The basic jist of almost every study we see these days related to weather, climate change, and the environment can be summed up in just a few words: it’s getting worse. Unfortunately, a new study looking into future storm patterns has a similar message. The study theorizes the possibility of rare, ultra-intense tropical cyclones researchers have dubbed “grey swans.” On the bright side, the researchers believe that, although catastrophic, it might be possible to predict such storms before they happen.

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Princeton’s Ning Lin and MIT’s Kerry Emanuel are the authors of the study, which was published this week in Nature Climate Change. In an effort to determine how bad future storms could possibly get, they used computer modeling to determine the characteristics of what they refer to as “a very low probability, very high impact hurricane event.” They called them “grey swan” storms, riffing on the black swan theory. Unlike black swan events, Lin and Emanuel believe a grey swan storm can be predicted.

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The ability to predict these storms is how the researchers were able to report that three global cities in particular—Tampa, Florida, Cairns, Australia, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates—could potentially see such a storm. Hurricane severity is dependent on climate conditions, so the computer modeling helped extrapolate what future storms could look like, assuming the current rates of sea level rise and global warming continue unchecked. One of the worst case scenarios in the model for the late 21st century involves a storm smashing Tampa with a 37-foot surge, which is nearly double the impact of the worst storm predicted in current conditions.

Although grey swan storms are considered to be exceptionally rare, according to the study, they are still likely to happen at some point. Granted, the computer modeling relies on climate change being unchecked, so it’s possible to reduce the likelihood of such devastating storms—or perhaps eliminate the dangers entirely—by focusing on reversing global warming and its ill effects.

+ Grey swan tropical cyclones

Via Washington Post

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