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Hurricanes reaching further inland, scientists find

June 12, 2023

Tropical cyclones are intensifying faster as well

As Earth’s atmosphere and oceans have warmed significantly in recent decades, the top layers of the ocean are fueling hurricanes according to NASA.

Based on data collected in the last quarter century, NASA has “tracked the largest stretch of high energy hurricanes on record. ‘So while there aren’t necessarily more Atlantic hurricanes than before, those that form appear to be getting stronger, with more Category 4 and 5 events.’ ”

The warming trend is also observed earlier in the spring, so storms have been forming in May prior to the official start of Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

Another characteristic of today’s hurricanes are their persistence after reaching land. Dr. Pinaki Chakraborty, a climate researcher and senior author of a study on the slower decay of landfalling hurricanes, said warming is increasing risks to communities farther inland, communities likely unprepared for devastating winds and flooding.

Michael Mann, a Penn State climate researcher who was not involved in Chakraborty’s research, reiterated that “flooding is the major cause of death and destruction from landfalling tropical storms.”

“The prevailing models (on the evolution of landfalling hurricanes) are missing a key component: the moisture stored in a hurricane,” commented Chakraborty, “Part of a hurricane’s total energy is stored in the water it carries, and that extra fuel helps storms overpower the weakening effect of friction over land.”

He explained that hurricanes hold more moisture in a warmer climate because the atmosphere can hold about 7% more water for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warming.

“Making landfall is equivalent to stopping the fuel supply to the engine of a car,” said co-author Lin Li, also with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. But storms forming over warmer oceans have a fuel source sustain their destructive power and run longer.

Read the study from the journal of Nature, 11 November 2020.