A leading expert warned Category 6 hurricanes caused by climate change are set to become a reality in the not too distant future; a fact that does not seem unlikely given the fierce winds and flash flooding taking place in North Carolina right now as Hurricane Florence made landfall today.
A category 5 hurricane, with winds in excess of 157mph, is the severest type of hurricane currently possible on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
Monster storms, like Typhoon Mangkhut, can cause “catastrophic damage” with the ability to flatten buildings, uproot trees and cause power outages lasting weeks.
Hurricanes Katrina (2015), Maria and Irma (both in 2017) all made landfall as category 5 storms, killing thousands of people and causing billions of dollars of damage.
Timothy Hall, senior scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said it is likely wind speeds from hurricanes could reach 230mph in the future.
And this means a category 6 hurricane would be justified.
He told the Sun Sentinel in July: “If we had twice as many Category 5s — at some point, several decades down the line — if that seems to be the new norm, then yes, we’d want to have more partitioning at the upper part of the scale.
“At that point, a Category 6 would be a reasonable thing to do.”
Hurricane Florence update: Hurricanes are becoming stronger and wetter, experts say (Image: Getty)
New research suggests future hurricanes are likely to become wetter and stronger, with rapid warming of our oceans fuelling the change.
As hurricanes get wetter they can dump more rainfall inland, creating greater life-threatening conditions and adding to the huge cost in damages.
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Can future Category 6 hurricanes be stopped?
Express.co.uk exclusively spoke with Dr Kevin E. Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to find out if it was too late to stop possible future category 6 hurricanes.
Hurricane Florence update: Nine dangerous storms were spotted around the globe this week (Image: Jamaica Weather)
He said: “The risk is real. We are not doing anything to stop or slow climate change.
“There is no category 6 of course but can more intense storms be stopped? No.
“It relates to the sea surface temperatures and underlying ocean heat content mostly. It does depend on atmospheric conditions but they tend to occur sooner or later as the weather evolves.
“So we need to stop the warming of the climate: the Paris agreement etc.”
Hurricane Florence update: Keiyana Cromartie, seven, and her family are rescued from their home (Image: Getty)
What are the main problems?
At present, humans are creating an “energy imbalance” by pumping “increasing” greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, 90 percent of which ends up in the ocean acting as fuel for new storms, Dr Trenberth told Express.co.uk.
He added: “Hurricanes are natural but climate change is supercharging them.”
Last year saw the hottest ocean temperatures on record measuring down to 2,000m in depth, according to the Global Ocean Heat Content (OHC).
Hurricane Florence update: The eye of Typhoon Mangkhut (Image: NOAA)
As the seas get hotter, water vapour escapes into the air which then condenses as it coolsm turning to rain.
Dr Trenberth warned for every one degree celsius rise, the atmosphere will hold seven percent more moisture.
In the future, we could potentially see 20 percent more water vapour from a two to three degree celsius jump causing a 60 percent increase in heavy rainfall, he added.
This month, 27 cities announced they were no longer increasing greenhouse gas emissions at a San Francisco global climate summit through the decrease of fossil fuels, waste reduction and increased public transportation.
Hurricane Florence update: Storm damage from Hurricane Florence (Image: AFP/Getty)
But global warming is still set to exceed the 1.5 degree set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, as a draft UN report out in October shows.
And after US President Donald Trump forced the United States to withdraw from the climate change agreement, it has been left up to state governors to help meet the Paris goals.
Dr Trenberth says we remain at risk from increased coastal storm surges and preparations were still inadequate.
He warned: “We have the options of stopping or slowing climate change from humans, and/or adapting to and planning for the consequences, but we are not doing enough of either.”