Catastrophic hurricanes more powerful than anything on record could devastate major cities in Florida, Australia and the Persian Gulf, according to new research.
Scientists from Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been working together to assess the risk of an apocalyptic hurricane affecting three global cities: Tampa (Florida), Cairns (Australia) and Dubai (United Arab Emirates).
They embedded detailed cyclone data into 6 separate climate models and examined the effects and likelihood of such an occurrence. Afterwards, they published their findings in the `Nature Climate Change’ journal. Based on their research, they have concluded that in the following decades the investigated cities will be more at risk to suffer extensive damage from powerful cyclones.
The extreme tropical storms have been nicknamed ‘grey swans’ by experts, because unlike ‘black swans’ which are unprecedented and impossible to predict, grey swans are highly unlikely but can be anticipated to some extent, using historical and physical data.
Although such weather disasters have a very low probability, their impact could be tremendous, so raising awareness remains crucial. At the moment the likelihood of these hurricanes striking the cities is at around 1 in 10,000 each year, but their magnitude and risk can be significantly elevated by climate changes.
For example, in Tampa’s case the odds may reach 1 in 1,100 by 2050 and 1 in 700 by the end of the century. Despite the fact that there hasn’t been a major tropical there since 1921, officials should still be alert, especially because the city is located on low-altitude land surrounded by shallow water.
According to thousands of hurricane simulations that experts ran based on climate data collected between 1980 and 2005, a ‘grey swan’ could lead to 18-feet-tall storm surges, which would be 7 feet higher than those experienced 94 years ago and surely inundate most of the area.
Quantifying such weather hazards may seem excessive, since events of this proportion are extremely rare, but city planners and local government officials must be prepared to handle such crises and even make contingency plans in advance.
‘We are considering extreme cases. These are relevant for policy making and planning, especially for critical infrastructure and nuclear power plants’, clarified Ning Lin, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton.
Lin emphasized the fact that predicting such events allows us to prepare for them and diminish their impact by establishing evacuation plans, rather than wait for disaster to strike. This is especially important in coastal areas such as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where hurricanes have never been recorded, making it therefore exceedingly vulnerable.
Crisis planning should still be a priority also for any other places that have faced such phenomena in the past, because their future impact may be more overwhelming than ever before.
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