From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published October 29, 2012 05:03 PM

The Connection between Climate Change and Hurricane Sandy

While scientists are still debating some fundamental questions regarding hurricanes and climate change (such as: will climate change cause more or less hurricanes?), there's no debating that a monster hurricane is now imperiling the U.S. East Coast. A few connections between a warmer world and Hurricane Sandy can certainly be made, however: rising sea levels are likely to worsen storm surges; warmer waters bring more rain to increase flooding; and hotter temperatures may allow the hurricane to push both seasonal and geographic boundaries.


"The sea surface temperatures along the Atlantic coast have been running at over 3C above normal for a region extending 800km off shore all the way from Florida to Canada. Global warming contributes 0.6C to this," writes climatologist Kevin Trenberth in an article today in The Conversation. "With every degree C, the water holding of the atmosphere goes up 7%, and the moisture provides fuel for the tropical storm, increases its intensity, and magnifies the rainfall by double that amount compared with normal conditions."

In other words, one of the main contributing factors to why Sandy has become so potentially destructive is because Atlantic Coast waters have a fever this fall: 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. As Trenberth points out, a portion (20 percent) of this temperature rise is directly attributable to climate change. These warmer waters off the coast of the Atlantic have also increased water vapor, creating a potential for greater amounts of rainfall.

In addition, climate change has globally caused sea levels to rise by about 0.6 to 1 millimeter every year due both to melting ice and warmer water expansion. But the sea level rise has been even more pronounced of the U.S. east coast. A study from this summer found that sea levels in the region have been rising on average 2 to 3.8 millimeters a year during the last sixty years. Scientists are as yet unsure why sea levels are rising faster there than elsewhere, but higher sea levels means more severe storm surges and a much greater possibility of catastrophic flooding.

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