New Study Shows 2 Degrees Celsius Warming Produces 5 ‘Katrinas’ Per Decade For US East Coast


(Hurricane Katrina bears down on Gulf Coast)

From 1923 to 1970, ‘Katrina’ class storm surges only occurred about once every other decade. By 2010, that number had doubled.

Now, a new study from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that temperature increase of about .4 degree C over that period drove a doubling of extreme storms. According to the paper, now half of all ‘Katrinas’ can be attributed to human caused climate change.

The study used measurements from tide gauges along the US East Coast from Texas to Maine in order to determine the frequency of major storm surge events. And they found that as temperature increased, storm surges steadily rose. Now major storm surge events on the order of Katrina are twice as frequent.

But the study didn’t stop there. It used a new form of global ocean heat modeling to predict how frequent Katrina size events would become as world temperatures increase to 2 degrees C above the 20th century average by 2050. And what they found was stunning. Major storm surge events steadily increase along with global temperature until they occur once every other year when temperature increase exceeds the 2 degree mark.

In such a world, 9 out of ten ‘Katrinas’ could be attributed to human caused warming.

Hard work needed to prevent major storms

In order to keep global temperature increases below the 2 degree Celsius mark, only 1/3 of current world fossil fuel reserves can be burned. Unfortunately, massive efforts are still underway to extract and burn fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. The Ryan Budget contains numerous proposals that would increase US coal, oil, and gas burning while increasing production of high-carbon unconventional fossil fuels like fracked oil and tar sands from Canada.

Even top democrats like President Obama appear to be ready to offer up increasing carbon emissions in the form of the Keystone XL Pipeline as a ‘compromise’ to Republicans. Such compromises would set us on a path not just to 2 degree warming, but to 3, 4, 5, or more. And with 2 degree warming, at the very least, seeing a ten-fold increase in powerful storms the likes of Katrina, shouldn’t we be seriously reticent about any ‘compromise’ that future damages US cities and coastlines?

It is doubtful if coastal towns and cities could withstand the onslaught of one Katrina every other year. Places that include the names New York, New Orleans, Houston, Ocean City, Atlantic City, Boston, Charleston, Miami, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona, Wilmington, and even Washington DC would fall under the gun with increasing frequency. But this crazy new pace of powerful storms isn’t the only problem 2 degrees of warming serves up. That’s right, an ever-greater number of storms would rush to shore atop a rising world Ocean.

Rising seas would further complicate the impacts of increasingly frequent and powerful storms by providing a higher launching pad from which major storm surges would drive to shore. In such cases, one would expect to see greater impacts to coastlines and even to locations far inland — especially in flat regions like Florida, Louisiana and coastal Virginia.

In light of clear dangers coming from new science on how global warming impacts powerful storm frequency and storm surge it becomes just a little crazy to even consider bad policy choices like building more coal plants, relying more on fracked oil, or shackling America to tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline. And the new, proven, technologies of wind, solar, and vehicle to grid look all the more appealing.

Though some future damage is already in store due to the greenhouse gasses we have already emitted, why would we even consider making the problem worse? This new study is yet one more warning. And the burning question is — will we listen?


Arctic Sea Ice Melt in November Brings New Record Lows for Date; Stormy Weather Patterns Emerge; Low Degree of Re-Freeze Means 2013 Melt May Surpass 2012

Arctic sea ice area and extent remained at record lows today as very warm Arctic conditions suppressed re-freeze for this time of year. According to JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency), sea ice extent for today was 8.47 million square kilometers — or about 1.7 million square kilometers below the 1980s average for this date. According to Cryopshere Today, Arctic sea ice area was 7.11 million square kilometers — or about 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-2008 average. This value for sea ice area was also about 70,000 square kilometers below yesterday’s value, showing that sea ice area fell at a time that usually includes rapid re-freeze. Minor ‘melts’ of this kind can happen in November. However, given the fact that we are already in record low territory, any ice recession results in compounding a serious Arctic melt problem.

Arctic sea ice melt is still the driving factor in global sea ice totals. Today, global sea ice averages also remained in record low territory.

The likely causes of continued record low Arctic sea ice values are manifold. First, temperatures are abnormally high for this time of year. Looking at the image below, we can see that Arctic temperatures range from a, very warm, 7 degrees Celsius above average to a stunning 20 degrees Celsius (or more) above average. When combined with a large zone of hotter than average temperatures in Europe and Asia, these extreme temperatures are likely pushing global averages into record ranges for the month.

