Oh, boy. The newest hurricane prediction, from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, predicts that there will be ten times as many Katrinas by the year 2100, with the formerly once-in-a-generation storm surges coming every other year.
The study appeared today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It used computer models to try to figure out what will happen if the world’s average temperature rises by 2o C. Just in case you think that’s too much, Live Science’s Becky Oskin said that some studies suggest it could actually rise by double that amount by 2100.
Aslak Grinsted, lead author on the new study, was modeling what to expect on the Atlantic coast, which is still recovering from last season’s Superstorm Sandy. He checked the models against records of tidal surges going back to 1923 to see which one worked best.
The one that fit suggested that for every 0.4oC of ocean warming, the chance of an extreme storm surge will double.
And that’s exactly the ugly sort of hurricane prediction that Gulf and Atlantic coast residents don’t want to hear.
Hurricane Katrina was only a category 3 on the Saffir-Sampson scale, with top sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour. Despite being only moderately strong by that measure, it was a devastating storm. At least 1,833 people died, and there was widespread flooding from the storm surge on the Mississippi and Louisiana gulf coast. Multiple floodwalls failed in New Orleans, placing 80 percent of the area underwater.
Hurricane Sandy followed a similar pattern. It was a mere Category 2 storm when it reached the northeastern United States if you rank it by the peak intensity of the winds. But the storm surge, as well as its sheer size, allowed it to create an eye-popping $75 billion worth of damage — making it second in economic destruction only to Katrina herself.
If there’s any good news, it’s that the ocean seems to be heating up more slowly than the land. According to National Geographic, during the time that the average temperature on land has risen about 1oF, then the temperature in the ocean has risen only around 0.18oF.
Maybe there’s still time to act to make sure that this grim hurricane prediction won’t come true.
[all photos Hurricane Katrina destruction in Biloxi by Elaine Radford]