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Meteorologists warn about potential for 'rapid intensification' this hurricane season: 'Much more powerful, dangerous, and destructive'

Understanding just how bad a storm will be is vital for emergency managers.

Understanding just how bad a storm will be is vital for emergency managers.

Photo Credit: iStock

Meteorologists are predicting higher-than-normal hurricane activity and that there may be a near-record number of hurricanes during the 2024 season. Some storms might intensify quickly.

What's happening?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated there will be eight to 13 hurricanes this year — possibly close to the record of 15 set in 2005. All of the ingredients are in place for an exceptionally active hurricane season. 

Record warm ocean-surface temperatures and a developing La Niña will create the ideal conditions for storms to form, per AccuWeather. A "significant number" of hurricanes may "undergo rapid intensification." According to the National Hurricane Center, rapid intensification means "an increase in the maximum sustained winds of a tropical cyclone of at least 30 knots in a 24-hour period."

Hurricane experts suggest that people prepare for a hurricane that is one category higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale than is forecast, but a rapid intensification could catch everyone off guard. 

"A danger exists when a tropical storm or hurricane is undergoing rapid intensification as the storm potentially could become much more powerful, dangerous, and destructive than even that one-level buffer might account for," said AccuWeather hurricane expert Alex DaSilva.

Why is rapid intensification so important?

Sound decision-making is critical when considering the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes. Storms that rapidly intensify make those decisions more difficult.

Rapid intensification also creates problems for meteorologists, as it increases the difficulty of forecasting a storm's intensity. Understanding just how bad a storm will be is vital for emergency managers.

Extreme weather is becoming more severe and common because of our overheating planet, and that includes the rapid intensification of hurricanes. According to the Guardian, researchers studied nearly 500 hurricanes from 1950 to 2023 and found that almost 60% underwent rapid intensification. 

They discovered that the number of storms that rapidly intensified to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane has nearly doubled in the North Atlantic since the 1970s. Another study found hurricanes are now about twice as likely to rapidly intensify and become major hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey is an example of a rapidly intensified storm. In 2017, it wreaked havoc on Texas after building up steam in just 57 hours

What's being done about dealing with rapid intensification?

A new rapid intensification computer model may help forecast supercharged storms. In just the past few years, forecasting rapidly intensifying storms has significantly improved. A study in the journal Atmosphere found that the prediction of rapid intensification has improved by about 20-25% compared to a baseline period from 2015 to 2017.

While our world is warming — making rapid intensification more likely — reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere can help bring things back into balance. 

Using public transportation when possible doesn't just save people money on gas and car maintenance, but it could also eliminate 20,000 pounds of carbon pollution over 10 years. Riding a bike is a great way to get exercise and could cut 9,000 pounds in a decade. 

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