Hellish Intensification — Maria’s Winds Jump 50 mph to CAT 5 Strength in Just 12 Hours

A special statement from the National Hurricane Center reports that Maria has reached Category 5 intensity — with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph and a minimum central pressure of 924 mb. This is, perhaps, one of the most rapid intensifications the Atlantic basin has ever seen — with the storm seeing a 40 mb drop in pressure in approximately 6 hours and crossing the Category 4 threshold to Cat 5 intensity in even less time.

Maria is now a very dangerous hurricane — barreling into Dominica and the Leeward Islands before turning toward both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico over the next 36 hours. It is also the second Category 5 storm to threaten the region in just two weeks time.

As of this morning, Maria was a strong Category 2 Hurricane featuring 110 mph maximum sustained winds. Forecasters noted a potential for rapid intensification as the storm began to move over warmer than normal surface waters in the range of 29 degrees Celsius (84 to 85 degrees F) and as the atmospheric conditions became more favorable for storm development.

By late morning, the storm had strengthened into a major hurricane with 120 mph maximum sustained winds. But Maria still had a few surprises in store. The storm swiftly developed a small, pinhole, eye. Such small eye structures enable storms to more rapidly wrap winds around a compact center. It’s the kind of structure that can result in very fast intensification.

After the pinhole eye structure formed, Maria jumped to category 4 strength with 130 mph winds by late afternoon. Then, by the 9 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the storm made the considerable leap to Category 5 status with 160 mph maximum sustained winds.

The storm, at this time is now zeroing in on Dominica — which is presently seeing very rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Maria presently has a smaller hurricane force wind field than Irma — with hurricane strength winds only stretching about 15-20 miles from the storm’s center. Those winds, however, are very intense and capable of inflicting catastrophic damage. All within the path of this terrible storm should seek shelter in the strongest structures possible immediately and heed any warnings or advice from local disaster authorities.

Conditions in Context

Like Irma and Harvey, Maria is tapping warmer than normal sea surface temperatures which is helping it to reach a higher peak intensity. This year, thunderstorms in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) have been unusually intense. Strong thunderstorms in this region are basically the seeds that can grow into powerful tropical cyclones. So the larger, more energetic, more moisture-rich, and more numerous these storms, the higher potential that a strong hurricane will ultimately form once such systems enter the Tropical Atlantic. Warmer ocean surface temperatures are a direct upshot of human-caused climate change and there is some evidence that climate change is also increasing the intensity of the world’s most powerful thunderstorms — particularly over the Equatorial regions.

In addition to these climate change related factors, La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific are helping to reduce wind shear over the Tropical Atlantic. Reduced shear helps to allow the larger than normal storms emerging from Africa to tap the warmer than normal surface waters across the Atlantic. So in total, this is a pretty vicious combination of both natural and climate change related factors. A set that is enabling one of the worst hurricane seasons on record for the Atlantic.

(UPDATED: UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

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53 Comments

  1. Greg

     /  September 19, 2017

    “Maria put on an incredible display of rapid intensification on Monday…Maria likely did catastrophic damage to Dominica…it is uncommon for water temperatures to be warm enough to the east of the island to allow intensification of westward-moving tropical storms into hurricanes before reaching Dominica.”
    Jeff Master’s just posted too:
    https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/category-5-hurricane-maria-hits-dominica

    Reply
    • Prior to 2017, only 3 category 5 storms have ever formed outside the Caribbean, the Gulf, or the Bahamas and in the Tropical Atlantic beyond the Leeward and Windward islands. During 2017, we’ve had two.

      Dominica has been hit by a Cat 4 (David). But we have no record of it ever being hit by a Cat 5. Both Maria and Irma were firsts for the islands they struck. Islands that will take years to recover. But, unfortunately, the dice is now loaded for more, higher intensity, storms of this kind. Warmer oceans simply require the right atmospheric conditions to produce worse storms than in the past. And when those variables do add up the potential for tragedy is higher than ever before.

      Reply
      • The formula is 83×10^(c/15) rounded to the nearest 5mph. Given that, the top end of a Cat 5 should be 178, or rounded to 180 mph.
        Irma sustained 185 mph for many hours. At what point do we create Cat 6?

        The current logic of ‘above winds of 155 it doesn’t matter on a destruction scale’ seems to ring a little hollow in my ears after watching the destruction of these hurricanes. At the very least, the range of how far those windspeeds are from the eye should be acknowledged.

        Given the destructive rains and flooding of Harvey and the ‘no name’ storm a year or two ago, I think we need a storm scale more like the earthquake scale, one that takes into account the size, windspeed, and water potential of the storm.

        Reply
  2. Greg

     /  September 19, 2017

    A population of around 72,000. Expect this island to be stripped and all this green vegetation to be gone like Irma’s earlier hit to the Caribbean. Really hope they are safe.

    Reply
  3. Syd Bridges

     /  September 19, 2017

    Yet another example of storm bombification. If this trend continues to grow-and that is what i expect to happen-then perhaps we should refer to such storms as “normal” hurricanes and any that do not bombify as “classic” hurricanes.

    Looking at the latest noaa ENSO report it is likely that La Nina will be declared by December. With such conditions now prevailing, this could be a long and destructive hurricane season.

    Reply
    • eleggua

       /  September 19, 2017

      8 weeks or so to go in this hurricane season. Could run ’til near Thanksgviing.

      Reply
    • The tropics fired off some amazing thunderstorms at about the exact same time that ENSO started to turn. With those SSTs in the Atlantic at such warmer than previously normal levels, it was rather dramatically bad timing.

      Reply
  4. eleggua

     /  September 19, 2017

    “…..“You have allies in the United States. You shouldn’t put your foot on the brake or even tap it just because we have a climate denier in the White House. You’re not alone,” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said he would tell world leaders this week…..”

    Reply
    • Thank goodness we have these governors. We can truly say now that it’s not the U.S. at the federal level that is leading the world on climate change, but states like California which are influencing countries like India and China. It’s as amazing and heartening to see as it is frustrating to observe the clear disconnect and harmful denial at the federal level. The great strides that were made under Obama are being undermined by Trump. And yet we still have leaders who are fighting to move forward. This is real leadership in the real world.

      Reply
  5. eleggua

     /  September 19, 2017
    Reply
    • Speaking of lack of moral leadership…

      Reply
      • eleggua

         /  September 19, 2017

        Immoral leadership speaking at the UN earlier today. Mindblowing insults and threats flung about willy-nilly. The Washington Post’s annotations break down a lot of the noise really well.

        ‘Trump’s menacing United Nations speech, annotated’
        September 19, 2017

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/09/19/trumps-menacing-united-nations-speech-annotated/

        “Trump says the word “sovereignty” no fewer than 22 times in this speech – a clear signal that he wants each country to be self-relient and be allowed to look out for itself first. This is the nationalism within Trump’s speech.”

        “We will slide down the path of complacency, numb to the challenges, threats, and even wars that we face.”
        -Aaron Blake Reporter, Washington Post
        “Trump flubbed again here. He seems to have meant “Will we” – a question – rather than “We will.”

        Trimp: “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.:”

        “…this is a pretty unprecedented threat for Trump to make. Last month, he promised “fire and fury” if North Korea threatened the United States; with “totally destroy,” he seems to be suggesting the United States might annihilate an entire country of 25 million people. That’s a remarkable statement from a president.”

        etc, etc, etc, ugh.

        Reply
        • The rhetoric coming from Trump is practically indistinguishable from the rhetoric coming out of North Korea. Threats, bullying, saber rattling. This is not how a legitimate world leader talks. The U.S. Presidency takes another blow from an unhinged madman who appears to relish the notion of provoking nuclear conflict.

        • eleggua

           /  September 20, 2017

          Yes. Like grade-schoolyard tough guys.

