A Climate Scientist Explains How Global Warming Makes Hurricane Sandy Nastier

NASA Earth Observatory/Public Domain

Hurricane Sandy is out in full force; I'm currently waiting for the slow-moving frankenstorm to bear down on me as I tap this out (good thing there plenty of memes to keep me distracted). As is to be expected, there's been some good discussion about how much of the storm is attributable to climate change—Lloyd collected some of the best pieces exploring that link yesterday. And I've argued that humans have built a veritable frankenstorm factory by spewing CO2 into the atmosphere; now we have to figure out how to live in it.

But I thought I'd add some commentary from the horse's mouth; that is, some discussion of the climate-hurricane link directly from a climate scientist. Today, Slate published a Climate Desk interview with Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the nation's most esteemed climatologists, and he here's how he explained the impact global warming was registering on Sandy:

Most of what is going on with Sandy is weather, and there is a large chance element to it, but it is all occurring in an environment where the ocean is a bit warmer, the air above the ocean is warmer and moister, and that is fuel for the storm and especially adds to the risk of heavy rainfalls and flooding.

The predominant thing is hybrid storms are chance events. They are a crap shoot. With hurricanes there is a very strong environmental component to it. Hurricanes are very dependent on the environment. Therefore, changes in the environment modify the hurricanes. There are higher sea temperatures now, more moisture in the atmosphere, and there is a risk that the storm will be more intense and possibly a little larger ...

The thing that the climate is doing is that the sea temperatures are higher. There is more moisture feeding into the storm. That adds to the rainfalls. The rainfalls could be 5 to 10 percent higher as a consequence of climate change. The sea level is running a little bit higher. Sea level is going up a foot a century at the current rate. Over the last 20 years sea level has gone up 2 1/4 inches ... There are a lot of other aspects feeding into Sandy.

Read the rest over at Slate.

The point is clear, and it's one we've heard many times before. Climate change didn't "create" this storm. It's not responsible for this storm. But by spewing a century's worth of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere, we've created an environment more amenable to nasty storms. We've warmed the air and the oceans, and we've spurred the sea levels to rise—sweetening the conditions for catastrophic storms like Sandy.

Stay dry, everyone

Tags: Global Climate Change