The Times-Tribune

Severe hurricanes hit U.S. more frequently

Researcher­s looking at destructio­n

- BY SETH BORENSTEIN

WASHINGTON — Big, destructiv­e hurricanes are hitting the U.S. three times more frequently than they did a century ago, according to a new study.

Experts generally measure a hurricane’s destructio­n by adding up how much damage it did to people and cities. That can overlook storms that are powerful, but that hit only sparsely populated areas. A Danish research team came up with a new measuremen­t that looked at just the how big and strong the hurricane was, not how much money it cost. They call it Area of Total Destructio­n.

“It’s the most damaging ones that are increasing the most,” said study lead author Aslak Grinsted, a climate scientist at the University of Copenhagen. “This is exactly what you would expect with climate models.”

Looking at 247 hurricanes that hit the U.S. since 1900, the researcher­s found the top 10 percent of hurricanes, those with an area of total devastatio­n of more than 467 square miles, are happening 3.3 times more frequently, according to a study in Monday’s Proceeding­s of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eight of the 20 storms with the highest area of total destructio­n since 1900 have happened in the last 16 years, a much larger chunk than would randomly occur, Grinsted said.

Two storms stood out from the rest: 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, with an area of total destructio­n of 4,570 square miles, and 2005’s Katrina, at 2,942 square miles. The average was 159 square miles — which means Harvey’s destructiv­e footprint was 30 times larger than average.

Climate scientists have predicted and shown that higher temperatur­es in the oceans and the atmosphere, a result of burning coal, oil and other fuels, is creating more extreme weather and storms.

“Their result is consistent with expected changes in the proportion of the strongest hurricanes and is also consistent with the increased frequency of very slow-moving storms that make landfall in the U.S.,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion hurricane scientist Jim Kossin, who was not part of the research.

Other experts weren’t so convinced, however. Colorado State University hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach says his review of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S., using barometric pressure, shows no increase.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE ?? Floodwater­s from Hurricane Katrina fill the streets near downtown New Orleans in August 2005.
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE Floodwater­s from Hurricane Katrina fill the streets near downtown New Orleans in August 2005.

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