COLUMN: Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy
HURRICANE SANDY STATISTICS
- 7.5 million people without power
- 110+ deaths in the U.S.
Here are some of the strongest gusts
90 mph - Islip, N.Y.
90 mph - Tompkinsville, N.J.
86 mph - Westerly, R.I.
83 mph - Cuttyhunk, Mass.
81 mph - Allentown, Pa.
80 mph - Newark, N.J.
79 mph - JFK Airport, N.Y.
Here are some of the highest snow totals:
34.0 in. - Gatlinburg, Tenn.
33.0 in. - Clayton, W. Va.
29.0 in. - Redhouse, Md.
24.0 in. - Norton, Va.
Atlantic City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Trenton, N.J. - all set records for the lowest air pressure reading ever recorded.
Atlantic City 945.6 mb smashing the record of 961 mb, set in 1932.
Philadelphia, the pressure dropped to 953 mb, which broke the old record of 963 mb set during the “Superstorm of 1993.”
Source: Climate Central
The candidates noticably kept their distance from climate change during the last several months of campaigning. But similar to the wake of Katrina, Hurricane Sandy has sparked a conversation about climate change.
In the scope of this tragic, untimely event, it’s a shame Sandy had to occur shortly after the presidential debates, canceling any chance we had to hear each candidate respond directly to climate change and how they would handle these increasing natural disasters.
Nonetheless, let’s look carefully at the facts and see how much climate change played a factor in Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the U.S. as a category one hurricane and yet remained the 20th largest storm ever recorded across the world — nearly twice the size of Texas. The tropical force winds extended 580 miles, while the storm was about 900 miles across. Setting record after record, Sandy’s barometric pressure was the lowest on record at 940 millibars or 27.76 inches — the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. The storm surge reached 13.88 feet, exceeding the old record by nearly four feet. Even a buoy in New York Harbor managed to record a 39.67-foot wave, 14.5 feet taller than Hurricane Irene’s record 25-foot in 2011.
These records are just an indication of the power, but why was Sandy so powerful?
Sandy was a late summer tropical hurricane that traveled up the East Coast. Most hurricanes that do so eventually work the way to open ocean and dissipate. However, a high-pressure ridge of air from Greenland pushed in and obstructed the typical path out to sea, taking Sandy toward land. This jet stream known as a “blocking high” is a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean.
What led to this?
A phenomenon in climate called the North Atlantic Oscillation, which is the state of the region’s atmospheric pressure. This state can be positive or negative, and it just so happens it changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy.
Research indicates more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer and because of global warming, the North Atlantic Oscilation is more inclined to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative North Atlantic Oscilation makes the jet stream lean toward bigger, wavier movements across North America and the Atlantic, causing the exact type of big turn Sandy demonstrated.
Then came the wintry cold front from the West, a nor’easter that pulled Sandy further into a mix of Arctic air which fueled the power of the storm. Add in the factor of a full moon, which brings on the highest tides of the lunar cycle and you have quite the mix of power.
The combination of these factors is not unheard of, but is rare. The increase in these storms can partially be attributed to climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures played a role in Hurricane Sandy as the Atlantic Ocean was in a warmer period. This was in addition to atmospheric pressure being warmer, which caused the storm to retain more moisture only to be released later during the storm.
Subsequently, melting ice caps have been well-researched the last several years and predictions are only getting direr. Sea level rise is projected at two to fiveinches by the 2020s and rapid ice melt could lead up to five to ten inches in the next 15 years. Over three decades, about 1.3 million square miles of Arctic sea ice has disappeared, equivalent to 42 percent of the area of the lower 48 states. If you think the record waves being set currently are bad, stay tuned for the next few years because the records are only going to press on.
So as these storms become more common, we will be pressured to take preemptive action. We must come together over the perception of climate change and seek better solutions to these events despite our emotions. Whether it is floodwalls, changes in behavior or more emergency response systems — what will it take to mitigate the risks, effects and, most importantly, the controversy hindering us from mitigation itself?
Andrew Sartain is an interdisciplinary perspectives on the environment and nonprofit management senior.