Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


She Warned Us that Hurricanes Were Getting Sneakier. Six Days Later, Otis Hit.

Hurricane researcher Andra Garner on what happened in Acapulco.

A hurricane.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Last week, I spoke with researcher Andra Garner about how hurricanes are increasingly sneaking up on us. She had recently published a new study in Scientific Reports, which found that Atlantic hurricanes are “more than twice as likely to strengthen from a weak Category 1 hurricane to a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane in a 24-hour period than they were between 1970 and 1990.”

In her comments to me, Garner had stressed that “when storms intensify quickly, they can become more difficult to forecast and to plan for in terms of emergency action plans for coastal residents.” Less than a week later, her warning has seemingly come true in the form of Hurricane Otis, which made landfall near Acapulco, Mexico, on Wednesday morning as a record-breaking Category 5 storm. It had intensified from a tropical storm in a mere 12 hours and taken meteorologists almost completely by surprise.

On Wednesday, I checked back in with Garner about how Hurricane Otis factors into her research. Our correspondence via email has been lightly edited and condensed, below.

Would you expect similar results to your Atlantic hurricane intensification findings if you were to look at the northern East Pacific, where Otis formed? Or are there different trends to account for in the region?

While my work did focus on the Atlantic, rather than the Pacific, there are certain physical factors that are very favorable for hurricane formation, regardless of where you are in the world. Warm ocean waters are one of those factors, and Hurricane Otis certainly had plenty of warm ocean water.

Typically, the minimum ocean water temperature that can support hurricane formation and strengthening is 26 degrees Celsius (about 79 degrees Fahrenheit); last night, as Otis moved towards land, the storm was traveling over a patch of water that was near 31 degrees Celsius (about 88 degrees Fahrenheit) — substantially warmer than necessary, and plenty warm enough to support quick strengthening. Considering those kinds of factors, I think what we saw with Hurricane Otis lines up pretty well with what my research suggests that we should expect in a warmer climate.

You mentioned to me last week that future projections were outside the scope of this research, but if single-day intensification is more than twice as likely now as it was between 1970 and 1990, is there any reason to think it won’t be twice as likely again by, say, 2070?

This is a great question. I think that what my work shows is that, if we don’t change anything about our behavior, it is reasonable to expect that we might expect this trend to continue and to possibly worsen. In my research, across the time periods 1971-1990 and 2001-2020, the speed and degree of hurricane intensification were significantly different.While more research would be needed to really discern all the potential factors causing that strengthening to occur, I think that, to the extent that warmer ocean waters are involved, we could expect more of the same if we don’t limit our emissions moving forward.

I was pretty shocked to see in Acapulco exactly what you’d warned about in your email to me last week: that there is an “increased risk of hazards for our coastal communities” because of the difficulty of preparing for a storm that jumps from a tropical storm to a Category 5 in less than 24 hours. You spoke a little about this before, but would there be anything you’d want to add now that we’ve seen what you warned about actually unfold?

I’d just say that, as you mentioned, it is surprising to see this happen so soon after publishing research that really tells us this is what we might expect. I think knowing that something is expected because of a warming climate, and actually seeing it play out before your eyes, are two different things. Even though I have the data and the analyses to tell me that this is what we should expect, it’s still a little mind-boggling to see a storm like Otis transform from a Tropical Storm into a Category 5 hurricane in about 12 hours.

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.


Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

Sodium-ion batteries.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

Keep reading...Show less
Electric Vehicles

AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

On Musk’s latest move, Arctic shipping, and China’s natural disasters

Tesla Is Delaying the Robotaxi Reveal
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.


1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

Keep reading...Show less

What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

Donald Trump holding the IRA.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

Keep reading...Show less