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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Forbes.com - Magazine Article

Forbes.com - Magazine Article: "Hurricanes Become More Frequent?
Oxford Analytica, 09.08.05, 6:00 AM ET

The frequency of hurricanes and other storm events in the southern Atlantic is higher than in previous years. This increase may be part of a longer-term cycle, and storm events could occur more often for a decade or more.

Governments need to invest in the infrastructure necessary to mitigate storm events and their immediate aftermath if impacts are to be reduced.

While it remains difficult to predict the specific timing and location of catastrophic weather events like the U.S. Gulf Coast hurricane last week, scientists can predict whether a particular hurricane season is likely to be more or less intense.

Researchers at Colorado State University have forecasted hurricanes for the last 22 years, using a long-range model that draws on 52 years of data. In April, they predicted that the 2005 storm season would be active, with the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall on the continental United States 40% higher than the long-term average. The Colorado modelers predicted that this season would see three Category 3-5 storms. The meteorology of storm prediction is extremely complex and involves the interaction of multiple variables on a global scale. The Colorado team uses six predictors in its model.

On a longer timescale, it appears that the U.S. Gulf Coast region is in a period where storm frequency and intensity is increasing in general. The implication is that there is cycle of increased storm activity that can last a decade and could bring another five years of destructive storms. Research on the impact of climate change on storm intensity suggests that there has been an increase in the destructiveness of cyclones in the last 30 years. Future climate change, which generally puts more heat energy into the meteorological system, is likely to generate increased storm activity.

Part of the inherent vulnerability of a city like New Orleans is that in some parts it is 3 meters below sea level. For many years, disaster management experts have argued that after an earthquake in San Francisco, a Category 5 storm in New Orleans was the most significant natural hazard in the United States.

While the conditions that lead to storm formation are largely outside human control, the scale of their impacts is manageable. However, a general trend of population migration to southern U.S. states has increased the challenge in the United States.

It is difficult to predict where and when hurricanes will occur, but it is possible to identify whether a season is more likely to produce hurricanes. There is evidence that a continued period of increased hurricane frequency and intensity could extend for another five years. Interventions to reduce the vulnerability of cities to hurricanes can be taken in advance and require funding on a continuing basis.

To read an extended version of this article log on to Oxford Analytica's Web site.

Oxford Analytica is an independent strategic consulting firm drawing on a network of more than 1,000 scholar experts at Oxford and other leading universities and research institutions around the world. For more information please visit www.oxan.com, and to find out how to subscribe to the firm's Daily Brief Service, click here.

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