Cyclones Are Moving Away From Tropics And South Toward Antarctica

Port Douglas, Queensland, during a cyclone. Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Powerful tropical cyclones are now reaching their peak intensity farther from the equator and closer to the poles, according to a new study.

The results of the study, published in the journal Nature, show that over the last 30 years tropical cyclones are moving poleward at a rate of about 53 kilometres a decade in the Northern Hemisphere and 60 kilometres per decade in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The absolute value of the latitudes at which these storms reach their maximum intensity seems to be increasing over time, in most places,” says Kerry Emanuel, an MIT professor and co-author of the new paper.

And while the scientists who conducted the study are still investigating the atmospheric mechanisms behind the change, the trend seems consistent with a warming climate.

“It may mean the thermodynamically favorable conditions for these storms are migrating poleward,” says Emanuel, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at MIT.

The implications are serious, since the movement of peak intensity means regions further north and south of the equator, which have not previously had to face many landfalls by violent cyclones, may now have greater exposure to extreme weather events.

That could lead to “potentially profound consequences to life and property,” the paper says. “Any related changes to positions where storms make landfall will have obvious effects on coastal residents and infrastructure.”

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