Wet and windy future: Climate change raises the threat of multiple hurricanes

Written by
John Sullivan
John Sullivan, School of Engineering and Applied Science
March 9, 2023

Researchers led by Ning Lin, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, argue that back-to-back hurricanes may become more numerous for many areas of the world in the coming decades. In an article published Feb. 27 in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers said that in some areas, like the Gulf Coast, such double hits could occur as frequently as once every three years.

“Rising sea levels and climate change make sequential damaging hurricanes more likely as the century progresses,” said Dazhi Xi, a postdoctoral researcher and a former graduate student in civil and environmental engineering and the paper’s lead author. “Today’s extremely rare events will become far more frequent.”

The researchers ran computer simulations to determine the change in likelihood of multiple destructive storms hitting the same area within a short period of time such as 15 days over this century. They looked at two scenarios: a future with moderate carbon emissions and one with higher emissions. In both cases, the chance of sequential, damaging storms increased dramatically.

The increasing hazard is mainly driven by two developments: rising sea levels and increasing precipitation driven by climate change. Sea level rise is occurring worldwide with the changing climate, and it is compounded on the Atlantic coast by geography. As sea levels rise, storm surge becomes more of a threat to coastal communities because the baseline water level is higher.

The researchers said it is important for community planners and regional emergency officials to recognize this emerging threat. “We need to think about plans, rescue workers, resources. How will we plan for this?” said Lin. 

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