Neil deGrasse Tyson Says We Can Use Hurricanes to Power the Cities of Tomorrow

It’s an undeniable fact that people all over the world have had to deal with a concerning number of powerful hurricanes this year. In the U.S. alone, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have done irreparable damage to parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Ahead of each storm, people were notified and encouraged to evacuate or seek suitable shelter. While everyone’s safety is the primary concern during such events, there are those who see hurricanes as a valuable learning opportunity. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson wants scientists to confront hurricanes head on and use the insights they gather to develop a way to turn their cyclonic energy into electricity.

In an interview with The Today Show, Tyson expressed a degree of frustration with how we react to hurricanes, saying, “I’m tired of looking at photos of countless thousands of cars exiting a city, because a hurricane is coming.”

He continued, “Where are the engineers and scientists saying, you know, instead of running away from the city that’s about to be destroyed by this hurricane, let me figure out a way to tap the cyclonic energy of this hurricane to drive the power needs of the city that it’s otherwise going to destroy?”

It’s an ambitious idea, and one that would certainly help in our efforts to shift to clean energy. We already use solar panels and wind turbines to gather energy from sunlight and wind, and are looking into floors that harvest kinetic energy. Harnessing hurricanes, however, would be another matter entirely. Not only because they tend to move around (and aren’t as frequent as, say, the wind blowing) but also because they’re uncontrollable and extremely powerful.

According to Business Insider, tropical storms and hurricanes are capable of outputting around 600 terawatts of power — far more than the 1,064 gigawatts of electricity we were capable of generating as of 2015. That isn’t to say engineers and researchers aren’t developing equipment to capture a hurricane’s energy — there’s the Challenergy wind turbine capable of doing that — but it’ll take some time to truly offset the damage caused by such storms.

In order to truly take advantage of a hurricane, first we would need to slow it down. As Gizmodo points out, however, current science has yet to provide a way to do so — save for reducing the C02 emissions that are probably strengthening them.

It’s safe to say that what Tyson wants (at least in such an efficient form) is currently unobtainable — though not impossible.

Harvest Moon To Fill Night Sky In Spooktacular Fashion

It’s officially the spooky season, and what better way to enjoy it than watching this month’s most spellbinding moon? On Thursday, stargazers — or really, anyone who happens to look up — will be treated to a bewitching “Harvest Moon.” Sure, it happens every year, but this one’s legitimately a little unusual.

The Harvest Moon gets its name from old American folklore. Before people had electricity, farmers relied on the bright light of this moon to harvest their crops. In the states, many fruits and vegetables ripen in the early fall, so the Harvest Moon signified that these plants were probably ready for picking.

Usually, the Harvest Moon falls in September. But the “Harvest Moon” title is specifically given to the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, and this year, that event took place on September 22nd. The full moon on October 5th is closest to the equinox, hence why it’s the Harvest Moon for 2017. An October Harvest Moon is a phenomenon that happens once every three years, so it’s special but not exactly rare.

Truthfully, every full moon has a quirky name from the Old Farmer’s Almanac: there’s the Strawberry Moon, the Beaver Moon, and many others. But the Harvest Moon is actually a smidge more special.

“Usually, throughout the year, the Moon rises an average of about 50 minutes later each day,” The Farmer’s Almanac reports. “But near the autumnal equinox, the difference is only 30 minutes. Additionally, the Full Harvest Moon rises at sunset and then will rise very near sunset for several nights in a row because the difference is at a yearly minimum.”

Tomorrow, the sun will set at 6:31pm EDT in New York City. No sweat if you’re not looking up at the millisecond the Sun sets as you’ll be able to see this beautiful moon all night long, barring some cataclysmic horror. Apocalypse or not, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” or Van Morrison’s “Moondance” will make the perfect soundtrack for the big event.

One Hour of Exercise a Week Can Be Enough to Prevent Depression

We know that exercise or even just a regular stroll outside can have massive benefits for both our mental and physical health.

But now researchers have delivered surprisingly good news on this front – a large data analysis has revealed that even one hour a week of any type of exercise can prevent depression in the future.

