Scientists say storms like Hurricane Lee could be more frequent as climate changes

When it comes to hurricanes, New England can’t compete with Florida or the Caribbean.

But scientists said Friday that the arrival of storms like Hurricane Lee this weekend could become more common in the region as the planet warms, including in places like the Gulf of Maine.

One recent study found that climate change could cause hurricanes to expand their range more often into mid-latitude regions, which include New York, Boston and even Beijing. The study found that the factors causing this are warmer sea surface temperatures in these regions and the shifting and weakening of jet streams – powerful bands of air currents that surround the planet in both hemispheres.

“These changes in the jet stream combined with warmer ocean temperatures make the mid-latitudes more hospitable to hurricanes,” said Joshua Studholme, a physicist at Yale University and lead author of the study. “This ultimately means that these areas are likely to see more storm formation, intensification and persistence.”

  • Read more: Massachusetts Governor Haley declares a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Lee

Another study simulated tropical cyclone paths from pre-industrial times, modern times, and a future with higher emissions. It found that hurricanes would move north and east in the Atlantic Ocean. It also found that hurricanes will track near coasts including Boston, New York, Norfolk and Virginia, and are more likely to form along the Southeast coast, giving New Englanders less time to prepare.

“We also found that hurricanes are more likely to move more slowly when they’re moving along the East Coast of the United States, causing their impacts to last longer and having more time to deal with wind and storm surge, and things like that,” said Andra Garner, the study’s lead author and assistant professor. in Environmental Science at Rowan University: “That was again for cities that included New York City and Boston.”

Parts of Maine will see more frequent tornadoes and heavier rains with each storm, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at MIT who has long studied the physics of hurricanes.

“We expect to see more tornadoes than we’ve seen in the last few decades. They should produce more rain and wind,” said Emanuel, who now lives in Maine. “We’ve definitely seen here an increase in the devastation caused by winter storms and it’s a whole different beast.” . I would say that the bulk of the evidence, the weight of the evidence is that we will see more rain and more wind from these storms.

One reason for this trend is the rising water temperature in the region. For example, the Gulf of Maine is warming more rapidly than the vast majority of the world’s oceans. In 2022, the Bay Area recorded its second-warmest year on record, surpassing the old record by less than half a degree Fahrenheit. Scientists said the average sea surface temperature reached 53.66 degrees (12 degrees Celsius), more than 3.7 degrees above the average over 40 years.

“Certainly, when we think about storms forming and moving into northern latitudes, sea surface temperature plays a big role because hurricanes need really warm ocean water to fuel them,” Garner said. “If warm ocean water is present at higher latitudes than it was before, this increases the possibility of storms moving into those regions.”

  • Read more: Boston braces for Hurricane Lee: Wu urges residents to take precautions

Lee remained a hurricane with winds of 80 mph (128 km/h) at 2 p.m. EDT Friday as it headed toward New England and eastern Canada with 20-foot (6 m) ocean waves, strong winds, and rain. Forecasters said winds would reach 40 mph (64 km/h) across an area extending more than 400 miles (643 kilometers) before landfall Saturday afternoon.

While hurricanes and tropical storms are uncommon in New England, the region has seen its share of extreme weather events. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 brought wind gusts of up to 186 mph (300 kph) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 kph) at Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts. Hurricanes Carol and Edna struck the area 11 days apart in 1954 — and Hurricane Bob devastated Block Island in 1991.

Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused damage in more than a dozen states and wreaked havoc in the Northeast when it made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tropical Storm Irene killed six people in Vermont in August 2011, sweeping homes off their foundations and damaging or destroying more than 200 bridges and 500 miles (805 km) of highways.

Experts warn that policymakers need to take expectations of increased hurricane activity seriously and start upgrading their levees, roads and neighborhoods to weather these future storms.

“We definitely in our coastal communities need to think about how we can make our beaches more resilient,” Garner said.

“Do we need to change… where are the flood zones located, think about how to protect beaches and think about solutions to that and types of adaptation?” She said, adding that policymakers can also implement measures to reduce emissions so that the worst effects of climate change do not materialize.

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