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Storms

Kevin Reed. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

At the beginning of this month, the North Atlantic started its annual hurricane season that will extend through the end of November.

Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a forecast in May for the coming season. This year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center anticipates a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. The Center anticipates 13 to 19 storms, although that number doesn’t indicate how many storms will make landfall.

These predictions have become the crystal ball through which forecasters and city planners prepare for a season that involves tracking disturbances that typically begin off the West coast of Africa and pick up energy and size as they travel west across the Atlantic towards Central America. While some storms travel back out to sea, others threaten landfall by moving up the Gulf Coast or along Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.

Kevin Reed, an Associate Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Alyssa Stansfield, a graduate student in his lab, recently predicted the likely amount of rainfall from tropical cyclones.

Alyssa Stansfield at the 33rd Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in 2018. Photo by Arianna Varuolo-Clarke

 

Using climate change projection simulations, Reed and Stansfield came up with a good-news, bad-news scenario for the years 2070 through 2100. The good news in research they published in Geophysical Research Letters is they anticipate fewer hurricanes.

The bad news? The storms will likely have higher amounts of rain, with increased rain per hour.

“If you focus on storms that make landfall over the Eastern United States, they are more impactful from a rainfall standpoint,” Reed said. “The amount of rainfall per hour and the rainfall impact per year is expected to increase significantly in the future.”

In total, the amount of rainfall will be less because of the lower number of storms, although the intensity and overall precipitation will be sufficient to cause damaging rains and flooding.

Warmer oceans and the air above them will drive the increased rainfall, as these storms pass over higher sea surface temperatures where they can gain energy. Warmer, moist air gives the hurricanes more moisture to work with and therefore more potential rainfall.

“As the air gets warmer, it can hold more water in it,” Stansfield said. “There’s more potential rain in the air for the hurricanes before they make landfall.”

Stansfield said the predictions are consistent with what climatologists would expect, reflecting how the models line up with the theory behind them. She explored how climate change affects the size of storms in this paper, but she wants to do more research looking at hurricane size in the future.

“If hurricanes are larger, they will drop rainfall over a larger area,” which could increase the range of area over which policy makers might need to prepare for potential damage from flooding and high winds, Stansfield said.

While her models suggest that storms will be larger, she cautioned that the field hasn’t reached a consensus about the size of future storms. As for areas where there is greater consensus, such as the increased rainfall their models predict for storms at the end of the century, Stansfield suggested that the confidence in the community about their forecasts, which use different climate models, is becoming “more apparent as more modeling groups reach the same conclusion.”

Alyssa Stansfield at Sequoia National Park in 2018. Photo by Jess Stansfield

In explaining the expectations for higher rainfall in future storms, Reed said that even storms that had the same intensity as current hurricanes would have an increase in precipitation because of the availability of more moisture at the surface.

While storms in recent years, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Florence and Dorian dumped considerable rain in their path because they moved more slowly, effectively dumping rain over a longer period of time in any one area, it’s “unclear” whether future storms would move more slowly or stall over land.

Several factors might contribute to a decrease in the number of storms. For starters, an increase in wind sheer could disrupt the formation of some storms. Vertical wind sheer is caused when wind speed and direction changes with increasing altitude. Pre-hurricane conditions may also change due to internal variability and the randomness of the atmosphere, according to Reed.

Reed said the team chose to use climate models to make predictions for the end of the century because it is common in climate science for comparison to the recent historical record. They also used a 30 year period to limit some of the uncertainty due to internal variability of weather systems.

Stansfield, who is in her third year of graduate school and anticipates spending another two years at Stony Brook University before defending her graduate thesis, said she became interested in studying hurricanes in part because of the effects of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Alyssa Stansfield at Yosemite in 2019. Photo by Kathy Stansfield

When she was younger, she and her father Greg used to go to the beach when a hurricane passed hundreds of miles off the coast, where she would see the impact of the storm in larger waves. At some point, she would like to fly in a hurricane hunter plane, traveling directly into a storm to track its speed and direction.

Stansfield said one of the more common misconceptions about hurricanes is that the category somehow determines their destructive power. Indeed, Superstorm Sandy was a Category 1 hurricane when it hit New York and yet it caused $65 billion in damage, making it the 4th costliest hurricane in the United States, according to the NOAA.

