Is New York becoming the new Florida? A British study warns that because of shifting weather patterns, the Northeast could be struck by more frequent and more powerful hurricanes.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean and much of the eastern seaboard of the United States, stretching as far north as Canada. At least 233 people died as a result of the storm and damage ran into the tens of billions of dollars.
The study, led by the UK's Durham University, finds that hurricanes have been gradually moving northwards from the western Caribbean towards northern North America over the past few hundred years.
At the time, Sandy was regarded as something of an outlier, but the study's lead author, Dr. Lisa Baldini, of Durham's Department of Geography, says the hurricane risk to the Northeastern coast of the U.S. is incrasing steadily as hurricanes track farther north.
"Since the 19th Century this shift was largely driven by man-made emissions and if these emissions continue as expected this will result in more frequent and powerful storms affecting the financial and population centres of the Northeastern United States," Bladini said.
"Given the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy it is important that plans are put in place to protect against the effects of similarly destructive storms which could potentially occur more often in the future."
The researchers say carbon dioxide emissions are to blame for the changing weather patterns. They came to their conclusions after analyzing the chemical composition of a stalagmite collected from a cave in southern Belize, Central America, and reconstructing hurricane rainfall for the western Caribbean dating back 450 years.
The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed that the average number of hurricanes at the Belize site decreased over time. When the hurricane history of Belize was compared with documentary hurricane records from places such as Bermuda and Florida, this information showed that Atlantic hurricanes were moving to the north rather than decreasing in total numbers.
Although natural warming over the centuries has had some impact on shifting hurricane tracks, the researchers found a marked decrease in hurricane activity in the western Caribbean coinciding with the late 19th Century industrial boom, associated with increasing carbon dioxide and sulphate aerosol emissions to the atmosphere.
The researchers said that increased sea surface temperatures are also providing extra energy, potentially fueling larger and more powerful storms.