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Sandy and climate change: What science experts are saying

October 30th, 2012

From Green Right Now Reports

While climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, Hurricane Sandy seems to have provided a near textbook demonstration of how global warming can worsen them.

Here are a few excerpted remarks from scientists explaining how that works.

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Dan Lashof, director of the Climate & Clean Air Program, Natural Resources Defense Council writes in his blog:

Damage in Jersey City, which took the brunt of Sandy.

This mega-storm is just one more sign of the new normal that will continue as long as we keep avoiding addressing climate change.

Just like the unprecedented droughts, flooding and heat we all experienced this year, storms like Hurricane Sandy is what global warming looks like.

This is the new normal.

In a nutshell, global warming heats up our oceans and loads hurricanes and other storms with extra energy, making them more violent, increasing the amount of rainfall and high winds they deliver and making flooding more likely.

Global warming also leads to rising sea levels, which boosts storm surges, and in turn lead to more severe flooding.

Sea levels stretching from Boston to Norfolk, Va. are rising four times as fast as the global average, making the region more vulnerable to flooding.

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Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, speaking to reporter Amy Goodman:

Whenever you add more heat to the oceans, you’ve got more energy for destruction. And hurricanes are heat engines. They pull heat out of the ocean, convert it to the kinetic energy of their winds. So, the approximately one-degree-Fahrenheit warming of the oceans we’ve experienced over the past century does directly increase the winds of hurricanes. And that’s of concern because just if you’ve got a 5 percent increase in hurricane winds, that doesn’t translate to a 5 percent increase in damage. The damage of the wind goes by some power, like a second or third power. So a 5 percent increase in the winds causes a much higher degree of wind damage. So that’s the main thing, as far as heat in the oceans goes, about the effect on hurricanes.

Sandy tosses boats at City Island in the Bronx (Photo: Evan B.)

The other thing to think about is, when you do heat the oceans up more, you extend the length of hurricane season. And there’s been ample evidence over the last decade or so that hurricane season is getting longer—starts earlier, ends later. You’re more likely to get these sort of late October storms now, and you’re more likely to have this sort of situation where a late October storm meets up with a regular winter low-pressure system and gives us this ridiculous combination of a nor’easter and a hurricane that comes ashore, bringing all kinds of destructive effects.

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Texas Tech University climate center director  Katharine Hayhoe tweeted @kHayhoe:

A subway station in Hoboken, NJ, floods.

We can’t attribute any individual event to long-term climate change. However there are at least 3 ways climate change has made #Sandy worse:

 1. Sea level is 7″ higher now compared to 100y ago.

2. About 15% of the unusually warm sea sfc temps fueling Sandy are result of climate chg

3. did 2012 record Arctic sea ice loss contribute to huge High over Greenland, steering #sandy into the coast instead of out to sea? TBD!

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Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity

“The terrifying truth is that America faces a future full of Frankenstorms. Climate change is raising sea levels. It’s putting more water into the air and making storms stronger. So the threat to many of our coastal cities will grow by the year, unless we get serious about tackling greenhouse gas pollution. ”

 



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