About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago, but so we don’t repeat the mistakes of Katrina, when weak levees broke, scientists have developed “instant dams” that can be dropped from the air.

A new study concludes that warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and altered wind patterns associated with global climate change are fueling much of the increase. Researcher Greg Holland says, “These numbers are a strong indication that climate change is a major factor in the increasing number of Atlantic hurricanes.”

His analysis identifies three periods since 1900, separated by sharp transitions, during which the average number of hurricanes and tropical storms increased dramatically and then remained elevated and relatively steady. The first period, between 1900 and 1930, saw an average of six Atlantic tropical cyclones (or major storms), of which four were hurricanes and two were tropical storms. From 1930 to 1940, the annual average increased to 10, consisting of five hurricanes and five tropical storms. In the final study period, from 1995 to 2005, the average reached 15, of which eight were hurricanes and seven were tropical storms.

This latter period has not yet stabilized, which means that the average hurricane season may be even MORE active in the future. Holland says, “Even a quiet year by today’s standards would be considered normal or slightly active compared to an average year in the early part of the 20th century.”

But help is on the way. In New Scientist, Catherine Brahic reports on massive self-filling water-bags, developed by the Dept. of Defense, could be dropped by helicopters to rapidly repair levees and create dams.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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