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Superstorm Sandy And Global Warming II

November 13, 2012

Already getting some pushback from wannabe deniers, so I thought I would put this analysis from Scientific American out there as well. The key section:

The hedge expressed by journalists is that many variables go into creating a big storm, so the size of Hurricane Sandy, or any specific storm, cannot be attributed to climate change. That’s true, and it’s based on good science. However, that statement does not mean that we cannot say that climate change is making storms bigger. It is doing just that—a statement also based on good science, and one that the insurance industry is embracing, by the way. (Huh? More on that in a moment.)

Scientists have long taken a similarly cautious stance, but more are starting to drop the caveat and link climate change directly to intense storms and other extreme weather events, such as the warm 2012 winter in the eastern U.S. and the frigid one in Europe at the same time. They are emboldened because researchers have gotten very good in the past decade at determining what affects the variables that create big storms. Hurricane Sandy got large because it wandered north along the U.S. coast, where ocean water is still warm this time of year, pumping energy into the swirling system. But it got even larger when a cold Jet Stream made a sharp dip southward from Canada down into the eastern U.S. The cold air, positioned against warm Atlantic air, added energy to the atmosphere and therefore to Sandy, just as it moved into that region, expanding the storm even further.

Here’s where climate change comes in. The atmospheric pattern that sent the Jet Stream south is colloquially known as a “blocking high”—a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean. And what led to that? A climate phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—essentially, the state of atmospheric pressure in that region. This state can be positive or negative, and it had changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy arrived. The climate kicker? Recent research by Charles Greene at Cornell University and other climate scientists has shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the NAO is more likely  to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative NAO makes the Jet Stream more likely to move in a big, wavy pattern across the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic, causing the kind of big southward dip that occurred during Sandy.

And I suppose I should also add this analysis by NASA’s James Hansen, who has studied (and worried about) climate change more than any scientist on the (warming) planet. Here’s the guts of what he has to say:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

The resistance to both the logic and the science of global warming and weather is stupefying to me. But not surprising, sadly. We are a species that is sleepwalking through history.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. klem permalink
    November 14, 2012 11:25 am

    Exactly, and here is the journal Nature saying that the link between storms and global warming is not yet possible. But who is ‘Nature’ compared to he likes of Hansen and Sci American, right? No comparison in credibility.

    “Attribution is the attempt to deconstruct the causes of observable weather and to understand the physics of why extremes such as floods and heatwaves occur. This is important basic research. Extreme weather and changing weather patterns — the obvious manifestations of global climate change — do not simply reflect easily identifiable changes in Earth’s energy balance such as a rise in atmospheric temperature. ”

    Wake up pal. Climate alarmism is a faith, a quasi-religion that’s all.


    • November 14, 2012 11:42 am

      Not sure at all that the quote you provide actually disagrees with my point–though I agree that with so many variables and such a complex system extreme weather does not “simply reflect easily identifiable changes.” I think it reflects complex identifiable changes, and on a large system-scale, as opposed to a specific weather system scale. Also, I should note that no one is saying (or at least those I am quoting are saying) that climate change is CAUSING extreme weather. They are saying climate change is making/will make extreme weather more extreme.

      So let’s try it this way: If you accept that the climate is warming (put aside the question of whether humans are part of the cause), is it possible to believe that warming WON’T affect weather patterns? And if you are adding heat and energy to the system is it possible to say that WON’T affect the intensity of weather systems?

      Or perhaps you don’t accept that climate is changing and that the earth is warming. In which case, there is no real point in having this conversation.

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