Last week, Hurricane Dorian was just Tropical Storm Dorian. It was a small, fast-moving and hard to predict little storm. It grazed the Antilles, and it was projected to be something of a mystery for the coming week.
Then, while traveling over the Caribbean Sea, it picked up steam from the hot ocean water and managed to stick together despite crosswinds that were anticipated to slow it down and pull it apart.
As a result of its massive uptick in size and power, it developed into a Category 5 hurricane before attacking the Bahamas with historic force.
The last storm to impact land with speeds the like seen from Dorian in the Bahamas was the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935. That storm was a Category 5 that made landfall in Florida, breaking several records for most intense storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Dorian, when it hit the Bahamas, was at a similar level of intensity.
This is historically significant, as the sustained windspeeds from Dorian matched a storm that has long been used as the benchmark for hurricanes. Thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed in the Bahamas, and seventy percent of the island of Grand Bahama is underwater. More than 50,000 people call Grand Bahama home.
Shifting Weather Patterns
While Category 5 hurricanes were once an anomaly that occurred once every decade or so, they’re now becoming disturbingly more prevalent. Hurricane Maria, for instance, made landfall on Dominica as a Cat 5 in 2017, while Irma made landfall on several Caribbean islands at Cat 5 that same year. Then, in 2018, Michael made landfall in Florida as a Category 5.
Prior to 2017, the last Category 5 to make landfall was Felix, in 2007. Before that, Dean, also in 2007. However, before that, the last Category 5 to make landfall was Andrew in 1992. That uptick in frequency is a bit concerning, both to casual onlookers and scientific researchers.
While no definitive evidence has been shown indicating that climate change is at play here, it’s not a stretch to see how it could play a role. Hurricanes are thermal engines, after all, and rising ocean temperatures mean that bigger hurricanes become the norm.