U.K. Researchers Find New Hurricane Forecast Method

April 25, 2005

Researchers at University College London, working at the Benfield Natural Hazard Research Centre, have reported a new method for analyzing and forecasting Atlantic Ocean hurricanes.

A report from the BBC notes that the new work, by Mark Saunders and Adam Lea, is reported in the journal Nature. While it can’t forecast individual hurricanes, it can at least give a strong indication of how destructive a coming season might be.

The UK researchers looked at each hurricane season since 1950 and, in particular, at the height-averaged winds during July, the month immediately preceding the hurricane season. In an interview for Science in Action on the BBC World Service, Saunders observed: “We find over the North Atlantic, North America and the East Pacific that anomalies in height-averaged winds during July are in several parts of this region linked significantly with upcoming hurricane activity striking North America.” To identify the July winds, which were critical to a severe hurricane season, the researchers combined data from the 14 most severe hurricane years since 1950 and compared it with data from the 14 least damaging years.

Their comparisons showed significant differences. The report noted that, “hurricanes are not caused by wind but by high sea-surface temperature. However, it is the wind that determines how the storms develop and whether they will head for land or not.”
It is not enough just to see which way the wind is blowing, Dr. Saunders stated; you need to combine measurements for a whole month.

So far its too early to make any predictions for 2005. The report also can’t pinpoint exactly where the killer storms may strike, but what it does offer is help in planning and loss prevention. “It could help in government planning and save the insurance industry millions if companies know in which years they should spread their risks more widely,” said the BBC.

The full report is available on the BBC Website at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4465233.stm.

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