From Scientific American:

Atmospheric researchers tend to agree that tropical cyclones of unusual ferocity are coming this century, but the strange fact is that there is no consensus to date on the five-point scale used to classify the power of these anticipated storms. In what may sound like a page from the script of the rock-band spoof Spinal Tap with its reference to a beyond-loud electric guitar amplifier volume 11, there is actually talk of adding a sixth level to the current Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, on which category 5 intensity means sustained winds higher than 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) for at least one minute, with no speed cap.

The lack of an upper limit on the scale results in all of the most intense tropical cyclones getting lumped together, despite their wide range of power. Category 5 becomes less descriptive when it includes 2005’s Emily, which reached peak wind speeds of 257.5 kph (160 mph) and six hours in category 5; the same year’s Katrina which held peak wind velocity of 280 kph (175 mph) for 18 hours in the category; and 1980’s Allen, churning with peak winds at 305 kph (190 mph) maintained for 72 hours in the highest category.

And now the ferocity forecast for the century adds to this classification problem. “The severe hurricanes might actually become worse. We may have to invent a category 6,” says David Enfield, a senior scientist at the University of Miami and former physical oceanographer at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This new level wouldn’t be an arbitrary relabeling. Global satellite data from the past 40 years indicate that the net destructive potential of hurricanes has increased, and the strongest hurricanes are becoming more common—especially in the Atlantic. This trend could be related to warmer …

Continue Reading