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Arctic ice may tell paths of hurricane, scientists say

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A hurricane hunter aircraft sent to the Arctic to study ice formations returned this month with critical data that might explain why an increasing number of tropical storms seem to be taking irregular paths.

Scientists are trying to determine how much heat is released into the atmosphere when Arctic ice builds in autumn. That heat release is believed to shift the jet stream — a fast-moving, high-altitude river of air — farther to the south.

That shift, in turn, might be slowing or even stalling tropical systems before they can re-curve east and head out to sea, scientists say.

Kevin Wood, a University of Washington research scientist aboard the plane, said the Arctic heat release might trigger other extreme weather events, such as flooding or severe snowstorms.

“That's far from proven,” he said. “But it's one of things we're interested in understanding better.”

Primarily, however, scientists hope the battery of sensors onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's WP-3 Orion might help them understand why Superstorm Sandy plowed into the East Coast last year and why eight systems aimed at Canada or the Northeast in the past three years.

“The very unusual path that Sandy took last year was definitely due to disruptions in the global circulation, and maybe that was related to changes in the Arctic,” said Nick Bond, a University of Washington scientist who rode on the plane during its inaugural Arctic mission.

In October 2012, Sandy emerged in the Caribbean as a tropical storm, grew into a hurricane and initially began to curve northeast on a path that would have taken it toward the North Atlantic.

Instead, Sandy curved northwest toward the New Jersey coastline, collided with a winter system and swamped much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast with a powerful storm surge.

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