Ecocentric

Climate Change and Sandy: Why We Need to Prepare for a Warmer World

Climate change didn't cause Hurricane Sandy on its own, but that doesn't mean that global warming doesn't have an impact on extreme weather. Why we need to climate -proof our cities

  • Share
  • Read Later
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Homes devastated by fire and the effects of Hurricane Sandy are seen at the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough of New York City on Oct. 30, 2012.

After a campaign season in which it was the missing in action issue, climate change roared back into relevancy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Bill McKibben, the writer-turned-activist behind 350.org, put it in stark terms. “This is an absolutely unprecedented storm,” he told POLITICO on Monday evening. “This entire year should be a seriously wake-up call—and the public’s beginning to get it.”

Some scientists and science writers, however, were just as quick to caution that we can’t really attribute any single weather event to climate change—and that tropical cyclones like Sandy have proved particularly hard to connect to global warming. Andrew Revkin of Dot Earth drew a clear line against attributing Sandy directly to recent man-made warming, noting that there had been periods in the past when strong hurricanes occurred during cooler years:

There remains far too much natural variability in the frequency and potency of rare and powerful storms — on time scales from decades to centuries – to go beyond pointing to this event being consistent with what’s projected on a human-heated planet.

Of course, we’ll be grappling with the effects of Sandy—which has already killed over 20 people in the U.S. and which could easily top $20 billion in damages—whether or not it has to do with climate change. But the argument over attribution alone misses the point. We know that climate change is real, that it’s happening and that it will make many natural disasters more severe, from coastal flooding to droughts to storms. But the real danger stems from the fact that we’re putting more and more people and property in harm’s way, in built-up coastal cities like New York or Miami or Shanghai. Along with cutting carbon emissions to reduce the risk from climate change, we need to build and maintain a society that is capable that will prove more resilient to extreme weather in the future.


(MORE: Flying Blind: America’s Aging Weather Satellites)

It’s true that Hurricane Sandy got an unusual boost from extremely warm waters off the East Coast—through the first half of 2012, sea temperatures from Maine to North Carolina were the highest on record. (Some of that warm water may be due to natural variability, however, rather than man-made climate change.) Warmer ocean waters provide more power for tropical cyclones, which is why hurricanes are more common in the tropics and why the Atlantic hurricane season runs roughly over the summer and early fall. A paper published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences made the case that warm years over the past several decades have been more active for cyclones than cooler years. Warmer air—and we’re on track to have the hottest year on record globally—can hold more moisture, which means storms can drop more rainfall. That’s one clear reason why many—but not all—atmospheric scientists believe global warming is likely to help cause stronger storms.

But the possible effect of warming on hurricanes is one of the less perfectly understood aspects of climate science, and there’s still a lot of natural variability at work that makes it difficult to fingerprint the human influence of a major storm. The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report noted that scientists have “low confidence” in long-term increases in tropical cyclone activity due to man-made warming, and other studies have found evidence of massive storms that hit the Northeast thousands of years ago—well before humans began changing the climate. Sandy was also a truly freak event. The storm likely would have spun harmlessly out to the sea—as many late-season hurricanes do before they strike the East Coast—had it not met a blocking high pressure system that steered it towards the Northeast. That’s some seriously bad luck.

Over at the Houston Chronicle, science reporter Eric Berger noted the challenge of tying Sandy specifically to climate change:

The bottom line is that climate change is unquestionably having an effect on the weather around us by raising the average temperature of the planet. This is producing warmer temperatures and very likely increasing the magnitude of droughts. However, it is a big stretch to go from there to blaming Sandy on climate change. It’s a stretch that is just not supported by science at this time.

(MORE: Frankenstorm: Why Hurricane Sandy Could Be the Perfect Storm, Part II)

When it comes to policy responses, though, it doesn’t really matter exactly what role man-made climate change plays in amplifying storms. For one thing, we know that global sea level rise is happening, and we know that’s large due to man-made warming. And sea level in the Northeast seems to be rising three to four times faster than they are globally, which puts cities like New York—which has more than 580 miles of coastline—at enhanced risk. Storm surges and coastal flooding, rather than high-speed winds or drenching rain, proved to be Sandy’s real bane, with more than 12 ft. of flood water filling New York’s Battery Tunnel. Every subway tunnel beneath New York’s East River was flooded, leaving the system “devastated,” in the words of Metropolitan Transit Authority chairman Joseph Lhota.

