Home Environmental Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Environmental By Monica Gray -

We know climate change is affecting the Earth’s temperature. But it’s also affecting the intensity of hurricanes by making them stronger. They’re getting so strong, that scientists are now re-categorizing these storms as a warning to people in the future, when they may be so intense, they’ll be even more dangerous. Researchers may add a Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson Hurrican Wind Scale, now only ranked up to a Category 5 (winds of 157 mph or higher). This growing concern about the intensification of hurricanes focuses mainly on their potential impact on human communities and ecosystems, for example, small island communities in Asia and the Caribbean. This concern is not unfounded, as mounting evidence suggests that hurricanes are becoming stronger.

Scientists are also looking at where hurricanes intensify. According to National Geographic and atmospheric scientist Ruby Leung, Hurricane Irma “rapidly intensified exactly at the time when it passed over this area with very fresh water at the surface of the ocean.” Also, “freshwater from the Amazon-Orinoco river system appears to increase the chances of rapid intensification in the eastern Caribbean and western tropical Atlantic.” Because a hurricane needs a perfect recipe to create an intense storm, scientists are looking at the bigger picture when it comes to stronger hurricanes.

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
64 Parishes

Understanding Hurricane Dynamic

To fully understand what an intensifying hurricane means, it’s important to grasp the dynamics that form them. Typically, a hurricane will form over warm ocean water. Warm air rises, cools condenses, and releases heat that fuels the storm.

Factors that contribute to the growing strength of hurricanes include sea surface temperatures, wind shear, atmospheric moisture, and ocean heat content. Warm water also provides more energy for evaporation and processes that drive the storm’s circulation. This is an indirect result of rising global temperatures. Additionally, extended warm water periods allow hurricanes to maintain their strength over long distances. It’s difficult to accurately predict their intensity because several hurricanes have been known to quickly intensify as they approach land (EDF).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Business Insider

Global Warming Is A Major Problem

It’s well-known how detrimental global warming is. Because warmer air holds more moisture, which means more energy for storms to feed on and unleash their violent power. A cyclone comes around to even out the clash between low pressure and high pressure, and cold and hot temperatures, which, in turn, returns the planet to a state of equilibrium.

But with global warming, this means there may be more storms to equal out an evergrowing imbalance in temperature and pressure around the world. Meteorologists predict that a rapid intensification will come at accelerating rates around the world to help with this imbalance (Washington Post).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
The Yucatan Times

The Creation of a Category 6

As of right now, hurricanes are only ranked up to a Category 5. But that’s changing as hurricane winds surpass the speed of 157 mph. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reported that “The open-endedness of the 5th category of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale becomes increasingly problematic for conveying wind risk in a warming world.”

Authors of the study Michael Wehner and James Kossin proposed adding another category, with sustained winds of at least 192 mph, which is the same speed as NASCAR drivers go. Several hurricanes have already reached these speeds, including Typhoon Haiyan, Hurricane Patricia, and Typhoon Meranti (Business Insider).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

This is What A Category 6 Hurricane Would Look Like

As hurricanes reach land, they tend to weaken. Many cities in the USA are safe because of this, but other islands, like those in the Caribbean, are in major danger. Even if it’s somewhat weakened. For example, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines clocked in windspeeds at 196 mph, the highest ever recorded. Storm surges reached 18 feet and killed 6,300 people, leaving four million homeless.

Even though this typhoon was an anomaly right now, it doesn’t mean it will still be rare in the future. Since 2013, five storms have passed the Category 5 mph limit. If climate change continues on the current trend it is, these hurricanes will become more common around the world, especially if we see temperatures rise above three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels (Business Insider).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Washington Post

The Future Looks Dark And Stormy

Because of global warming, hurricanes will be more common in the future. We’re currently at 1.3 degrees Celsius, but if that doubles, we’re in a lot of trouble. If we keep going the way we are in terms of pollution and waste, then our future has no hope.