Another graph, showing temperatures above the 80th parallel, reveals very high Arctic temperatures in that region as well.

Likely aiding in these high Arctic temperatures are very large peaks and troughs in the jet stream. The troughs, likely caused by receding sea ice influencing the jet stream, are pushing powerful storm systems into temperate zones throughout the northern hemisphere. A couple of weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy combined with one of these Arctic-born weather systems to severely impact the US East Coast. Just yesterday, another powerful storm, fueled by these Arctic troughs, ripped through Europe dumping enough rain to create the 6th worst flood in Venice’s, very long, history.

It is possible that the new weather pattern caused by Arctic sea ice melt will result in more strong storms for the US East Coast and Europe this winter. In addition, that weather pattern is also transporting heat from the south up into the Arctic, further enhancing warming and reducing re-freeze. This air, dredged up from the tropics, is likely to result in sea ice being thinner and more fragile than usual at the end of this year’s freeze season. The result is that next summer (2013) may see even worse melt than that experienced during 2012’s record season.


Athena Brings High Winds, Snow, Rain, Storm Surge Week After Sandy

(Image credit: here.)

Athena, a nor’easter spawned of a powerful blocking pattern established over the Eastern US, is raking the Northeast today. A storm surge of 2-3 feet, as much as five inches of snow, winds gusting as high as 60 mph, and 1-2 inches of rain is starting to make its impact in a region still reeling from the effects of Sandy.

Over 600,000 people remain without power in the region (down from 8.5 million last week) and Athena is expected to black out another 50,000 over the next 24 hours.

Across coastal New Jersey, New York and on other beaches ravaged by Sandy, State and Federal work crews are piling up sand in an attempt to prevent tidal incursion. Most of these regions have been completely stripped of their dune lines, sea walls and other defenses which normally repel the sea in a storm. Seven foot water rises and 20 foot waves are expected to bring light to moderate tidal flooding. However, complicating the issue is the loss of sea barriers in vulnerable regions which may result in greater levels of flooding that would usually occur for this kind of storm.

Athena was named under a new National System established for strong nor’easters. With human-caused Arctic Sea Ice losses contributing to a strong Arctic Oscillation this winter, it is likely that numerous named nor’easters, packing snows, rains, storm surges and gale force winds, will harry the Northeast coast this winter. So communities and States should prepare for a rather rough winter in the wake of the worst storm ever to strike the US East Coast.


Blocking Pattern Serves up Nor’Easter One Week After Sandy as More and More Scientists Affirm Climate Change Made Superstorm Worse


A Nor’Easter that could  trouble the New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts with 50 mph wind gusts is in the process of forming today. A deep trough produced by a powerful blocking pattern and worsened by eroding Arctic Sea Ice is channeling a low pressure system that is likely to deepen off Cape Hatteras later tonight.

Models show the potential for a 990 mb low pressure forming off the Northeast coast come Wednesday. The result is that tropical storm force winds may bring 7-8 foot water rises (2-3 foot storm surges on top of high tides) to areas already devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Normally, a water rise of this level would result in light to moderate tidal flooding. However, in areas where dunes have been wiped out, sea walls and board walks beaten to bits, this rather moderate storm surge may re-flood some communities still reeling from last week’s disaster.

Tropical storm force winds may again knock out power in some areas still struggling to repair damage from Sandy. 1.3 million homes and businesses remain without power following the storm, down from 8.5 million a week ago. In addition, 1-2 inches of rain along the coast and snowfall in a region from Pennsylvania to Maine may cause further difficulty — especially for those still without power.

Though this storm is likely to be nothing like Sandy, it is a reminder of a new and ominous weather pattern taking shape this winter. According to numerous Arctic researchers, this year’s record sea ice melt is contributing to a powerful negative Arctic Oscillation. This weather condition has produced a strong trough swooping down from the Arctic and through the Eastern United States. The trough is producing numerous storms — one which combined with Hurricane Sandy to form a powerful superstorm. This week, the trough is bringing an early-season Nor’Easter. An odd second-week appearance of a storm that usually forms during winter.