A large international team of researchers from the UK, Australia, and Norway looked at data from a huge Norwegian population health survey called HUNT, conducted between 1984 and 1997.

According to the team, studies have been increasingly pointing to a link between physical activity levels and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

But there’s always the question of whether there’s actually a ‘reverse causation’ going on – people with mental health issues may struggle to get enough exercise in the first place.

Sometimes such research also conflates depression and anxiety together, even though each can have different risk factors and biological mechanisms.

That’s why the team took to combing through data from HUNT in order to address “the uncertainty surrounding the relationship between exercise and depression and anxiety.”

“We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression,” says lead researcher, psychiatrist Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“But this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression.”

Using a sample of 33,908 healthy adults (no evidence of physical illness, nor depressive or anxiety disorders), the researchers obtained data on the baseline level of exercise for this large group of participants.

Then they looked at the HUNT study follow-up data from 9 to 13 years later, analysing the relationship between exercise levels and results from specialised questionnaires designed to detect symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Even after controlling for a range of potentially confounding variables (socioeconomic status, BMI, demographics and others), the data revealed that people who did no exercise at all had a 44 percent larger chance of developing depression in comparison to those who exercised at least one hour per week.

“Assuming the relationship is causal, 12 percent of future cases of depression could have been prevented if all participants had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity each week,” the researchers write in the study.

That’s huge, and good news for all of us who just can’t commit to daily gym sessions or a rigorous marathon training schedule because, well, life.

Furthermore, the researchers didn’t find a relationship between intensity of exercise and its protective effect in terms of depression. And neither did age or gender make a difference in the benefits.

“Most of the mental health benefits of exercise are realised within the first hour undertaken each week,” says Harvey.

These encouraging results didn’t extend to anxiety, though – the researchers found that exercise levels made no difference in whether participants would develop anxiety or not.

While this was a huge prospective study with a tight grasp on confounding variables, there were some limitations.

Importantly, the researchers were not able to exclude from their sample group people who’d had depression and anxiety episodes earlier in life, which means that some of the registered mental health episodes could have been a recurrence, rather than new onset illness.

“This has important consequences for the interpretation of the results and suggests that the actual protective effect of exercise may be even greater than that reported in this study,” they write.

Either way, this data falls in line with other research pointing in this same direction, and at just one hour a week it should be an achievable health goal for most.

“These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns,” says Harvey.

The research has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Most Americans Agree That Climate Change Makes Hurricanes More Intense

Does climate change make hurricanes worse? Yes – warmer ocean waters make them wetter, more powerful, windier and, as is increasingly the case, more likely to cause wanton destruction. There are a few variables to this, and the overall damage really depends on where the hurricane makes landfall and if it slows down or not, but in a nutshell, this link is a surefire bet.

Now it seems that, for the first time, the majority of Americans accept this viewpoint too. According to a new poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, 55 percent of the public say that the severity of recent hurricanes is down to climate change, whereas 41 percent say that it’s just severe weather that happens sometimes.

This is a huge jump from the last time this poll was conducted (then by Pew), in September 2005 – just after Hurricane Katrina hit the US. Back then, just 25 percent said that climate change was ramping up the strength of hurricanes, whereas 66 percent disagreed.

The shift is primarily down to Democratic-leaning members of the public. This year, 78 percent of them attribute the severity of the recent hurricanes to climate change, a 47 percent increase from 2005. Independents, too, have contributed to the swing: 56 percent chose the climate change option, a 27 point bump from 2005.

Republicans, however, have shown almost no change at all. Just after Katrina hit, just 16 percent said that climate change made it worse. Today, that figure is 23 percent.

This is a curious finding, particularly as a recent survey hinted that Republican’s tendency to accept scientific consensus had no correlation with their political beliefs. In contrast, Democrats were more likely to accept scientific consensus as they gained more education, regardless of their political affiliation.

Overall, the most likely people to attribute the severity of the recent tropical cyclones were liberals or moderates, and those with college degrees, particularly women.

