Category 6 hurricanes? Future storms will be increasingly violent

A new computer model suggests that the 21st century will have more frequent hurricanes of staggering force.

Doppler image of a hurricane
A new computer model predicts that storms in the 21st century will become increasingly violent (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
  • A new computer model provides unprecedentedly detailed forecasts of tropical storms.
  • Projections show a major increase in hurricanes of Category 3 and above by the end of the 21st century.
  • One primary driver of the planet's increasingly extreme hurricanes is warming oceans.

The 21st century is not only projected to see more hurricanes, but also ones so extreme that scientists might need to create a new category to classify them.

A new computer model, created at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, can provide unprecedentedly detailed forecasts of tropical storms in both past and future environments by simulating interactions between meteorological forces, like the atmosphere and oceans.

Recently, a team led by NOAA researcher Kieran Bhatia used the technology to glimpse the future and see how a warming climate might affect tropical storms across the globe. The sight was unsettling.

For 2016 to 2035, the projections showed an 11% increase in hurricanes of categories 3, 4, and 5, compared to the late 20th century. That increase jumped to 20% by the end of the 21st century.

Alarmingly, the intensity of some storms is projected to be off the charts.


The Saffir-Simpson scale (pictured above) is used to categorize the intensity of storms and currently tops out at 5 (NOAA).

Scientists currently use the Saffir-Simpson scale to measure the intensity of tropical storms and tropical depressions (essentially, a mini-storm). A storm registers on the lowest end of the scale when its winds reach 74 miles per hour. The most severe category, 5, begins at 157 mph and is left open-ended.

The new projections forecast some storms with maximum sustained winds of more than 190 mph. Only 9 such storms were observed in the 20th century. But for 2016 to 2035, the projections produced 32 of these extreme storms and 72 for 2081 to 2100.

Some scientists argue that adding a new category to the Saffir-Simpson scale will help the public grasp the changes climate change is bringing to the planet.

“Scientifically, [six] would be a better description of the strength of 200-mph storms, and it would also better communicate the well-established finding now that climate change is making the strongest storms even stronger," said climatologist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, at a conference earlier this year.

“Since the scale is now used as much in a scientific context as it is a damage assessment context, it makes sense to introduce a category six to describe the unprecedented strength 200-mph storms we've seen over the past few years both globally and here in the southern hemisphere."

One primary driver of the planet's increasingly extreme hurricanes is warming oceans.

Watch out, America! #HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye. Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you. #Horizons pic.twitter.com/ovZozsncfh
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) September 12, 2018

Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
  • The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
  • Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
Keep reading Show less

Americans under 40 want major reforms, expanded Supreme Court

Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.

Demonstrators In Louisville calling for justice for Breonna Taylor.

Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
  • The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
  • Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
Keep reading Show less

Can fake news help you remember real facts better?

A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.

Credit: Rawpixel.com on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
  • A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
  • "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast