Hubert Minnis, the Bahamian Prime Minster was on the Rachel Maddow Show earlier this week and said that while they have prepped their infrastructure to handle 150 MPH winds, they never thought they would see winds as fierce as 180-200 MPH, emphasizing the fact that Hurricanes do appear to be getting more intense. In light of Minnis' comments, I decided to do a little research into how hurricane patterns have changed over the past few years and decades.
What I found is that hurricanes are indeed getting stronger and wreaking more havoc for two main reasons. First, the oceans are getting warmer. What this means is that there is more evaporation and energy given to hurricanes to make them stronger and more active. If you've learned about kinetic energy in a physics class, this very principle is what's happening here. Heat makes molecules more active, increasing their kinetic energy. In the case of oceans, this means that warmer oceans creates a warmer atmosphere which means warmer molecules and thus more activity.
The second main reason for why hurricanes are doing more damage is the fact that the ocean levels are rising. What makes a hurricane a hurricane is the fact that they almost always occur over large bodies of water. In essence, large bodies of water and hurricanes go hand in hand. As ocean levels rise, that means there's more water to (A) give rise to hurricanes and (B) create more devastating floods.
When you combine more active, larger hurricanes with higher ocean levels, you get a recipe for more hurricanes in the Category 3-5 range, which is what we've been seeing over the past few decades. A quick side note, a Category 5 hurricane, which is the largest, is any hurricane that has 1 minute maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph. With hurricanes such as Dorian flirting with 200 mph winds, there is some discussion about adding a 6th Category for 200+ mph to the Saffir-Simpson scale. The very fact that people are even floating around the idea of expanding the categories to six is alarming in and of itself.
So, what does this all mean and are we doomed to living in a world with increased damage and deaths because of hurricanes? The answer to that isn't as bleak as you might think. For starters, the one good thing about hurricanes is they typically give us a heads up that they're coming. Sort of like an annoying relative that you know will be coming for Thanksgiving. It sucks that they're coming, but at least you got a heads up that they're coming. Tornadoes on the other hand love the pop-in visit. Everything appears to be going just fine and then boom! Without warning there they are!
If we are able to improve emergency preparedness, mobilization, response times, aid, weather forecasting, infrastructure, and data there's a lot we can do to actually save human lives. On top of that, if we are able to create more eco-friendly communities and environments, that could also go a long ways towards helping mitigate the damage that is done.
Upon doing my research into hurricanes, my main take away is that while a serious threat and deserving our attention, there's still a lot within our control to lower the loss of life. It's just a matter of communities coming together to take proactive steps and governments giving them the support that they need.
Below are a list of articles that I read that helped inform me on this interesting subject. Also, click here to check out a heartwarming story about a woman in the Bahamas who sheltered 97 dogs in her house during Hurricane Dorian. @rsorenson started the conversation about that earlier this week.