Hurricane Lorenzo Sets Record as Strongest Storm Observed So Far North and East in Atlantic

Photo: National Hurricane Center (Twitter)

Hurricane Lorenzo has set records as it blasts its way through the central Atlantic, becoming a category 5 hurricane on Saturday night before weakening back down to category 3 status by Sunday evening, CNN reported.

The National Hurricane Center reported late on Saturday night (AST) that Lorenzo had become “the strongest hurricane on record this far north and east in the Atlantic basin.” As of 5:00 p.m. AST on Sunday, the center wrote that “Maximum sustained winds are near 115 mph (185 km/h) with higher gusts. Gradual weakening is expected over the next couple of days, but Lorenzo is expected to remain a large hurricane throughout that time... Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles (130 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 255 miles (405 km).”

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The storm is heading to the north-northeast at around 10 miles per hour, and is on track to hit or pass by the Azores.

The NHC added that on Tuesday and Wednesday, it expects Lorenzo to drop between three to six inches of rain “over much of the western Azores,” creating a risk of “life-threatening flash flooding,” as well as one to two inches in the central Azores. Swells are also spreading across much of the North Atlantic basin and could cause “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the center wrote.

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Lorenzo is “by far the farthest east in the Atlantic Ocean” of any of the 35 previous Category 5 storms recorded in the Atlantic since 1920, according to the Weather Channel, with NHC forecaster Eric Blake stating it was “almost ten degrees (600 miles)” to the east of the previous record holder.

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CNN wrote that while the storm may still veer off, Lorenzo could pose the “rare event” of a hurricane causing wind storms in parts of the UK (i.e. northern Ireland, which suffered wind storms from hurricane-turned-Storm Ophelia in 2017):

Although some models show the storm veering off to the northwest later in the week, it’s possible Ireland cold see some strong winds from the storm, which will have weakened considerably by then, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.

“Ophelia did the same thing and impacted the region in 2017, bringing with it very strong winds,” Brink said.

It would be a rare event for the UK to have a wind storm from a system that had been a hurricane, Brink said.

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Despite the expected decrease in intensity, the hurricane is not forecast to decrease in size, and in fact Lorenzo’s hurricane-force wind field could increase further by next week,” NHC hurricane specialist David Zalinsky said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “Because of that, users are urged to not focus on the exact intensity of Lorenzo since the cyclone will likely remain a powerful storm well into next week.”

In fact, the Sentinel wrote, the storm is powerful enough that dangerous waves could reach as far as Florida.

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Hurricane Lorenzo’s outlier status comes as scientists increasingly conclude that a pattern of hurricanes growing stronger and dropping more rain is associated with climate change. Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler told the New York Times in the wake of devastating Hurricane Dorian earlier this year that there is a solid scientific consensus emerging of climate change being a strong driver of stronger winds and rain, though evidence of storm stalling (as observed in Dorian) is less clear.

Woods Hole Research Center atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis told the Washington Post this month that there is also significant evidence that climate change is fueling more rapid intensification of storms. The paper added that research has suggested category 4 and 5 hurricanes are likely to become twice as common over the next century, even as the “total number of storms declines”—and by the end of that time period global sea levels are predicted to rise by about a meter, amplifying potential destruction.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post