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Scientists share crucial observation about the way hurricanes are changing: 'We're talking about it happening right at the coastline'

What they found is frightening for those who live in areas vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes.

What they found is frightening for those who live in areas vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Atlantic hurricane season has gotten off to an active start to what forecasters say will be a hectic summer and fall of tropical activity. Scientists now say changing conditions along our coastlines are causing nearshore hurricanes to intensify more rapidly.

What's happening?

There have been relatively few studies done at a global level to explore how the intensification of nearshore storms has changed because of climate change, according to a report from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that was posted by Phys.org. 

PNNL researchers recently released a study on this topic. What they found is frightening for those who live in areas vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes.

"We're not talking about intensification out in the middle of the ocean," said climate scientist and lead author Karthik Balaguru, per Phys.org. "We're talking about it happening right at the coastline, where it matters most." 

The study concluded that the rate of tropical cyclone intensification is rising as vertical wind shear decreases and relative humidity increases. The National Weather Service defines a hurricane as "a tropical cyclone that has maximum sustained surface winds of 74 mph or greater." Climate modeling also suggests that nearshore intensification of these storms will continue to worsen in a warming world. 

Why is the quicker intensification of nearshore tropical cyclones important?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast for the 2024 hurricane season was the most aggressive early forecast on record, per ABC News — with 17-25 named storms predicted this hurricane season. 

The forecast for the early part of the season seems to be verifying NOAA's prediction. The second named storm of the season, Hurricane Beryl, set multiple records as it rapidly intensified. Beryl became the earliest Category 4 storm and earliest Category 5 storm on record in the Atlantic.

The National Weather Service's analysis of weather fatalities averaged over the 30 years from 1994 to 2023 reveals hurricanes were the fourth-leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. 

Studies have shown that a warming world is making hurricanes worse by increasing their intensity while decreasing their speed. These changes brought on by climate change have made storms more deadly and costly, as summarized by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

What's being done about slowing the rate of intensification?

Property and lives can be saved through improved computer modeling to forecast changes in the intensity of storms and improved measures to prepare for storms that strengthen quickly.

The chain of atmospheric events linking a warming world to more rapidly intensifying nearshore hurricanes suggests that reducing heat-trapping gases can mitigate the supercharging of tropical cyclones.

Supporting lawmakers who can use their influence to address the problem can help. We can also make lifestyle changes that reduce the toxic pollutants entering our atmosphere, such as changing how we get to places or utilizing more clean energy like solar power.

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