Gulf Coast facing increasing risk for two hurricanes in two weeks as climate changes

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Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico: Nick Bannin (KXAN)

(KXAN) — A new study from Princeton University climatologists and engineers suggests that it’s not just the increasing frequency of tropical cyclones that we should be concerned with, but how quickly some areas get hit by more than one.

The study, published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters, looked at “sequential landfall” where one area was hit with a tropical cyclone and then impacted again before rebuilding was complete.

Louisiana had three sequential landfalling storms in 2020.

Over the last forty years, the time between landfalling tropical systems in the Gulf of Mexico has been getting shorter, with less time after one storm to prepare for the next.

At the highest risk could be Florida and Louisiana which, model estimates predict, could double their risk for landfalling tropical storms to occur within 9 days of each other. These states could see hurricanes happening just 10 days apart by the end of the century.

The model looked at hurricane seasons from 1979 to 2020 with particular attention to years where tropical cyclones made landfall within two weeks of another. That trend over time was added to a climate model to estimate the frequency of back-to-back tropical systems into the future. While the model found Florida and Louisiana are at the greatest risk, the model also suggested the entire Gulf coast would see more storms at a greater frequency.

The leader of the study. Dazhi Xi, is a climate scientist at Princeton University.  He said, “in previous research, people have mostly focused on the resilience of infrastructure, [rather than] the time to restore it after a storm.”

The threat to human livability amplifies when you don’t have time in between storms to rebuild. If the power hasn’t returned from the first storm, or the water is not safe to drink after the first storm, a second storm could increase the risk to human life the longer we have to continue without life-sustaining essentials.

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