According to the Washington Post, “Plastic pollution has been doubling every six years. Humans have filled the world’s oceans with more than 170 trillion pieces of plastic, dramatically more than previously estimated, according to a major study released Wednesday.” And it gets even worse than that, for every person on earth, there are 21,000 pieces of plastic (Washington Post).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Washington Post

There’s Plastic Smog

Because hurricanes are indirectly a result of plastic pollution, there needs to be immense change in terms of pollution. Eriksen, founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, said “This exponential rise in ocean surface plastic pollution might make you feel fatalistic. How can you fix this?”

Even worse, the weight of plastic is equal to 28 Washington monuments. And recycling isn’t the solution, either, since only about ten percent of plastic has been recycled. The material that gets recycled is the ones that don’t end up back in the ocean (Washington Post).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Senator Steve

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies

In the face of mounting risks posed by intensifying hurricanes, efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts are paramount. Another worrisome aspect impacting the intensity of hurricanes is greenhouse gas emissions. It’s crucial to create strategies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to curb the rate of global warming, thus preventing Category 6 hurricanes.

Additionally, investing in research and development for innovative technologies to capture and store greenhouse gases could prove instrumental in combating climate change and mitigating its effects on hurricane intensity. Furthermore, fostering international collaboration and commitment to sustainable practices is essential for long-term resilience against extreme weather events. (NPS).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Florida Today

Rapid Intensification Is Possible And Deadly

When we take a look at hurricanes, scientists also gauge how quickly they intensify. The slower the hurricane moves, the more intense it usually becomes, since it has more time to intensify.

According to the Washington Post, “Global warming has already translated to increasing odds of major hurricanes around the world, according to research Kossin led that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020. Other studies have found that as temperatures rise, more hurricanes are undergoing what meteorologists call rapid intensification, and they are doing so at accelerating rates.” (Washington Post).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Accu Weather

All Hurricanes Are Dangerous

Just because a hurricane is rated as a Category 6, it doesn’t mean any other category is less dangerous. All hurricanes are dangerous. CNN reported, “From 1980 to 2021, five tropical cyclones — out of 197 — around the world have exceeded the threshold of a hypothetical Category 6 designation.”

Many factors go into deciding how dangerous a hurricane is. According to Michael Brennan at the National Hurricane Center, “At NHC, we’ve tried to steer the focus toward the individual hazards, which include storm surge, wind, rainfall, tornadoes, and rip currents, instead of the particular category of the storm, which only provides information about the hazard from the wind.” While the wind itself isn’t necessarily dangerous by itself, it’s what it can knock into, sweep away, or create in the ocean that’s more dangerous (People).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
National Geographic Society

Adding A Category 6 Does Not Solve The Real Issue

Even though adding a Category 6 would bring more awareness to the severity of hurricanes, it doesn’t bring awareness to the underlying issue. And that underlying issue, as mentioned, is increased global warming.

According to scientist James Kossin, “Tropical cyclone risk messaging is a very active topic, and changes in messaging are necessary to better inform the public about inland flooding and storm surge, phenomena that a wind-based scale is only tangentially relevant to. While adding a 6th category to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale would not solve that issue, it could raise awareness about the perils of the increased risk of major hurricanes due to global warming.” They’re more interested in raising awareness about the wind-risk hazard (News Center).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
The Nation

Hurricane Katrina (2005)

If we look at the history of hurricanes, we can see how they’ve slowly been intensifying. In recent years, we’ve had some of the worst hurricanes in history. For example, Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic damage along the Gulf Coast of the United States, particularly in New Orleans. It resulted in over 1,800 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage.

It was the costliest hurricane to ever hit the USA. According to Weather, “The damage and loss of life inflicted by this massive hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi was staggering with significant effects extending into Alabama and the western Florida panhandle. This storm captivated the public and media with most coverage occurring in the New Orleans area. Considering the scope of its impacts, Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters in United States history.” And this is just one example of how damaging future hurricanes may be (Weather).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

Hurricane Maria (2017)

Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing widespread destruction, loss of life, and prolonged power outages. The exact death toll is still debated but is estimated to be in the thousands. Estimates believe the death toll hovers around 3,000.

