Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Category 6 Isn't Enough

I have said for some time that the current hurricane scale, which has 5 categories, is insufficient and needs a Category 6. Looking at the actual numbers on the scale and in recorded storms, this turns out to be insufficient also. It doesn't need one more category, it needs TWO.

The current categories average a range of about 20, some lower, some higher. Positing a scale that uses categories of similar size would yield something like:

Category 1 = 74-95 mph (range of 22)
Category 2 = 96-110 mph (range of 15)
Category 3 = 111-129 mph (range of 19)
Category 4 = 130-156 mph (range of 27)
Category 5 = 157+ mph [new 157-176] (standard range of 20)
Category 6 = 177-196 mph
Category 7 = 197-216 mph

At that, the revised scale would just barely cover Hurricane Patricia's ominous 215 mph peak sustained wind speed. O_O That means we should be ready to activate Category 8 (217-236 mph) in the foreseeable future.

Now, the government doesn't want to panic people, or get blamed for the fact that climate change is making hurricanes a lot more violent than they used to be and also now clustering. But wouldn't it be useful to know that the official "Category 5" now contains a wider range (58) than Categories 3 and 4 combined (46)? (Some people may argue that we only need three action-based categories: Ignore It, Batten the Hatches, and Run For Your Lives.) Happily, the forecasts customarily include the actual wind speed, so you can simply adjust the scale on your own.

Of course, wind speed isn't the only thing that makes a hurricane dangerous. As mentioned, clustering means they are now more likely to come in twos or threes. Even a sideswipe by a later storm after the first storm has cracked open a city will be more devastating. Global warming seems to increase the storms that show rapid intensification, which can turn a minor storm into a major one with little warning. Rising sea levels boost storm surges. Warmer air also means that hurricanes can dump more rain. Storm surge and rainfall make even the lower categories more destructive.

Don't expect the politicians and the people they direct to give reliable interpretations. Be glad that pretty accurate weather information is available for you to analyze yourself. Here's a list of weather apps and weather websites with varying degrees of detail. For the hardcore weather nerds, you can also get raw data. Explore the parts of a text Hurricane Forecast/Advisory.
Tags: environment, nature, safety, science

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