  6. eleggua

     /  September 19, 2017

    “…Extreme fire behavior — difficult to predict and dangerous to fight — has been the watchword of the 2017 season across the West. More large, uncontrolled wildfires were burning in 10 Western states in early September than at any comparable time since 2006….

    …the year is not a record, with 8.3 million acres burned as of mid-September. More than 10 million acres burned in 2015, the worst fire season in decades. But much of that land, as in previous years, was far from population centers, in remote areas of Alaska or western rangelands.

    In stark contrast, this year’s fires are licking at people’s back doors or, in some cases, consuming the doors altogether. While some of that is because the fires are closer to major cities, there is another factor.

    “As the West becomes more and more populated, we’re seeing more and more homes being built in these areas; the baby boomers retire and they’re building these homes all over, in natural parts of the landscape,” said Jessica Gardetto, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

    “We’re going to see more summers like this.”….”

    Reply
  7. eleggua

     /  September 19, 2017
    Reply
    • The fires have been awful, with worse effect in Seattle than 2015. Smoke finally blown out by rain starting yesterday.

      I typically feel glum about the clouds and rain coming back, but not this year.

      Reply
  8. Vic

     /  September 19, 2017

    Adani’s paramilitary wing (the Queensland Police) out in force today dismantling another protest of the alleged Carmichael coal mine. Ten arrests were made.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-19/anti-adani-protestors-arrested-bowen/8959752

    Reply
    • At least they are not in riot gear

      Reply
      • Allan Barr

         /  September 19, 2017

        LoL Jean, thats what I was thinking when I saw the pic then saw your comment. U.S. police now look like full on military these days.

        Reply
      • Vic

         /  September 19, 2017

        Yeah, they do things a little differently in Queensland. Like these police vehicles branded by Santos, one of the country’s biggest oil and gas producers.

        http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-08/anti-csg-group-angry-at-santos-logo-used-on-qld-police-cars/5953030

        Reply
        • You’ve got to be kidding me…

        • Paul

           /  September 19, 2017

          You get what you pay for.

        • eleggua

           /  September 19, 2017

          Queensland’s about to get cooked. John Smith posted this article to an earlier thread.

          ‘SEVERE Heatwave about to grip Queensland’
          9.19.2017

          https://higginsstormchasing.com/severe-heatwave-about-to-grip-queensland/

          “…From Thursday onwards, temperatures are expected to scorch into the mid to high 30’s across Western parts of the State. By Friday, the heat (35ºc+) should cover the majority of Inland QLD, with 30-35ºc across Eastern parts of the State. On Saturday we could see temperatures rise ito around 40ºc across South-Western QLD with the majority of Inland QLD sitting above 37ºc and places like Ipswich, Beaudesert and Gatton rising into the mid to high 30’s.
          A cooler change is forecast to move through the Southern districts later on Sunday / early Monday however temperatures are likely to remain above 30ºc for most areas (well above average for this time of year). Temperatures across the South-East corner, Central and Northern districts are likely to stay very hot for this time of year (35ºc+).
          The increase heat is expected to also lead to a significant increase in fire danger potential. Fire danger threats should reach at least very high levels, potentially severe across several districts throughout the heatwave period (Thursday to Wednesday). …”

        • eleggua

           /  September 19, 2017

          This one’s also courtesy of John Smith from that same comment on Robert’s ‘Longest Global Coral Bleaching Event Officially at an End..” article.

          ‘Hot and Dry: Australia’s Weird Winter ‘
          18.09.2017

          http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/2017-weird-winter

          “…The “Hot & Dry: Australia’s Weird Winter,” report shows the nation experienced its warmest winter on record (for average maximum temperatures), while more than 260 heat and low rainfall records were also broken throughout the season.

          Climate Councillor and ecologist, Professor Lesley Hughes said Australia’s hottest winter in history was related to worsening climate change.

          “Without any meaningful action to tackle climate change, we will continue to see many more hot winters, just like this, as global temperatures rise,” she said.