It was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. According to World Vision, “It became a Category 3 storm on Sept. 18 after doubling in strength in just 24 hours. Then it maintained its rapid growth, becoming a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph Sept. 19 after making its way through the Leeward Islands.” This is one example of how quickly a hurricane can increase in strength and rapidly rise in Category. This is the potential scientists are seeing with Category 6 hurricanes (World Vision).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

Hurricane Harvey (2017)

This was a devastating Category 4 hurricane. Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Houston, Texas, and surrounding areas, resulting in dozens of fatalities and extensive property damage. It’s surprising to learn that with just a Category 4, how much damage was done. This is why scientists are worried about the potential for a Category 6.

According to the Comptroller, “Harvey damaged or destroyed more than 178,400 Texas homes and inflicted an estimated $669 million in damage to public property such as government buildings, roads, bridges, water facilities, and electric utilities.” The storm lingered for several days, causing horrendous damage thanks to the wind and six-foot surges (Comptroller).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

Hurricane Irma (2017)

Another hurricane, Irma, was a powerful Category 5 hurricane that affected several Caribbean islands and the southeastern United States, causing numerous fatalities and significant damage. This is what scientists are most worried about, the islands and coastal regions in the Caribbean that a Category 6 hurricane would affect the most and cause the most damage to.

According to Weather, “Five hours later, the eye of Irma moved over St. Martin, still with 185 mph winds, while the northern eyewall pounded Anguilla. That afternoon, Irma cut a path directly through the British Virgin Islands. After the southern eyewall raked St. Thomas, Puerto Rico was largely spared as the center passed about 45 miles north of San Juan. Hurricane conditions did occur on Puerto Rico’s northeastern coast. Still a Category 5, Irma impacted portions of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeast Bahamas.” Eventually, it turned into a Category 3 hurricane. This is another example of how quickly the intensity can worsen over time.

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

Hurricane Andrew (1992)

Even since the 90s, hurricanes have been causing devastating damage. What’s more worrying, though, is that climate change and global warming aren’t getting any better. If the hurricanes were this detrimental several decades ago, there’s no saying what they’ll be like in another several decades.

Andrew struck South Florida as a Category 5 hurricane, causing extensive damage and resulting in over 60 fatalities. According to Weather, “Twenty-four hours later, Andrew underwent rapid intensification and became a major hurricane Category 5. The hurricane reached its peak intensity of 175 mph with a minimum pressure of 922 millibars Sunday afternoon. The storm first landed on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph on August 23rd.” It then turned into a Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 165 mph (Weather).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
World Vision

Hurricane Sandy (2012)

You might remember the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused. Sandy affected the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeastern United States, causing widespread destruction, particularly in New York and New Jersey. And it wasn’t a typical hurricane, either.

According to World Vision, “While technically a hurricane when it made landfall, Hurricane Sandy is often called “Superstorm Sandy” because of its convergence of multiple weather systems, exceeding 900 miles in diameter.” It caused roughly $70 billion in damage, causing millions of people to lose power thanks to the storm (World Vision).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
USA Today

Hurricanes Are Getting Easier To Predict

Until recently, it’s been very hard to predict the rapid intensification of hurricanes. Many things need to shift and align to create the perfect recipe for disaster. Tracking in real-time is hard, too. According to atmospheric scientist Brian Tang, “Everything just has to align.”

Everything has to be simultaneous to trigger rapid intensification. According to National Geographic, “Just before Hurricane Lee’s explosion in power, Tang had a hunch things were about to escalate—thanks to images of the swirling mass of ice crystals and rainwater inside the hurricane.” Luckily, with growing technology and a better understanding of hurricanes, scientists are better able to predict and track them in real-time. Tang said, “It was very symmetric. That signature was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is about to jump up in intensity.” More methods are being developed to warn people of hurricanes to try to save more lives (National Geographic).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
USA Today

They’re Tracking Hurricanes Earlier

Scientists and meteorologists aren’t able to exactly predict the intensity of hurricanes. They might be predicting less intensity than they’re seeing. Meteorologist Jason Dunion, director of NOAA’s Hurricane Field Program, said, “I think it was pretty clear to me and other forecasters that we would see rapid intensification—that 35 mph in one day. But it was much faster than that.”

