Friday, October 12, 2018

Why the Current Hurricane Rating System Needs to Be Scrapped

For decades, hurricanes have been rated on a scale of 1 to 5 based solely on a storm’s wind speeds.  But as recent hurricanes show, a tropical cyclone’s winds often tell us little about its real threats — coastal storm surge and precipitation-driven flooding.

Hurricane Florence dropped more than 3 feet of rain on some parts of North Carolina last month. (Credit: NOAA/NWS) Click to Enlarge.
Global climate change will likely make the water-related impacts of tropical cyclones even more destructive.  While there is no compelling evidence to suggest that a warming climate will increase the number of Atlantic hurricanes, it is likely that the storms that do form will be more intense and have higher rates of rainfall.  These changes will increase the degree and likelihood of flooding and shoreline erosion.

The importance of water as a destructive force in tropical cyclones is not unique to the Atlantic Ocean basin and the U.S. coast.  All of the hazards described above and the increased impacts resulting from global climate change will be felt in all of the world’s ocean basins.  Yet, the approach utilized to classify tropical cyclones in the Pacific also relies on the speed of sustained winds.

We must find a better way to characterize and explain the potential severity of storm surge and precipitation-driven flooding for an approaching storm.  The National Hurricane Center labels any hurricane at Category 3 or above as a “major hurricane.”  I am confident that the people of the Carolinas would agree that Hurricane Florence (Category 1) was a major hurricane, regardless of where it fell on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Read more at Why the Current Hurricane Rating System Needs to Be Scrapped

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