Collaborative Research: NSFGEO-NERC: Hurricane Risk Amplification and Changing North Atlantic Natural Disasters

Lead PI: Dr. Suzana J. Camargo , Prof. Adam Sobel , Chia-Ying Lee , Prof. Pier Luigi Vidale, Prof. Kevin Reed, Prof. Colin Zarzycki, Dr. Kyle Mandli

Unit Affiliation: Ocean and Climate Physics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

March 2023 - February 2026
North America ; Europe ; Reading, UK ; New York, United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This is a project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Geosciences (NSF/GEO) and the National Environment Research Council (NERC) of the United Kingdom (UK) via the NSF/GEO-NERC Lead Agency Agreement. It is a remarkable fact that hurricanes forming in the tropical Atlantic can pose a threat to the northeastern US and Western Europe, both well outside the tropics and on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The ability of hurricanes to inflict damage at such long range is well known in the US, with recent examples including Sandy in 2012 and Ida in 2021. On the other side of the basin Ophelia (2017) and Leslie (2018) caused severe damage in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. Such storms are a natural topic for collaboration between NSF and NERC given their transatlantic impacts. Research under this award seeks to understand the Atlantic hurricanes that make landfall at higher latitudes, taking into account their full lifecycle and impacts. Lifecycle is an important consideration as hurricanes can transform considerably as they encounter the cool ocean surface, frontal temperature contrasts, and upper-level ridges, troughs, and jet streams of the middle latitudes. By the time a hurricane makes landfall in Ireland or New York it is likely to have undergone at least a partial transition from the warm core, vertically aligned structure of a tropical cyclone to the cold-core, westward-tilted structure and larger areal extent of an extratropical cyclone. The lifecycle transitions of these hurricanes complicate efforts to understand and predict their behavior and anticipate changes in their frequency and intensity due to climate variability and change. Changes in hurricane structure also create important differences in impacts, for instance storms which retain their tropical characteristics at landfall are typically more damaging, but storms which have largely transformed into extratropical cyclones are considerably more common. They can also create disruptions over a wider area, as was the case with Hurricane Sandy. A key challenge in work on hurricanes at higher latitudes, referred to here as cyclones of tropical origin (CTOs), is scarcity of observations, as CTOs occur infrequently and the observed record is relatively short. This project takes advantage of several archives of model simulations which substantially augment the observations, including ensembles of seasonal forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts. The forecast ensembles contain many examples of CTOs which could have happened but did not, thus boosting the sample size for CTOs from perhaps 3 per year to 300 per year. The project also uses specialized models to look at hurricane impacts, including a high-resolution coastal ocean model to simulate storm surge and a hydrological model for flooding.

BROADER IMPACTS: Credible information about future risk from CTOs will enable actionable guidance on climate adaptation measures. Storylines can be used to translate these possible future changes into case studies for decision-makers. This project will provide a much more solid foundation, starting from possibilities for the near-future, as well as a broader context for the type of storyline attribution statements, than has been possible hitherto. This work will aid the WMO’s WWRP High Impact Weather, whose purpose is to evaluate and improve the societal response to high-impact weather forecasts, by reviewing best practices in the decision chain, from forecasts of weather, to detailed hazards, to impact, feeding into warnings and real- time decisions. Finally, this work will support the training and career development of a postdoctoral scientist in the important area of CTOs and their impacts. Huracán will disseminate results through scientific papers, participation in conferences, presentations, software releases, and data sharing. Huracán will also stimulate scientific and societal debate through a targeted high-profile meeting (e.g., via the Royal Society) and by sharing Huracán legacy datasets (CTO catalogs, model data, etc.) suitable for impact planning and decision-making on both sides of the Atlantic.


National Science Foundation


Natural Environment Research Council




University of Reading, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Leeds, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Birmingham, Penn State University, University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University, National Oceanography Centre



climate change simulations hurricane simulation natural disaster