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Hurricane intensification along United States coast suppressed during active hurricane periods

Nature volume 541, pages 390393 (19 January 2017) | Download Citation


The North Atlantic ocean/atmosphere environment exhibits pronounced interdecadal variability that is known to strongly modulate Atlantic hurricane activity1,2,3,4,5,6. Variability in sea surface temperature (SST) is correlated with hurricane variability through its relationship with the genesis and thermodynamic potential intensity of hurricanes7. Another key factor that governs the genesis and intensity of hurricanes is ambient environmental vertical wind shear8,9,10 (VWS). Warmer SSTs generally correlate with more frequent genesis and greater potential intensity, while VWS inhibits genesis and prevents any hurricanes that do form from reaching their potential intensity. When averaged over the main hurricane-development region in the Atlantic, SST and VWS co-vary inversely11,12, so that the two factors act in concert to either enhance or inhibit basin-wide hurricane activity. Here I show, however, that conditions conducive to greater basin-wide Atlantic hurricane activity occur together with conditions for more probable weakening of hurricanes near the United States coast. Thus, the VWS and SST form a protective barrier along the United States coast during periods of heightened basin-wide hurricane activity. Conversely, during the most-recent period of basin-wide quiescence, hurricanes (and particularly major hurricanes) near the United States coast, although substantially less frequent, exhibited much greater variability in their rate of intensification, and were much more likely to intensify rapidly. Such heightened variability poses greater challenges to operational forecasting and, consequently, greater coastal risk during hurricane events.

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NOAA_ERSST_V4 and NCEP reanalysis data were provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, from their website at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/. HURDAT2 data were provided by the US National Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/.

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  1. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Center for Weather and Climate, 1225 W. Dayton Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • James P. Kossin


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All analyses and writing were conducted by J.P.K.

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James P. Kossin.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Holland and A. Sobel for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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