Weather in Depth: Rapid intensification — what is it?

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One of the terms that we have heard a lot about the past few Atlantic hurricane seasons bas been the term “rapid intensification,” but what does that mean? Rapid intensification is a process in which a tropical system undergoes a rapid strengthening period when its winds increasing by 35 mph or more within a 24-hour period.

Major hurricane Lee is the latest to do it, as it nearly doubled its winds from 85 mph Thursday morning to 165 mph by Friday morning, and might not be done strengthening. The Friday morning update for the National Hurricane Center has Lee approaching close to the strongest winds that a hurricane has ever had in the Atlantic with the latest forecast calling for Lee to have winds of 180 mph by Friday afternoon. This just misses the top 5, which include Allen in 1980 with winds of 190 mph, followed by four tied at 185 mph which include Labor Day 1935, Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005), and Dorian (2019).

Time will tell to see if Lee reaches that strength, but rapid intensification is a good term to understand as nearly 80% of major hurricanes have undergone this process, according to “Klotzbach et. Al. (2022).”