A new study suggests that the formation of tropical cyclones is occurring earlier in the year, which means that communities on the East and Gulf coasts of the United States may soon have to prepare for a longer hurricane season.
According to a study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers who analyzed changes in the onset of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity from 1979 to 2020 found that the first named storms of the North Atlantic hurricane season have been occurring five days earlier every decade since 1979.
In 1965, a definition was established for the length of each year’s North Atlantic hurricane season: June 1 through November 30.
According to ABC News, the study’s author, Ryan Truchelut, a chief meteorologist at Weather Tiger, a consulting and risk management firm, said that the study was prompted by the fact that the National Hurricane Center had issued watches or warnings for the continental U.S. before the start of the season on June 1.
There’s cause for alarm because “this is, you know, historically very unusual,” Truchelut said.
A panel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently debating whether to adjust the current season to start earlier in light of this trend, as stated by Truchelut.
“I think that will be an important signal to coastal residents and people living well inland who are at risk from tropical storm-driven flooding events,” Truchelut said of the possible season shift.
The study also found that the first landfall of a named storm in the United States occurred about two days earlier per decade since 1900.
La Nia, early season sea surface temperatures that were above normal, and above-average West African monsoon rainfall were the primary contributors to the early start and above-average season in 2021. However, the authors suggested that the earlier appearance of named storms might be related to the warming of the western Atlantic Ocean during the spring, which has also shown an increasing trend during the same period.
More warming of the ocean could bring the onset of tropical cyclone formation forward, putting more populated landmasses in harm’s way, the study suggests.
Even though it does not appear that the peak or end of hurricane season has shifted, Truchelut notes that communities will need to know about the earlier onset of hurricanes in order to properly assess necessary risk management measures as hurricanes continue to intensify due to global warming.
Truchelut hoped that the study would help people be better prepared to respond to watches and warnings in the event of an emergency flash flood warning.
This report was aided by Melissa Griffin of ABC News.
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