexico, but ultimately that region doesn’t have the same hurricane-favoring mix of conditions.

The new study found that the difference in the warming between Earth’s land and water, contribute to these supercharged storms.

According to the PNNL researchers, over the warmer land, air pressure is lower, while over the cooler sea, the pressure is relatively higher. That higher pressure air blows inland toward the warmer, lower pressure areas. As this happens, Earth’s rotation guides these winds in a cyclonic direction, which strengthens a phenomenon named ‘vorticity.’

Vorticity is a spinning motion of air that, in cases like this, happens in the lowest level of Earth’s atmosphere. That warm, moist air is pulled into the atmosphere where it undergoes further processes, eventually turning into a powerful hurricane.

Balaguru and his team said add in greenhouse gases, and the storm has even more fuel to strengthen.

Forming hurricanes do have a weakness: vertical wind shear, but Balaguru’s team found that such a force has weakened on the US Atlantic Coastline, adding to the problem of supercharged hurricanes.

“The nearshore environment has absolutely become more favorable for hurricanes near the Atlantic Coast,” said Balaguru, “and that’s very consistent with the rising hurricane intensification we’ve
observed in the region.”

Looking to the future, Balaguru and his team modeled the effects of climate change and hurricanes all the way to the year 2100. They found the same conditions will contribute to wetter and stronger hurricanes for years to come, especially in a fossil-fuel based economy.

This means communities across then nation, and even world could be impacted by powerful hurricanes in the future. You can read the full research here.

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