Hurricanes are slowing down – and why that’s bad news


  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 14 June 2018
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of Getty Images

When we think of hurricanes, it is easy to assume that the faster a hurricane moves, the more destruction it will cause. This is not the case. Slower-moving hurricanes spend increased time over land, which leads to increased local rainfall and flooding.

A new study, published on 6th of June in Nature, suggest that hurricanes are moving slower worldwide with disastrous consequences.

thumbnail image: Hurricanes are slowing down – and why that’s bad news

‘Just a 10 percent slowdown in hurricane translational speed can double the increase in rainfall totals caused by 1 degree Celsius of global warming,’ says James Kossin to Science Direct. Kossin is a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hurricane speeds have averaged a 10 percent slowdown worldwide over the past 68 years, the study suggests, comparing worldwide hurricane data (from NOAA) between 1949-2016.

The effects of climate change is, in part, an explanation to the slowdown of hurricane speeds, according to Kossin: With a warmer atmosphere, the winds that steer hurricanes may weaken, causing storms to move more slowly. In addition, warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water vapor which could increase the amount of rain a hurricane delivers to an area.

How much hurricane speeds have slowed down varies regionally: 20 percent in the Western North Pacific Region, including Southeast Asia; 15 percent in the Australian Region; and 6 percent in the North Atlantic Region, including the U.S.

When analysing hurricane speeds over land, which is where they cause the most damage, Kossin found that slowdown can be even greater: Hurricanes over land in the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific have slowed by as much as 20 percent and 30 percent respectively.

‘The rainfalls associated with the “stall' of 2017's Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas, area provided a dramatic example of the relationship between regional rainfall amounts and hurricane translation speeds,’ says Kossin to Science Daily. ‘In addition to other factors affecting hurricanes, like intensification and poleward migration, these slowdowns are likely to make future storms more dangerous and costly.’

The original article was published in Science Daily: with materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Journal reference:
James P. Kossin. A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed. Nature, 2018; 558 (7708): 104 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0158-3

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