New study from Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shows that air pollution in Asia may be responsible for severe storms in North America.

Storms in the Northwest Pacific are now ten percent stronger than they were 30 years ago, researchers say.

"Atmospheric aerosols affect weather and global general circulation by modifying cloud and precipitation processes, but the magnitude of cloud adjustment by aerosols remains poorly quantified and represents the largest uncertainty in estimated forcing of climate change," researchers wrote in the  journal Assessing the effects of anthropogenic aerosols on pacific storm track using a multiscale global climate model.

Yuan Wang, an atmospheric scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led the study of the effect of Asian air pollution on North American weather patterns.

Coal burning by power plants and factories in China are responsible for the increase in the severity of storms, says Wang.

China is the world's largest consumer of coal, and air pollution is running rampant. Aerosol emissions are causing air pollution in Beijing to be 400 times the level normally considered safe.

"The increasing pollution in Asian countries is not just a local problem, it can affect other parts of the world," Wang told Live Science.
"Because storms generally move west to east, North America will be hardest hit by the extreme weather events."

Air pollution from factories and power plants is drawn by monsoon winds to a cyclone breeding ground off the coast of China.

Aerosols affect weather patterns in different ways, depending on their specific chemical makeup. Some of the particles act as a nucleus, encouraging the formation of raindrops while others act to block out the sun, causing a cooling effect. Wang and his team created computer models to investigate the effects of different varieties of the pollutant on storm formation. 

Sulfate aerosols were found to be among the most effective of all at making storms more powerful.

"This cold winter in the U.S. probably had something to do with stronger cyclones over the Pacific," the researcher told the press.

Yuan Wang believes the polar vortex that brought frigid temperatures to much of the eastern United States may have been the result of Pacific storms driven by air particles released over China and other nations.  

India also has its fair share of air pollution, where hazardous levels of air particulates are frequently recorded in the capital, Delhi. 

"The effects are quite dramatic. The pollution results in thicker and taller clouds and heavier precipitation," Wang told the BBC. 

Asian pollution and its effect on North American weather was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 14 April.

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