scorecardScientists say hurricanes are growing so powerful that we need to add a Category 6. Here's what that would look like.
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Scientists say hurricanes are growing so powerful that we need to add a Category 6. Here's what that would look like.

Jessica Orwig   

Scientists say hurricanes are growing so powerful that we need to add a Category 6. Here's what that would look like.
LifeScience2 min read
  • Scientists argue that we need to add a Category 6 to the Hurricane Wind scale.
  • Category 6 hurricanes would describe storms with wind speeds of at least 192 mph.

Climate change is driving up more than just Earth's temperature. It's making hurricanes more intense, too, which should make us revisit how we categorize these destructive storms to better warn people at risk in the future, researchers reported in a new study.

The researchers recommend adding a Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which currently ranks powerful tropical storms based on wind speed starting at Category 1 (74 to 95 mph) up to Category 5 (157 mph or higher).

The "or higher" for Category 5 storms is where scientists take issue.

"The open endedness of the 5th category of the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale becomes increasingly problematic for conveying wind risk in a warming world," researchers reported in the study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To remedy this, authors Michael Wehner and James Kossin, propose adding another category. Category 6 would refer to hurricanes with sustained wind speeds of at least 192 mph — about the speed that NASCAR drivers go.

A strong hurricane with 192 mph winds — which would qualify as a Category 6 — isn't unheard of. In fact, since 2013, five storms have reached or surpassed that, including Hurricane Patricia, Typhoon Haiyan, and Typhoon Meranti, the researchers reported.

And as global temperatures rise, so does the risk of these powerful storms.

What a Category 6 hurricane would look like

Storms tend to weaken as they reach landfall, which makes the risk of a Category 6 striking a major city like New York minuscule, Wehner told Business Insider over email.

"However, the risk of a Cat 6 in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean is currently not negligible," he said.

"Such a storm would be a major disaster if it were to make landfall in a populated area, even after it weakened somewhat," Wehner added.

Take Typhoon Haiyan.

When it first made landfall in 2013 over Samar, an island in the Philippines, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center clocked its windspeed at 196 mph, one of the highest windspeeds ever recorded for a storm over land.

Winds were so intense they swept away government-designed storm shelters. Giant waves produced a storm surge 15 feet to 18 feet, which swept ashore killing thousands.

In total, an estimated 6,300 people died and another 4 million were left homeless. Damage costs were an estimated $13 billion.

Typhoon Haiyan is considered an anomaly, but if climate change continues to drive up global temperature, storms like these may become more common across the globe.

In the Atlantic where hurricanes that threaten the US East Coast form, odds of a Category 6 increase once "global warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels," Wehner told BI.

"We are currently around 1.2 or 1.3 degrees Celsius," he added. So there's still time, but if we continue to pollute at the rate we're going, the future looks dark and stormy.




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