Ocean Science

What Keeps the Storms Away?

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Science  21 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6054, pp. 290
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6054.290-a

The number of hurricanes that develop over the Atlantic Ocean each year and the number that make landfall in North and Central America are two distinct quantities. The difference between the two has great practical consequence, as hurricanes that remain offshore cause few deaths and do little damage to human property or infrastructure. What controls hurricane tracks, then? Wang et al. looked at sea surface temperature data from 1970 to 2009 and found that the size and location of the Atlantic warm pool help to steer hurricanes by influencing both where over the Atlantic they form and to what extent ensuing atmospheric circulation patterns push the storms away from the eastern seaboard of the United States. When the Atlantic warm pool is large, storms form more to the east, further from potential landfall, and the winds along their paths blow more strongly toward the northeast, also reducing the chance that the storms ultimately reach a vulnerable coast. Although these are not the only factors that control hurricane tracks, consideration of the sea surface temperature fields of the North Atlantic Ocean may help improve forecasts of potential hurricane dangers.

Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L19702 (2011).

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