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Hurricane Patricia, which hit Mexico, would have been a Category 6 storm… if that rating existed then. Image: NOAA

The Inertia

It’s becoming more and more apparent that hurricanes are generally getting more powerful. As things stand today, they’re lumped into a rating system of one to five. If a hurricane has sustained wind speeds over 157 miles per hour, it lands in Category 5. But now, researchers are thinking that a sixth category should be added to that scale.

In a relatively new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists noted that in the last few years there have been several storms that far exceeded the threshold for a category five storm. The new Category 6 would define hurricanes with sustained wind speeds exceeding 192 miles per hour.

A ‘Cat 5’ hurricane isn’t something to scoff at. It will cause enormous damage, knocking down trees, power lines, and destroying buildings. In most cases, an area taking the brunt of one won’t be habitable for weeks or even months.

According to IFLScience, there have been five hurricanes that have hit the mark for a Category 6 hurricane: Typhoon Meranti, Hurricane Patricia, Typhoon Goni, Typhoon Haiyan, and Typhoon Surigae. Hurricanes and typhoons are the same things with different names, depending on where they are. “In the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, the term hurricane is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a typhoon,” NOAA explains. “Meanwhile, in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, the generic term tropical cyclone is used, regardless of the strength of the wind associated with the weather system.”

The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere was 2015’s Hurricane Patricia, which had sustained wind speeds of up to 215 miles per hour.  As our climate changes, more and more energy becomes available to fuel these super storms. It’s likely that the future holds many more of them.

“Climate change can impact hurricanes and typhoons in a myriad of ways,” writes Tom Hale for IFLScience. “Warmer sea surface temperatures provide more energy for hurricanes, potentially leading to increased intensity and faster wind speeds. Simultaneously, climate change may slow down the movement of hurricanes as they drift across geographical regions. This allows the hurricane to lurk over one area for longer, thereby increasing the amount of damage it can inflict. ”

As of this writing, the newly proposed category hasn’t been taken up by the any of the agencies that would use it, but it’s likely that in the coming years we’ll have the first Category 6 storm.

“Five storms have already breached this hypothetical Category 6 threshold, and all have occurred since 2013 – with the threshold expected to be breached increasingly under ongoing climate change,” he added.


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