NATIONAL NEWS

What makes Idalia so potent? It’s feeding on intensely warm water that acts like rocket fuel

Aug 29, 2023, 2:36 PM | Updated: 8:54 pm

Feeding on some of the hottest water on the planet, Hurricane Idalia is rapidly strengthening as it bears down on Florida and the rest of the Gulf Coast. It’s been happening a lot lately.

“It’s 88, 89 degrees (31, 32 degrees Celsius) over where the storm’s going to be tracking, so that’s effectively rocket fuel for the storm,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. “It’s basically all systems go for the storm to intensify.”

That water “is absurdly warm and to see those values over the entire northeast Gulf is surreal,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

Hurricanes get their energy from warm water. Idalia is at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“What makes this so tough and so dangerous is” that Idalia is moving so fast and intensifying so rapidly, some people may be preparing for what looked like a weaker storm the day before instead of what they’ll get, said National Weather Service Director Ken Graham.

Idalia “stands a chance of setting a record for intensification rate because it’s over water that’s so warm,” said MIT hurricane professor Kerry Emanuel. On Tuesday, only a few places on Earth had conditions — mostly warm water — so primed for a storm’s sudden strengthening, he said.

“Right now I’m pretty sure Idalia is rapidly intensifying,” Emanuel said.

At the time Emanuel said that, Idalia was clocking 80 mph winds. A couple hours later it was up to 90 mph, and by 10 p.m. Idalia was a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds, having gained 40 mph in wind speed in 21 hours. A storm officially rapidly intensifies when it gains 35 mph in wind speed in 24 hours.

Scientists have been talking all summer about how record hot oceans are at the surface, especially in the Atlantic and near Florida, and how deeper water — measured by something called ocean heat content — keeps setting records too because of human-caused climate change. The National Hurricane Center’s forecast discussion specifically cited the ocean heat content in forecasting that Idalia would likely hit 125 mph winds before a Wednesday morning landfall.

Idalia’s “rapid intensification is definitely feeding off that warmth that we know is there,” said University at Albany atmospheric sciences professor Kristen Corbosiero said.

That warm water is from a mix of human-caused climate change, a natural El Nino and other random weather events, Corbosiero and other scientists said.

And it’s even more. Idalia has been parked at times over the Loop Current and eddies from that current. These are pools of extra warm and deep water that flow up from the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico, Corbosiero said.

Deep water is important because hurricane development is often stalled when a storm hits cold water. It acts like, well, cold water thrown on a pile of hot coals powering a steam engine, Emanuel said. Often storms themselves pull the brake because they churn up cold water from the deep that dampens its powering up.

Not Idalia. Not only is the water deeper down warmer than it has been, but Idalia is going to an area off Florida’s western coast where the water is not deep enough to get cold, Emanuel said. Also, because this is the first storm this season to go through the area no other hurricane has churned up cold water for Idalia to hit, Klotzbach said.

Another fact that can slow strengthening is upper level crosswinds, called shear. But Idalia moved into an area where there’s not much shear, or anything else, to slow it down, the hurricane experts said.

A hurricane getting stronger just as it approaches the coast should sound familiar. Six hurricanes in 2021 – Delta, Gamma, Sally, Laura, Hannah and Teddy – rapidly intensified. Hurricanes Ian, Ida, Harvey and Michael all did so before they smacked the United States in the last five years, Klotzbach said. There have been many more.

Storms that are nearing the coastlines, within 240 miles (400 kilometers), across the globe are rapidly intensifying three times more now than they did 40 years ago, a study published last week found. They used to average five times a year and now are happening 15 times a year, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

“The trend is very clear. We were quite shocked when we saw this result,” said study co-author Shuai Wang, a climatology professor at the University of Delaware.

Scientists, such as Wang and Corbosiero, said when it comes to a single storm such as Idalia, it’s hard to blame its rapid intensification on climate change. But when scientists look at the big picture over many years and many storms, other studies have shown a global warming connection to rapid intensification.

In his study, Wang saw both a natural climate cycle connected to storm activity and warmer sea surface temperatures as factors with rapid intensification. When he used computer simulations to take out warmer water as a factor, the last-minute strengthening disappeared, he said.

“We may need to be a little bit careful” in attributing blame to climate change to single storms, Wang said, “but I do think Hurricane Idalia demonstrates a scenario that we may see in the future.”

___

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

National News

Associated Press

Russia says it scrambled fighter jets to intercept U.S. bomber planes over Barents Sea

Russia said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to intercept two U.S. military long-range bomber aircraft that approached the Russian border over the Barents Sea in the Arctic. “The crews of the Russian fighters identified the aerial target as a pair of U.S. Air Force B-52H strategic bombers,” Moscow’s defense ministry wrote on the social media […]

18 minutes ago

FILE - Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle attends a news conference, June 4, 2024, in Chicago...

Associated Press

Secret Service chief noted a ‘zero fail mission.’ After Trump rally, she’s facing calls to resign

WASHINGTON (AP) — When safeguard the American president and other dignitaries, she said she would talk to agents in training about the “awesome responsibility” of their job. “This agency and the Secret Service has a zero fail mission,” Cheatle, who is now director of the agency, said in 2021 during a Secret Service podcast called […]

42 minutes ago

Janet Jarrett shows a photo of her sister, Pamela Jarrett, she keeps on her phone at the home they ...

Associated Press

Heat-related Texas deaths climb after Beryl left millions without power for days or longer

SPRING, Texas (AP) — As the temperature soared in the Houston-area home Janet Jarrett shared with her sister after losing electricity in Hurricane Beryl, she did everything she could to keep her 64-year-old sibling cool. But on their fourth day without power, she awoke to hear Pamela Jarrett, who used a wheelchair and relied on […]

7 hours ago

Melissa Shepard, left, directing attorney of Immigrant Defenders Law Center, explains the Biden adm...

Associated Press

Behind Biden’s asylum halt: Migrants must say if they fear deportation, not wait to be asked

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Posters inside a complex of giant, white tents tell migrants in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi they should tell an officer if they fear being deported and “your claim will be heard.” On a side wall where migrants are seated in a processing area, a video conveys the same message on […]

8 hours ago

FILE - People walk past the Fiserv Forum ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Thursday...

Associated Press

With GOP convention over, Milwaukee weighs the benefits of hosting political rivals

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Downtown Milwaukee turned red last week as thousands of Republican National Convention delegates and other party stalwarts gathered in Wisconsin’s largest Democratic stronghold to formally rally behind Donald Trump as their candidate for president in the pivotal swing state. Outside the security zone where the convention took place, residents grumbled, ignored or […]

8 hours ago

A second-floor balcony at the Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, on Wednesday, July 17, ...

Associated Press

Ernest Hemingway fans celebrate the author’s 125th birthday in his beloved Key West

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Ernest Hemingway spent the 1930s in Key West, Florida, and more than six decades after his death, fans, scholars and relatives continue to congregate on the island city to celebrate the author’s award-winning novels and adventure-filled life. Hemingway Days started in 1981 with a short-story competition and a look-alike contest. […]

8 hours ago

What makes Idalia so potent? It’s feeding on intensely warm water that acts like rocket fuel