The world is warming, especially its oceans, and that should be a special concern for those living along the coast or even regularly visiting there. It could affect the number and strength of hurricanes that threaten lives and property at the Jersey Shore. It could make salt water in streets more commonplace, corroding and sometimes destroying cars.
New studies are slowly contributing to the understanding of how storms along the New Jersey coast are changing as the ocean warms. What they’re finding is not all bad but overall makes a strong case that the threats of catastrophic storms and routine flooding are increasing.
It all begins with the oceans, which have absorbed more than 90 percent of the increased heat of the warming planet since 1971, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A young Rutgers University researcher studying flood risk in nearby New York City has found this ocean warming will increase storm intensity and the frequency and severity of flooding. A severe flood that before 1800 happened only every 500 years is now occurring every 25 years. She expects them to occur every five years from 2030 to 2045.
This fits with NASA satellite-based data that shows hurricanes now attain Category 3 wind speeds nearly nine hours faster than they did in the 1980s and average global wind speeds are 5 percent faster than two decades ago.
One bit of good news the Rutgers scientist found is that the more intense East Coast hurricanes of the future will tend to track farther out in the ocean, which will reduce storm surge risk a bit. Unfortunately, that will be more than offset by sea level rise caused by expanding warmer water, melting ice sheets on land and the sinking of Mid-Atlantic lands due to unrelated geologic forces.
A Princeton University researcher also foresees a mix of good and bad effects, with mostly the latter. Warming will change wind patterns in a way that works against the formation of more hurricanes, but will make the ones that develop more likely to reach the catastrophic strengths of Categories 4 and 5.
One more report last month suggested that cyclonic storms worldwide are moving more slowly — 6 percent slower in the Atlantic Ocean basin and 10 percent worldwide. This matters because if it’s true, it would mean storms will dump more rain on the places they hit. Consider last year’s Hurricane Harvey, which dropped 60 inches of rain on parts of Texas.
As the Jersey Shore heads into hurricane season, people should keep in mind that stronger storms and worse flooding are what is expected. Sure, maybe this will be a year with fewer tropical storms and the variables of weather might keep the flooding tolerable. But there’s also a chance wind and water will be much worse.
Whether keeping an eye on an approaching storm or making a property decision, prudence is advised when the overall trend is toward increased risk.