Fast growing hurricanes that pack a punch

What is rapid intensification? When a Hurricane or tropical storm intensifies dramatically in a short period of time.  It is marked by a jump in winds of at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period.

Hurricane Lee is the latest extreme example of a storm undergoing rapid intensification (RI) on September 8.  Lee’s maximum sustained winds reached 165 mph, an increase of 85 mph in 24 hours, making it the third‑fastest intensifying Atlantic hurricane on record, behind only Felix in 2007 and Wilma in 2005.

Between 06Z yesterday and today, #HurricaneLee intensified from 70 knots to 145 knots- 75 knots (~85 mph) in 24 hours. Using data from 1982-2021, this puts #Lee in the top .04% of all 24 hr intensity changes in the Atlantic. Only #Hurricane Felix + Wilma logged higher increases.

— Kieran Bhatia (@BhatiaKieran) September 8, 2023

This example of accelerated growth is a trend that has been increasing in recent years.

Just before Lee, Hurricane Idalia’s winds increased from a Category 3 storm the morning of August 29, with winds of 75 miles per hour, to a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour in just 24 hours.

In 2022, Hurricane Ian rapidly intensified twice before becoming the most expensive hurricane in Florida’s history.

In 2021, Hurricane Ida was a Category 4 storm that rapidly intensified causing over 90 deaths before it hit Louisana.

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey quickly strengthened from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm feeding off of warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. That same year, Hurricane Maria went through the most extraordinary recent extreme rapid intensification, strengthening from a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm before inflicting $94 billion in damages to Puerto Rico and nearly 3,000 deaths.

What’s driving the pace of all these intensifying hurricanes? Record warm water and light winds aloft.

Climate change has not been increasing the number of storms but is making them more intense.

Hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean water. The warmer the water, the stronger the storm can become. The map shows how Lee peaked over the hotter-than-average water and weakened over cooler sea surface temperatures. The forecast is for slow strengthening over warm 85-degree water followed by weakening as it moves over cooler water in the wake of Hurricane Franklin.

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