          “We must take meaningful action to strongly reduce Australia’s emissions from fossil fuels.”…”

  9. Bill h

     /  September 19, 2017

    So that’s two cases of tropical storms strengthening to Cat 5 in the space of just over 48 hours. 2 very rare events about a month apart: anthro climate change definitely the null hypothesis, for all Trump’s bovine feces about the ’30s and ’40s. Funny how appeals to that period of US history are so popular among deniers. I guess that the death rate might have been higher then in the absence of the high quality forecasting that we have today. Maybe that’s the grain of truth buried in the trumps**t.

    Reply
    • The greatest irony of all was that FDR was President at that time and the movement of the country was rapidly toward more liberal and progressive values. Trump’s crib sheet is more from the 1830s than the 1930s. A time when women couldn’t vote, people still engaged in the atrocity of owning slaves, and when medicine was just a half skip away from the stone ages. Understanding of hurricanes and tropical systems was mostly rumor, myth and hearsay and when they came, it was often without any forewarning unless a fast ship was able to outpace them (no electronic communications for ocean observers). All ‘wonderful’ things for sure. Of course, go back to that now and you have the added serious complication of all that extra carbon in the atmosphere.

      Reply
  10. Andy_in_SD

     /  September 19, 2017

    Will Global Warming Make Hurricane Forecasting More Difficult?

    Abstract

    Hurricane track forecasts have improved steadily over the past few decades, yet forecasting hurricane intensity remains challenging. Of special concern are the rare instances of tropical cyclones that intensify rapidly just before landfall, catching forecasters and populations off guard, thereby risking large casualties. Here, we review two historical examples of such events and use scaling arguments and models to show that rapid intensification just before landfall is likely to become increasingly frequent and severe as the globe warms.

    Full Text / Paper Here:

    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0134.1

    Reply
    • This is following a similar line of research from a couple of years back. The findings are more than a bit disturbing. But it’s worth noting that shallower waters near coastlines, in shallow seas, and along continental shelves may tend to warm faster than the deeper, better-mixed offshore waters. Such a prevalence would enhance bombification just prior to landfall.

      Reply
  11. Vic

     /  September 19, 2017

    Australia’s biggest miner BHP has confirmed it is reconsidering its membership of the country’s peak mining lobby, the Minerals Council (MCA), which has long been one of the country’s most influential pro-coal / anti-renewables advocates.

    “We recognise that we need to do even more to publicise where we hold materially different positions to those expressed by industry associations, including the MCA. And we will.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-19/bhp-considering-quitting-minerals-council/8960298

    Reply
  12. utoutback

     /  September 19, 2017
    Reply
  13. Loni

     /  September 19, 2017

    I wonder if the hurricane season is going to extend itself.

    Reply
  14. Suzanne

     /  September 19, 2017

    On Democracy Now last night…Naomi Klein: We are Seeing the Shock Doctrine in effect after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma…

    Reply
    • Shell helped to make this hurricane worse. The fact that a Shell exec would be tapped for managing the Houston recovery is the very definition of a black irony.

      Reply
  15. I just listened to Trump’s UN speech..He forgot to mention human-caused Global Warming..He went after Iran and Venezuela tho(oil)

    Reply
    • Promoting renewable energy is promoting a blunting of climate change and an end to the nasty oil wars and oil politics and oil/gas/coal economic inequality all at the same time.

      Reply
  16. nwkilt

     /  September 19, 2017

    Seabin floating debris interception devices coming soon: http://seabinproject.com

    Reply
    • eleggua

       /  September 20, 2017

      It looks like a good idea at a glance but at a closer look it doesn’t look promising or even worthwhile in its current form.

      Two successful crowdfunding campaigns in 3 years and still nothing ready for sale.
      It doesn’t work in open water. It’s not going to clean up the oceans, despite that being one of the promo claims.
      Collects less than 3.5 lbs of material per day; retails for over $4000.
      Seems pretty clear watching the vid, it’s going to consume some living creatures along with debris.