In any case, it’s another piece of evidence revealing that much of the American public – contrary to popular opinion – is actually scientifically literate, and aware of the emerging truths coming from academia. Despite the fact that 2017 is the age of Alternative Facts, scientific censorship, and looming funding cuts, there is hope after all that people are tuned in to what’s real, and what’s fake news.

It’s a shame, though, that sometimes climate change needs to be a visceral danger – one that essentially slaps you in the face – to make you realize it’s a clear and present threat.

Sea Turtles Are Coming Back From The Brink of Extinction

It’s not often humanity gets to pat itself on the back for a positive effect on the environment, but researchers are hailing sea turtles as a “global conservation success story” as population numbers climb.

Six of the seven species of sea turtle are at varying threat levels on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. But research shows significant improvements that show promise for the future.

Humans have not been kind to turtles. They have been killed for their shells and meat, and their eggs harvested for food. Their nesting and foraging habitats have been destroyed, and they get tangled in fishing nets, or caught accidentally.

The hawksbill turtle and the Kemp’s ridley turtle are both critically endangered, the green turtle is endangered, the loggerhead turtle, the leatherback turtle and the olive ridley turtle are all vulnerable. Only the flatback turtle isn’t listed as threatened, but there’s insufficient data for an assessment.

To gauge turtle numbers, the research team studied data on 299 nesting sites, monitored between 6 and 47 years. They found that 95 of those nesting sites had significantly increased numbers of nests, compared to just 35 that had significant decreases.

The team isn’t 100 percent sure what’s causing the upward population trend, but believes it’s linked to protection of eggs – harvesting them is illegal in many countries, and heavily restricted in others.

There’s also been a reduction in sea turtle bycatch, thanks to initiatives such as the development of a fishing hook that is much less likely to be swallowed by the turtles.

However, that doesn’t mean the sea turtle is out of the woods, or even close. The researchers found that leatherback turtles continue to decline.

There are other factors that need to be taken into account, too. Counting the nesting sites before the eggs hatch will not include potential disasters affecting juvenile turtles.

Rising sea levels at Raine Island in Australia, the world’s largest remaining green turtle nesting site, has killed many eggs before they could hatch, since the eggs can’t survive underwater.

Many loggerhead turtle hatchlings died at Mon Repos in Australia earlier this year when sand temperatures became too hot for survival.

Sea turtles take a long time to reach sexual maturity, too. Hawksbill turtles take 3 years, loggerhead turtles take 12 to 30 years, and green turtles take anywhere between 30 and 50 years to sexually mature, so population rises we’re seeing now could be thanks to conservation efforts some time ago.

Saving the sea turtles will continue to be an ongoing effort.

“Our findings highlight the importance of continued conservation and monitoring efforts that underpin this global conservation success story,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The research was published open access in the journal Science Advances.

Inked In… New Research Reveals Tattoo Ink Particles Circulate Inside the Body

First of its kind research by scientists in Germany and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France has revealed that tattoo ink leaves behind micro and nanoparticles that travel inside the body. The scientists conducted an in depth characterization of the ink pigments in a lab experiment involving tattooed tissues. The hazards generally associated with tattoos are to do with the use of needles, but this research implies the circulating ink particles could pose risks, too.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrated how these elements from tattoo inks — organic and inorganic pigments, as well as toxic element impurities traveling as micro and nano particles — actually reach the lymph nodes, a key component of the body’s immune system.

“We already knew that pigments from tattoos would travel to the lymph nodes because of visual evidence. The lymph nodes become tinted with the color of the tattoo. It is the response of the body to clean the site of entrance of the tattoo,” lead author and ESRF visiting scientist Bernhard Hesse explained in a press release. “What we didn’t know is that they do it in a nano form, which implies that they may not have the same behavior as the particles at a micro level. And that is the problem—we don’t know how nanoparticles react.”

While most tattoos contain organic color mixtures, they can also contain preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese, or cobalt. The most common ingredient in tattoo ink is carbon black, followed by titanium dioxide (TiO2) — a compound also used in food additives, sun screens, and paints. TiO2 has been associated with delayed healing, skin elevation, and itching in the case of white ink tattoos.