These weather events may well be harbingers for very stormy conditions throughout the winter of 2012 for the US East Coast and Northeast. Jennifer Francis, an Arctic researcher at Rutgers University warned only just a few weeks ago that human climate change and sea ice loss was resulting in a situation that would likely produce a succession of powerful storms this fall and winter.

As the new storm forms off the East Coast, more scientists are affirming climate change’s role in both making Sandy worse and in producing a general climate of increasingly extreme weather. An article written by Dr. Jeff Masters, Dr. Bob Corell, and Dr. Kevin Trenberth entitled Did climate change contribute to Sandy? Yes published in Politico and Reuters yesterday. The article clearly stated that climate change made Sandy worse and warned that unless human carbon emissions are dramatically reduced more and more severe weather is to follow.

Climate scientists broadly agree that the extreme weather we’ve seen over the past few years is exactly what we’d expect to see in a changing climate. And it’s not just Sandy; we’re on track to have the hottest year in more than a century of record-keeping in the continental United States, the country has suffered one of the most crippling droughts in history, as well as one of the worst wildfire years in history. Last year, when Hurricane Irene hit the United States, meteorologists called it “unprecedented,” yet Sandy has already outpaced the damage from Irene.

We’ll probably never know the exact point when the weather stopped being entirely natural. But we should consider Sandy—and other recent extreme weather events – an early taste of a climate-changed world, and a grim preview of the even worse to come, particularly if we continue to pump more carbon pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes up into the atmosphere.

Jeff Masters is a meteorologist and former Hurricane Hunter, he now directs the climate blog WeatherUnderground. Bob Corell is an American climate scientist. Kevin Trenberth is the head of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. Together, they represent over 150 years of climate science and meteorological experience.


Climate Change Refugees — Thousands Likely Left Homeless By Sandy

(Flood damage to Staten Island homes. Image credit here.)

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said today that it’s too soon to know how many were left homeless by Hurricane Sandy.

“I wouldn’t even begin to guess,” Fugate said. “I’d also caution that the number of people at shelters probably wouldn’t be a good indicator of how many people’s homes have been impacted by flooding. We know a lot of people stay with friends and family.”

But judging from the massive number of homes destroyed and flooded over broad swaths of coastal New Jersey, New York and other states, the number is likely to be staggering. The scope is so large that FEMA is struggling to reach all those in need of aid. Some Staten Island residents are still in need of FEMA contact and assistance. For those who have yet to contact FEMA, you can do so by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or by going to

The American Red Cross is also conducting a major effort to reach out to and assist those in need. If you wish to help, you can make a donation to the Red Cross Disaster Relief page here. Blood banks are also short of supplies. So any in-person blood donations to the Red Cross would also help.

Unfortunately the scale of this disaster is so large that both FEMA and the Red Cross are still struggling to reach all those in need. Both climate scientists and global threat analysts have been concerned that disasters, like Sandy, caused by climate change would result in large numbers of people made homeless. As weather impacts worsen and some regions become flooded or rendered uninhabitable by drought, the concern is that growing numbers of people will be dislocated.

The ongoing efforts of FEMA and philanthropic organizations are likely to blunt the damage caused by Sandy and allow residents to begin to re-build. However, the risk remains that new storms and sea level rise brewed up by climate change will result in another wave of displacement.

There has been much talk of building infrastructure to help alleviate the impact of future storms and sea level rise. However, without first dealing with climate change’s root cause — continued and growing fossil fuel emissions, such efforts will be like stacking twigs in front of a tsunami. Current levels of CO2 — 400 ppm — were enough to raise sea levels as much as 75 feet in past ages (at rates of rise as fast as 6-10 feet per century). But current emissions are on a path to put world CO2 levels above 600 ppm by mid century and this is enough to result in a sea level rise of 250 feet (likely far faster than 6-10 feet per century).

Current predictions for east coast sea level rise are 2 feet by 2050. However, given the amplified heating caused by human CO2 emissions, this estimate is potentially low by as much as 2 or 3 feet. On top of the sea level rise, you have the likelihood for much more violent storms. More violent even than Sandy. So the notion that infrastructure alone can deal with the problem is a false path. We must also draw down CO2 emissions to have any hope for a stable coastline and to avoid the worst of these home-wrecking storms.