As atmospheric scientists Kevin Trenberth told Slate, sea-level rise poses a long-term threat to the world’s coastal cities—a threat that is felt when a storm hits:

Sea level-rise happens episodically. One minute it looks benign and then a week later suddenly a storm or hurricane comes along like Sandy, and there are major waves, 20-foot waves, and major storm surge, and tremendous damage occurs.

Even if the storm just happened to do exactly the same things it’s doing anyway, the fact that sea level went up 6 inches last century, and that sea level is somewhat higher now than it has been at any time in recent history, means that all of the coastal regions are experiencing new levels of pounding and erosion.

Add the fact that coastal areas are becoming more densely populated—putting more people and property in harm’s way—and you have a recipe for a very expensive and dangerous disaster every time a storm like Sandy makes landfall. Climate change is just one more factor contributing to the growing danger from extreme weather. That’s why we need to build societies—and infrastructure—that can be resilient in the face of a natural disaster, or an unnatural one. Limiting the effects climate change through the reduction of carbon emissions and adaptation to extreme weather has to be built into any future development—something Andrew Revkin pointed out in his post yesterday.

(PHOTOSThe Toil After the Storm: Life in Sandy’s Wake)

We don’t demand absolute certainty before we take action in foreign policy, the economy or health. We’d be fools to wait until there’s perfect scientific consensus on the role that global warming may be playing in tropical storms before we take action to prepare for both. “Anyone who says there’s hasn’t been a dramatic change in weather patterns has been denying reality,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters today. “We need to make sure that if there is weather like this we are more prepared and protected than we have been before.” As 8 million struggle without power in Sandy’s wake, that much should be painfully obvious.

MORE: Why Climate Change Has Become the Missing Issue in the Presidential Campaign

110 comments
fitty_three
fitty_three

Here is some food for thought, and I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned:

There are considerable similarities between the 1962 Columbus Day storm and Sandy.  Both were the offspring of a marriage between a hurricane (or cyclone) and an extra tropical storm:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus_Day_Storm_of_1962

That storm was likely more powerful than Sandy, we had 175's off the coast as it traveled north before crossing inland over Vancouver Island.

The idea that global warming might be influencing these has a lot of merit: the longer a cyclone or hurricane lasts, the farther north it tracks together with the generation of more extra tropical storms at mid-latitudes increases the likelihood of the two coming together. 

philosophy4info
philosophy4info

First it was the "deniers" who were unscientific -- denying climate change against supposed factual evidence.  Now, the early and firm adopters know so much that they can dispense with the actual factual evidence (or lack thereof) too. When scientists tell us that it would be unscientific to make the connections between events like Sandy and climate change, they are scolded or ignored.  And who else out there is weary of the constant and willful equivocation between the idea that the climate is changing and the idea that human civilization causes this change.  The first is a banal fact (was there ever a time when the climate was not changing?); the second, a laughably unprovable claim (please point me to the scientific demonstration that shows human activity alternately raising sea levels and earth temps and then lowering them). 

jdyer2
jdyer2

Yes, I couldn't agree more that we should start preparing for climate change.

But we won't.

WRBurton
WRBurton

Reality Check: There has been NO warming of the earth in 16 years. That is a fact.

Tmacoctavius
Tmacoctavius

So sad so much destruction.

Best of luck to all NYFD NYPD and others in helping victims in NY NJ CT

National Academy of Science has noted not only is global warming man made but we need to act to cut carbon emissions.

FACTS

Earth is warmer

Water is warmer 55 degrees in North Atlantic for November

Warmer air hold more  water vapor

Arctic Sea ice melted record amount even more than predicted.

More water vapor means bigger rainfall amounts bigger storms

FICTION

someone told me climate change is not man made

I wonder how many of these monster storms wildfires droughts polar ice melting need to happen until people wake up

From the sounds of the ignorant  people the answer is NEVER. The truly deluded will NEVER admit what all National Academy of Sciences worldwide have been saying for decades, that burning stuff warms the earth. DUH

rock0267
rock0267

Except we DON'T know climate change is real. Nice try. These nuts will use any excuse to push their fraudulent cause. Hello, wake up, 'global warming/climate change' has already been disproven time and time again. Where are you getting your info from???

natcurrier
natcurrier

Dear Bryan - 

I'm so happy that you are writing something on the climate -Sandy connection. To me though, what you write actually doesn't go far enough, and there are two things I see as being close to errors here. 

