NewsJanuary 22, 2010

Studies Predict Fewer But Stronger Hurricanes

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By Micheal D. Lemonick

It's no accident that the documentary An Inconvenient Truth opens with a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina bearing inexorably down on a helpless New Orleans. Since hurricanes draw their destructive power from heat in seawater, you would expect that global warming would intensify these terrifying storms and multiply their number, leading to increased devastation on land. All other things being equal, that's probably what would happen.

But all other things are not equal, which is why the relationship between climate change and hurricanes is anything but settled. Two new studies released this week have moved the ball significantly forward, however. The first, appearing in Science, says the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes will actually decrease during this century but that the most powerful Category 4 and 5 storms will likely double in number. (See pictures of Hurricane Ike sweeping across the Gulf.)

The second study, presented at a conference of the American Meteorological Association in Atlanta, says that whether or not the nature of hurricanes changes, the property damage they wreak in the U.S. will rise an average 20% over the next two decades because of the rising sea level caused by global warming.

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