Remember the late August – early September “stalled” Hurricane Dorian that tormented parts of the Bahamas seemingly forever? It’s the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded for the Bahamas, with fierce Category 5 wind speeds exceeding 180 miles per hour and inflicting the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.
Was that kind of intense storm, with its high rotational wind speeds and its slowly meandering movement from place to place, a “one-fer”? Or is instead an omen of more such storms to come?
Those questions are explored with a number of weather and climate experts in this month’s “This is Not Cool” original video by regular Yale Climate Connections contributor and free-lance videographer Peter Sinclair.
A CNN meteorologist characterizes Dorian with these words: “The thing just wobbles and wobbles and wobbles and just doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Perhaps the term ‘catastrophic’ may fall short for the amount of destruction created over the Bahamas” as a result of the “slow down and stall,” says Ángel F. Adames-Corraliza of the University of Michigan.
With several on-air meteorologists and climatologists saying recent research points to prospects for more such meandering and “stalled” storms in a warming climate, the video lays bare some intriguing points:
- Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli citing not only Dorian but also the 2017 Category 4 Hurricane Harvey that pummeled parts of Texas, said researchers recently are pointing to evidence that hurricanes “may be slowing down” in their movements from place to place. Berardelli also explains at one point how the “damage potential” from a 150-mile per hour hurricane is 250 times – not simply two times – that from a 75-mile-per-hour hurricane. “The multiplier is incredible.”
- Veteran meteorologist Jeff Masters points to research findings that the forward speed of hurricanes has decreased by about 10 percent since the beginning of the satellite era in the 1970s.
- Scientist James Kossin of NOAA says hurricanes are “much more likely to meander” or stall in the future. He points to “pretty high confidence that tropical cyclones [AKA hurricanes] are getting stronger” and says “there is a clear human fingerprint on that.”
- Kerry Emanuel of MIT explains that just eight hurricane events in the United States since the middle of the 19th century have resulted in one-half of the financial damages. “It really is the rare events – the Katrinas , the Sandys  that do the overwhelming amount of damage. He says the damages resulting from less powerful hurricanes really don’t amount to “a hill of beans” compared with those from the far stronger hurricanes.
- Masters points to three Category 4 storms land-falling in the U.S. in just two straight years, with only 28 previously having done so going back to 1851.
- “The stronger hurricanes have gotten stronger,” Penn State scientist Michael Mann testified before a congressional panel.
- “We expect that in general in a warmer climate, extreme precipitation, intense rain, will increase,” summarizes Allison Wing of Florida State University.
- Asked by a CBS News anchor if “this is a long-term thing, this blocking problem we have,” Berardelli concludes the video by saying “We think that blocks will increase in the future, we think that steering will probably decrease in the future. So this kind of thing is likely to keep happening in the future.”