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Hurricane Historians

June 29, 2006

With another hurricane season in full swing and a prediction for a high number of major storms, WHOI geologists are seeking clues from past hurricanes to learn more about the future.  Intense hurricanes, those category 3 or higher, are relatively rare in New England, striking generally one or twice a century because the cooler sea surface temperatures and prevailing winds weaken the storms or divert them eastward. But when hurricanes do strike New England, the wind speed on the eastern side of the storm is often accentuated by the fast forward motion of the whole system, creating a greater storm surge. Because Long Island and New England jut into the Atlantic, they are a mark for fast-moving tropical storms tracking north.  One of the scenarios of current global warming projections is that hurricanes might become more frequent and more intense, and WHOI researchers want to know if that is historically accurate. So far, data suggest little change in hurricane frequency over the past 700 years, a period when the global climate has cooled with a “Little Ice Age” and warmed in the Industrial Age.