Sunday, September 24, 2023

Hurricane Lee, a terrible harbinger of the effects of ocean warming

Lee could also be a dire harbinger of what could happen as ocean temperatures rise, spawning large, fast-growing hurricanes that could threaten communities further north and inland, experts say.

“Hurricanes get stronger at higher latitudes,” says Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia and former president of the American Mogenicity Society.

“If this trend continues, it will put places like Washington, DC, New York and Boston at risk,” he fears.


As the oceans warm, they fuel hurricanes.

“This additional heat returns at some point, and one of the ways this happens is through stronger hurricanes,” Shepherd said.

Overnight Thursday, Lee broke the norm for what meteorologists consider rapid intensification: when a hurricane’s sustained winds increase 35 mph in 24 hours.

“It increased to 129 km/h,” Shepherd emphasizes. “I can’t emphasize this enough: We had this 35 mph mark, and here’s a storm that’s growing more than twice that, and we’re seeing it happen more frequently,” Shepherd says, describing what happened to Lee as a ” hyperintensification.

With extremely warm ocean temperatures and low wind shear, “all the stars were aligned for the atmosphere to intensify rapidly,” says Kerry Emanuel, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Internal threats

Category 5 (when sustained winds blow at least 253 km/h) is quite rare. About 4.5 percent of named storms in the Atlantic Ocean have moved to Category 5 over the past decade, estimates Brian McNoldy, a hurricane scientist and researcher at the University of Miami.

More intense major hurricanes also threaten communities further inland, as monster storms can become so powerful that they remain dangerous hurricanes over longer distances over land.

“Because these storms are strong when they make landfall, in some cases they move fast enough to remain hurricanes inland,” Shepherd notes.

Hurricane Idalia was the latest example, when it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle last month. It was still a hurricane when it entered southern Georgia.

It then hit the Georgia city of Valdosta, more than 70 miles (116 kilometers) from where it made landfall. At least 80 homes in the Valdosta area were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged.

In 2018, Hurricane Michael cut a similar path of destruction inland, destroying cotton and pecan crops and causing widespread damage in southern Georgia.

Risk for New England

Although it’s too early to know how close Lee could come to the U.S. East Coast, New Englanders are keeping an eye on the storm, as some models predict it will come dangerously close from this region, particularly from Maine. It’s been 69 years since a major hurricane made landfall in New England, McNoldy notes.

On Sept. 8, 1869, a Category 3 hurricane known as the “September Gale of 1869” hit Rhode Island, the National Weather Service in Boston said Friday. The storm cut all telegraph lines between Boston and New York and capsized a schooner, killing 11 crew members.

Forecasters will be watching for possible interactions in the coming days between Lee and new Tropical Storm Margot, which is expected to become a hurricane next week.

Margot may change Lee’s path, though it’s too early to tell if that will happen, experts say.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
Latest news
Related news