One of the most dangerous of storms, hurricanes begin their lives in the warm waters of the tropics, often as a series of thunderstorms. As the storm gathers strength, it moves into the category of a tropical storm, and once the winds reach 73 mph, it becomes identified as a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone depending on its location.
Now a hurricane, it is broken down into 5 different categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale:
Category 1: Max gusts between 74-95 miles per hour.
Category 2: Max gusts between 96-110 mph.
Category 3: Max gusts between 111-129 mph. A storm that reaches category 3 is considered a major hurricane by most warning centers.
Category 4: Max gusts from 130-156 mph.
Category 5: Max gusts greater than 157 mph.
Category 5 hurricanes, like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Harvey cost billions of dollars, not just because of wind damage, but because of secondary damage due to flooded dams and levees. It’s not just the high category hurricanes that are damaging though; lower category hurricanes still cost billions each year from flooding to wind damage. It is estimated that hurricanes cost $28 billion annually in damages.
Historically, hurricanes have been tracked and followed by scientists and meteorologists. Unlike tornadoes which are unpredictable, hurricanes depend on weather conditions and often follow similar paths. Typically, a hurricane develops off the western African coastline, and moves west towards the Caribbean, gaining strength across the ocean. From there, determining precisely where a hurricane will hit is dependent on a variety of factors.
As temperatures increase globally with each year, a frequent question asked is how the warmer temperatures will affect hurricane trends. The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory recently did a survey which concluded, based off rising seas levels, an increase in rainfall, and greater proportion of intense storms that:
- Sea levels will rise, making coastal flooding worse during hurricanes.
- Increase in rainfall.
- Increase in tropical cyclone intensities.
- Increase in the ratio of very intense hurricanes to less intense ones, i.e. of Category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones to categories 1-3,
As the 8 most damaging hurricanes to hit America have occured since 2004, it seems that warmer weather does impact the strength of each storm. While there is no scientific proof that there will be fewer stronger hurricanes due to global warming, predicted rising seas and stronger rainfall will definitely impact the storms that do hit in the future.
The damaging hurricanes since 2004 are also related to the higher concentration of people living and working near the coast. As the coastal boom has exploded around the world, the impact of any storm hitting the coast will result in expensive costs. While hurricanes have always affected the lives of people who live near the water, today many are changing how they react.
Hurricane insurance is becoming more and more popular in hurricane prone areas. Use https://www.floodsmart.gov to find out more about government recommended specific coverage.
Hurricane proof buildings are also cropping up. While finding a building that can handle 110 mph winds is difficult, new technology exists that makes houses more durable to the strong winds that accompany a storm.
Lastly, people now understand more than ever the environmental impact of a hurricane on the coast. As more people move towards the coast, it becomes important to offset houses and roads with dikes, levees, and dams to minimize water damage. Building along the coast naturally results in a loss of natural hurricane buffers, like sand dunes and reefs, so in the future, care should be made to keep coastal habitat as natural as possible to mitigate damage.
In conclusion, while hurricanes are dangerous and will continue to be so, we can continue to better adapt and prepare for these dangerous storms using modern technology.