Hurricanes have long been a potent symbol — maybe the most potent — of a changing climate. Not only do these storms release destructive energy on a scale that’s staggering to contemplate, but how much they can do so depends on the heat contained in ocean water — their power source. That’s what makes it so striking to find Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert and co-founder of the Weather Underground, declaring that late October’s Category 5 Hurricane Patricia wasn’t just the strongest hurricane ever seen in the Western hemisphere.

No, Masters asserts that Patricia was the strongest tropical cyclone ever reliably recorded by humans, at least when measured by its wind speeds. (Tropical cyclones go by various names, including hurricanes and typhoons, in different parts of the world). “I regard Patricia as unmatched for the strongest winds of any tropical cyclone in recorded history,” Masters wrote on Monday. He later continued: “Now that ocean temperatures are considerably warmer than they were a few decades ago, the maximum potential intensity a hurricane can reach is higher, and we should expect to see a few Patricias sprinkled among the inevitable phalanxes of major hurricanes that will assault our shores in the coming decades.” READ MORE