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Hurricanes and A New El Niño: Modoki

ATLANTA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Hurricane season is coming, and that means you'll also be hearing about the weather phenomenon El Niño. Traditionally, during years with the changing weather patters, there are fewer Atlantic hurricanes. But now, scientists say there is a new kind of El Niño that may bring more hurricanes, but also provide an earlier warning.

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Home movies of Judi Gerhardt's Louisiana horse farm show what hurricane Katrina looked like: trees down, roofs gone, hours of brutal winds and rain.

"At that time I just pondered what next? Now what? How do you dig out of this?" Gerhardt told Ivanhoe.

Three years later … another home, another nightmare. First Gustav, then Ike. Gerhardt said never again.

Peter Webster, Ph.D., a climatologist at Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in Atlanta, says a new el Niño -- called el Niño Modoki from the Japanese word meaning similar but different -- causes a shift in sea surface warming from the eastern to the central pacific ocean, causing more hurricanes to form close to the coast.

"Where they form is closer to the United States and the increased potential for land falling," Dr. Webster explained.

This new El Niño could give scientists more advanced notice to predict the worst hurricane seasons months before they happen.

"Now, what we have to do is learn to forecast," Dr. Webster said. "Is it going to be east pacific warming? Is it going to be a central Pacific warming? If we can do that we're going to have a heads up of some increase in predictability of tropical storms and hurricanes."

Gerhardt has started a new business and a new life away from the hurricane zone. But for others still in harm's way, this research could make a difference that saves lives.

Dr. Webster says the changes in El Niño could be a response to a warming atmosphere, and a weakening of pacific trade winds.

The American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Peter Webster
American Meteorological Society
Boston, MA 02108-3693
(404) 894-1748 or (617) 227-2425

Peter Weiss
American Geophysical Union
Washington, DC 20009-1277
(800) 966-2481

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