Hurricane Otis underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving from a mere nuisance to a menacing force within a single day. After making landfall near Acapulco as a Category 5 hurricane on Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center described its rapid intensification as an “explosive” event, boosting its wind speed by approximately 115 mph in just 24 hours, thereby creating a “nightmare scenario” for southern Mexico.
This extraordinary surge in strength is a rare occurrence, with only one other storm in recorded history, Hurricane Patricia in 2015, surpassing this remarkable feat, as revealed in a recent forecast by the National Hurricane Center.
To illustrate the abrupt change, Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, highlighted the stark contrast. He remarked, “Imagine starting your day expecting a stiff breeze and some rain, and overnight you get catastrophic 165 mph winds. Just 24 hours prior, it was a tropical storm and was forecast to make landfall as a tropical storm.”
This astonishing escalation aligns with a concerning pattern that scientists are closely monitoring. In recent years, a growing number of tropical storms have exhibited rapid intensification as they approached landfall, signifying an increase in wind speed of at least 35 mph within 24 hours. The phenomenon is primarily fueled by the warm waters on the ocean’s surface, which provide additional energy for the storm.
Although the factors responsible for rapid intensification remain somewhat elusive, researchers suspect that climate change, which warms ocean waters, may play a role. Advancements in satellite technology have also enhanced scientists’ capacity to track storms, potentially facilitating the identification of this trend.
A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports further underscored this trend. It revealed that tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean were about 29% more likely to undergo rapid intensification from 2001 to 2020, compared to the period from 1971 to 1990. Notably, more than twice as many hurricanes transitioned from a Category 1 or weaker to a Category 3 or stronger within a mere 36 hours.
The challenge posed by rapid intensification is significant, making forecasting considerably more complex. Robert Rohde, a climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, emphasized the difficulty in predicting this phenomenon and referred to it as a “catastrophic miss.”
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The National Hurricane Center warned of life-threatening storm surge along the southern Mexico coast on Wednesday and anticipated destructive winds and heavy precipitation further inland, raising concerns about mudslides and flash floods.