New study may explain lack of major hurricane landfalls in U.S.

APTOPIX Hurricane Matthew Florida_398312

Wind and water from Hurricane Matthew batter downtown St. Augustine, Fla., Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – October 24, 2005, was the last time a major hurricane, defined as Category 3 or higher, made landfall in the United States.

Until now, scientists have been baffled by what’s been called a hurricane drought. But a  new study published in the journal Nature last week finds that during active hurricane season, stronger wind shear and cooler coastal waters can combine to weaken hurricanes as they approach the U.S. 

“The hurricanes are forming in the main development region because it’s favorable for the formation, but when they get close to the coast of the United States, we have that little bit of a buffer that keeps them from intensifying very rapidly,” said Rosana Ferreira, an atmospheric science professor at East Carolina University.

The study references Hurricane Matthew as a good example of their findings. The storm reached Category 5 strength in the Caribbean before eventually weakening to a Category 1 storm as it made landfall along the Southeast U.S. coastline.

2016 was an active season with 15 named storms, but if the tropics quiet down like some believe they will in the coming seasons, we could see a reverse of fate. 

“If we go into this quieter period where there is an increased chance of having stronger storms along the coast, and they’re the ones that are going to develop very quickly right at the coast, it’s very difficult to forecast those because we don’t see those coming across the Atlantic,” Ferreira said.

In fact, the study suggests that during a quiet season hurricanes are six times more likely to strengthen rapidly near the U.S. coast compared to during an active year.

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