1. "That’s some seriously bad luck," you write about the blocking event. No! It's much more than bad luck, and this is at the heart of my piece at Huffpost on the subject. It is directly traceable to changes in the thickness gradients, mean zonal winds, jet stream behavior and - hence - to arctic summer sea ice loss. This makes it much more obviously a "climate change engendered" storm than most, in fact. My piece is at:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-currier/climate-change_b_2032363.html

2. "When it comes to policy responses, though, it doesn’t really matter exactly what role man-made climate change plays in amplifying storms." 

Personally, I would say that it does. For example, Bryan, what measures should we undertake first? If the shifting arctic is a primary driver of current extreme weather, that is of profound interest from a policy perspective, I would say.

In fact, I just did a two part series at Huffpost which might interest you, in that it all takes off from the Greenpeace event that you moderated last month, and looks at this arctic situation from a policy perspective - 

#1: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-currier/arctic-climate-change_b_1911550.html

#2: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-currier/saving-the-arctic-ice-gre_b_1960151.html

wholefed
wholefed

We Are What You Eat

The irony is the greatest single activity we can do for the environment is to adopt a Plant Based diet.

Mark Bittman recently commented in the New York Times: Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling.

A couple of years later, however, it was suggested that the number was too small. Two environmental specialists for the World Bank, Robert Goodland (the bank’s former lead environmental adviser) and Jeff Anhang, claimed, in an article in World Watch, that the number was more like 51 percent. It’s been suggested that that number is extreme, but the men stand by it, as Mr. Goodland wrote to me this week: “All that greenhouse gas isn’t emitted directly by animals. ”But according to the most widely-used rules of counting greenhouse gases, indirect emissions should be counted when they are large and when something can be done to mitigate or reduce them.”

Make a commitment to support your health by embracing a Plant Based diet. Once that commitment is made you will realize the enormity of the impact it has on a myriad of issues.

Full Post: http://wholefed.org/2012/04/30/we-are-what-you-eat/

Ian Welch

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Even as Jesus fortold of Israels dispersing 70 A.D. and eventual regathering 1948 A.D., He also spoke of things that would happen all over the world, just before He returned.............. Luke 21:24-26........24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled..............The Coming of the Son of Man......25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.................Matthew 24:7........7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.

joukot
joukot

It is not important if this or that hurricane is caused by climate change. The important point is if once in a century hurricane begins to take place every few years. IPCC is wording their findings very carefully as scientists should, but if scientists say something is true, it is much more certain than a testimony of two independent witnesses in the court. Even a low confidence of scientists on the increase of hurricanes because of the climate change is a serious matter, and it is much cheaper to prevent an accident than to repair the consequences.

romerjt
romerjt

For reasons unrelated to Sandy I recently made of spreadsheet of NOAA monthly temperature for the area (Albany, NY) near where I live.  Using the temps up to 1996 as the base, here’s the result: 

Of the 190 months since Jan. 1997, 138 were warmer thannormal, for every month with a below normal temp, 2 had above normal. 

Winters were even warmer. For the 64 winter months, 49, (77%), have been warmer than normal, inother words for every 1 month colder, 3 were warmer than normal.

In the 16 year since 1997, only 3 have been colder than normal (and very slightly).   The 15 warmer years, much warmer.  Since Jan. 2010, only 3 months have been colder than normal , this year which will be record-breaking, no so far.

I urge everyone to use the NOAA site to document the weather in their area understanding that the earth is not like a roast in the oven, weather and climate are complex and even though last year was the warmest year ever for 25 states east of the Rockies (15 other 2nd warmest) some states in the Pacific northwest were recording record cold.  That doesn’t disprove the general warming. America iswarmer.  Do the math, see for yourself.  And when you discover for yourself that its getting warmer,are you really going to think that warmer temps won’t change the climate?   Where’s the science for that?

elborradordelapiz
elborradordelapiz

Earth had a balance which is being destroyed by humans. This unbalance in earth causes the extremes to be even more extreme. Floods are bigger and more water, storms are stronger, dry spells are longer and drier, etc. Keep destroying the rain forest, and all the forests in North America, keep burning gasoline and coal, fly more airplanes and this is what happens.

