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Hurricanes So Strong They Need a New Definition

Due to global warming, which heats up the surface of the tropical waters where hurricanes form, hurricanes are becoming stronger than ever?so strong, in fact, that scientists say we need a new way to categorize them. We're not talking about naming them according to the alphabet, we're talking about Categories 1-5. No far there is no Category 6, but if there was, it would have described Wilma, so something new is needed.

Ker Than writes in livescience.com that climatologist Kerry Emanuel says the current Kaffir-Simpson scale doesn't do the job because it only describes the wind force, not the actual destruction. How did we start categorizing hurricanes, anyway? Unlike the Richter scale for earthquakes, in which each quake category is ten times larger than the one before it, hurricanes require more subtle measurement.

In 1967, Herbert Saffir (who is now age 88) was commissioned by the UN to study regions all over the world that had been decimated by hurricanes. He decided there was no way to adequately describe the effects of the hurricanes, so he devised a 1-5 category scale for the wind speeds. Robert Simpson, of the National Hurricane Center, later modified this to include the results of flooding.

We now have the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Rating scale. Category 1: 74-95 mph winds, 4-5 foot storm surge; category 2: 96-110 mph winds, 6-8 foot storm surge, category 3: 111-130 mph winds, 9-12 foot storm surge; category 4: 131-155 foot storm surge, 13-18 foot storm surge and finally (so far) category 5, which is 155 or greater mph winds and 18 feet or more storm surge.

Although so far we have not experienced a hurricane stronger than category 5, there is technically no upper limit on how powerful they could be. Scientists now think that storms increase 5% for every 1 degree of increase in tropical ocean temperatures, and since our oceans are heating up, our hurricane winds are getting stronger.

But meteorologist Chris Landsea, at the National Hurricane Center, thinks that the worst that could happen would be about a 5% increase in wind speed, by the end of this century. He doesn't think hurricane winds will exceed 200 mph. So far, the fastest wind speed that's ever been recorded was not a hurricane?it occurred in Oklahoma in 1999, when tornado winds reached 318 mph.

But one thing scientists do all agree on is that there will be more storms?and faster storms?in the future.

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