Climate Study Predicts Stronger Hurricanes And More Severe Droughts For NC

Mar 11, 2020

Scientists from across North Carolina have released a report exploring the effects of climate change on the state, from the mountains to the coast.  The North Carolina Climate Science Report found that major changes in the climate will occur by the end of the century. If greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, temperatures across the state will continue to rise, according to David Easterling, the chief of the Scientific Services Division at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

“It’s likely that severe droughts will be more intense in the future. Higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation, and the increased evaporation then feeds back and causes even more severe droughts.  As a result, a likely increase in the frequency of climate conditions conducive for wildfires.”

The warmest ten-year period on record in North Carolina was 2009-2018, about a half degree warmer than the warmest decade in the 20th century.  2019 was the warmest year on record in North Carolina, and the second warmest year globally.  The study finds the warming ocean and atmosphere will increase the atmospheric water vapor content over North Carolina.

“Extreme precipitation is primarily driven or modulated by atmospheric water vapor,” said Kenneth Kunkel, lead scientist for assessments and NC State Research Professor. “Because of that, we actually have a stronger likelihood that extreme precipitation frequency and intensity in North Carolina will increase.”

Warm ocean temperatures lead to higher amounts of water vapor.  And water vapor, explained Easterling, is a driving force of hurricane development. 

“The intensity of the strongest hurricanes is likely to increase.  And when we say strongest hurricanes, we mean both wind speeds as well as the amount of precipitation coming out.  So more events like Hurricane Florence are likely to increase. It could result in stronger hurricanes impacting North Carolina.”

The report predicts that heavy precipitation accompanying hurricanes will likely increase, resulting in higher amounts of storm surge and inland flooding. 

“Storm-driven water levels that now have a 1% chance of occurring each year, essentially, a 100-year event, may increase to 30%-100% by the end of the century,” said Kunkel.

Kunkel adds that high tide flooding will likely become a daily occurrence by the end of the century. The study also finds that the sea level will continue to rise along the North Carolina coast due to the expansion of ocean water and the melting of ice on land.  Currently, sea level rise is occurring at 1.8 inches per decade in Duck, NC and about 0.9 in Wilmington, NC. 

For more information on The North Carolina Climate Science Report, go to: https://ncics.org/programs/nccsr/