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Rapidly intensifying hurricanes broke records in 2020

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Forecasters did not know it at the time, but Hanna provided a glimpse of what was to come during Atlantic hurricane season of record-breaking and devastating 2020, as storm after storm underwent a process known to meteorologists as rapid intensification, in which storms take extremely large force fast This is a particularly dangerous process when it occurs near land, which comes very suddenly for the inhabitants of the coast to escape from a strong exponential storm.

The technical definition of rapid intensification is when the steady winds of a storm increase by at least 35 mph in 24 hours. This season, storm after storm surpassed that base. That includes Hurricane Iota, which intensified at an astonishing speed of 80 mph in 24 hours, before crashing off the northeastern coast of Nicaragua late Monday night.

Rapid intensification usually occurs in high-level hurricanes reaching Category 3 or above. Scientists now say this is happening more often, as storms have been given a turbo boost by rising ocean temperatures. During the hurricane season in 2020, Atlantic waters were extremely calm, the result of man-made global warming superimposed on top of natural climate cycles.

The rise in rapidly intensifying storms is not surprising, said Suzana Camargo, a hurricane researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, because man-made climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of these storms in particular. dangerous, more prone to developmental explosives

According to Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane scientist at MIT, the Atlantic 2020 season provides a warning: The growing trend for hurricanes to intensify rapidly is a better gauge of how climate change is affecting them rather than strong they become after all.

After Hanna struck Padre Island, nine other dizzying storms of 2020 would continue to show similar or larger strengthening eruptions, often near landslides and in places where it had not occurred before.

The 2020 season will go down in history for the prevalence of fast-flowing storms that prowlanted the Atlantic, raising the question of whether this is the new norm.

Two of the storms that intensified at the fastest pace occurred in the last two weeks, which is extremely late in the hurricane season. Hurricanes Eta and Iota each intensified at 80 mph in 24 hours, a rate that had only been reached eight times before this year, and never after October, said research meteorologist Sam Lillo of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Based on recent peer-reviewed studies he co-wrote, meteorologist Jim Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), made it clear that the chances of a rapidly intensifying storm have increased compared to those that were only a few decades ago.

In the early 1980s, the chance of having a hurricane intensification event of 35 mph or more over a 24-hour period was about 1 in 100, he said in an email. Thirty years later, the chance has increased by a factor of five to about 1 in 20. I doubt the chances will increase even more if we include the past years in the analysis.

Kossin concluded: Warmer-than-normal waters have certainly contributed to the rapid and explosive intensification events this year, and it is very likely that part of this warming is due to human activities.

Drop in air pressure and strong winds mean a higher potential for disaster

One thing to read about these trends and another to see them play in the real world over and over again.

There were several storms this season that went through almost continuous periods of rapid intensification lasting more than a day, Lillo said. For example, Hurricane Delta, which hit Louisiana in early October, and Hurricane Eta, the first of two unprecedented Category 4 landfills in Nicaragua, both had winds of 105 mph in 36 hours.

Prior to 2020, Lillo found only four other hurricanes since 1851 that achieved such a rapid strengthening achievement, including storms that are notorious for hurricane history fans and those living along the Gulf Coast and in Florida: Hurricane of Labor Day 1935, Andrew in 1992, Wilma in 2005 and Felix in 2007.

This year there were also three storms that intensified to 100 mph in 36 hours, something Lillo says earlier that happened with just eight storms.

There is another definition that captures how fast a storm is growing harsher, this one in relation to reading the minimum air pressure in the storm. In general, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. Rapid deepening is defined as a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure of 42 millibars in 24 hours, and this has happened with only 23 Atlantic storms since 1979, when reliable air pressure data began.

However, 2020 had the biggest storms of each year to meet or cross the threshold, including Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Eta and Iota, Lillo said.

Prior to 2020, only three other Atlantic hurricanes had an air pressure drop of 59 millibars or more in 24 hours: Gilbert in 1988 and Rita and Wilma in 2005. Then Eta fell 59mb and Iota fell 65mb; two weeks away, a few miles away, and both [were] last year to do so, Lillo said.

Gabe Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said that while these statistics may come as a kind of abstract, they convey a disturbing message. These are the types of events that are difficult to predict on a time scale and leave people with little time to react, which can be extremely dangerous, he wrote in an email.

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