Category 6 Hurricanes? Scientists Suggest It's Time

'Climate change is making the worst storms worse,' says study author
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 6, 2024 11:11 AM CST
Category 6 Hurricanes? Scientists Suggest It's Time
Jewell Baggett walks amid debris where her mother's home stood in Horseshoe Beach, Fla., after Hurricane Idalia, Aug. 30, 2023. A handful of powerful tropical storms in the last decade has some experts proposing a new category of hurricanes: Category 6, for storms with winds of 192mph or more.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

A handful of super powerful tropical storms in the last decade and the prospect of more to come has a couple of experts proposing a new category of whopper hurricanes: Category 6. Studies have shown that the strongest tropical storms are getting more intense. Thus, the five-category Saffir-Simpson scale, developed more than 50 years ago, may not show the true power of the most muscular storms, two scientists suggest in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They propose a sixth category for storms with winds that exceed 192mph. Currently, storms with winds of 157mph or higher are Category 5. The study's authors said that open-ended grouping doesn't warn people enough about the higher dangers from monstrous storms that flirt with 200mph or higher.

Since 2013, five storms had winds of 192mph or higher that would have put them in the new category, per the AP:

  • 2013's Typhoon Haiyan, which hit 195mph and killed more than 6,300 people in the Philippines.
  • 2015's Hurricane Patricia, which hit 215mph before weakening and hitting Jalisco, Mexico.
  • 2016's Typhoon Meranti, which reached 195mph before skirting the Philippines and Taiwan and making landfall in China.
  • 2020's Typhoon Goni, which reached 195mph before killing dozens in the Philippines as a weaker storm.
  • 2021's Typhoon Surigae, which also reached 195mph before weakening and skirting several parts of Asia and Russia.

As the world warms, conditions grow more ripe for whopper storms, the study authors said. "Climate change is making the worst storms worse," said study lead author Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkley National Lab. If the world sticks with just five categories "as these storms get stronger and stronger it will more and more underestimate the potential risk," said study co-author Jim Kossin. But Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, said when warning people about storms his office tries "to steer the focus toward ... storm surge, wind, rainfall, tornadoes and rip currents. Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale already captures 'catastrophic damage' from wind so it's not clear there would be a need for another category even if the storms were to get stronger."

(More hurricanes stories.)

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