Future hurricane storm surge risk for the U.S. gulf and Florida coasts based on projections of thermodynamic potential intensity
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Coastal populations in the global tropics and sub-tropics are vulnerable to the devastating impacts of hurricane storm surge and this risk is only expected to rise under climate change. In this study, we address this issue for the U.S. Gulf and Florida coasts. Using the framework of Potential Intensity, observations and output from coupled climate models, we show that the future large-scale thermodynamic environment may become more favorable for hurricane intensification. Under the RCP 4.5 emissions scenario and for the peak hurricane season months of August–October, we show that the mean intensities of Atlantic hurricanes may increase by 1.8–4.2 % and their lifetime maximum intensities may increase by 2.7–5.3 % when comparing the last two decades of the 20th and 21st centuries. We then combine our estimates of hurricane intensity changes with projections of sea-level rise to understand their relative impacts on future storm surge using simulations with the National Weather Service’s SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) model for five historical hurricanes that made landfall in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. Considering uncertainty in hurricane intensity changes and sea-level rise, our results indicate a median increase in storm surge ranging between 25 and 47 %, with changes in hurricane intensity increasing future storm surge by about 10 % relative to the increase that may result from sea level rise alone, with highly non-linear response of population at risk.
DR Judi and K Balaguru were partially supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate, Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis. LR Leung was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research Regional and Global Climate Modeling program. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is operated for DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830.
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