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Climate Change and Tropical Storms: Sheltered Cities Could Be Hit

Sep 01, 2015 05:36 PM EDT
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Rare, severe tropical cyclones could hit otherwise safe coastal cities, according to new models developed by Princeton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers. Their models also suggest that the probability of these storms occurring increases with climate change, and they note that this study allows for planning to take place. 

In comparison to the term, Black Swan, which is used to identify truly unpredicted events that have a major impact, these storms are called Gray Swans, according to a news release.  

"We are considering extreme cases," Ning Lin, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, said in the release. "These are relevant for policy making and planning, especially for critical infrastructure and nuclear power plants."

Lin, along with Kerry Emanuel, co-author and professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, assessed three cities for potential threats. This included, Tampa, Fla.; Cairns, Australia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. What did they find?

The researchers discovered that all three areas were at risk for dangerous storm surge waters if a powerful storm hit. Additionally, they found that Tampa Bay, which has experienced a relatively few number of damaging hurricanes, could experience roughly six meters of flooding if a Gray Swan touched down in the area. 

"With climate change, these probabilities can increase significantly over the 21st century," the researchers said in the release. In Tampa, the current storm surge likelihood of 1 in 10,000 is projected to increase to between 1 in 3,000 and 1 in 1,100 by mid-century and between 1 in 2,500 and 1 in 700 by the end of the century.

This study was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change

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