Hurricane Lorenzo Defies Forecasts, Strengthening Into a Monster and Setting an All-time Record

By Tom Yulsman | September 29, 2019 1:43 pm
Hurricane Lorenzo, howling in the North Atlantic on the evening of Saturday September 28, 2019 and into Sunday the 29th, as seen by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Note: The video cycles through several times. Source: CIRA/RAMMB)

On Thursday, Sept. 26, the National Hurricane Center described Hurricane Lorenzo as “one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes of record for the central tropical Atlantic, with the only comparable hurricane [near there] in recent times being Gabrielle of 1989.”

Moving into the weekend, it was forecast to weaken. But then it shocked hurricane experts.

While churning over abnormally warm waters on Saturday evening, Lorenzo defied forecasts and strengthened even further. Howling with winds as high as 160 miles per hour, it became a Category 5 storm.

That makes it the single strongest hurricane ever observed that far north as well as that far east in the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Atlantic overall, just 2 percent of named storms ever achieve Category 5 status.

Lorenzo didn’t maintain its Category 5 status for long. As I’m writing this on Sunday morning, it’s now a Category 4 storm.

Forecast track for Hurricane Lorenzo
The forecast track for Hurricane Lorenzo as of early Sunday morning, Sept. 29, 2019. (Source: National Hurricane Center)

The storm is now forecast to head toward the Azores, continuing to weaken along the way. By late in the week, it is predicted to track near Ireland and the U.K. as a tropical storm.

Since modern satellite monitoring of hurricanes began in 1960, the Atlantic has seen 26 Category 5 storms. With Lorenzo, six Category 5 monsters have spun up in the Atlantic.

The current hurricane season has now seen two Category 5 storms in the Atlantic. And by one measure of hurricane activity, the season has already been a humdinger: It has now generated more accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, than the average for an entire season, according to Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic officially ends on Nov. 30. So the basin’s accumulated cyclone energy — a measure that integrates the frequency, intensity and duration of tropical cyclones — could well go higher still.

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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