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Climate Change Could Fuel More Frequent Storm Surges

Source: USA Today

Posted on 21 Feb 2012

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Last year's most devastating tropical system -- Hurricane Irene -- was considered by some experts to be a "100-year-event," a storm that comes around only once a century.

Irene lashed the East Coast in August, killing at least 45 people and leading to $7.6 billion in damages.

But a study out this week in Nature Climate Change says that due to global warming, these monster storms could make landfall more frequently, causing destructive storm surges every 3 to 20 years instead of once a century.

The lead author of the study was Ning Lin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who partnered with scientists at Princeton University to undertake the research.

Lin and her colleagues used computer models to simulate future hurricanes, looking at the impact of climate change on storm surges, with New York City as a case study. The team simulated tens of thousands of storms under different climate conditions.

Today, a "100-year storm" has a surge flood of about two meters, on average, in New York City. But with added greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels, the computer models found that a two-meter surge flood would instead occur once every three to 20 years.

Lin says that knowing the frequency of storm surges may help urban and coastal planners design seawalls and other protective structures.

While the number of hurricanes globally may or may not increase due to global warming, some scientists say that the ones that do form could be more intense than they would be otherwise.