Sandy: A message?

I just went through one of the worst hurricanes in the US modern history. Although, I live on higher grounds of the upper Manhattan and was spared flooding, electricity outage etc. it hurts to see the damage. It was not a pleasant experience, and it clearly shows how little power we humans have over the power of nature.

On Tuesday the Presidential election will take place. I have followed the debates, and without getting too much into politics, I can only remark how little the environment has been addressed. Both candidates want to boost US oil, gas and coal production. This may create temporarily growth and job creation, but is devastation in the long run. Just see my earlier blog post.

Romney is skeptical to climate change, and think the US would be better without EPA and more legislation to protect the environment. Obama scores a little higher. He, at least mentioning renewable energy as the energy of the future, has put some necessary legislation to old coal-fired power plants and fuel efficiency in cars into place. But I miss his efforts from last election four years ago. It is clear that when the economy is hurt, environment will have to suffer, as if these two were opposites.

To deny climate change is to ignore the problem. We have the evidence from credible sources. What we don’t know for sure are the effects, their magnitude and their impact. Although, we start to realize. 3,215 record high temperatures across US in June, droughts, lost yields, increased food prices… Melting ice and rising sea levels which will cause flooding in the lower Manhattan, as seen in the aftermatch of Sandy…

“Look, the city is extremely vulnerable to damaging storm surges just for its geography, and climate change is increasing that risk,” said Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. “Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is.”

Can we say anything about the magnitude of Sandy, and the frequency of hurricanes in relation to climate change?

The superstorm Sandy and its magnitude was partly a cause of its collision with another tropical storm system. But some scientific relation between changing climate and hurricanes can be concluded:

–      Global warming has added more moisture to the air, causing more precipitation.

–      The sea level is raising (as addressed above), causing flooding further to the inland.

–      Sea surface temperatures off the Mid-Atlantic coast were near a record high in September, and 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the long term average. In fact, averaged across the globe, ocean temperatures in September were the second highest on record, surpassed only by 2003—and with much of the excess heat occurring in the Atlantic region.

Warm oceans are jet fuel for hurricanes, so it’s fair to say that these warmer temperatures are revving Sandy’s engine. And while many factors shape sea surface temperatures in a given place, the overall trend—directly linked to climate change—is toward hotter oceans.

Thus, while Sandy’s particular path could be considered a matter of chance, the warm temperatures beneath it allows the storm to be stronger, for longer, than it might otherwise have been. And global warming is creating a world where, on average, those warm temperatures will be there more often than they were in the past.

We can’t address Sandy as a single event to climate change, but we can put it into context of other extreme weather events happening around the world. We can choose to face it as something less abnormal and something we will have to cope with as the temperature continues to rise. We can continue denying climate change, claiming for more evidence. Or we can see it as a message and take action. I wish the American President would choose the last alternative. But it is unfortunately less likely.

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