Conditions favorable for the development of a Category 5 hurricane are a rarity. Category 5's – on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale – are as strong as hurricanes get and are capable of producing catastrophic damage.
Fortunately, they rarely form and seldom make landfall. However, in a recent five year stretch, a record number of Category 5 hurricanes developed in the Atlantic Ocean Basin – including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
From 2003 through 2007, a total of eight Category 5 hurricanes formed. Hurricane Isabel was the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 1998, and ultimately made landfall as a Category 2 in North Carolina. Hurricane Ivan weakened from a Category 5 and made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the Gulf Coast in 2004. A single season record of four Category 5 hurricanes formed in 2005, including the notorious Hurricanes' Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Emily.
Then in 2007, Dean and Felix became the 7th and 8th Category 5 hurricanes to form in the decade. According to the National Hurricane Center, that broke the previous record of six Category 5 hurricanes which was set in the 1960s.
It is important to distinguish "recorded history" as compared to history in general since accurate hurricane records only go back as far as the 1960s. (Before there were weather satellites to monitor the open ocean, there was no accurate way of identifying a storm unless it made landfall.)
Some scientists suggest that climate change is having an influence on the number and intensity of hurricanes. Others point out there could have been periods of frequent, intense hurricanes in the past that we did not know about because they did not make landfall and were not tracked.
Although no single event can be directly attributed to climate change, scientists will continue to analyze the relationship between climate change and hurricanes.
In the meantime, it is critically important for the public to heed the advice of meteorologists and emergency management officials in the event of a hurricane, since even a minimal hurricane or tropical storm can cause extensive damage and loss of life.
The WUSA 9 weather team can keep you up to date with the latest development in the tropics both on-air and online at wusa9.com.