      Looks like just another slick, well-produced crowdfunding campaign (campaigns plural, in this case) with glowing promo vid and well-executed website, but lacking a lot in the reality and execution of the ‘product’ and promise.

      Not buying it.

      Reply
  17. bostonblorp

     /  September 19, 2017

    ACE stands for Accumulated Cyclonic Energy. It’s an aggregated metric of storm count and intensity. And yes, this year is a bit “off the charts” on this metric and others.

    Reply
    • I think we are presently at #2 for all-time highest ACE (2005 holds the record). But we’re presently within striking distance of that ridiculous value. The vertical trajectory of present year ACE is more than a bit chilling.

      Reply
  18. Robert in New Orleans

     /  September 19, 2017

    Richard Branson: Hurricanes are the ‘start of things to come’
    http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/19/us/branson-new-day-cnntv/index.html

    Reply
  19. Kassy

     /  September 19, 2017

    NYC’s New Plan

    On September 14, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new rules intended to dramatically reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The new mandates will force building owners to upgrade their buildings on an accelerated schedule, with serious penalties for failure to comply.

    Fossil fuels used for hot water and heat in buildings are New York City’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, comprising 42 percent of the city’s total emissions. The new mandates require all owners of buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet fossil fuel caps over the next 12 to 17 years.

    For most, this will mean improvements to hot water heaters, roofs and windows, boilers, and heat distribution systems. For the worst-performing 14,500 buildings, however, the rules will trigger efficiency upgrades and fossil fuel equipment replacement. These worst-performing buildings currently produce about one-quarter of the City’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

    read more on:
    https://futurism.com/new-york-is-the-first-city-to-require-building-owners-to-reduce-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

    Reply
  20. Kassy

     /  September 19, 2017

    meanwhile in Japan:

    Quiet energy revolution underway in Japan as dozens of towns go off the grid

    TOKYO/HIGASHI MATSUSHIMA, JAPAN (Reuters) – A northern Japanese city’s efforts to rebuild its electric power system after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami mark a quiet shift away from the country’s old utility model toward self-reliant, local generation and transmission.

    After losing three-quarters of its homes and 1,100 people in the March 2011 temblor and tsunami, the city of Higashi Matsushima turned to the Japanese government’s “National Resilience Program,” with 3.72 trillion yen ($33.32 billion) in funding for this fiscal year, to rebuild.

    The city of 40,000 chose to construct micro-grids and de-centralized renewable power generation to create a self-sustaining system capable of producing an average of 25 percent of its electricity without the need of the region’s local power utility.

    The city’s steps illustrate a massive yet little known effort to take dozens of Japan’s towns and communities off the power grid and make them partly self-sufficient in generating electricity.

    more on:
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-energy-revolution/quiet-energy-revolution-underway-in-japan-as-dozens-of-towns-go-off-the-grid-idUSKCN1BU0UT

    That would not be a bad idea for US wouldn’t it? It always amazes me how much sun goes to waste in lets say Florida & Texas.

    Reply
  21. Kassy

     /  September 19, 2017

    Setback for group seeking “hockey stick” climate scientists’ e-mails

    Appeals court negates decision that would have handed over scientists’ e-mails.

    This is the second time in recent weeks that a lawsuit like this was decided in favor of scientists after the conservative group Judicial Watch failed to win access to the e-mails of NOAA scientists involved in a study of global temperature data.

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/09/setback-for-group-seeking-hockey-stick-climate-scientists-e-mails/

    See link for details about stages in the legal fight – could not find a short snippet that summarized it well.

    Reply
  22. While Maria’s intensification is indeed troubling, to me Harvey’s intensification was even more troubling. After crossing the Yucatan, Harvey was downgraded from a Tropical Depression and declared to be dissipated. It remained dead for another 2 days. However, the warmer than normal waters of the Gulf enabled this 2 day dead storm to regenerate itself and within another two days reach Category 4 strength. I have been unofficially following the progression of hurricanes since the early 90s and I have never heard of a 2 day dead storm resurrecting into a major hurricane like this before.

    Reply

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