News & Opinion | June 7, 2018 11:01 am

Hurricanes Have Slowed Down, Increasing Potential for Damage

Study finds that the potential for damaging rain and fatal flooding is on the rise.

Volunteers and officers from the neighborhood security patrol help to rescue residents in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Volunteers and officers from the neighborhood security patrol help to rescue residents in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood after it was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last August, Hurricane Harvey stalled over Texas for almost a week, slamming the area with a record-breaking torrent of rain and destructive flooding. At the time, it seemed an unusual pattern for a cyclone—a perfect storm of sorts.

But scientists researching the hurricanes of the last 70 years have found that the storms are slowing down considerably, increasing the potential for damage and death in populated areas along their coastal paths. The study, which was just published in the journal Nature, found that the speed in which tropical cyclones moved across the Earth slowed by roughly 10% between 1949 and 2016. It seems Harvey is part of a larger trend.

Study author James Kossin, a climate scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) says that 10% reduction in hurricane speed can yield a 10% increase in the amount of rainfall over a given area. Hurricane scientists also worry that the slowing cyclones, believed to be exacerbated by climate change, would also cause more catastrophic flooding and expose structures to longer periods of being battered by damaging winds.