However, there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the potential impurities in tattoo ink mixtures. The researchers further investigated using two ESRF beamlines called ID21 and ID16B, which revealed micro and nanoranges of TiO2 in the tattooed skin and the lymphatic environment. Only the smaller particles were transported to the lymph nodes, but those appear to be enough to cause chronic enlargement and lifelong exposure.

“When someone wants to get a tattoo, they are often very careful in choosing a parlor where they use sterile needles that haven’t been used previously. No one checks the chemical composition of the colors, but our study shows that maybe they should,” ESRF scientist Hiram Castillo, one of the study’s authors, said in the press release.

This research is important, especially with the development of advanced, tattoo-based technologies. Moving forward, the team plans to study more subjects that experience adverse effects from tattoos to establish possible links with the chemical and structural properties of the color pigments used.

According To Science, Here Are The Top Things To Avoid So That People Won’t Hate You

Everyone’s got a story about how they thought a certain friend was mean the first time they met, but realized later that he or she is actually the nicest person ever.

Generally, you’ve only got a few seconds to make someone want to spend more time with you. Everything matters – from your last name to the smell of your sweat (gross, we know).

Below, Business Insider rounded up various scientific findings on the traits and behaviors that make people dislike you, both online and in person.

1. Sharing too many photos on Facebook

If you’re the kind of person who shares snapshots of your honeymoon, cousin’s graduation, and dog dressed in a Halloween costume all in the same day, you might want to stop.

A 2013 study found that posting too many photos on Facebook can hurt your real-life relationships.

“This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves,” lead study author David Houghton, of Birmingham Business School, said in a release.

Specifically, friends don’t like it when you’ve got too many photos of family, and relatives don’t like it when you’ve got too many photos of friends.

Ben Marder, of the University of Edinburgh, also worked on the study, and warned: “Be cautious when sharing and think how it will be perceived by all the others who may see it. Although sharing is a great way to better relationships, it can also damage them.”

2. Having too many, or too few, Facebook friends

In a 2008 study, Michigan State University researchers asked college students to look at fictional Facebook profiles and decide how much they liked the profiles’ owners.

Results showed that the ‘sweet spot’ for likability was about 300 friends. Likability ratings were lowest when a profile owner had only about 100 friends, and almost as low when they had more than 300 friends.

As for why 300-plus friends could be a turn-off, the study authors write, “Individuals with too many friends may appear to be focusing too much on Facebook, friending out of desperation rather than popularity.”

On the other hand, the college students doing the evaluation each had about 300 Facebook friends themselves. So the researchers acknowledge that in a population where the most common number of Facebook friends is 1,000, the sweet spot for likability could be 1,000.

Keep in mind, though, that a 2014 survey found that the average number of Facebook friends among adult users was 338.

Interestingly, the study also suggested that participants weren’t consciously aware that they liked people less when they had too many or too few Facebook friends.

3. Disclosing something extremely personal early on in a relationship

In general, people like each other more after they’ve traded confidences. Self-disclosure is one of the best ways to make friends as an adult.

But psychologists say that disclosing something too intimate – say, that your sister is having an extramarital affair – while you’re still getting to know someone can make you seem insecure and decrease your likability.

The key is to get just the right amount of personal. As a 2013 study led by Susan Sprecher at Illinois State University suggests, simply sharing details about your hobbies and your favorite childhood memories can make you seem warmer and more likable.

4. Asking someone questions without talking about yourself at all

That same 2013 study by found an important caveat to the idea that self-disclosure predicts closeness: It has to be mutual. People generally like you less if you don’t reciprocate when they disclose something intimate.

In the study, unacquainted participants either engaged in back-and-forth self-disclosure or took turns self-disclosing for 12 minutes each while the other listened. Results showed that participants in the back-and-forth group liked each other significantly more.

As the authors write, “Although shy or socially anxious people may ask questions of the other to detract attention from themselves, our research shows that this is not a good strategy for relationship initiation. Both participants in an interaction need to disclose to generate mutual closeness and liking.”

