For the first time ever, storms reached the highest Category 5 level in every tropical ocean basin in the same year.
Category 5 storms formed in each ocean basin for the first time
This week alone, two tropical cyclones jumped to Category 5 intensity within two days – Hurricane Jova in the northeastern Pacific on Wednesday, followed by Hurricane Lee in the Atlantic on Thursday. Both storms intensified incredibly quickly, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph and 85 mph, respectively, within 24 hours.
Meteorologists monitor seven tropical ocean basins around the world for storm development. In addition to the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, Category 5 storms formed in the other five basins earlier this year.
Brian McNoldy, a tropical weather expert at the University of Miami, confirmed that 2023 was the first instance of Category 5 storms in all seven regions and linked them to warmer waters.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume that abnormally warm ocean temperatures around the world made this more likely to happen,” McNoldy said in an email. “It gives everything a boost.”
The waters are warmer than normal almost everywhere, which helps storms intensify quickly even in areas where storm activity often decreases during El Niño due to hostile winds at high altitudes.
“In an El Niño year, strong storms in the Pacific are not surprising, but the Atlantic will be the basin most unlikely to pull its weight and produce 5,” said Alex DeRosier, a tropical weather researcher at Colorado State University. “The record warmth (sea surface temperatures) we are seeing in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic is key to allowing for the active hurricane season we have seen so far despite the typically intense El Niño.”
Category 5 storms have maximum wind speeds of at least 157 mph and are considered the most dangerous on Earth. When it hits land, the National Hurricane Center wrote, “catastrophic damage will occur.” Homes have suffered extensive damage, trees have been uprooted, and areas could be left inhabitable for “weeks or months.”
Depending on the part of the world in which they form, these hurricane-force storms have different names but produce the same effects. In the Southern Hemisphere, they are mostly called hurricanes, while in the Western Pacific they are referred to as cyclones.
The first Category 5 storms of 2023 came in February. Here’s a snapshot of the seven Category 5 storms so far this year.
February: Tropical Cyclone Freddie, with winds of 165 mph in the southwestern Indian Ocean
Freddie was an extremely long-lived hurricane, with a total life cycle of about five weeks, making it the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record. Freddie’s strength rapidly intensified — with wind speeds increasing at least 35 mph over the course of the day — several times, including a peak of 165 mph on February 19.
tornado #Freddy It is approaching Mauritius as a Category 5 hurricane.
Freddy’s WSW should allow traffic to pass just north #MauritiusHowever, a slight jog south and hit the island is likely. Preparations should be rushed to completion in the coming hours regardless. pic.twitter.com/8k3XMvJcqA
– Michael Ferragamo (@FerragamoWx) February 20, 2023
March: Tropical Cyclone Kevin, 160 mph winds in the southwest Pacific
Kevin also underwent rapid intensification between 1 and 3 March, rising from Category 1 to Category 4. It reached Category 5 largely over open water, but Vanuatu north-eastern Australia suffered damaging winds and flooding.
Here in the Southwest Pacific, Tropical Cyclone Kevin has strengthened to Category 5 (BoM scale) 🌀
Sustained wind speeds are expected to reach 115 knots/over 130 mph – after hitting Vanuatu, they are no longer a threat to the ground.
On the US scale, it is high quality class 3 / low quality class 4. pic.twitter.com/3v2ZfmizIz
– Ben Noll (@BenNollWeather) March 4, 2023
April: Tropical Cyclone Elsa, 160 mph winds in the Australian Basin (or southeastern Indian Ocean)
While passing over water in the mid to upper 80s, Cyclone Elsa rapidly intensified as it approached the northwest coast of Australia in mid-April. Record wind speeds were recorded in the region on Bedout Island off the Australian mainland, and settlements close to the mainland suffered significant damage.
Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Elsa 🌀 has made landfall near Port Hedland, Australia after experiencing rapid intensification.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology (Western Australia), Elsa set a new preliminary ten-minute Australian wind speed record of 218 km/h. pic.twitter.com/WTKsS40z9S
– Pat Hyland (@hylandwx) April 13, 2023
May – Tropical Cyclone Mocha, winds 175 mph in the northern Indian Ocean
Another storm took advantage of unusually warm waters and quickly intensified near shore. And it ended up with mocha One of the worst tropical cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean It was recorded after it crashed in Myanmar and Bangladesh, killing hundreds.
May: Super Cyclone Mawar, 185 mph winds in the Pacific Northwest
Mawar has become the strongest storm of the year, the strongest ever in May and one of the most powerful storms ever observed with a pressure of less than 900 millibars. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm becomes. The storm experienced two episodes of rapid intensification.
September: Typhoon Jova, winds of 160 mph in the eastern North Pacific
Between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Jova shot up from a powerful tropical storm to Category 5 winds at 160 mph. Fortunately, it remained above water and weakened.
In the eastern Pacific, there was a notable shift today as Hurricane Jova went from a pedestrian Category 1 hurricane at 85 mph this morning to a Category 5 monster at 160 mph this evening.
The change in appearance on the satellite is equally remarkable
Thank God it does not pose any threat to Earth pic.twitter.com/9WWffNeiAX
– Greg Diamond (@gdimeweather) September 7, 2023
September: Hurricane Lee, 165 mph winds in the Atlantic Ocean
Lee also exploded from a forgettable storm to a monster Category 5 storm in almost a single day. Hurricane Hunter aircraft spotted the storm near its peak Thursday night, Capturing repetitive lightning at its core. The powerful storm is expected to sweep across the western Atlantic Ocean and could impact eastern New England and the Canadian Navy in about eight to 10 days.
Lee became the eighth Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean in the past eight years. Between 1970 and 2000, only six Atlantic storms reached Category 5 status, according to John Morales, a meteorologist in Miami. “Category 5 hurricanes were rare.” chirp. “It used to be.”