Scientists:Hurricane Sandy Storm Surge Directly Affected By Climate Change

Scientists Weigh Climate Change Role in 2012 Weather

Willie Drye

for National Geographic

Published September 5, 2013

A sprawling global team of meteorologists who examined the marquee extreme weather events of 2012—including Hurricane Sandy, drought in the U.S. Midwest, and melting arctic ice—found that human-induced climate change was a factor in half of the dozen events they studied.

The scientists, who published their findings Thursday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorology Society, acknowledged that determining how much influence climate change has on particular extreme weather events is an evolving science, and that better tools are needed to measure that influence.

"(W)hile climate models may indicate a human effect is causing increases in the chances of having extremely high precipitation in a region (much like speeding increases the chances of having an accident), natural variability can still be the primary factor in any individual extreme event," the authors said.

Thursday's report was written by 18 teams comprising 78 meteorologists from around the world.

Here are four of the major events analyzed by the meteorologists:

1. The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The authors were especially interested in how climate change affected Sandy's storm surge, which caused massive destruction on the coast of New Jersey and flooded parts of New York City. They concluded that the surge—a mound of water formed by a hurricane's winds and forward motion and pushed in front of the storm as it approaches landfall—was worse than it would have been in 1950 because sea level has risen in the past 60 years.

That rise in sea level has been attributed to warming temperatures and melting arctic ice. And that rise means that future storms less powerful than Sandy are likely to cause more damage than they would have decades ago.

2. The melting of arctic sea ice. Some computer simulations have predicted that arctic ice will disappear during the summer by the middle of this century. The report's authors said it is "extremely unlikely that the disappearance of arctic sea ice has been caused by natural climate variability."

3. Extreme heat and drought in the U.S. The authors said climate change had little to do with the drought in the central U.S. last year. But they added that climate change was a factor in the unusually warm weather that accompanied the drought. And climate change makes it much more likely that periods of extreme heat will happen. (Watch related video: Droughts 101.)

4. Unusually high rainfall in parts of Europe and elsewhere during 2012. The scientists reached a split decision about whether climate change was to blame for heavy rainfall in some places. Fluctuations in rainfall are normal, they said. But unusually warm sea water—which produces higher humidity and is linked to heavier rainfall—is likely caused by climate change.

End of Excerpt

Also see:

NOAA: Explaining Extreme Events Of 2012

Risk Of Sandy Level Flood In NYC Has Doubled Since 1950

Ice Melting Faster In Greenland And Antarctica

1 yr


Sandy Storm Surge

On the evening of October 29, 2012 all power was lost. All I could see were the sparks flying from power lines and transformers. The wind had started out slow but by then was at full force. This was only a part of what hit my town when Hurricane Sandy came. I will never forget the floods...and the wind...and being without any services for almost two weeks... and the reports of people being washed away in the floods ... and the fires... and the washing away of my childhood memories...and now the after effects. I still cry watching videos about it because I have never ever experienced anything like this and I have lived here all of my life. I also had never seen flooding where I live. However, Hurricane Sandy blew the bay into homes in my area five feet deep. After hours of wind and water pummeling us the calm left a shattered heap of trees, garbage and destruction.

A record sea surface temperature that also caused thermal expansion of the waters, record Arctic sea ice loss pushing the effects of Arctic amplification influencing fronts and the jet stream and the effects of two converging fronts caught in it causing Sandy to move slower combined with record melting in Greenland releasing huge amounts of energy into the atmosphere came down like a bomb. It also hit at high tide with a full moon. The Perfect Storm in a place where perfect storms are not supposed to happen.

And yes, the intensity and direction of this storm could have been much different if we were not treating the atmosphere and this crisis as if they do not matter. 65 billion dollars in loss with over 30,000 families still without homes with us being told by scientists that this will be our "new normal."... This isn't about your politics. This is about our lives.

This is not some far flung "theory". This is reality. This is happening now with the effects becoming more severe. It will only intensify as our use of fossil fuels continues. Sea level rise, warmer sea surface temperatures, warmer ocean temperatures, effects of sea ice loss all factor into these events becoming more extreme and that costs lives. It costs memories. It costs future stability for those who live on this planet.

Hurricane Sandy was a wake up call. Time to wake up.