Domgoj
Domgoj

First things first, Hurricane Sandy was not man-made. As mentioned above, it was blocked inland by a high pressure block. It was bad luck.In water resources engineering we have probabilities for storms such as Sandy and other less potent ones as well. Hurricane Sandy would be classified as a 100-year storm. This means the probability of Sandy occurring is once every 100 years. Yes it is possible that two 100-year storms occur within a 100-year period, thats just how probability works sometimes. We will not/Should not see an event like Sandy in our lifetime. If you look at the list of great hurricanes, they can be traced to the early 1900s.These storms are not man-made! Much worse storms have been taking place since way before we've been around...

akpat
akpat

You do not have to beleive in climate change to do the right thing for the planet. Those who are old enough can remeber when the Cuyuhoga river in Ohio caught fire. It did so on a regular basis simply because it was pollted by discharges of hydrocarbon effluent. The EPA cleaned it up.

now we have this and although it may not have been caused by man made global warming we need to remember we only have one planet to live on and if we screw up well its over and will become really hard to live on for future generations.

There is no easy substitute for gasoline but we could lower our emissions by 50% just going over to nuclear power for electricity rather than coal which is a really toxic method of generating heat. Full of nasty heavy metals, and by products of sulfur you can easily find places in the world decimated by acid rain. Just go to Maine. The Kennebunk river is posted 'Dont eat Fish' mercury poisening from the industrial great lake belt, all caused by coal.

Its time to do the right thing, go back to products that last longer and need less energy to make. Of course that would be tough for the few at the top as they depend on huge consumer demand of cheaply  made products that are constantly renewed because they fall apart.

RachelByersKiernan
RachelByersKiernan

Apparently I'm a radical liberal.  I'm willing to listen to the conclusions of thousands of scientists when they say that man-made climate change is real.  I'm also willing to accept that millions of cars being driven every single over the past several decades can affect our environment, whereas gays getting married.... Well, not so much.

JimStarowicz
JimStarowicz

Denial of climate change or especially whether humans are causing the rapid growth of, look around and pay attention, is not a reason to stop innovative industries from developing which would cause economic growth in many area's, which is exactly what those parroting, especially elected officials, are doing and have been for some forty years, using other meme's that can't be used now, here at the same time we started shipping our experienced innovative trades off to other countries along with the alternative energy sources we had started developing!

WayneHurlburt
WayneHurlburt

Let's face it...Hurricane Sandy was man-made.(NOT a result of GlobalWarning...they needed to boost support for Global Warming so created anevent to do so). In addition to all the related information on how itwas created and guided along... 

Not sure how many followed thetracking of the storm as well as the MB levels, comparing them to the1997 simulation chart, but something strange happened near the end ofit's course. Within minutes of it hitting 940mb's (or shortlythereof), the trajectory and speed quickly changed. Immediately turningabruptly west as well as doubling its traveling speed (from 14mph to24-28mph). 

This change made landfall quicker and lower than theoriginal targeted landfall point. In the simulation they used a MinimumMB level of 935mb, making me believe that that was lowest possiblelevel to be maintained to achieve theirdesired outcome(or even controlability). Every test or implimentationhas its own Go-NoGo ranges. 

For simulation it was 935mb. My guess isthat for live testing was raised to 940mb to allow for unforseeableresults or consequences etc. I think there would have been moredamage and the actual power outages etc. that they were predicting, hadthe storm stayed on its targeted path. 

Someone/something interviened.Whether the perpertators themselves or someone discovered the plan.Murpy's Law ~ All actions have an equal and opposite reaction. i.e.like something attracting an object suddenly gets thrown in reverse andrepels it, its speed would increase and trajectory would alter.(depending on already set rotational speeds when initiated). 

Fruit For Thought! 

Source(s): 

http://www.weca.org/SET/report/node6.html 

http://www.brotherjohnf.com/forum/Thread-Hurricane-Sandy-FRANKENSTORM-Man-made-using-HAARP-Chemtrails-predicted-in-1997

KeithDeGiacomo
KeithDeGiacomo

Nice. Any excuse to beat the climate change drum. If we pay enough carbon taxes to Al Gore, all the hurricanes will go away.

Steve8866
Steve8866

Its a category 1 hurricane. Climate change? Global warming? Crying wolf for an average hurricane doesn't do the "movement" any good.

ibnal7r
ibnal7r

We are here in the Arab Gulf states give our children a car with eight engines, Europe Austria town Kabern they driving Bicycles poor people I hope to donate to them car, I did not imagine that there are poor is true what the Yankee says, who commented before me that the economy enemy of Environment Although before  a thousand years Was bad weather chang ur country that will help :) move it to Europe by ship drag it   you Americacan u can !

