Climate change means back-to-back hurricanes hitting the same areas likely to happen more often, Princeton study finds

Using computer simulations, scientists calculated that one hurricane hitting the same place soon after another could happen every two to three years.

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Aiden Locobon (left) and Rogelio Paredes look through the remnants of their family’s home in Dulac, La., after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ida on Sept. 4, 2021.

Aiden Locobon (left) and Rogelio Paredes look through the remnants of their family’s home in Dulac, La., after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ida on Sept. 4, 2021.

John Locher / AP

What used to be a rare one-two punch of consecutive hurricanes hitting around the same place in the United States within weeks seems to be happening more often, and a new study says climate change will make back-to-back storms more frequent and nastier.

Using computer simulations, scientists at Princeton University calculated that the deadly storm duet that used to happen once every few decades could happen every two or three years as the world warms from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change.

Louisiana and Florida residents already have seen that happen. In 2021, major Hurricane Ida blasted Louisiana with 150 mile-an-hour winds. Fifteen days later, a weakening Hurricane Nicholas came close enough to add to the problems, said study co-author Ning Lin, a risk engineer and climate scientist at Princeton whose study looked at back-to-back hurricanes and the problems they pose for people.

The Ida-Nicholas combo came after Louisiana was hit in 2020 by five hurricanes or tropical storms: Cristobal, Marco, Laura, Delta and Zeta. After Laura, relief workers had set up a recovery center in a parking lot of a damaged, now-roofless church when Delta approached, so supplies had to be jammed against the building and battened down.

“You think it can’t be happening to us again,” said Denise Durel, United Way of Southwest Louisiana’s president.

In 2004, Florida had four hurricanes in six weeks.

“We found a trend,” Lin said. “Those things are happening. They’re happening more often now than before.”

There haven’t been enough hurricanes and tropical storms since about 1950 — when good record-keeping started — to say this was a statistically significant trend, Lin said. So her team added computer simulations and was able to show that it is.

The researchers looked at nine U.S. storm-prone areas and found an increase in storm hazards for seven of them since 1949. Only Charleston, South Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida, didn’t see hazards increase.

The team then looked at what would happen in the future, with a worst-case scenario of increasing carbon dioxide emissions and a more moderate scenario in line with current efforts worldwide to reduce greenhouse gases. In both situations, the frequency of back-to-back storms increased dramatically.

The reason? It’s based on storms getting wetter and stronger from climate change, as numerous studies predict, along with sea levels rising.

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