The NationalHurricane Center (NHC) is forecasting a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Although the season officially kicks off June 1, 2012, we already have observed two tropical storms (Alberto and Beryl). The forecasted numbers for 2012 appear below with normal values in parentheses.
Named storms: 9 to 15 (12)
Hurricanes: 4 to 8 (6)
Major Hurricanes: 1 to 3 (3)
So what does this mean for Long Island and the northeastern US? According to the UnitedStates Landfalling Hurricane Probability Project (May 2012):
- 5.7% probability that New York State will be hit with a hurricane in 2012. Normal value is 7.5%.
- 2.4% probability that New York State will be hit with a major hurricane (category 3 or more) in 2012. Normal value is 3.2%.
- 12% probability that Region 10 which includes NY City/Long Island will be hit with a tropical storm or hurricane in 2012. Normal value is 15%.
- 7% probability that Region 10 which includes NY City/Long Island will be hit with a hurricane in 2012. Normal value is 9%.
- 3% probability that Region 10 which includes NY City/Long Island will be hit with a major hurricane (category 3 or more) in 2012. Normal value is 4%.
- >99.9% probability that NY City/Long Island will be hit with a tropical storm or hurricane in the next 50 years.
- 99.4% probability that NY City/Long Island will be hit with a hurricane in the next 50 years.
- 90% probability that NY City/Long Island will be hit with a major hurricane (category 3 or more) in the next 50 years.
Why a normal year?
Since 1995, hurricane activity has been above normal with 2005 and 2010 being record-setters. Hurricanes need an environment with warm ocean temperatures and light wind shear. Wind shear refers to the speed and direction of upper-level winds. If the winds aloft are too fast or from the wrong direction, it can limit the growth of the vertically-developed clouds that power the storm. This season wind shear is a little on the high side and the eastern Atlantic ocean temperatures are a little on the cool side. If an El Nino develops in the eastern Pacific that increases wind shear in the Atlantic and would keep the hurricane numbers on the lower side.
For 2012 the list includes Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, and William. If the names run out the Greek alphabet is used. In 2005, six Greek letters were used in that record-setting year!
For Atlantic tropical storms, the NHC created six lists of hurricane names that are maintained and updated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through an international voting committee. The lists contain French, Spanish, Dutch and English names because "hurricanes affect other nations and are tracked by the public and weather services of many countries," according to NOAA. These six lists are rotated so that the names appearing in the 2012 season will be used again in 2018. If a hurricane does enough damage, the name can be retired and a new name with the same first letter is added. For example, there will never be another Hurricane Katrina. The six lists can be viewed here.
Before 1953 storms were designated by their latitude and longitude coordinates. In 1953, female names were used to make tracking the storms easier for the public. In 1979, male names were added and alternated.
Long Island storm history:
As image #1 shows, Long Island has been hit by 16 hurricanes since 1900 with the 1938 “Long Island Express” Hurricane being the most powerful. Image #2 shows the average return period for a Long Island hurricane strike is 18 years while image #3 shows the average return period for a major hurricane strike is between 52 and 74 years.
What does the future hold?
Humans continue to warm the climate by injecting massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air and every year we keep dumping in more. A recent paper published by the top hurricane researchers in the field (Knutson, et al. 2010) concludes:
...future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity
increases of 2–11% by 2100. Existing modelling studies also consistently project decreases in the globally averaged frequency of tropical cyclones, by 6–34%. Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100 km of
the storm centre.
There has been an observed increase in tropical cyclones (TC) since the mid-1990s. Warmer oceans have played a significant role in this increased frequency. A study by Emanuel (2010) suggests that lower stratospheric cooling may also be responsible for the uptick in activity and intensity. Climate models may be underestimating future hurricane frequency and intensity because they do not appear to include the impact of stratospheric cooling. Emanuel's research suggests that there may be more hurricanes in the future despite the current consensus of a 6–34% decrease in frequency.
When combined with rising sea levels due to human-caused climate change, we are following a recipe for disaster. All it takes is one major hurricane to strike Long Island to cause an economic disaster. The cost to restart our economy will be staggering. Keep in mind that Irene was just a tropical storm when it hit and she cost us billions in flood damages. Our federal tax dollars pay for this damage so we are all impacted financially whether or not we were directly affected.
Insurance policy change:
In the early 1990s insurance companies decided that it was too costly to insure Long Islanders against hurricane damages. (They saw the writing on the wall.) To cover their risk, insurers would have had to charge premiums that few of us could afford. Instead, they changed our policies so that hurricane damage would not be covered by the standard deductible ($500-$1000). Instead, the deductible is now 5% of the property value so your $1000 deductible just went up to $10,000 - $30,000 or more!