More Frequent and Intense Tropical Storms Mean Less Recovery Time for the World’s Coastlines

Hans Paerl

Tropical cyclones – storms that bring strong, rotating winds and rain, and which can intensify into hurricanes or typhoons – affect coastal regions around the world. Our research team, centered at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences, has analyzed a 120-year record of tropical cyclones affecting coastal North Carolina, and found that six of the seven wettest storms over this time period occurred in the past two decades.

That trend appeared to continue with Hurricane Dorian, which delivered up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain within 24 hours as it grazed the North and South Carolina coasts in early September 2019. This additional rain is a combined result of a warmer ocean and slower-moving or stalled cyclones approaching the coast.

More frequent and intense tropical storms have far-reaching ecological impacts on coastlines that last for months or years after storms pass. They affect estuaries, bays and marshes that are crucial nurseries for major ocean fisheries.

Researchers don’t yet know how multiple events like this affect the long-term stability, resiliency and recovery of these valuable ecosystems. I believe it is critical to understand what these impacts could mean for vitally important water quality and fisheries habitat, recreational value and livability for local residents and visitors.

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