Hurricane Dean Becomes Seventh Cat Five Storm In Last Five Years

Good early morning to everyone. Sorry that I didn’t update the site during portions of the day and evening. On Monday, I began training for a new job, which ran from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. In addition, when I got home, I was up until about a bit past 7:00 PM EDT, and fell asleep. As you can see, my sleeping patterns are adjusting from the three years of night shift work I did in computer operations. Anyway, I’ve just gotten myself up to speed on the latest with Hurricane Dean, and as expected, it became a Category Five Hurricane a bit after the 8:00 PM Advisory. The National Hurricane Center issued an update at 8:35 PM EDT on Monday night.

At 5:00 PM EDT, maximum sustained winds were still at 150 mph with a minimum central pressure lowering to its previous lowest point at 918 millibars, or 27.11 inches of Hg. Still a strong Category Four storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, Dean raised its intensity a notch three hours later with 155 mile per hour winds, and a minimum central pressure of 915 millibars, or 27.02 inches equaling that of Hurricane Isabel back in September 2003. A little more than a half hour after that, Dean was reclassified as a Cat Five storm as its winds were bumped up to 160 mph. Pressure then dropped another millibar, but seemed to stabilize at the 11 PM EDT advisory. The storm appears to be pushing toward a landfall in the area of the Southern Yucatan near Belize. More specifically, the coastal area some 20 miles to the east of the town of Chetumal, which according to CNN, has a population of about 100,000 people.

With Dean becoming a Category Five Hurricane, we’ve had seven such monster storms in the Atlantic since 2003: Isabel (2003), Ivan (2004), Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, and Dean. In addition, Hurricane Mitch was a powerful Category Five Hurricane prior to coming ashore in Honduras, and dumping torrential rains that produced devastating and deadly floods and mudslides that claimed the lives of an estimated 11,000 people in October 1998. So, this active cycle has produced more than its share of monster storms. All seven of these highly dangerous storms are ranked in the top dozen of all time Atlantic hurricane powerhouses including the strongest ever recorded (Wilma), and five in the top ten (Wilma, Katrina, Rita, Mitch, and Ivan). Cat Five systems are usually a rare breed since they represent the optimal condition of a tropical system. These storms require the most ideal conditions to not only develop, but to maintain itself. However, since 1970, there has been an increasing number of powerful storms not only in the Atlantic, but throughout the world according to Kerry Emanuel, a professor at MIT.

Once again, this raises the debate on whether or not the occurrence of more Category Four and Category Five Hurricanes is due to the increased presence of global warming, or is this just a part of the periodic, decadenal cycle that we are going through. Obviously, one key contributor to this debate is the fact that researchers, forecasters, and even the general public have more data and information to go on these days than in past years. As mentioned many times on this web site, the 1933 Atlantic Hurricane season, which had the previous high for most named storms with 21, may have had more named storms, and perhaps hurricanes and major hurricanes had the technology we enjoy today been around then. Satellites didn’t come about until the Tiros I was launched in 1961, and Radar wasn’t used until World War II. In addition, reconaissance flights weren’t routine until the 1950s although there had been some during the 1940s. These tools are also a big reason why we are so much more aware of the presence of such storms well before they come ashore, which has saved numerous lives over the years.

Regardless of what side you are on in the global warming debate, one thing is for sure. These are dangerous times we are living in along the coast. With populations increasing year after year, and people wanting to have a nice view of the ocean, risk is increasing. Consequently, there is a chance for a large loss of life as we saw with Katrina and Rita back in 2005, and even more importantly, monumental costs in property damage. Insurance companies are going to find it tougher to stay in business, and those difficulties will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher rates, or an unwillingness to provide coverage. Emergency management officials at all levels will also feel the strain since evacuations will become more troublesome, and shelters will not be equipped to handle the increased number of people.