Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall in the Carolinas this Friday, unleashing Category 4-level winds and catastrophic amounts of rain.
More than 1 million people have been urged to evacuate.
Florence is the first major hurricane to emerge in the Atlantic Ocean this year, and, while it hasn’t reached Category 5 ferocity, storm experts have watched its development with alarm, according to the Washington Post.
That’s because the storm’s winds have intensified at a dramatic rate that could signal a new era of mega-hurricanes. And now, new research in the Journal of Climate seems to support that prediction.
A team of researchers led by Kieran Bhatia of Princeton University used climate change models to compare hurricane frequency and intensity in the 20th century to hurricanes expected to arrive later this century.
They found that Category 4 and 5 hurricane are expected to happen 20% more frequently by the end of this century compared to the 20th century, and that hurricanes in general will intensify at much faster rates. That’s because climate change is making ocean temperatures warmer, and warm water feeds tropical storms.
"The reason there are going to be more major hurricanes is not necessarily there are going to be that many more storms … it’s really the fact that those storms are going to get there faster,” Bhatia told Washington Post.
In recent years, this phenomenon has already been apparent with the rapid growth of Hurricane Maria in 2017, which devastated Puerto Rico, and the deadly winds of Hurricane Patricia, which pushed 210 miles per hour.
Scientists are also beginning to wonder if a Category 6 hurricane designation is warranted, especially in light of Hurricane Patricia, which as a Category 5 hurricane was much more powerful than its peers. The range of wind speed for weaker hurricane categories is much smaller than Category 5, which is essentially indefinite.
“I think I’d bring a social scientist in here to see what the net value of having a Category 6 designation would be,” Gabriel Vecchi, one of the study’s authors, told the Post.
Bhatia told the Post that the model is merely a prediction and it doesn’t guarantee that hurricanes will follow this pattern. However, climate prediction models have grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years and are able to compute immense amounts of data.
This model in particular is able to combine climate variables with ocean variables, a breakthrough in forecasting systems, according to the Post.
And if the results pan out to be true, that could be disastrous for coastal communities around the world. Last year, Hurricane Maria caused the deaths of thousands and destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, killing 5,235 people.
In both cases, people with few resources who were unable to rebound from the disasters were affected the most.