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

.........the point is, things on the earth are going to get worse.......the seas and the waves roaring,.wars, famines, pestilence, earthquakes, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, persecution of christians will increase, immorality will get worse.........all signs pointing to Christs return and a call to repentance, before Gods Judgement comes, and the end of times as we know it..........We are closing in on the great tribulation period the Bible talks about in the book of Revelations........But whosoever shall repent, and call upon the name of the Lord, will be saved.........Do it today........and be ready no matter what comes upon the earth.......

summerfield
summerfield

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O59SjLKGei4  (video)

"The world's governments are too busy trying to save humanity from the "great crisis" —the economic crisis— by stimulating the same consumption that is leading us to unmitigated disaster. If the level of global destruction has not yet reached the dreaded status of full-blown catastrophe, it is only because consumerism has not yet reached its supposedly desired levels."

"Wasteful and irrational consumerism has no limits; it has not prevented the death of millions of children from hunger, but it has endangered the existence of the entire biosphere. If successful consumerism is not replaced by the forgotten values of austerity, soon we will choose between war and misery, hunger and epidemics."

Dachman
Dachman

Man made global warning is not something you can prove...It isnt even proven that CO2 raises the temp.

GaryDMN
GaryDMN

Climate change? Hurricanes have been ravaging North America, since long before the USA even existed. A massive storm hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 and killed at least 8,000 people. And in 1928, the Lake Okeechobee, Fla., hurricane killed morethan 2,500, according to the National Hurricane Center

GaryMcCray
GaryMcCray

Sandy is going to have caused loss of life, enormous financial loss and incredible and long lasting inconvenience.

That said it could have been a lot worse.

Before the storm we were hearing about considerably worse scenarios, but even those, not close to worst case.

Flooding and wind damage could easily have been far worse and had it hooked up with the Northern storm as some were predicting we really would have had the "Frankenstorm".

Fortunately the winds fell more quickly and the storm dissipated faster than was expected and the water did not rise to the truly catastrophic levels predicted.

Bad as it was the East coast got off lightly in comparison to how bad it really could have been.

If this truly is a one of a kind storm, everybody can breath a sigh of relief, rebuild and go about their business.

BUT, if this is a result of the other increases in severe weather we have been seeing that may well have a close tie to global warming, I'd consider moving to higher ground and out of such a fragile and easily disrupted massive population center.

If it ever gets really bad, New York will immediately become a tomb.

Of course it could be either way.

Hope you guess right.

Dachman
Dachman

So global warming is bad? All this talk about the so called 1% rich in America, news flash America is the 1% and we talk about global warming while the rest of the world starves.

Why are we so concerned about global warming when people are dying and living in filth? If you had no access to clean water would you really care about how the polar ice caps are melting.

I know you say "there wont be a world to live in if we dont do something about it now."

Well they are starving now and now is all they care about, most all Americans were born filthy rich ($34K is the top 1% in the world) and love a cause that they can complain about from the comfort of their computer, coffee shop, classroom or college.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

LAZY COPY AND PASTE news editors cause climate change.The weather Gods are angry my friend and only WE can control a changing climate?We "may be" at the brink of no return the lab coat consultants say yet there isn’t one IPCC warning that isn’t peppered with “maybes” and “could bes”…….. DENY THAT! HELP MY HOUSE IS ON FIRE..................maybe? Are you kidding?FEAR MONGERING the voter's children with deaths by CO2 is just what Romney wants us to do. Nice job girls. Nice job.

Browser
Browser

The 1891 East Coast Hurricane season blasted the crap outta that coast line. Get off your religious, clingy, self absorbed lifestyle and wake up, our era isn't the only era in Earth's history. She's been combating this crap for as old as as we can account for. Does pumping noxious gas's into the atmosphere help? No. But for gods sake stop coming up with asinine reasons for why we have a hurricane. It happens. Its happened, it'll happen again.

GaryMcCray
GaryMcCray

You know, it's interesting that when a new drug is introduced, we have to wait for it till after a huge battery of tests has been performed to consider it safe enough to be used.

But when any existing phenomenon seems to be causing problems we have to wait till we see how much destruction and death it will cause before we decide to respond to it.

If this is an IQ test, we have failed.