5. Posting a close-up profile photo

If your LinkedIn profile features an image of your face practically smushed up against the camera, you’d be wise to change it.

Research from California Institute of Technology suggests that faces photographed from just 45 centimetres – about 1.5 feet – away are considered less trustworthy, attractive, and competent than faces photographed from 135 centimetres, about 4.5 feet, away.

6. Hiding your emotions

Research suggests that letting your real feelings come through is a better strategy for getting people to like you than bottling it all up.

In one 2016 study, University of Oregon researchers videotaped people watching two movie scenes: the fake-orgasm part of the movie When Harry Met Sally and a sad scene from The Champ. In some cases, the actors were instructed to react naturally; in another they were instructed to suppress their emotions.

College students then watched the four versions of the videos. Researchers measured how much interest the students expressed in befriending the people in the videos, as well as their assessments of the personalities of the people in the videos.

Results showed that suppressors were judged less likable – as well as less extroverted and agreeable – than people who emoted naturally.

The researchers write:

“People … do not pursue close relationships indiscriminately – they probably look for people who are likely to reciprocate their investments. So when perceivers detect that someone is hiding their emotions, they may interpret that as a disinterest in the things that emotional expression facilitates – closeness, social support, and interpersonal coordination.”

7. Acting too nice

It makes logical sense that the nicer and more altruistic you seem, the more people will like you. But some science suggests otherwise.

In a 2010 study, researchers at Washington State University and the Desert Research Institute had college students play a computer game with four other players, who were really manipulations by the researchers.

Here’s how one of the study authors explained the study procedure in The Harvard Business Review:

“Each participant was placed in a five-person group, but did not see its other members. Each was given endowments that they could in their turn choose to keep or return, in whole or in part. There was some incentive to maximize one’s holdings, but not an obvious one.

“(The participants were told that, at the end of the semester, a random drawing of their names would be held and those few who were chosen would have their holdings converted to Dining Services coupons redeemable at campus eateries.)”

Some of the fake participants would give up lots of points and only take a few vouchers – a rather altruistic behavior. As it turns out, most participants said they wouldn’t want to work with their unselfish teammate again.

In a similar, follow-up experiment in the same study, some said the unselfish teammate made them look bad; others suspected they had ulterior motives.

8. Humblebragging

In an effort to impress friends and potential employers, some people disguise bragging as self-criticism. This behavior, otherwise known as ‘humblebragging’, could be a turn-off, according to a recent study from Harvard Business School.

In the study, college students were asked to write down how they’d answer a question about their biggest weakness in a job interview. Results showed that more than three-quarters of participants humblebragged, usually about being a perfectionist or working too hard.

Yet independent research assistants said they’d be more likely to hire the participants who were honest, and found them significantly more likable. Those students said things like, “I’m not always the best at staying organised” and “Sometimes I overreact to situations”.

Another alternative in a job-interview situation is to talk about weaknesses that don’t directly relate to the position – for example, a fear of public speaking if you’re applying for a writing position.

9. Getting too nervous

Never let ’em see – or smell – you sweat. Research suggests that the odor of your nervous sweat may subconsciously influence people’s judgments of your personality.

In 2013, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center had participants watch videos of women in everyday situations, like working in an office and taking care of a child.

While watching the videos, they sniffed three kinds of sweat: sweat that someone had produced while exercising, sweat produced during a stressful situation, and sweat produced during a stressful situation that had been covered up with antiperspirant.

Participants were then asked to rate the women on how competent, confident, and trustworthy they seemed.

Results showed that participants rated the women lower on all measures when they smelled the stress-induced sweat. When they smelled the stress sweat that had been covered up with antiperspirant, they rated the women more positively.

10. Not smiling

When you’re at a networking event and meeting lots of new people, it can be hard to keep a smile plastered on your face. Try anyway.

In a University of Wyoming study, nearly 100 undergraduate women looked at photos of another woman in one of four poses: smiling in an open body position, smiling in a closed body position, not smiling in an open body position, or not smiling in a closed body position.

Results showed that the woman in the photo was liked most when she was smiling, regardless of her body position.

