Experts: Everything points to another busy hurricane season

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Batten the hatches for another bad hurricane season.

Almost all natural forces and a slew of man-made ones – more than just climate change – have turned recent Atlantic hurricane seasons into deadly and costly scarecrows. The season starting Wednesday feels like another note in a record-breaking chorus as all of those ingredients for disaster are still solid, experts warn.

They say these factors point to but don’t quite promise more trouble ahead: the natural weather event La Nina, human-induced climate change, warmer ocean waters, the deep warm Gulf Loop Current. from Mexico, increased storms in Africa, cleaner skies, a decades-long active storm cycle, and massive property development along the coast.

“It’s everything and the kitchen sink,” said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.

For the past two years, forecasters have run out of names for storms. It’s been a costly gallery of major hurricanes – with winds of at least 111 mph (179 km/h) – hitting land in the past five years: Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, Michael, Dorian, Humberto , Laura, Teddy, Delta, Zeta, Eta, Iota, Grace and Ida.

“That’s the model we’ve been locked into. And what statistic to think of: From 2017 to 2021, more Category Four and Five (hurricanes) made landfall in the United States than from 1963 to 2016,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in an interview. to the The New Zealand Times in front of two hurricane chasers. planes flying in storms.

Graham, echoing most pundits and all preseason predictions, said “we have another very busy one” ahead. Last year, the Atlantic set a record six above-average hurricane seasons in a row, breaking the old record of three in a row, and forecasters are predicting a seventh.

The only sign to the contrary is that for the first time since 2014, a storm hasn’t formed before the official start of hurricane season on June 1, but forecasters are watching record breaking Eastern Pacific Hurricane Agatha, which seems likely to cross land and reform like Alex in the Gulf of Mexico later this week.

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Here’s what can make the Atlantic chaotic this season:

THE GIRL

One of the biggest influences on Atlantic hurricane seasons occurs halfway around the world in the temporarily cooling waters of the equatorial Pacific, the natural cyclical phenomenon called La Nina, the most dangerous for the United States. against El Nino.

La Nina changes weather patterns around the world, including making the development of hurricanes in the Atlantic more likely. It starts with the Sahel region of Africa, where the seeds of many of the most powerful mid-season hurricanes, called Cape Verde storms, are formed. This often dry region is wet and stormy in La Nina and this helps with early formation.

One weather feature that can decapitate storms or prevent them from forming in the first place is high crosswinds called shear. But La Nina pretty much dampens the shear, which is “a huge factor” for more storm activity, said University of Albany hurricane researcher Kristen Corbosiero.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Studies show that climate change makes hurricanes wetter because warm air can hold more moisture and makes the strongest storms a bit stronger. Storms can also stagnate more, allowing them to drop more rain in one place, such as in Harvey in 2017, where more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) fell in one place. They also escalate rapidly more often, experts say.

While studies point to an increasing number of the strongest storms due to human-induced climate change, scientists still disagree on what global warming means for the overall frequency of all storms. Some scientists see a slight decrease due to the decrease in the number of weaker storms, but others, such as MIT hurricane researcher Kerry Emanuel, see an overall increase in the total number of storms.

A study by Emanuel found a general increase in Atlantic storms over 150 years, with a few exceptions. This increase is too large to be directly linked to climate change, Emanuel said, “but it could be indirectly linked to climate change”, particularly if global warming changes the speed of ocean circulation, as suspected.

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HOTTER WATER

Hot water acts as fuel for hurricanes. Storms cannot form until the waters reach 79 degrees (26 degrees Celsius) and the deeper the warm water and the higher its temperature, the more the hurricane must feed.

And due to climate change and natural weather variables, water in much of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico is warm and prone to storms, said Brian McNoldy, hurricane researcher at the ‘University of Miami. In the key storm formation area, waters are about half a degree warmer (0.3 degrees Celsius) than last year at this time of year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Matthew Rosencrans.

LOOP CURRENT

In the Gulf of Mexico, there is a natural phenomenon called the loop current, where warm water flows extremely deep. This is important because hurricanes usually bring cold deep water as they pass over warm water and this limits their strengthening. But the loop current often accelerates storms and releases eddies of warm, deep water throughout the gulf for storm intensification.

This year, the loop current looks particularly strong, northerly and ominous, Emanuel and other experts said. They compared it to the Loop Current which intensified Camille in 1969, Katrina in 2005 and Ida last year.

On Monday, the loop current was 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal, McNoldy said.

CLEANER AIR

According to scientists, traditional air pollution from factories and cars – dirty air from smog and small particles – reflects sunlight and cools the atmosphere. This cooling effect due to air pollution likely helped reduce the number of storms in the 1970s and 1980s, which were a quiet time in the Atlantic.

But since Europe and the United States have cleaned up much of their air pollution, the Atlantic has become stormier during hurricane season, while the exact opposite is happening in Asia where pollution atmosphere is increasing, according to a new study. Experts said decreasing air pollution and increasing Atlantic storms are likely a permanent condition now.

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LONGER-TERM CYCLES

Hurricane researchers have noticed over a century or so a pattern of storm activity with about 20-30 years of busy Atlantic hurricane seasons followed by 20-30 years of less activity. The current busy cycle began in 1995 and should theoretically end soon, but scientists see no signs of that happening yet.

The theory behind the cycle has to do with ocean currents, salinity, and other natural cycles on a global scale. But recently, some scientists have begun to doubt how important the cycle is, if at all, and if it really is air pollution and now climate change altering the cycle.

DEVELOPMENT

In addition to all these meteorological factors, there is the problem of humans. During the lull in storms in the 1970s and 1980s, air conditioning in the south became more prevalent and storms were in the back of their minds, so more people moved and built in storm-prone areas, a said former NOAA hurricane scientist Jim Kossin, now of risk firm The Climate Service.

But the storms returned when the pollution disappeared and climate change worsened. Add La Ninas, an insurance that helps rebuild in dangerous areas, “and now we’re paying a heavy price” with increasingly severe storms and more people and buildings at risk,” Kossin said.

For at least the next five years, Kossin said, “we have to buckle up.”

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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