June 1, 2016

Hurricane drought? Not so fast. Bermuda-based research says it’s a climatological myth

BERMUDA — Forgive Bermudians for questioning the existence of a hurricane drought.

In 2014, Hurricane Fay lashed the island and its white roofs with 80 mph winds. Hurricane Gonzalo hit five days later with 110-mph Category 2 gusts. And in 2015, Hurricane Joaquin charged toward the island, weakening from its Category 4 status just as it spun by.

“A busy couple of years,” said Mark Guishard, a meteorologist and program manager for Bermuda’s Risk Prediction Initiative.

Funded largely by the reinsurance industry, Guishard’s program supports research into tropical storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural hazards. Among its recent work: documentation that the so-called drought of “major hurricane landfalls” is a myth.

That’s important as more people from landlocked areas move to the Southeastern and Gulf coasts and memories fade of the many catastrophic landfalls in the early 2000s.

“More and more people are moving here who have never experienced hurricanes,” said Cathy Haynes, chief of operations for Charleston County’s emergency management department. “We are always worried about complacency.”

The Risk Prediction Initiative is housed in the stately white complex of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, which has done ground-breaking research into the effects of man-made carbon dioxide emissions on the ocean. Guishard’s office overlooks the turquoise waters of a bay. In the distance, Bermuda’s rain-collecting white roofs shade homes and hotels of pale oranges, greens and other pastels.

With its pink sand beaches and crystal blue water, Bermuda might seem an unlikely center for catastrophe research.

But during the past 30 years, the island has become a global hub for reinsurance, the industry that provides billions of dollars in back-up insurance to other insurers, including South Carolina’s Wind and Hail Underwriting Association. More than 94 percent of the world’s $27 billion in insurance losses in 2015 were weather-related, according to a report by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company. So it’s in the industry’s interest to understand the forces behind these catastrophes, Guishard said.

Federal funding for natural hazard research is scarce, and RPI helps fill that gap, added Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world’s leading authorities on hurricanes. The Risk Prediction Initiative supported Emanuel’s work, including research that created the new field of paleotempestology. Paleotempestology uses geological records of past storm trends to fine-tune forecasts.

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Source: The Post and Courier

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