Hurricane Patricia: too fast, too furious

Hurricane Patricia narrowly misses Mexican cities

Hurricane Patricia threatened both Mexico and the United States as one of the strongest storms ever recorded:

“As ocean temperatures continue to warm as a result of human-caused climate change, we expect hurricanes to intensify, and we expect to cross new thresholds. Hurricane Patricia and her unprecedented 200 mile-per-hour sustained winds, appears to be one of them now, unfortunately.”

 –Penn State University’s Michael Mann

How did Hurricane Patricia become so strong so fast? The storm had, at one point, 200 MPH winds, which gives us a terrifying glimpse at the future of extreme weather events. Luckily, Patricia veered away from the large populated areas in Mexico. But the potential destruction, on par with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, was all too real. She was the strongest documented tropical cyclone of the season, clocking in at Category-5, following several consecutive months of record high temperatures.

Hurricane Patricia

Hurricane Patricia taken from the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument on October 23, 2015

One major contributor to Patricia’s intensity was the El Niño effect.

El Niño happens when sea water temperatures rise in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is a weak, warm current that starts every year in late December along the coasts of Peru and Ecuador. El Niño can change the weather and have important global economic effects on several communities. For example, Australia and Southeast Asia may have drought while the deserts of Peru have very heavy rainfall. More risks associated with El Niño are: flooding and landslides in the Americas, drought in Southeast Asia and Australia, scrambled fisheries, and malaria, cholera, and dengue outbreaks. So the effects of El Niño combined with an already strong tropical storm to produce the strongest hurricane ever recorded. This cannot be the norm from here on out. No more kicking the can. Time to act.