Prehistoric Hurricane Activity Uncovered

USA TODAY, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Prehistoric Hurricane Activity Uncovered


Hurricanes Katrina and Rita focused the international spotlight on the vulnerability of the U.S. coastline. Fears that a "super-hurricane" could make a direct hit on a major city and cause even more staggering losses of life, land, and economy triggered an outpouring of studies directed at every facet of this ferocious weather phenomenon. Now, a researcher at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, takes us one step closer to predicting the future by drilling holes in the past.

Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences professor Kam-biu Liu is the pioneer of a relatively new field of study called paleotempestology, or the study of prehistoric hurricanes. "People were discussing the probability of a Category 5 hurricane making direct impact on New Orleans," relates Liu. "That's tricky, because it's never really happened in history. Even Katrina, though still extremely powerful, was only a Category 3 storm at landfall."

Currently, experts tend to agree that Atlantic Ocean hurricane activity fluctuates in cycles of approximately 20-30 years, alternating periods of high activity with those of relative calm. However, records of such events only have been kept for the last 150 years or so. …

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