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The Tale of the 'Super Hurricanes' on Science Channel
September 22, 2017  | By David Hinckley

You don’t have to have been caught in 125-mile-an-hour winds to have asked yourself in the last couple of weeks exactly what’s going on with hurricanes this year.

To help address that troubling question, the Science Channel has whipped up a near-instant documentary called Super Hurricanes: Inside Monster Storms, which will air Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

A good part of the hour-long documentary recounts what has happened with Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, and now Hurricane Maria back in the Islands.

Super Hurricanes also talks about how we got three massive storms almost on top of each other, and whether that should warn us we will be getting more and more extreme weather in the years ahead.

In the big-picture discussion, Super Hurricanes doesn’t wave its arms hysterically. It keeps the discussion calm and tacitly acknowledges that weather prediction, short- or long-term, is not an exact science.

We saw that with Irma, whose projected path over a 36-hour period shifted from the East Coast of Florida to the West Coast before the storm largely took a third path up the middle.

What’s indisputable, the experts in Super Hurricanes note, is that the warmer the ocean, the more it feeds a storm. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico were six degrees warmer than normal when Harvey roared in, and that was the water Harvey scooped up and dumped on Houston.

Many viewers will then ask whether climate change, which has been linked to warmer oceans, is already affecting our weather, and not in a good way.

Super Hurricanes isn’t Al Gore. It doesn’t connect that dot and then pound it. It lays the known evidence out and, to an extent, lets the viewer decide what to do with it.

Instead, much of the documentary explains how hurricanes form, and how they behave during their short, turbulent lives.  

One of the most remarkable and dangerous aspects of Harvey, Irma, and Maria has been their size and strength. Harvey reached Category 4, with sustained winds of 130 miles an hour, and the other two hit Category 5, which is sustained winds of 155 miles an hour.

That exceeds the wind level most buildings are designed to withstand. In Houston, and far more in the Caribbean, homes were flattened, creating an enormous human and social cost.

Houston, the documentary notes, at one time had large swaths of marsh and wetlands that were natural sponges for heavy rainfall.

But as the city has boomed economically, huge chunks of that wetland have been drained, covered with concrete and turned into developments.

That’s made Houston quite prosperous. Hurricane Harvey, the documentary notes, revealed the price tag on some of that prosperity.

Any viewer who has been glued to The Weather Channel lately will know a lot of what Super Hurricanes reports, and will certainly have seen the images.

But for those who mostly know that these terrible storms have seemed to keep coming, Super Hurricanes provides a good roundup and a valuable perspective on extreme weather in general.

If it doesn’t either confirm or deny that these storms are a harbinger of our future, it certainly makes clear that we need to keep watching.

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