Big and powerful as “Irma” is and as damaging as was “Harvey,” these are but forerunners of the coming mega-hurricanes.
Back in 1999, I interview literally dozens of meteorologists and climatologists, including several at the National Hurricane Center near Miami, and all of them fretted over major coming storms.
A number of climatologists, one of them at M.I.T., outright predicted to me that an upward trend in global temperatures, which was already in evidence back in 1999 (before it became political folly), was going to produce “hyper-hurricanes.” I spoke to one government emergency official in Miami who believed that back during the Middle Ages, mega-hurricanes unlike any we have ever witnessed — call them category-sixes (or more) lashed the west coast of Florida.
A scientist at Louisiana State University had collected sediment samples showing great hurricanes — with much higher storm surge than any on modern record — during the Middle Ages.
Where “Irma” has had winds of up to 180 miles per hour, and “Andrew” clocked in with gusts up to 200, there were simple ingredients for a much more terrifying storm.
Scientists in England told me they expected a 25 percent increase in top winds with projected warming while at Princeton calculations called for an increase of up ti 12 percent.
These were “conservative” numbers — erring on the low side — yet even these figures, when applied to the most powerful hurricanes in history, meant that the future could see gusts well over 250 miles an hour.
Using other figures, an argument could be made for future storms with actual sustained winds — not just gusts — of 230 to 250 miles per hour: heading into the category of tornadoes, but so much larger!
One day, they said, hurricane-force winds could extend outward for more than a hundreds miles. (Winds from “Irma” already have at times extended out seventy miles, so we are getting there.)
The barometric pressure of the strongest storm ever recorded, Hurricane Gilbert (which did not affected the U.S.) was 888. “Irma” is currently 922. “Gilbert” sent out gale-force winds for 600 miles— yet the emergency management fellow in Miami, Dr. Peterson, said he was “absolutely confident that it’s not even close to the maximum that can be done.”
Could a storm plunge to 860? To 859? (At its lowest, “Katrina” was 902.)
Anything was possible in a climate that is warming — for whatever reasons.
It depends on how volatile the air is, and by all signs it is swerving.
As I wrote in Sent To Earth, “In a climate that was unsteady there was no reason why such a storm would not balloon into larger than “Gilbert” or (another, a typhoon, named) “Tip” with winds of destructive force for several hundred miles. That meant the possibility of trauma for Florida. A new up-cycle was in place, would last a minimum of fifteen years, and few were prepared for it. Florida had been ‘extremely lucky, just unbelievably spared,’ hurricane expert Dr. Gray, who formulated annual hurricane forecasts, told me. But the state, he warned — back years ago — was now a “receipe for disasters.”
I heard this time and again, including from the director of the Hurricane Center.
At Cocoa Plum south of Miami mansions were being erected on land that had been under whitecaps in 1965 during an all but forgotten hurricane called “Betsy”!
“That was a category-three,” said Sent To Earth. “What was coming now was a five; without prayer, no doubt about it. If not Florida, Virginia or the Carolinas. A five or a five-plus. And Dr. Gray was right: It was going to be a tragedy. There were now 6.7 million people in Florida who were susceptible to the effects of a category-five, and even without further warming we were entering into to what Dr. Gray deemed a ‘new hurricane era.'”
That was written in the year 2000 — seventeen years ago. We are now seeing the forecasts — a prophecies — materialize, or begin to. The book warned that one day we would see the first statewide disaster. One day, what happened with “Andrew” would happen to an area ten times larger.
As the book warned, “The big ones were coming, Gray warned. Maybe not next year, maybe not even the year after, but they were coming. And it would would deserve the term ‘mega,’ with Florida and specifically the ‘Gold Coast,’ the corridor between Miami and Palm Beach, the most inviting target, a candidate for the kind of event that would be heard by everyone everywhere.
“The nation — the world — would watch as the storm-of-all-storms swept over the Bahamas like a giant cogwheel dealing hateful tongues of red and violet on the radar.”
If this sounds uncannily like what we are now seeing on TV, remember that however “Irma” pans out, and whatever the final damage estimates in Houston, they are only forerunners.