Hurricane Ian is strengthening rapidly in the Caribbean as it passes over the ultra-warm waters of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center had predicted the system would rapidly intensify from a tropical storm to at least a category 4 hurricane in less than 72 hours.
It is an unprecedented forecast, experts told CNN, but one scientists say is becoming more likely as the climate crisis advances, pushing ocean temperatures higher and laying the groundwork for tropical storms to explode at breakneck pace into deadly major hurricanes.
Rapid intensification is precisely what it sounds like – a hurricane’s winds strengthening rapidly over a short amount of time. Scientists have defined it as a wind speed increase of at least 35 mph in 24 hours or less.
The phenomenon played out with breathtaking speed in the Philippines this weekend. Super Typhoon Noru exploded in strength on its final approach toward the Pacific island nation, going from the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane to a category 5 overnight as residents around Manila slept.
Noru’s rapid intensification right before landfall – which was not predicted – likely meant locals had no time prepare for the much stronger storm.
Hurricane Ian’s has been in the forecast for days, giving Cuba and Florida the benefit of time. Winds in the storm increased from 45 mph Sunday evening to 80 mph late Monday morning, and more strengthening is in the forecast. Ian could intensify into at least a category 4 before it makes landfall in Florida midweek.
This is an unprecedented NHC forecast.#Ian pic.twitter.com/n5P1VbSSF9— Sam Lillo (@splillo) September 24, 2022
Rapid intensification has historically been a rare phenomenon, according to Allison Wing, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at Florida State University.
It “is really sort of at the extreme end of how quickly storms can intensify,” Wing told CNN. “Only something like 6% or so of all forecast time periods have those types of rapid intensification rates observed associated with them. And so it’s something that’s by defini …