(The Hill) — Hurricane Idalia could set a record for its intensification rate, according to hurricane experts, who point to the hot water feeding the storm as a key factor.
Hurricanes get their energy from warm waters, so as Idalia rapidly approached the coast of Florida, its momentum was only fueled by the fact that the Gulf and around the coast of Florida has some of the hottest sea water in the world at the moment, experts said.
Hurricane Professor Kerry Emanuel, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), warned that Idalia “stands a chance of setting a record for intensification rate because it’s over water that’s so warm.”
Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said the temperature is “rocket fuel” for the storm.
“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,” Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said.
“It’s basically all systems go for the storm to intensify,” Klotzbach added.
Scientists say the warm water is a result of human-caused climate change, a natural El Niño and other weather events.
Idalia made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm with 125 mph maximum sustained winds, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced in a 7:45 a.m. ET update on Wednesday. By 8 a.m., the storm had sustained winds at 120 mph.
In the past day, however, Idalia intensified rapidly. At 5 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the storm had sustained winds of 75 mph.
By 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the storm reached maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane, before it subsequently dipped again and made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane.
A storm is considered to have rapidly intensified when it gains 35 mph in wind speed in 24 hours.
NHC groups storms into 5 categories. Category 2 hurricanes are storms with sustained winds of 96-110 mph. Category 3 hurricanes are storms with sustained winds of 111-129 mph. Category 4 hurricanes are storms with sustained winds of 130-156 mph.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.