Hurricane Ida, which made landfall on the Louisiana shore on Sunday with gusts of 150 mph, acquired strength far faster than typical hurricanes. As storms gather up more energy from warmer ocean water due to climate change, such fast intensification is becoming more common.
Ida's escalation was severe amid a season of extreme weather.
Just one small example of the strong winds in New Orleans right now--a trash can gets blown down the street. To everyone affected by #Ida, please stay safe and listen to the guidance of local officials. pic.twitter.com/Ua9F48HSep— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) August 29, 2021
According to the National Hurricane Center's prediction bulletins, the storm's maximum sustained winds were at 85 mph as of Saturday morning, which made it a Category 1 hurricane. However, they gained 65 mph in less than 24 hours, putting Ida dangerously near Category 5.
The storm became stronger than the hurricane center had predicted, with maximum winds of 140 miles per hour. According to the hurricane center, rapid intensification is defined as a 35 mph increase in wind speed in 24 hours. Ida gained that much strength in just six hours.
Extreme Weather Worsened by Climate Change
Part of the cause is climate change. Researchers discovered that while ocean temperatures have risen over the last four decades, the frequency of quickly strengthening Atlantic hurricanes has increased, in part because warmer water supplies more of the energy that feeds these storms. In the 1980s, there was a 1% possibility that a hurricane would rapidly intensify. There is now a 5% probability of it happening.
Other elements, such as seasonal warming of the Gulf of Mexico, the quantity of moisture in the sky, and the presence or absence of winds that may influence the structure of a storm, experts who research hurricane behavior said, played a part with Ida.
Because of the heat that has collected during the summer, the Gulf is quite warm right now. Because of this seasonal warming, which also occurs in the Atlantic Ocean, the hurricane season is most active from mid-August to October every year.
But, according to Joshua Wadler of the University of Miami and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it's not only the Gulf's surface temperature that matters. Hurricanes chill the ocean as they pass over it by stirring up the water to a depth of around 150 feet and mixing in cooler water from below.
Different Water Temperatures
Ida was traveling through water that was significantly warmer down to that depth on this occasion. Dr. Wadler stated that probes dropped into the sea by storm hunter planes on Saturday indicated that the temperature after Ida had mixed it was around 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
"That's on the very upper end of what storms ever see in terms of sea surface temperatures," he added.
According to Chris Slocum, a NOAA researcher, the storm's route occurred to pass across this warm water, which scientists refer to as an eddy.
"Ida picked the right course across the gulf, where the hottest water is," he added, adding that the storm was able to take lots of energy. "It may be described as a worst-case scenario."
Dr. Slocum compared the situation to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the storm passed over a cooler water column approaching Louisiana, dropping from a Category 5 to a Category 3 storm. Unfortunately, Ida did not come across any colder water.
He remarked, "This one is following the upward trend." He stated, "The only thing that can stop the intensification process is landfall."
Every year, a portion of a looping current breaks off in the Gulf, forming an eddy, according to Dr. Wadler. While it's impossible to attribute a single one to climate change, he claims that this one is "as deep as we've seen in a very long time."
While ocean temperatures are the most significant element, according to Dr. Slocum, two other factors influence how much and how quickly a storm builds.
The thunderstorms that make up a tropical cyclone are affected by atmospheric moisture. The more humid the air, the longer and stronger these storms will last. And how these thunderstorms interact with one another, especially in the storm's center, might influence whether it strengthens or decreases.
Wind shear, or variations in wind speed and direction with altitude in the sky, can also impact storm structure. "You can tear a storm apart" if the wind shear is too great.
The forecasters at the storm center had been keeping a careful eye on wind shear. It was a factor when Ida made landfall in the Gulf on Friday, giving the storm an asymmetric shape. On Saturday, though, the shear subsided, allowing the storm to take on a more regular spiral pattern.
The impact on wind speed is similar to what happens during a spin by figure skaters. Skaters who maintain a tight, accurate position with their arms will rotate quicker. Conversely, they will spin considerably more slowly if one of their arms is extended.
It's impossible to predict whether a storm will strengthen quickly, according to Dr. Slocum.
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