Magazine article Science News

Atlantic Coast May Be in for a Pounding

Magazine article Science News

Atlantic Coast May Be in for a Pounding

Article excerpt

The above-average number of major hurricanes in the North Atlantic during the past 6 years may signal a weather trend that could threaten Central America, the Caribbean, and the eastern United States for decades to come.

Hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean north of the equator was generally quiet between 1971 and 1994, says Stanley B. Goldenberg, a meteorologist at NOAA's Hurricane Research Division in Miami. Then, between 1995 and 2000, the overall annual hurricane activity doubled. Activity is a measure that includes the number, duration, and strength of storms. More disturbingly, the proportion of the storms that grew into major hurricanes--those with wind speeds greater than 112 miles per hour--was higher in those years than in the previous quiet spell.

The recent spate of North Atlantic hurricanes may be more than a stretch of bad luck; it could be a preview of coming events.

Goldenberg and his colleagues report in the July 20 SCIENCE that the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the region seem to follow a pattern. The trends observed in the past 30 years echo those seen early in the century. A quiet period with relatively few major hurricanes stretched from the 1900s to the mid-1920s and then was followed by more intense activity that lasted through the 1960s.

More specifically, the team found that the long-term variation in North Atlantic hurricane activity generally follows sea and climate conditions between the latitudes of 10 [degrees] N and 20 [degrees] N, where most such storms begin to form. The higher the average sea-surface temperature there rises above 27 [degrees] C, the more often atmospheric low-pressure areas develop into hurricanes. …

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