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Climate Change Could Lead to Threefold Increase In Storms

Powerful storms that cause extreme weather conditions — such as flooding across Europe and North America, with the potential to wreak social and economic havoc — could increase threefold by the end of the 21st century due to climate change. Pioneering new research, led by Dr. Matt Hawcroft from the University of Exeter, has shown new and detailed information on projections of the frequency of extratropical cyclones.

The research shows that unless there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, there will be a stark increase in the frequency of extratropical cyclones across large swathes of the Northern Hemisphere. Crucially, the impact on local communities could be severe, with more intense and extreme storms leading to greater large-scale flooding events — similar to those experienced across Somerset in 2013/14, Cumbria in 2015, and Gloucestershire in 2007.

The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Dr. Hawcroft, a Research Fellow in Exeter’s Mathematics department, said:

Extratropical cyclones, which are steered by the jet stream, play a key role in day-to-day weather variability across large parts of North America and Europe. They are characterized by areas of low atmospheric pressure in the storm’s center, with air drawn cyclonically (anti-clockwise) around the low pressure.

This leads to warm air being drawn from the south and cold air from the north. At the interface of cold and warm air, fronts form that can induce heavy rainfall. The most extreme storms are responsible for much of the large-scale flooding in North America and Europe. A key piece of information for policymakers and governments looking to mitigate against such extreme weather conditions is the ability to project where and how often these storms may occur in the future.

However, current climate model projections are affected by huge uncertainties. In this new study, the researchers analyzed the behavior of present day and future storms using state-of-the-art modeling and storm tracking techniques. By approaching the analysis in a “storm centered” framework, the team was able to evaluate changes in the frequency and intensity of these extratropical cyclones with more consistency than previous studies have suggested.

Importantly, the research team was able to show that models project there would be a threefold increase in the number of the most intensely precipitating extratropical cyclones in both Europe and North America by the end of the century. Dr. Hawcroft added:

“Due to the complexity of the circulation response to warming, there is much uncertainty in regional patterns of climate change. Given this uncertainty, it is important to be able to distil clear information where that is available.

“Here we show that in spite of these complexities, we are still able to provide large and consistent projections of change in these highly impactful events.”

Provided by: University of Exeter [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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  • Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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