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By any name, major tropical storms are bad news
By Marlowe HOOD
Paris (AFP) Sept 6, 2017

Billionaire Branson hunkers down as Irma hits private island
London (AFP) Sept 6, 2017 - British billionaire Richard Branson said he would be hunkering down in his concrete wine cellar to face Hurricane Irma as it hurtles closer to his private island of Necker in the British Virgin Islands.

"We have just experienced a night of howling wind and rain as Hurricane Irma edges closer towards us," Branson wrote in a blog post.

"All of us slept together in two rooms. I haven't had a sleepover quite like it since I was a kid," he added.

The billionaire and his staff are currently on his private island of Necker, in the British Virgin Islands, east of Puerto Rico.

Guests staying in the luxury resort have left or postponed their stay for safety reasons, he explained in a previous blog post.

Branson said that they would all "retreat to a concrete wine cellar under the Great House" as the full force of the hurricane got closer.

"Knowing our wonderful team as I do, I suspect there will be little wine left in the cellar when we all emerge," he then joked.

Branson said he was confident his buildings "should be able to handle extreme weather pretty well", adding that "our main concern is with the local people of the British Virgin Islands".

"It may sound strange, but I consider hurricanes one of the wonders of the natural world," he said, remembering two previous hurricanes in 2010 when he "beheld nature at its most ferocious".

"Man-made climate change is a key factor in the increasing intensity of these hurricanes," he wrote.

Hurricane Irma -- a rare Category Five storm -- slammed into French Caribbean islands on Wednesday bringing gusting winds of up to 185 miles per hour (294 kilometers per hour), weather experts said.

Authorities in the British Virgin Islands have advised people to find safe shelter and have emergency supplies kit packed with supplies for at least three days.

Thousands of tourists were also impacted, as airlines were forced to ground or divert flights.

No matter what they are called -- hurricanes, cyclones or typhoons -- the giant tropical storms that form in oceans near the Americas and Asia can be deadly, destructive and terrifyingly capricious.

Even as a waterlogged Houston struggles to recover from Hurricane Harvey, another ferocious storm, Irma, is ripping across the Caribbean towards Florida.

At full throttle, these low-pressure systems pack more power than the energy released by the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima.

In the Atlantic and northeast Pacific, they are known as hurricanes, while typhoon is the term used in Pacific Asia. The same weather phenomenon in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean is a cyclone.

From outer space, they look like a smoke-enshrouded firework pinwheel, or what astronomers may imagine as the swirling vortex around a black hole.

Meteorologists call them all "tropical cyclones," and grade them according to intensity, taking into account maximum sustained wind force and potential damage.

Hurricane Irma, gusting at up to 294 kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour), is a top-level Category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It is one of the strongest to ever be recorded in the Atlantic.

Another Category 5 storm, Hurricane Katrina, killed over 1,800 people across the US Gulf Coast when it struck in 2005.

Category 5 storms have sustained winds -- at least a minute -- of 252 kph (157 mph) or higher, while the range for Category 4 cyclones is 209-251 kph.

At the lowest level on the scale, Category 1 winds blow at 119-153 kph. Below this threshold, the phenomenon is rated as a tropical storm.

Cyclones are formed from simple thunderstorms at certain times of the year when the sea temperature is more than 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit) down to a depth of 60 metres (200 feet).

They suck up vast quantities of water through evaporation, which is dumped as torrential rain. Flooding, property damage and loss of life can result.

- Storms 'to get stronger' -

Scientists have long predicted that global warming will make cyclones more destructive, and some say the evidence for this may already be visible.

Warmer oceans add to the raw fuel on which cyclones feed, and higher sea levels boost storm surges that may overcome coastal defences.

"We know that the strongest storms are going to get stronger as the climate warms," said James Elsner, a professor at Florida State University and an expert on hurricanes.

"The ocean fuels these storms with warm water -- the warmer the waters, the stronger the storm can get," he told AFP.

Sea level rise -- roughly predicted to top a metre (3.25 feet) by century's end -- is already contributing to more devastating storm surges, he added.

"Finally, as the atmosphere warms, it holds more water -- that makes the storm produce more rain, which can lead to flooding."

At the same time, cyclones may become less frequent, he added.

And how destructive a storm is depends greatly on vulnerability -- sprawling urban development in at-risk areas, for instance -- and emergency preparedness, experts add.

Hurricanes and typhoons can trigger large swells that move faster than the storm, travelling 1,000 kilometres (more than 600 miles) beyond its confines.

The storms themselves -- with a calm "eye" at their centre -- measure up to 1,000 km across.

They weaken rapidly when they travel over land or colder ocean waters.

Cyclones are closely monitored by satellites, and specialised centres around the world -- in Miami, Tokyo, Honolulu and New Delhi -- track the super storms' trajectories under the coordination of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Some experts have criticised the Saffir-Simpson scale as being too narrowly focused on wind speed.

"The irony is that hurricanes are known for wind, yet wind is third on the list of lethal aspects," after storm surges and flooding caused by rain, noted Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.

Death toll in Mexico from Tropical Storm Lidia rises to 7
La Paz, Mexico (AFP) Sept 2, 2017
The death toll from Tropical Storm Lidia that swept across Mexico's Baja California peninsula has risen to seven, officials said Saturday. Five of the deaths occurred at the resort town of Cabo San Lucas, the local government said. Erasmo Palemon, attorney general for the state of Baja California Sur said that while the deaths were tragic, "it is sometimes the responsibility of the citiz ... read more

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