The tragedy in New York and New Jersey is a terrible, terrible loss. And we must do all we can to help those in need. However, we are also morally obligated to do all we can to prevent and lessen the impact of the future storms and sea level rise that is sure to come. And to do that, we must set ourselves on a path toward zero CO2 emission as well as begin the necessary process of building a stronger coastal infrastructure while moving homes back from the rising seas.


News reports confirm that Sandy has resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes, rendering more than 40,000 souls without shelter. Please help these American climate change refugees in every way you can.


Sandy Misses Areas of US Suffering From Drought, Over 60% of Land Still Affected, US Winter Wheat Conditions Worst in 27 Years

Despite receiving record precipitation over a broad swath of territory, more than 60% of the United States is still suffering from a historic and global warming-induced drought. Sandy provided some mitigation for drought conditions in the Eastern and Mid-Western sections of the US. However, drought conditions were largely unchanged over broad swaths of the Western US and Heartland.

As a result, the US is now suffering its worst winter wheat harvest conditions in at least 27 years. Monitoring began in 1985, so it is impossible to know how far back one would have to go to find conditions similar to what is being experienced now. Just 40 percent of the current wheat crop is rated good to excellent. Fully 15 percent is rated poor to very poor.

“The low crop ratings will increase concern about the yield potential of this year’s crop,”Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview to Bloomberg. “The weather doesn’t look promising for much improvement and may increase overseas demand for supplies left from last year’s U.S. harvest.”

The US corn crop is down 13 percent from last year. The US soybean crop is also down, showing a 7 percent loss from the year prior. Some of the remaining crops may have been damaged by Sandy as it raged over a large section of the Eastern US earlier this week.

Wheat losses similar to those suffered by US corn and soybean crops pose a risk for pushing the world’s food situation into a state of crisis. Throughout October, the UN has been warning of the potential for a spreading food crisis should any more ‘unforeseen events’ materialize.


Romney, Who Vowed to Eliminate FEMA, Privatize Disaster Relief and Mocked Climate Change, Finds Extremist Policy Positions Inundated By Superstorm Sandy

Storms, storms, and more storms… After a storm-shortened convention in Tampa and a storm-emasculated final week of campaigning, you’d think the Romney campaign would learn to respect the powerful climate forces he’s gotten so good at ignoring.

And, perhaps, the Romney campaign is a bit taken aback. Or maybe it’s finally starting to sink in that they look like a boatload of out of touch buffoons. After ignoring reporters questions for almost a week, today Mitt Romney finally walked back his long-standing policy position that had pushed for the elimination of critical disaster relief programs like FEMA. Though it seemed a forced and painful admission, Romney, at long last, noted that he wouldn’t underfund or eliminate FEMA, as he had proposed throughout his campaign.

“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Romney said. “As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first-responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”

This statement is in direct contradiction to previous statements Romney made about the role of FEMA. It is also in direct contradiction with Romney and Ryan budgets which cut about 40% from FEMA programs. Such cuts would devastate FEMA’s ability to aid localities and states in the event of a disaster like Sandy and flies directly in the face of lessons Republicans should have learned after Katrina.

The privatization program that Romney and Ryan allude to would be even worse. The result would be that those who could pay to be lifted off their homes by helicopters would be. The rest, those unable to afford a private disaster response service, would be left on their flooded homes to fend for themselves or to perish. Privatized first response would mean that only those able to pay fire services fees would receive defense from fire fighters. The rest would see their homes left to burn.

In the case of disaster response, privatization makes absolutely no sense. Injecting profit motive into a service that saves lives means that fewer lives are saved as the bottom line shifts from the goal of helping people to the goal of accumulating profit. And in the gap between the two extremes of such a heartless program, many would find themselves facing a choice between bankruptcy or having their lives or property saved.

Romney and Ryan’s myopic views on disaster relief are drastically proven wrong with each new major disaster. So it seems, finally, that they have grudgingly relented on their publicly adversarial position toward the beneficial federal agency that is FEMA. But can we trust that this change isn’t anything more than a disingenuous bow to the winds of public opinion? Can we trust that Romney and Ryan won’t sabotage FEMA if elected and attempt to privatize it and other key programs, shifting more money to plutocrats while letting the poor and middle class bear all of the greatly increasing risk?

