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Strongest hurricanes may double in number

Forecasters look at century’s end

By Alex Morales
Bloomberg News / January 22, 2010

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LONDON - The strongest Atlantic hurricanes may almost double in frequency by the end of the century as the planet warms, US scientists said yesterday in the journal Science.

Occurrence of the most destructive hurricanes may rise 81 percent over 80 years while the total number of storms, including weaker systems, is projected to drop by 28 percent, the researchers said. The net effect may be to increase property damage by 30 percent, Tom Knutson, a coauthor of the study, said.

“There will be fewer storms, more of these more intense storms, and it works out to some increase in damage potential,’’ said Knutson, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 81 percent rise translates to about a doubling over a century, he said.

An area northeast of Cuba and east of Florida that includes the Bahamas may see the biggest increase in the strongest hurricanes, according to the research. The findings have implications for the area’s tourism industries Mexico oil operations.

Storms rated Category 4 or 5 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of at least 131 miles an hour, are those that are projected to increase in frequency.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall. Katrina caused about $81 billion in damage and killed 1,833 people, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The scientists assumed a rise in the average sea-surface temperature of the tropics of 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit due to global warming over the 80-year period, Knutson said.

Warmer waters favor hurricane formation.

The number of storms will decline because conditions in the area where they typically start are projected to be less favorable, Knutson said.