Climate change powers "Frankenstorm" Sandy
A record-smashing superstorm is expected to slam into the eastern seaboard of the United States today. After rampaging though the Caribbean islands, hurricane Sandy has swelled into a massive storm system, as it plows along the east coast. Tropical force winds span over 1,500 km, making it the "largest hurricane in Atlantic history". An expanse of open ocean more than 2,500 km across is frothing with waves greater than 12 feet high. A monstrous slab of sea water is being shoved onto the coast and is expected to drive a record storm surge onto land for many regions, including New York City where subways have been shut down in case the tunnels flood.
Is climate change helping to fuel this "Frankenstorm"?
Don't expect to find out from the major media. A study showed that last week major newspapers wrote 94 stories about hurricane Sandy and exactly zero mentioned "climate change", "global warming" or "extreme weather". Zombie media.
Fortunately, we have access to climate scientists and meteorologists via the web's new media.
Here are six ways I've seen climate scientists and meteorologists explain the climate connection:
1. Pumping it up on steroids
The trillion tonnes of climate pollution humans have released from burning oil, natural gas and coal is trapping tremendous amounts of extra energy into our weather.
Climate scientist James Hansen calculates our fossil fuel CO2 pollution injects energy "equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year". That's 278 atomic bombs worth of energy every minute—more than four per second—non-stop. To be clear, that is just the extra energy being gained each day on top of the energy heating our planet by 0.8 degree C. It is the rate at which we are increasing global warming.
This extra energy is like steroids for weather. Our weather used to take place in a lower-energy climate. Now it happens in a turbo-charged climate system.
Climate scientist, Dr. Kevin Trenberth sums it up:
"The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be…"
This "Frankenstorm" has grown up in much higher energy system.
2. Cooking it up over warmer oceans
Around 90 per cent of the energy our fossil fuel pollution is injecting into our climate is ending up as extra heat in our oceans. Tropical storms are fuelled in part by the heat energy they extract from the oceans. The warmer the oceans, the more energy available to a hurricane.
US government research shows:
"Atlantic tropical cyclone (hurricane) activity, as measured by both frequency and the Power Dissipation Index (which combines storm intensity, duration, and frequency) has increased. The increases are substantial since about 1970, and are likely substantial since the 1950s and 60s, in association with warming Atlantic sea surface temperatures."
And, it is going to get worse: "It is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation."