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Climate Change and the Frankenstorm

2012/10/28
Frankenstorm Sandy.  Image: Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

Frankenstorm Sandy. Image: Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

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.

Probably track of hurricane Sandy.  Image: NOAA.

Probably track of hurricane Sandy. Image: NOAA.

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.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/10/28 7:34 am

    Reblogged this on 350 or bust.

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/10/28 8:17 am

    Three years in a row ranked with equal-third highest number of storms! Even with my limited exposure to statistics, I can see that this is very unlikely to be the result of random variation… I never cease to be amazed by the ability of ideological prejudice to make people so selectively blind to the significance of simple facts like these.

    • 2012/10/28 8:26 am

      I like how if you remove ’05, ’12, ’10 and ’11, you are left with 1995, 1933 and 1887!

    • 2012/10/29 9:06 am

      Cognitive dissonance so-called does weird things to people’s perception of events. If you don’t believe it you are unlikely to see it. The examples are as numerous as they are legendary. The telegraph, powered flight, the electric light, photographic film, radio, television, the telephone. On and on the list goes. All these technological breakthroughs were routinely denied having any substance by the the “experts” of their day. Unfortunately we seem to live in a world where everyone has become an expert. The solution? Well it seems we are progressively discovering the truth of an old saying. Man proposes and God disposes. Observation tells us that this is the steady state of the human condition. Go you huskys

  3. 2012/10/28 12:13 pm

    Excellent explanation of the Frankenstorm — thanks to Christine at 350orBust1 who tipped me off. I’ve subscribed to your blog news.

    • 2012/10/28 2:54 pm

      Thank you for “stopping by” and leaving a comment. I’m rather flattered since I’m a big fan of your work!
      By the way, according to your website, I could fight off 43 denialists 🙂

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