After Stansfield earns her PhD, she said she wants to continue studying hurricanes. One question that she’d like to address at some point is why there are between 80 to 90 hurricanes around the world each year. This has been the case for about 50 years, since satellite records began.

“That’s consistent every year,” she said. “We don’t know why that’s the number. There’s no theory behind it.” She suggested that was a “central question” that is unanswered in her field. 

Understanding what controls the number of hurricanes will inform predictions about how that number will change in response to climate change.

This past weekend, several parts of Long Island was hit by an unexpected flash wind and rain storm that took down numerous large trees, branches and electric wires across parts of Long Island. In the Town of Huntington, much of the northern and eastern parts of town were affected.

Over 80,000 homes and businesses across Long Island lost power due to the storms. 26,000, nearly one third of the total power outages, were spread across Huntington, Smithtown and Islip.

Huntington’s Highway, General Services and Maritime Services Departments worked through the night to clear roads and waterways of hazards created by the storm, working on over 750 service tickets.

Crews from Nassau County, upstate New York and out of state, including 48 Con Edison personnel and approximately 400 tree trim and line workers assisted.

General services crew leaders are completing damage assessment at all

Huntington town facilities and parks, municipal & commuter parking lots.

Tree and limb removal will take place at Veterans Park, Henry Ingraham Preserve, Heckscher Park, Caravan Park, Elwood Park, William Byrne Park, Cedar Road Park, Commack Park, Dix Hills Park & Golf course, and the Washington Drive Parking Lot.

The most extensive damage is at Crab Meadow Golf Course where approximately 35 trees are down, and hundreds of broken branches are on the ground or hanging in trees. The golf course is currently closed, and officials hope to have it opened for play by this Wednesday,  June 3, even though tree removal operations will continue for several weeks.

The Dix Hills Pool was closed July 1 due to a power outage.

Officials said they expected half of all outages would have been restored by July 1 and 95% restored by midnight, July 2.

To report a downed wire and receive status updates on power call PSEG Long Island’s 24-hour Electric Service number at 1-800-490-0075.

To report downed trees blocking roads or branches suspended over roads, contact the Highway Department at (631) 499-0444 or huntingtonny.gov/highway.

Residents without power can keep cool at these Town of Huntington facilities:

  • Senior Center at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington from Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Dix Hills Ice Rink at 575 Vanderbilt Parkway, open until 8 p.m. and opening at 6 AM.
  • Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park at Elwood Park on Cuba Hill Road in Elwood is open 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week, with extended hours, opening at 10 a.m. for special needs children Tuesdays and Thursdays, including the 4th of July.

Projects will launch in Huntington Town next week

File photo by Arlene Gross

Crews from PSEG Long Island are expected to launch an eight-month-long project in Huntington Town on Monday in an effort to strengthen the electric grid across Long Island.

Work on the project will follow a three-mile route along an electric line circuit in Huntington, Huntington Station and Cold Spring Harbor, according to a PSEG Long Island statement. The project will be funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a federal program that coordinates responses to national disasters.

The more than $729 million for the project were secured for the Long Island Power Authority through an agreement last year between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistant Program.

The project will replace existing wire with more weather-resistant wire, install new and durable poles in several locations, and install or replace switching equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by power outages.

“We are committed to making our transmission and distribution system more resilient, able to better withstand extreme weather events,” David Daly, PSEG Long Island’s president and chief operating officer said in a press release. “Superstorm Sandy has had a lasting impact on our customers, and the recovery and healing is still ongoing.”

The project is expected to implement reinforcements that will help the system in future storms. After Hurricane Sandy, people across Long Island were without power for upward of 10 days. Both Hurricane Sandy and the winter storm that followed in 2013 severely impacted the transmission and distribution system operations, a representative of PSEG Long Island said.

Work on the system will start on or about April 6, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. While there is the potential for some road closures along the route, PSEG has not said when and where they will be.

Trees that grow near power lines will be trimmed, as they pose a safety risk and increase the chance of power outages. New poles will also be approximately the same height as existing poles but will have a stronger base and be situated a few feet from the current pole.

“After Sandy, we know firsthand how important it is to invest in the infrastructure to fortify it to withstand extreme conditions,” Jon Kaiman, special advisor to Cuomo for storm recovery and chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority said in a press release.

To see a complete list of the project route visit https://www.psegliny.com.