More recently, researchers at Stanford University and the University of Duisburg-Essen found that students who interacted with each other through avatars felt more positively about the interaction when the avatar displayed a bigger smile.

Bonus: Another study found that smiling when you first meet someone helps ensure that they’ll remember you later.

11. Acting like you don’t like someone

Psychologists have known for a while about a phenomenon called “reciprocity of liking“: When we think someone likes us, we tend to like them as well.

In a 1959 study published in Human Relations, for example, participants were told that certain members of a group discussion would probably like them. (These group members were chosen randomly by the experimenter.)

After the discussion, participants indicated that the people they liked best were the ones who supposedly liked them.

More recently, researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of Manitoba found that when we expect people to accept us, we act warmer toward them – thereby increasing the chances that they really will like us. So even if you’re not sure how a person you’re interacting with feels about you, act like you like them and they’ll probably like you back.

If, on the other hand, you don’t express fondness for the person you’re meeting, you could potentially turn them off.

12. Having a hard-to-pronounce name

We know: This one’s really not fair.

But here’s the science: A 2012 study, by researchers at the University of Melbourne, the University of Leuven, and New York University, found that people with more complicated last names are judged more negatively.

In one experiment included in the study, undergraduate participants read a mock newspaper article about a man running for an upcoming local council election.

Some participants read about a man with a relatively easy-to-pronounce last name (Lazaridis or Paradowska); others read about a man with a harder-to-pronounce name (Vougiouklakis and Leszczynska).

As it turns out, participants who’d read about the man with the simpler name said that candidate was a better fit for the government position than participants who’d read about the man with the more complicated name.

13. Name-dropping

It can be tempting to mention that famous author who graduated from your alma mater in order to impress your conversation partner. But the tactic can backfire.

That’s according to researchers at the University of Zurich. In 2009, they published a paper suggesting that name-dropping makes people seem both less likable and less competent.

For the study, University of Zurich students interacted with “partners” via email (the emails had really been generated by the researchers).

In some emails, the partner mentioned that Roger Federer was his friend and that they’d worked out together. In other emails, the partner only mentioned that Federer was a friend.

In another set of emails, the partner mentioned that he or she was a fan of Federer. And in some emails, the partner didn’t mention Federer at all.

Results showed that the stronger the supposed association between the partner and Federer, the less participants liked their partner. The researchers found that was largely because participants felt their partners were manipulative.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

Hurricane Maria Heads Toward Puerto Rico As A Major Storm

Hurricane Maria, now a Category 3 storm, will hit the Leeward Islands on the edge of the Caribbean Sea on Monday night, forecasters say, threatening areas that are still coping with the devastation brought by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago. Predictions call for it to pass straight over Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

Maria is now classified as a major storm, and “additional rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours,” the National Hurricane Center says.

Maria’s maximum winds are currently at 120 mph, after rising from 90 mph earlier Monday; they could reach 140 mph within the next two days, the center said. The storm is heading west-northwest at around 10 mph.

A hurricane warning — meaning hurricane conditions are expected to strike — has been issued for the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St. Lucia and Martinique, as well as the neighboring British and U.S. Virgin Islands.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Anguilla.

An Air Force Reserve Unit Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew on a route in and around Maria this morning to investigate the storm’s development, the hurricane center said.

Unlike Irma, which took a relatively flat westward angle as it raked Barbuda, St. Martin, Cuba and other islands and stormed toward the Florida Keys, Maria is expected to take a sharper northwest tack, passing east of the Turks and Caicos as it heads toward the Bahamas.

Maria puts many of those same areas at risk — including the Virgin Islands, parts of which were hit by Irma’s eye wall before that storm veered north. Maria’s different approach also means that Puerto Rico and other islands that suffered only glancing blows from Irma could now be directly confronted with hurricane conditions.

On Monday morning, Puerto Rico’s emergency officials were meeting to plan their response to Maria.

“The government is prepared,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said via Facebook, “and we ask of the citizenship preparation, attention, and action.”

On the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, a major hurricane designates Category 3 storms and higher — hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

Maria now fits that description, and is expected to remain a major hurricane through the weekend.

