Experts: Climate change threatens bigger, stronger ... and slower hurricanes

A summer of record heat has some wondering: Is this the new normal?

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Are super storms like Hurricane Dorian becoming the new normal?

While some scientists hesitate to blame stronger storms on climate change, others say the warming atmosphere is triggering bigger, more powerful, and slower-moving hurricanes with wind speeds that could soon necessitate a new intensity for cyclones ― Category 6.

"Given that Hurricane Dorian reached 180 mph sustained winds, maybe it is time for a new category," said Chip Fletcher, University of Hawaii professor and climate expert.

“That has meaning, in that it recognizes a new type of super storm that’s out there frequent enough that it deserves its own official recognition as a special Category 6.”

Fletcher says hurricanes are moving about 10% to 20% slower than they were over the last 50 years.

He says that's alarming because when a storm lingers, there's potential for more flooding and wind damage.

Fletcher says hurricanes are also developing from tropical storms much faster, and their tracks appear to be changing in the Central Pacific.

"Historically they have passed south of the Big Island. Now, if they migrate away from the equator, they're going to be on the same latitude as the Hawaiian islands. They're moving into new areas where perhaps people have not expected them, so building codes and general community resilience is not as high as it should be," Fletcher said.

But meteorologists with the federal government's Central Pacific Hurricane Center say more data is needed to make the connection.

"We're seeing warmer and warmer conditions, but you can't just take Dorian, you can't just take (Hurricane) Lane from last year, and say that's the one that proves there's climate change out there," said CPHC meteorologist Chevy Chevalier. "It's going to take a lot of data and we are compiling a lot of data."

While the science may still be debated, Hawaii leaders say the state must prepare its communities.

Numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show between April and August of this year, there were 141 record daily high temperatures either tied or broken across the islands, and parts of the state are already seeing the impacts of sea level rise.

“It means that storm surges and waves from hurricanes can go much further inland and have potentially much more deadly effects,” said State Rep. Chris Lee who represents Kailua and Waimanalo. “It’s going to be harder to get insurance, it’s going to be harder to get financing for real estate transactions. These things people are already starting to feel and costs are only going to go up in the future.”

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