First: Category 5 hurricanes hit all oceans this year

First: Category 5 hurricanes hit all oceans this year

For the first time on record, storms have peaked at Category 5 across the ocean in one year.

A combination of human-induced climate change and El Niño have warmed ocean waters to record levels by 2023, setting the stage for a meteorological feat. The Copernicus Climate Service of the European Union has confirmed that the world’s oceans reached the warmest level on record in August.

This week alone, two tropical cyclones jumped to Category 5 strength in two days – Hurricane Jova in the northeast Pacific on Wednesday, closely followed by Hurricane Lee in the Atlantic on Thursday. The pair of storms strengthened surprisingly quickly, their maximum winds reaching 90 mph and 85 mph, respectively, in 24 hours.

Meteorologists watch seven tropical oceans around the world for storm development. In addition to the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, category 5 hurricanes formed in five other bases earlier this year.

Brian McNoldy, a tropical climate expert at the University of Miami, confirmed that 2023 marked the first event of Hurricane 5 in all seven and connected with warm water.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that abnormally warm ocean temperatures around the world are making this more likely,” McNoldy said in an email. “It energizes everything.”

Water is warmer than normal almost everywhere, helping storms to strengthen quickly even in areas where storm surges are usually reduced during El Niño due to high altitude winds.

“In an El Niño year, strong storms in the Pacific are not surprising, but the Atlantic will be very unlikely to pull its weight and produce a 5,” said Alex DesRosiers, a tropical climate researcher at Colorado State University. “The record is warm [sea surface temperatures] we see in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic is key to allowing the hurricane season we’ve had so far even though El Niño is usually avoided.”

Category 5 hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 157 mph and are considered the most dangerous in the world. When they hit land, “major damage will occur,” writes the National Hurricane Center. Homes are severely damaged, trees are uprooted, and areas can remain “weeks or months.”

Depending on the region of the world they are in, these storms have different names but produce the same effects. In the Southern Hemisphere, they are called hurricanes, while they are called hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean.

The first of 2023’s Category 5 hurricanes came in February. Here’s a snapshot of the seven Category 5 storms so far this year.

February: Tropical Cyclone Freddy, winds of 165 mph in the southwestern Indian Ocean

Freddy was a very long-lived hurricane, with a life cycle of about five weeks, making it the longest-lived hurricane on record. Freddy strengthened rapidly — gaining at least 35 mph in wind speed during the day — several times, including a peak of 165 mph on February 19.

March: Tropical Cyclone Kevin, 160 mph winds in the southwest Pacific Ocean

Kevin was quickly strengthened again between March 1 and 3, increasing from Category 1 to Category 4. It reached Category 5 mostly over open water, but Vanuatu northeast of Australia experienced dangerous winds and flooding .

April: Tropical Storm Ilsa, 160 mph winds in the Australian basin (or southeast Indian Ocean)

Moving through waters in the mid and upper 80s, Ilsa strengthened rapidly as it closed off the northwest coast of Australia in mid-April. Record-breaking wind speeds in the region were recorded on Bedout Island off the coast of Australia, and settlements near the landfall sustained significant damage.

May – Tropical Cyclone Mocha, 175 mph winds in the North Indian Ocean

Yet another storm made use of unusually warm water and quickly strengthened near the coast. Mocha decided to one of the worst cyclones in the Indian Ocean on record after it crashed in Myanmar and Bangladesh, killing hundreds.

May: Super Typhoon Mawar, 185 mph winds in the northwest Pacific Ocean

Mawar became the strongest cyclone of the year, the strongest on record for May and the strongest observed at any time as its pressure dropped below 900 millibars. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. The storm experienced two episodes of rapid intensification.

September: Hurricane Jova, 160 mph winds in the northeast Pacific Ocean

Between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Jova went from being a powerful storm to a 160 mph Category 5. Fortunately, it stayed above water and is slowing down.

September: Hurricane Lee, 165 mph winds in the Atlantic

Lee also went from a forgettable looking storm to a Category 5 monster in about a day. Hurricane Hunter aircraft spotted the storm near its peak Thursday night, catching lightning constantly in its center. A powerful storm is forecast to grow across the western Atlantic and could affect eastern New England and the Canadian Maritimes for about eight to 10 days.

Lee became the eighth Atlantic hurricane in the last eight years. Between 1970 and 2000, only six Atlantic hurricanes reached Category 5, according to John Morales, a broadcast meteorologist in Miami. “Category 5 hurricanes were rare,” he said in a tweet. “Used to be.”

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