Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, study finds

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Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, study finds

Tidewater Disaster Response rescue workers walk through a surge on a road as they search for people in need of help after the Steinhatchee River flooded on August 30, 2023 in Steinhatchee, Florida, following the landfall of Hurricane Idalia. With warmer oceans serving as fuel, Atlantic hurricanes are now more than twice as likely as before to rapidly intensify from weak minor hurricanes to powerful and catastrophic ones, according to a study Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. Credit: Douglas R Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP, Archive

With warmer oceans serving as fuel, Atlantic hurricanes are now more than twice as likely as before to rapidly intensify from weak minor hurricanes to powerful and catastrophic ones, according to a study released Thursday.

Last month Hurricane Lee It went from barely an 80 mph (129 kph) hurricane to the most powerful Category 5 hurricane with winds of 155 mph (249 kph) in 24 hours. In 2017, before it devastated Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria went from category 1 with winds of 90 mph (145 kph) to the top of the list with winds of 160 mph (257 kph) in just 15 hours.

The study analyzed 830 Atlantic tropical cyclones since 1971. It found that in the last 20 years, 8.1% of the time the storms went from being minor Category 1 storms to tropical storms. in just 24 hours. This occurred only 3.2% of the time between 1971 and 1990, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports. Category 1 hurricanes reach a maximum of 153 kph (95 mph) and a it has to have winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph) to become significant.

Those are the most extreme cases, but the fact that the turbocharger rate has more than doubled is disturbing, said study author Andra Garner, a climate scientist at Rowan University in New Jersey.

When storms intensify rapidly, especially as they approach land, it is difficult for people in the storm’s path to decide what to do: evacuate or shelter. It also makes it harder for meteorologists to predict how bad it will be and for emergency managers to prepare, Garner and other scientists said.

Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, study finds

Communities destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, September 28, 2017. With warmer oceans serving as fuel, Atlantic hurricanes are now more than twice as likely as before to rapidly intensify from weak minor hurricanes to powerful. and catastrophic, according to a study Thursday, October 19, 2023. Credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file

“We know that our strongest and most damaging storms often intensify very quickly at some point in their lifetime,” Garner said, highlighting 2017’s Maria, which some researchers say killed nearly 3,000 people directly and indirectly. “We’re talking about something that is difficult to predict and can certainly lead to a more destructive storm.”

And this “has become more common in the last 50 years,” Garner said. “All of this has happened during a period in which we have seen ocean waters warming.”

“90% of the excess warming that humans have caused on the planet has gone into our oceans,” Garner said.

This year the oceans have been breaking monthly heat records since April and scientists warn of unusual temperatures.

Garner found that rapid hurricane intensification occurred primarily along the Atlantic coast of the East Coast, rather than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, study finds

José Trinidad walks on what remains of his home in Montebello, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria, on September 26, 2017. With warmer oceans serving as fuel, Atlantic hurricanes are now more than twice as likely as before Intensify rapidly from weak minor hurricanes to powerful and catastrophic, according to a study Thursday, October 19, 2023. Credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File

It is not just cases of extremely rapid escalation. Garner examined all the storms over different time periods and found that they are generally intensifying faster than before.

There have been more storms in the Atlantic in recent decades than in the 1970s and 1980s (scientists have several theories about why, from changes in air pollution to natural cycles), but Garner said looking at the percentages eliminated the storm frequency factor.

Previous studies had found an increase in rapid intensification. Garner’s study was statistically meticulous in confirming what scientists had calculated, said Karthik Balaguru of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. who last year had a paper showing how storms near the Atlantic coast are intensifying faster before making landfall than in the 1970s and 1980s.

The National Hurricane Center considers a storm to intensify rapidly if its wind speed increases by 35 mph (46 kph) in 24 hours.

Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, study finds

Strong surf hits the coast of Nauset Beach in East Orleans, Massachusetts, ahead of Hurricane Lee, on September 15, 2023. With warmer oceans as fuel, Atlantic hurricanes are now more than twice as likely to intensify rapidly as before from weak and minor. hurricanes to powerful and catastrophic, according to a study Thursday, October 19, 2023. Credit: Steve Heaslip /Cape Cod Times via AP, File

In 2020, a record year for hurricanes and the final year of Garner’s study, six storms rapidly intensified to that point. Hannah, Laura, Sally, Teddy, Gamma and Delta. Since then, there have been several deadly storms that intensified rapidly, including 2021 Ida, 2022 Ian, and Idalia of 2023.

“If we don’t work to reduce our (carbon) emissions, then that’s a trend we could probably expect to continue into the future” and even get worse, Garner said.

More information:
Andra J. Garner, Observed increases in peak intensification rates of North Atlantic tropical cyclones, Scientific Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-42669-y. www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-42669-y

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Citation: Hurricanes are now twice as likely to go from minor to major as they were decades ago, according to a study (2023, October 22) retrieved October 22, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-10 -hurricanes-minor-whopper- decades.html

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