They’re looking to collect more data from the hurricane ahead of time to make even better hurricane predictions to see if rapid intensification will occur. For example, with 2018’s Hurricane Michael, “A 2020 study found that satellite data and readings from buoys in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, showed a marine heatwave was underway during its approach. Similar data could warn meteorologists in the future that an incoming hurricane is about to intensify.” With proper predictions, scientists could save more lives (National Geographic).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
USA Today

Hurricane Intensity Has Doubled

Hurricanes haven’t always been this intense. If we take a look at the trends, it shows that hurricanes have slowly been getting stronger. According to USA Today, “They found the chances of that potential intensity occurring in such storms have more than doubled since 1979. They say the areas where the growing risks of these storms are of greatest concern are the Gulf of Mexico, the Philippines, parts of Southeast Asia, and Australia.”

Scientists have conducted a thorough study to look at the intensity of hurricanes. Scientist Kerry Emanuel said, “And now we are seeing this increase in both climate analyses and models.” This is a new class of monster storms that has been slowly developing over the past several decades, in line with increasing temperatures (USA Today).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
Scientific American

This Intensity Is True For Hurricanes Around The World

We already know that tropical cyclones are getting stronger around the world. And, according to Scientific American, “The ocean measurements suggest that tropical cyclones are likely intensifying at a rate of around 1.8 meters per second each decade. The study suggests that this strengthening trend holds for storms all over the world.”

While this data only applies to storms that are Category 1, it doesn’t mean the stronger storms are out of the picture. This may apply to stronger storms. According to Robert Korty, “The measurements included in this study simply constitute snapshots in time. Some of these storms may have been weak when they passed over the ocean sensors but would later intensify into bigger storms.” That’s why scientists are studying hurricanes more in-depth than ever before (Scientific American).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

There’s Debate If We Need A Category 6

There’s some debate in regards to adding a Category 6. Some believe it might give people the wrong impression, and doesn’t prove how much damage might happen. According to Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, he wants “to steer the focus toward the individual hazards, which include storm surge, wind, rainfall, tornadoes, and rip currents, instead of the particular category of the storm, which only provides information about the hazard from the wind.”

Even if the storm gets stronger than Category 5 suggests, adding another category wouldn’t be necessary. It’s left up for debate. Even though no storm has ever reached the 192 mph threshold on land, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible in the future (The Hill).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying

Two Storms In Quick Succession

While it’s unlikely, having two storms hit in quick succession might happen. This would be devastating, as it gives no time to recover from the first storm if there is a second one. According to NPR, “Today it is unlikely that two damaging storms will hit the same place in quick succession, although such disasters got slightly more likely over the second half of the twentieth century.”

In previous years, “When sequential storms do happen, it’s deadly, like when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 or when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria hit Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas in quick succession in 2017. But by 2100, such consecutive shocks will become relatively commonplace, according to the new analysis.” The trend is becoming evermore present, and with more monster storms may come more frequent storms, too (NPR).

Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger, Here’s What Scientists Are Saying
The Weather Channel

Monster Storms May Become More Common

More than ever before, monster storms are becoming the norm. What used to be normal categories of hurricanes are now hurricanes that are more intense and cause more damage. According to National Geographic, Tropical Storm Otis turned into a Category 5 hurricane as it headed for the Pacific Coast of Mexico, with 165 mph winds. National Geographic went on to say, “The prior month, a similar pattern was observed. As satellites began dispersing images of Hurricane Lee, a major hurricane currently traveling up the Atlantic, meteorologists observed the third-fastest case of rapid intensification—when a hurricane’s wind speed increases by 35 mph or more within 24 hours—ever recorded.”

“On September 7, wind speeds inside Lee more than doubled, boosting it from an 80 mph Cat 1 storm to a terrifying 165 mph Cat 5 storm.” And these are just two examples of the potential of powerful storms. Scientists are worried because they’re already getting stronger, and at a more rapid rate. And a lot of it has to do with warming ocean water. Oceanographer Henry Potter said, “The inevitability here is that the oceans are just going to become like bathwater in the summer—deep baths that are great for storms to intensify.” There’s a lot that needs to change on this planet, in regards to global warming, to prevent these monster storms (National Geographic).