And what of the issue of climate change? Yes. The climate change that fueled this storm, made it worse, and helped to steer it in toward the East Coast? The climate change that has increased sea levels and is increasing them ever more rapidly? What of that? Is it still drill baby drill until the heartland is burned to a crisp and the coastal cities are all flooded? A recent statement from Businessweek, I believe, provides the appropriate response to Romney’s nonsense:

On Aug. 30, [Romney] belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.

I, for one, doubt that the cynical and misinformation spewing Romney/Ryan campaign has one genuine bone of non-token sympathy for FEMA or the disaster victims in their bodies. They have sought at every turn to pull out the underpinnings of supports for people in harm’s way and the national response systems that help Americans who find themselves in the face of disasters of all kinds. They haven’t sought to eliminate or reduce risks. To the contrary, their policies increase them.

This fact cannot be changed by a fake canned food drives for the Red Cross. Canned food the Red Cross has already said it doesn’t need. Nor can it be changed by, yet another, alteration in extreme policy positions. The Romney/Ryan campaign has been nothing if not snarlingly critical of any positive action, but totally lacking in any decent alternative. Instead, they promise to serve up another helping of policies that lead to the likes of Katrina and will likely lead to worse. And, in cases where their positions become unpopular, they simply lie and misinform.

Message to Romney — leadership is not conducting a disingenuous and completely unhelpful photo op. Leadership is actually doing something to help people. Leadership is effectively wielding a government empowered to help those people in harm’s way. Leadership is establishing a moral structure that enables and encourages people to help one another, not one that enables people to profit from harming one another. Leadership is what we are seeing in Obama and Christie’s response in New Jersey. Not from the gimmicks, half truths, lack of response, lack of transparency, media dodging, and tortured walk-backs we are seeing from you.

I don’t know if the Koch-fueled Romney campaign realizes the tenuous and vastly irresponsible positions it has backed itself into. I don’t know if that same Romney campaign realizes that it has set itself up for a terrible moral fall, far worse than Bush, should it be elected. The sins of hubris weigh heavily on Romney and we have gotten just a small taste of it this week. Woe betide America should this …man ever be elected President.


The Greenland High, Blocking Patterns and Sandy’s Arctic Arm: How Climate Scientists, Journalists and Bloggers Warned Of New Potential For Extreme Storms Before Sandy

Over the coming weeks, you will hear any number of people trying to ‘normalize’ the unprecedented weather event that was Sandy. You will hear people trying to over-emphasize Sandy’s link to ‘natural climate variability.’ You will hear people claiming that extreme events like Sandy could have never been predicted. And you will hear people trying to take Sandy out of a context in which the US has just experienced its hottest year on record, is still experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, has just experienced its most extreme climate year ever, and during a year in which Arctic Sea Ice has melted to extreme record lows.

And you should be assured — people taking Sandy out of a context of an ongoing string of extreme climate impacts as well as making these other assertions are entirely and completely wrong. Further, it is important to note that we were warned about the increased possibility of extreme storms like Sandy in the weeks and months before Sandy formed.

(Looking at this GOES satellite picture, you can see the swirl of clouds that is Sandy just off the South Carolina coast. See that long arm of clouds stretching down from the Arctic and then feeding into Sandy? That’s Sandy’s Arctic Arm.)

A key ingredient that made Sandy so intense was not just the 5 degree Fahrenheit above average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. This five degree warming was fed by an increase of 1  degrees of average Ocean temperature warming over the past century, pushing the potential for extreme years higher. An overall warming directly fueled by human carbon emissions. These increased temperatures and related increases in water vapor fueled Sandy, making her larger and stronger. These were clear global warming impacts that enhanced Sandy’s size and strength. But the kicker, the added boost that made Sandy a monster storm, the influence that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at such a destructive angle. That influence came from the Arctic.

In the GOES image above, we can clearly see a long white arm of cloud stretching all the way down from the Arctic and into Sandy. This arm both greatly increased Sandy’s size and fed her strength through a mechanism called baroclinity. This mechanism fed Sandy’s strength not directly through heat energy alone, but through extreme differences in pressure and temperature. A hot core hurricane met up with a cold core Arctic front tapping the extreme cold air over Greenland. It was this combination of extremes that made Sandy far, far worse. It was this Arctic Arm that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at the most destructive angle possible.

