Climate Change and the Frankenstorm
A hurricane is coming to the Atlantic coast of North America. Nothing new for this time of the year… that’s why they call it “Hurricane Season”! However, this hurricane (which goes by the name Sandy) is set to combine with a winter storm from the continental US. The resulting enormous storm has been described as a “Frankenstorm”, and a “Perfect storm”. Or, as Brian Norcross of the Weather Channel put it,
This is a beyond-strange situation. It’s unprecedented and bizarre.
Where ever this storm hits, it is expected to cause incredible amounts of damage, not only because of wind but because of massive amounts of rain. According to meterologist Paul Douglas, “Sandy will be a prodigious rain-maker, with some 6-10” rainfall amounts well inland, capable of severe flash flooding 1-2 days after landfall.” Combine that with a full moon and power winds and you also get very dangerous storms surges and even more flooding.
And now, people are probably (hopefully) asking themselves if this “unprecedented” storm is related to climate change. In reality, that is the wrong question to ask because ALL of our weather and ALL of our storms are affected by climate change. So, maybe a better question is how is this frankenstorm related to climate change.
Well, the first problem is precipitation. Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research explains it like so:
The air is on average warmer and moister than it was prior to about 1970 and in turn has likely led to a 5–10 % effect on precipitation and storms that is greatly amplified in extremes. The warm moist air is readily advected onto land and caught up in weather systems as part of the hydrological cycle, where it contributes to more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring.
In other words, the air is warmer, warm air holds more moisture and as a result we get more intense rains. We already see this happening around the world.
The second problem is that hurricane seasons seem to be getting longer (which is believed to be linked to warming ocean temperatures). And because of that, we seem to be getting more hurricanes each year. Here are the seven busiest Atlantic Hurricane seasons on record:
2005 (28 named storms)
1933 (20 named storms)
2012 (19 named storms)
1887 (19 named storms)
2010 (19 named storms)
2011 (19 named storms)
1995 (19 named storms)
That’s three years in a row with 19 or more named storms. Even if you remove the hurricanes that wouldn’t have been counted before satellite technology existed, “nothing in the HURDAT (Atlantic basin HURicane DATabase) data base that compares to the type of activity we’ve seen the past three years”.
We are getting more storms, they are carrying more water and they are causing more damage. That is how this storm is related to climate change.
Welcome to the new normal.