Maria doesn’t have the historic size and strength of Irma, and its hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles — far short of the 70 miles such winds extended from Irma’s center. But the hurricane’s storm surge and heavy rains could post grave threats, from triggering mudslides to frustrating relief and recovery efforts in places where thousands of buildings were heavily damaged by Irma.

Maria “is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches,” the hurricane center says, “with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, through Wednesday night.”

Here are the conditions the National Hurricane Center warns could be brought by a Category 3 storm:

“Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.”

Hurricane Jose, which buzzed the Leeward Islands as it moved north and west in Irma’s wake last week, has now weakened, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. Jose is currently about 280 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and it’s expected to remain off the East Coast.

With Jose moving north at 9 mph, a tropical storm watch is in effect for areas from Fenwick Island to Sandy Hook; Delaware Bay South; East Rockaway Inlet to Plymouth; Block Island; Martha’s Vineyard; and Nantucket.

Is It Time For A Whole New Category of Hurricanes?

There’s been a devastating trail of destruction and flooding along the east Atlantic coast in the last few weeks following Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. The latter, recently moving across Florida, was the strongest sustained hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane strength is measured on the Saffir–Simpson Scale, ranging from one (the lowest) to five (the highest) based on the hurricane’s wind speed and estimated potential damage. This takes into account parameters such as whether the hurricane uproots trees or removes roofs from houses, and whether the destruction could last for days or months.

Initially, Hurricane Irma was rated as a category five, losing energy along its path, with winds moving at 175mph (roughly 282kph) — destroying homes and causing power failure in the Caribbean. But given that Irma’s power has made some islands “barely habitable,” is category five really sufficient? Is it time to introduce a category six?

CLIMATE CHANGE

People have been quick to ask if Hurricane Irma is connected to climate change and whether this is a sign of things to come. It remains uncertain whether hurricanes have significantly increased in frequency or severity as global temperatures have risen, partly due to a lack of long-term data.

We know that hurricane formation is affected by changes in sea surface temperatures — a warm ocean helps fuel hurricanes. This is partly driven by natural periodic and cyclic variations in the Earth’s climatic and oceanic systems, meaning that in some years the ocean is warmer than in others.

Studies have presented mixed views of what will happen in the future with global warming. However, there are many consistent models and research articles indicating that there will be fewer hurricanes along the Atlantic coast, but that those that do form will be more severe — due to the warmer temperatures.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that what we’ve seen recently, compared with decades ago, is not so much a change in hurricanes, but a change in impacts. Many coasts have become increasingly urbanized, and this trend is likely to continue. As with many small islands, much of the population of Barbuda, Guadeloupe, and others in the Caribbean are situated on the narrow coastal fringe — meaning they experience the full force of natural disasters, sometimes on scales never seen before. This means there is more infrastructure to be destroyed or damaged during extreme weather conditions than, say, to 100 years ago. The same could be said as Irma moved over Florida.

VULNERABLE ECONOMIES

Infrastructure on islands, such as harbors and airports, are key lifelines to the outside world — and any disruption to these can have serious consequences, potentially for many years. On small islands, infrastructure is partly there to support the economy (including tourism), which in turn provides further economic development, social welfare, and health benefits to the wider population. Take the infrastructure away as Irma has, and the economy declines leading to a shock.

This is because, historically, small islands have been essential maritime or colonial hubs or trading posts. But today they are highly reliant on external trade, often through fisheries, agriculture, or tourism. Concentrating on one or two industries makes islands strong, but when extreme events or global disasters occur, the shock means they count the cost. Essentially, they have their eggs all in one basket. In Antigua and Barbuda, the total contribution of tourism to gross domestic product was 60% in 2016.

Hurricane Andrew, also a category five event, made landfall in August 1992 — affecting the Bahamas and Florida. In the Bahamas, damage worth US$250m was reported, with projections of a decrease of 20% in tourist revenue, despite the vast majority of the islands surviving the hurricane. Luckily, advertising campaigns and repairs ultimately prevented the loss in tourist revenue. This is an important lesson about how to respond to such events.

