New England may not be known for hurricanes like Florida or the Caribbean, but climate scientists are warning that the region could see an increase in storms similar to Hurricane Lee. As our planet warms, the Gulf of Maine and other mid-latitude regions may become more susceptible to such extreme weather events.

The most recent data on Hurricane Lee shows that it remained a Category 1 hurricane late Friday night, with sustained winds of 80 mph (128 kph). While it was forecast to brush the New England coast before making landfall in Nova Scotia, Massachusetts and Maine had already declared states of emergency.

A recent study suggests that climate change is making hurricanes more likely to expand their reach into mid-latitude regions, which include major cities like New York, Boston, and even Beijing. This phenomenon is attributed to warmer sea surface temperatures and shifts in the jet streams, which are powerful air currents encircling the planet.

New England Braces for More Monster Storms Amid Climate Change
New England Braces for More Monster Storms Amid Climate Change

Joshua Studholme, a physicist from Yale University and the lead author of the study, explained, “Jet stream changes, combined with warmer ocean temperatures, are making the mid-latitude regions more favorable to hurricanes. This means that these areas are likely to experience more frequent storm formation, intensification, and prolonged storm presence.”

Another study simulated tropical cyclone tracks from various time periods and emission scenarios. It found that hurricanes are projected to move north and east in the Atlantic, tracking closer to the coasts, including Boston and New York. This leaves less time for residents to prepare for approaching storms.

Andra Garner, the lead author of this study and an assistant professor of environmental science at Rowan University in New Jersey, noted that the increased frequency of hurricanes along the U.S. East Coast will result in longer-lasting and more impactful storms, causing extended periods of wind and storm surge.

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New England Braces for More Monster Storms Amid Climate Change

Kerry Emanuel, a professor emeritus of atmospheric science at MIT, who has extensively researched hurricanes, predicts that parts of Maine will experience more frequent hurricanes and heavier rainfall with each storm. The region’s warming waters, particularly the Gulf of Maine, play a significant role in this trend. In 2022, the Gulf recorded the second-warmest year on record, with sea surface temperatures well above the 40-year average.

“Warmer ocean waters are essential for hurricane formation,” Garner explained. “If these warm waters now exist at higher latitudes than before, it increases the likelihood of storms occurring in these areas.”

While hurricanes and tropical storms are infrequent in New England, the region has experienced its share of violent weather events in the past. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938, Hurricanes Carol and Edna in 1954, and Hurricane Bob in 1991 are some examples. More recently, Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 caused significant damage in the region.

Experts are urging policymakers to take projections of increased hurricane activity seriously and to invest in infrastructure upgrades to withstand future storms. This includes improving dams, roadways, and coastal defenses to make shorelines more resilient.

Garner emphasized the importance of considering flood zone locations and implementing adaptation measures. She also highlighted the role of reducing emissions to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

As New England faces the possibility of more frequent and powerful hurricanes, proactive measures are essential to protect communities and minimize the impact of these extreme weather events.

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