Researcher Richard Olson sees it necessary to update the current Saffir-Simpson scale and establish new categories that reflect the magnitude of storms that exceed 250 kilometers per hour
Natural disaster researcher Richard Olson has warned that more “fierce” hurricanes will be recorded in the coming decades and, to prevent their terrible effects, he is working on a test facility “of unparalleled scale” that will for the first time combine extreme winds, storm surges, and strong waves.
In an interview with Efe in Miami (Florida), the director of the Institute of Extreme Events of the International University of Florida (FIU) warned that there will be an increase in “more severe storms” and, what is worse, the phenomenon of ” rapid and late intensification”, something of particular concern to the scientific community and emergency management agencies.
One of the latest and greatest examples of this phenomenon that leaves the population with no time to prepare as Hurricane Michael, which in October 2018 went from being a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico to a hurricane in just over two days. category 5 just before making landfall in Florida (USA).
“There are category 2 or 3 storms that intensify in recent days just before reaching the coast to category four or five, or super five” on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which classifies hurricanes based on the strength of their winds he explained.
And therein lies another of the challenges to face this new panorama. Olson sees it necessary to update the current Saffir-Simpson scale and establish new categories that reflect the magnitude of storms that exceed 250 kilometers per hour, whether they are category super five or six.
DORIAN, A PERFECT ANIMAL
Olson himself, who has toured America after the passage of hurricanes such as Katrina (2005) or Mitch (1998) and earthquakes such as the one in Mexico City (1985), acknowledges that he felt “afraid” by the “terrible almost perfection” of Dorian, which in 2019 became the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the Atlantic basin, with winds of 295 km/h, tied with the cyclone called Labor Day (1935). “Looking at the Saffir-Simpson scale, for me personally, Category 5 doesn’t capture the strength of a 300-kilometer-per-hour hurricane. It’s an animal,” he said of a cyclone that, along with Patricia, which made landfall in Mexico in 2015 with winds of 345 km/h, anticipates a disquieting future. In addition, he pointed out, the most used scale, the Saffir-Simpson, limps from the start by only including the winds and not taking into account the danger posed by water,
The paradigmatic example of this problem was Hurricane Sandy, which in 2012 reached the northeastern coast of the United States as a Category 1 hurricane, but whose heavy rains and storm surges caused nearly 150 deaths, especially in New York and New Jersey.
“The danger of analyzing only the winds is that they can hide the threat” of the water, explained the professor, who cites a saying that in English says “Hide from the wind and flee from the water”, because statistics show that more lives are lost due to floods and strong waves that by the winds.
PREPARE THE FUTURE
And that’s where the FIU project comes in, which recently received a $12.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to design a large-scale test facility capable of withstanding winds of up to 200 mph, combined with a water reservoir to simulate storm surge and wave action.
This facility, of an “unparalleled scale”, similar to a “football stadium”, will allow systems and components to be tested for the first time with three of the most important elements of a hurricane “in interaction”.