Will A ‘Category 6’ Hurricane Warning Be Created For Global Warming? Nope, And Here’s Why

NOAA/Handout via REUTERS

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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It’s officially Atlantic hurricane season, and there are once again calls to add a new level to official hurricane warnings due to man-made global warming.

Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann is the latest to call for the creation of a Category 6 on the Saffir-Simpson scale used by government agencies to communicate hurricane strength to the public.

“The current intensity scale doesn’t capture the fact that a 10 mph increase in sustained wind speeds ups the damage potential by 20 percent,” Mann told InsideClimate News on Friday.

“That’s not a subtle effect. It’s one that we can see.” Mann said, adding there “should be a Category 6 approaching peak winds of 190 mph,” ICN reported.

Mann isn’t the first to call for classifying Category 6 storms because of global warming. New Zealand climate minister James Shaw suggested in 2017 that “we might need one in the future.”

Similar calls were made after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. In fact, as far back as 2001, there have been calls to add a new category of hurricanes in the face of global warming.

There are no plans to add a Category 6 warning level, and there are very good reasons why.

There’s no point. A Category 5 hurricane has sustained winds of 157 miles per hour or greater, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says will cause “catastrophic” damage.

“[W]hat is left after ‘catastrophic’ damage?” Dennis Feltgen, a National Hurricane Center spokesman, told The New York Times during the 2017 hurricane season.

“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse,” Feltgen said. “Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

NOAA considered hurricane damage to be “catastrophic” starting at Category 4. However, calling for a new level of hurricane warning also could have an unintended consequence.

Changing the Saffir-Simpson scale would change perceptions of risk. Adding another warning level would make lesser categories seem less severe, lulling the public into a false sense of complacency when they should be evacuating or preparing.

“There’s a tendency for people in hurricane prone areas to discount the intensity of category 1 and 2 storms,” Peter Licari, a political scientist and PhD candidate, wrote on Medium in 2017.

“If one is the weakest and five is the strongest, then people are probably going to think that a category 2 is something to pay attention to but not take as seriously,” Licari wrote. “But if they were to increase the end point to a six, to extend the range of the scale, then people start to feel that category 2’s are weaker than they were before.”

Mann, however, contended a new warning level would “save lives,” ICN reported, noting that “Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, hit the Philippines in 2013, people died in shelters that had been designed to withstand a historic storm surge but still flooded.”

Cato Institute atmospheric scientist Ryan Maue pointed out cyclones in the western Pacific are much stronger than the Atlantic.

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