A long-term forecast for Atlantic hurricane activity later this century predicts fewer but stronger storms that will pack stronger winds and more rain.
The forecast is based on a new computer simulation at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., scheduled to be published online on May 18 in Nature Geoscience.
Scientists don't see this as the last word on the subject, but it supports the general, if still controversial, view that hurricanes will become stronger because of global warming. The results apply to the Atlantic basin only, which has the most impact on the U.S., but may not apply to other regions of the world, like the Bay of Bengal, which has recently produced two massively deadly storms, Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in November and Cyclone Nargis this month in Myanmar.
"This study adds more support to the consensus finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other reports that it is likely that hurricanes will gradually become more intense as the climate continues to warm," said Tom Knutson, research meteorologist and lead author of the report. "It's a bit of a mixed picture in the Atlantic, because we're projecting fewer hurricanes overall."
The evidence that the computer model is accurate comes from its ability to accurately predict past hurricanes, between 1980 and 2006, using the same set of historic parameters. The model takes into account both stronger storms stemming from warmer water and a decrease in frequency, based on increased wind shear.
The study contradicts a recent high-profile study by hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel which found that hurricanes are unlikely to become more frequent as the world warms.
2007 saw fewer hurricanes than expected, though there were several rapidly intensifying cyclones in the Atlantic basin. Three killer storms Dean, Felix and Noel were just retired by the World Meteorological Organization, and their names will not be used to describe tropical cyclones in the future.
The early predictions for 2008 are for an above-average year filled with frequent storms and several intense hurricanes. The storm season officially begins June 1.
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