A new study finds that tropical cyclones around the world are moving slightly slower over land and water, dumping more rain as they stall, just as Hurricane Harvey did a year ago.
In the last 70 years the storms have slowed by ten per cent. Some places in Houston got roughly a foot of rain per day as the storm crawled ashore.
This isn't about how powerful a storm's winds are, just how fast it chugs along.
"Every one of the hazards that we know tropical cyclones carry with them, all of them are just going to stick around longer", Kossin said.
While having a cyclone travel with less speed may seem like a good thing, it's actually just the opposite.
With wind speeds that can top more than 180 miles per hour, hurricanes are not usually thought of as slow.
In addition to slower atmospheric circulations possibly causing the storms to move slower, the amount of rainfall that the storms are able to dump is increasing as global temperatures climb. The fact that their results show quite similar trends should be a wake-up call.
Kossin told Nature that a 10% slow-down in storm speed corresponds to a 10% increase in rainfall when a hurricane makes landfall.
NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) scientist Dr. Jim Kossin, author of the study, found a 20 percent slowdown in a storm's forward velocity over land for Atlantic storms, a 30 percent slowdown over land for western North Pacific storms and a 19 percent slowdown over land for storms affecting the Australian region.
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The Atlantic Basin remains inactive and the storm now has a zero threat to life or land.
'This suggests that global warming can enhance rainfall'.
Kossin's work was based on details of nearly 70 years' worth of storms, but he made no attempt to determine what was causing the slowdown. Older data on location, and thus movement, are more reliable, Kossin said. "This is the first, to my knowledge, study that's tried to look at the historical record to try to quantify whether that's the case".
"The storms will stay in your neighbourhoods longer", he said.
Scientist James Kossin said as little as a 10 per cent slowdown could double local rainfall and flooding impacts caused by 1C of warming.
In an editorial accompanying Kossin's work, she points out that it raises several new questions.
But Kossin, in his paper, writes that he wouldn't expect big changes in his results due to different means of measurement, since "estimates of tropical-cyclone position should be comparatively insensitive to such changes".
"These trends are nearly certainly increasing local rainfall totals and freshwater flooding", Kossin said, "which is associated with very high mortality risk". "There's been a sea change there in terms of what's risky". "And when you start getting more and more lines of evidence that all point in the same direction, you get more confident in the answers".
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