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There’s been a devastating trail of destruction and flooding along the east Atlantic coast in the last few weeks following Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. The latter, currently moving across Florida, is the strongest sustained hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane strength is measured on the Saffir–Simpson scale, ranging from one (the lowest) to five (the highest) based on the hurricane’s wind speed and estimated potential damage. This takes into account parameters such as whether the hurricane uproots trees or removes roofs from houses, and whether the destruction could last for days or months.
Hurricane - Irma - Category - Energy - Winds
Initially, Hurricane Irma was rated as a category five (it is now losing energy), with winds moving at 175 mph – destroying homes and causing power failure in the Caribbean. But given that Irma’s power has made some islands “barely habitable”, is category five really sufficient? Is it time to introduce a category six?
People have been quick to ask if Hurricane Irma is connected to climate change and whether this is a sign of things to come. It remains uncertain whether hurricanes have significantly increased in frequency or severity as global temperatures have risen, partly due to a lack of long-term data.
Hurricane - Formation - Changes - Sea - Surface
We know that hurricane formation is affected by changes in sea surface temperatures – a warm ocean helps fuel hurricanes. This is partly driven by natural periodic and cyclic variations in the Earth’s climatic and oceanic systems, meaning that in some years the ocean is warmer than in others.
Studies have presented mixed views of what will happen in the future with global warming. However, there are many consistent models and research articles indicating that there will be fewer hurricanes along the Atlantic coast, but that those that do form will be more severe– due to the warmer temperatures.
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