Study finds cleaner air leads to more Atlantic hurricanes

May 11, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: 12:08 pm
FILE - This satellite image provided by the NOAA shows five tropical storms churning in the Atlanti...

FILE - This satellite image provided by the NOAA shows five tropical storms churning in the Atlantic basin on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. The storms, from left, are Hurricane Sally over the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Paulette over Bermuda, the remnants of Tropical Storm Rene, and Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky. A NOAA study released on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 says cleaner air in Europe and the United States is helping trigger a dramatic increase in the number of Atlantic hurricanes. (NOAA via AP)

(NOAA via AP)

Cleaner air in United States and Europe is brewing more Atlantic hurricanes, a new U.S. government study found.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study links changes in regionalized air pollution across the globe to storm activity going both up and down. A 50% decrease in pollution particles and droplets in Europe and the U.S. is linked to a 33% increase in Atlantic storm formation in the past couple decades, while the opposite is happening in the Pacific with more pollution and fewer typhoons, according to the study published in Wednesday’s Science Advances.

NOAA hurricane scientist Hiroyuki Murakami ran numerous climate computer simulations to explain change in storm activity in different parts of the globe that can’t be explained by natural climate cycles and found a link to aerosol pollution from industry and cars — sulfur particles and droplets in the air that make it hard to breathe and see.

Scientists had long known that aerosol pollution cools the air, at times reducing the larger effects of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuel and earlier studies mentioned it as a possibility in increase in Atlantic storms, but Murakami found it a factor around the world and a more direct link.

Hurricanes need warm water — which is warmed by the air — for fuel and are harmed by wind shear, which changes in upper level winds that can decapitate storm tops. Cleaner air in the Atlantic and dirtier air in the Pacific, from pollution in China and India, mess with both of those, Murakami said.

In the Atlantic, aerosol pollution peaked around 1980 and has been dropping steadily since. That means the cooling that masked some of the greenhouse gas warming is going away, so sea surface temperatures are increasing even more, Murakami said. On top of that the lack of cooling aerosols has helped push the jet stream — the river of air that moves weather from west to east on a roller-coaster like path — further north, reducing the shear that had been dampening hurricane formation.

“That’s why the Atlantic has gone pretty much crazy since the mid-90s and why it was so quiet in the 70s and 80s,” said climate and hurricane scientist Jim Kossin of the risk firm The Climate Service. He wasn’t part of the study but said it makes sense. The aerosol pollution “gave a lot of people in the 70s and 80s a break, but we’re all paying for it now.”

There are other factors in tropical cyclone activity with La Nina and El Nino — natural fluctuations in equatorial Pacific temperatures that alter climate worldwide — being huge. Human-caused climate change from greenhouse gases, that will grow as aerosol pollution reductions level out, is another, and there other natural long-term climatic oscillations, Murakami said.

Climate change from greenhouse gases is expected to reduce the overall number of storms slightly, but increase the number and strength of the most intense hurricanes, make them wetter and increase storm surge flooding, Murakami, Kossin and other scientists said.

While aerosol cooling is maybe half to one-third smaller than the warming from greenhouse gases, it is about twice as effective in reducing tropical cyclone intensity compared to warming increasing it, said Columbia University climate scientist Adam Sobel, who wasn’t part of the study. As aerosol pollution stays at low levels in the Atlantic and greenhouse gas emissions grow, climate change’s impact on storms will increase in the future and become more prominent, Murakami said.

In the Pacific, aerosol pollution from Asian nations has gone up 50% from 1980 to 2010 and is starting to drop now. Tropical cyclone formation from 2001 to 2020 is 14% lower than 1980 to 2000, Murakami said.

Murakami also found a correlation that was a bit different heading south. A drop in European and American aerosol pollution changed global air patterns in a way that it meant a decrease in southern hemisphere storms around Australia.

But as much as more hurricanes in the Atlantic can be a problem, the death from extra storms don’t compare to the seven million people a year globally who die from air pollution, said University of Washington public health professor Kristie Ebi, who studies health, climate and extreme weather.

“Air pollution is a major killer, so reducing emissions is critical no matter what happens with the number of cyclones,” said Ebi, who wasn’t part of the study.

___

Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate

___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A staff of Rappler monitors as Filipino journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa talks d...
Associated Press

Ressa says Philippine courts to decide Rappler closure order

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa said her Rappler news website was operating “business as usual” Wednesday and would let Philippine courts decide on a government order to close the outlet critical of the outgoing Duterte administration and its deadly drug crackdown. The Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday affirmed […]
3 hours ago
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on Wednesday, Ju...
Associated Press

NATO chief: Alliance faces biggest challenge since WWII

MADRID (AP) — NATO leaders were sitting down Wednesday to try to turn an urgent sense of purpose triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into action — and to patch up any cracks in their unity over money and mission. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the […]
3 hours ago
South Korean Minister of Food and Drug Safety Oh Yu-Kyoung speaks during a briefing at the ministry...
Associated Press

South Korea approves first homemade COVID-19 vaccine

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Health officials in South Korea on Wednesday approved the country’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 years or older, adding another public health tool in the fight against a prolonged pandemic. In clinical trials involving some 4,000 participants in South Korea and five other countries, SK Bioscience’s two-dose […]
3 hours ago
France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands ...
Associated Press

Live updates | Biden says US boosting its military in Europe

MADRID (AP) — The Latest on the NATO summit in Madrid: ___ U.S. President Joe Biden says America’s military presence in Europe is about to get bigger, as NATO responds to the threat from Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden says the U.S. is establishing a permanent headquarters in Poland, sending two additional F-35 […]
3 hours ago
FILE - A woman is evacuated from the Bataclan concert hall after a shooting on Nov. 13, 2015 in Par...
Associated Press

Verdict looms in trial over 2015 Paris extremist attacks

PARIS (AP) — Over the course of an extraordinary nine-month trial, the lone survivor of the Islamic State extremist team that attacked Paris in 2015 has proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his “mistakes.” For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial for Salah Abdeslam and […]
3 hours ago
FILE - A woman is evacuated from the Bataclan concert hall after a shooting on Nov. 13, 2015 in Par...
Sponsored Content by

PARIS (AP) — Over the course of an extraordinary nine-month trial, the lone survivor of the Islamic State extremist team that attacked Paris in 2015 has proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his “mistakes.” For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial for Salah Abdeslam and […]

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
Study finds cleaner air leads to more Atlantic hurricanes