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Scientists: Monster hurricanes could hit U.S.

More powerful hurricanes could blast the East Coast
More powerful hurricanes could blast the East Coast  

By John Zarrella
CNN Miami Bureau Chief

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Weather researchers think the evidence is now clear: A major shift in the climate has taken place that has brought about an increase in major hurricanes. The period of heightened activity could last for decades, and unleash a catastrophic storm on the United States, according to meteorologists.

Since the climate shift began six years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean began looking like a hurricane freeway, the number of hurricanes that have formed in the Atlantic basin has doubled, said scientists at the U.S. Hurricane Research Division.

The number of major hurricanes, which produce winds in excess of 110 miles an hour, has also increased during the period by 250 percent, they said. The increased activity will continue for the next ten to 40 years, which could mean trouble for the United States.

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"Most seasons we are going to get a hurricane hit the U.S. and probably more than half the time we will have a major hurricane hitting the U.S. as well," said hurricane meteorologist Chris Landsea.

Already hurricanes have increased in number and intensity. Since 1995,the Caribbean has been pounded by deadly storms like Mitch, Lenny, Marilyn, Luis and Georges. Spared the brunt of the storms, the United States has simply been lucky so far, the scientists warned.

"With the increased number, if it starts pounding the U.S., as we feel like it is going to happen, there's bound to be a major city impacted and we could be talking about a real disaster of epic proportions on our hands," said hurricane meteorologist Stanly Goldenberg.

A hurricane causing $50 billion in damage and hundreds to thousands of deaths is quite possible in the next ten or 20 years, according to Landsea.

"I think at this point the U.S. is so developed and there's so many people along the coast that just about anywhere is a major disaster ready to happen."

Scientists say the Earth's climate goes through cycles, but they don't know why. Right now, Atlantic water temperatures are slightly warmer than usual, by just half a degree Fahrenheit. And in general, there is less wind shear.

The current conditions resemble those in 1900 when Galveston, Texas, was nearly obliterated, and the time between the 1920s and 1960s when hurricanes repeatedly slammed into Florida and the disastrous Yankee Clipper hit New York.

The period from 1965 to 1995 saw opposite conditions, cooler water and more wind shear, neither of which fosters hurricane development.

Times have changed. From Florida to New England, everywhere along the East Coast is now at increased risk of a major hurricane, the scientists said.

• National Hurricane Center
• NOAA - Hurricanes: Nature's Greatest Storms
• National Hurricane Center Library
• The National Weather Service Home Page
• American Red Cross- Disaster Services
• FEMA -- Storm Watch

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