New England's Natural Hurricane Shield Is Melting Away This Summer

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FALMOUTH, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Nor'easters are par for the course in New England. But their tropical cousin, hurricanes, are much more rare.

There have only been a handful of real, damaging summer hurricanes in Massachusetts in the last 30 years, the worst of which was Hurricane Bob in 1991. That's not just the luck of the draw: New England is protected from those storms by a natural oceanographic feature called the Mid-Atlantic Bight Cold Pool. Or rather, it was protected — but maybe not this year.

Hurricanes feed on warm ocean water. The Cold Pool is a massive patch of cold subsurface water off the New England coast. The cold water starves the storms of energy, leading to much weaker systems by the time they reach Massachusetts.

Glen Gawarkiewicz is a senior physical oceanographer at the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute. Heat in the Atlantic has been unusually fierce this summer, and he says we may not have much of a Cold Pool shield this hurricane season:

"That Cold Pool is quite warm," he said. "It's something I'm quite concerned about for this year. We have not had a lot of experience [with hurricanes] in recent years."

Without the Cold Pool to shred storms as they get close, Massachusetts is at much higher risk for major hurricanes. The way the state's coastal communities are structured may put people at worse risk this year.

"We just have a lot of have a lot of critical infrastructure that's pretty close to the beach," Gawarkiewicz said. He said the geographic structure of places like the Cape Cod would make evacuations very challenging.

The scientist has been studying ocean temperatures and movements for more than forty years. He's never seen a year like this before.

The peak of Atlantic hurricane season is September 10.

WBZ's Chaiel Schaffel (@CschaffelWBZ) has more:

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