Other extreme events have caused long-lived adverse effects. For instance, in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami affected tourism and wider development for several years.

Clearly there is a need for planning in emergency response. This needs to be targeted and accompanied by long-term resilience strategies. Shocks can also provide opportunities. Thanks to the Maldivian Safer Islands programme, islands have been constructed to a higher elevation to reduce the long-term risk of flooding.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims for nations to mitigate the effects of climate change, singles out small, developing island nations, many of which are in the Caribbean, as “particularly vulnerable” due to their “significant capacity constraints.” Irma has reminded the world that extra help is needed when an island state is partially destroyed.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK ON HURRICANE SCALE?

So will islands continue to suffer as a result of hurricanes — and will it get worse? In addition to warming temperatures and potential increase in future severity, the slow, but long-term effects of sea level rise could also increase the extent of flood impacts during and after extreme events.

From 1901 to 2010, sea levels rose by about 1.9 millimeters a year. This is projected to accelerate, so that sea levels are about a meter higher in 2100 than today. Over a century, sea-level rise could make the difference between minor and major flooding, and the longevity of impacts.

Indeed, long-lasting impacts may provide impetus for introducing a category six of the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This could describe cases that have a permanent effect on living conditions — potentially making some areas permanently uninhabitable. Such effects are currently not accounted for on the scale.

Whether we do introduce a new category remains to be seen, but it is certainly something worth discussing. Adaptation to climate change and extreme events can help to increase resilience and reduce damage in extreme conditions. But due to their shear strength, events such as Hurricane Irma cannot be adapted to. Sadly, humans will never be totally resilient to extreme events and long-lasting impacts remains a major challenge for all.

What Role Is Climate Change Playing In The Development Of Hurricanes?

Hurricane Irma is hovering somewhere between being the most- and second-most powerful hurricane recorded in the Atlantic. It follows Harvey, which dumped trillions of gallons of water on South Texas. And now, Hurricane Jose is falling into step behind Irma, and gathering strength.

Is this what climate change scientists predicted?

In a word, yes. Climate scientists such as Michael Mann at Penn State says, “The science is now fairly clear that climate change will make stronger storms stronger.” Or wetter.

Scientists are quick to point out that Harvey and Irma would have been big storms before the atmosphere and oceans started warming dramatically about 75 years ago. But now storms are apt to grow bigger. That’s because the oceans and atmosphere are, on average, warmer now than they used to be. And heat is the fuel that takes garden-variety storms and supercharges them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that the Atlantic hurricane season this year would be big. It said the most likely scenario would be five to nine hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes, which is above the long-term average.

Some of its reasoning is based on climate change. The eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean is the fuel tank of hurricanes, if you will, and big parts of the sea surface have been between 0.5 and 1 degree Celsius warmer than average this summer. Now, the Atlantic goes through normal cycles of warming and cooling that have nothing to do with climate change, such as in response to the El Nino and La Nina weather cycles. But this year neither cycle is active.

And whether or not Irma was emboldened by climate change, what’s more telling are hurricane trends. Big hurricanes in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic appear to be happening more often and are packing more punch than normal.

Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research explains: “Previous very active (hurricane) years were 2005 and 2010,” he says, and along with 2017, they experienced warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures. “So this sets the stage. So the overall trend is global warming from human activities.”

It’s worth noting that there are other things that made Irma big that have no clear association with climate change. Vertical wind shear in the hurricane “nursery” region of the Atlantic are weak this year. Strong wind shear at the right altitude can in essence “behead” a hurricane as it forms, so Irma has free rein to build. There’s also a long-term cycle in the Atlantic — the Atlantic Multi-Decadel Oscillation — that affects hurricane-forming conditions. Since 1995, the AMO is in the “on” position for good hurricane conditions, and in fact the period since then has been quite active for storms and hurricanes.

So, as with Harvey, these superstorms have always happened due to natural causes, but the underlying conditions in the oceans and atmosphere have primed the pump. You don’t need much effort now to turn a trickle into a gusher.