Super Storms

The term “super storm” has never been a meteorological classification, so how should we define it? Perhaps if the devastation caused by a storm falls within “acceptable” financial parameters, it’s a normal storm; if the destruction exceeds a certain economic value it gets recognized or referred to as a super storm. At least by the tabloids, and even the more standard news reporting organizations these days, wanting to increase sales or audience share by hyping stories of destruction; news stories that invariably have human pain and suffering entwined within such events.

This certainly seems to be the current criteria; as stated, the term “super storm” has no relevance in meteorological science, the severest storms have a category 5 classification. Money or insurance cost and geographical location seem to be considered to have greater significance when our news providers declare a super storm, more so than the loss of life. A storm that kills five people in the USA and results in 500 million dollars “worth” of damage always seems to be considered larger and more significant than the storm that kills 50,000 people but only causes 500 thousand dollars “worth” of damage in Bangladesh.

The world is warming, this is a fact based on historical recordings of the average temperature in a wide range of locations around the world. It doesn’t actually matter whether it is a natural process or the result of human activities. It is almost certainly due to both, but the significant point is that it IS happening. And one thing we certainly do know about storms: they get bigger the hotter it is. It’s why they form near the equator. Ask any climatologist.

Extreme firestorms killing hundreds of people and millions of animals while devastating huge tracts of land in Australia are not simply the result of the uncaring actions of a few psychopathic arsonists. Long term droughts and strong winds were required to present these evil people with the opportunity to cause so much harm. The major storms we experience are all born in the tropics around the equator. Gases expand when heated and the equator is the hottest part of our planet.

The curvature of the Earth’s surface causes the rising currents of heated air to spin over extensive areas. These storm systems only grow over the world’s seas, they fracture and fragment when they move over land. As with everything, they require power, and that power is supplied by heat. The higher our planet’s average temperature becomes, the greater the starting energy available to storms and the more powerful they can become before making landfall. “Once in a century” storms causing untold damage every few years is the reality we face day. Even more powerful storms several times a year is what we can expect in the not too distant future.

Meteorological science may well need to increase the classification system for storms, adding category 6 and even 7 in the future. Whether such large-scale, powerfully destructive storms, possibly managing to shrink over land and redevelop again over the seas, and therefore lasting for years, will come to be classified as super storms is thankfully something still for the future. The tabloid journalists naming some of today’s severe storms “super storms” may well wish they had refrained from that hyperbole, saving it for what is to come.