Though scientists didn’t specifically call for the merging of a hybrid system like Sandy, what they did warn us about was how receding Arctic Sea Ice was making severe weather events far more likely. One researcher, Charles Green noted:

“What’s happening now is that we are changing the climate system, especially in the Arctic, and that’s increasing the odds for the negative AO conditions that favor cold air invasions and severe … weather outbreaks.”

Another scientist, Dr. Jennifer Francis also highlighted how Arctic Sea Ice decline would likely result in the kind of blocking patterns that had caused severe weather events in the past. “It’s probably going to be a very interesting winter,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis said in early September in a teleconference with reporters. Francis, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, has argued that shrinking Arctic ice can be tied to such recent weather events as prolonged cold spells in Europe, heavy snows in the Northeastern U.S. and Alaska, and heat waves in Russia. Francis also noted:

“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live.”

In fact, it was Francis’s research that resulted in headlines like this one in the Los Angeles Times on September 13th: “Record loss of Arctic ice may trigger extreme weather” and this one in Climate Progress“How the Arctic Death Spiral Fuels a Wicked Backlash on Our Weather.” On this blog, I posted an article entitled “NOAA’s Global Warning: Arctic Tipping Point Reached, Extreme Weather, Rapid Melt, Ecological Damage to Follow.”

Unfortunately, like so many other global warming Cassandras, these warnings went unheeded. A Presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney bragged about denying climate change and de-funding FEMA made mockery of the science and the altogether salient warnings. Such blindness during a year of record drought and Arctic Sea Ice loss is as inexcusable as it is criminal. Such inexcusable piggishness culminated in a Presidential debate in which Romney goaded Obama into arguing over who could increase drilling and, thus, fossil fuel emissions, the most.

Then came Sandy and now all with eyes to see are able to bear witness to both the new potential for extreme weather and its Arctic Sea Ice melt enabler.

(A graphic of the Arctic blocking pattern that resulted in the Greenland High and Arctic air trough that both added strength to Sandy and helped pull her to shore. Image credit here.)

At issue is the way receding Arctic Sea Ice erodes the circumpolar Jet Stream. This happens as warm air is drawn up from the south, slowing that air current down. The result is that huge wave patterns begin to appear in the Jet Stream. These waves draw warmer air up from the tropics in the south and pull cold air down from the Arctic. The blocking pattern also results in a more frequent negative Arctic Oscillation during the fall and winter months. This negative Arctic Oscillation is associated with extreme winter storms in both the US and in Europe and has been implicated in a number of extreme weather disasters over the past decade and a half.

What happened this year is that withdrawing Arctic Sea Ice likely contributed to a very strong negative Arctic Oscillation occurring this fall. The result was a powerful blocking high pressure system over Greenland and an equally strong cold front pushing down from the Arctic. The fact that this happened at the same time Sandy was making her charge north is not simple coincidence. It is, in part, due to the loading of climate dice that resulted from these factors.

First, we had abnormal late-season heat in the Atlantic fueling a powerful late-season hurricane. Second, we had an abnormally strong blocking pattern establishing early during fall rather than winter. The conditions were set for two powerful storms, should they arise, to come together in a dramatic way. The hot Atlantic Ocean was bound to brew up at least a few more hurricanes. Chances were some of these storms would track close to the troughs pushed south by the blocking Greenland high pressure. The receding Arctic Sea Ice was causing more and more strong cold fronts to charge south. Chances were that one of these might intersect with one of the northward-bound tropical systems.

The deep dig of the charging cold fronts and the blocking high closing off any storm’s egress to the northeast made it increasingly likely that any merged hybrid would come ashore somewhere on the US East Coat. The chances for this set of conditions occurring without climate change eroding sea ice and heating the Atlantic are vanishingly small. But now, with the new conditions established, these events become more and more likely.

At issue here is the fact that these conditions are established now. So we can expect an increasing chance for powerful hybrid storms like Sandy resulting from Arctic and tropical storm mergers as time continues, as Arctic Sea Ice melt intensifies, and as the Atlantic Ocean continues to heat up.


Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Businessweek has a Word for You: STUPID

In its bold cover story, Businessweek directly and correctly links the devastation caused by climate change to Sandy and, mockingly, called out climate change deniers to refute their arguments, calling them stupid.

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

Businessweek then sifted through the experts who are calling Sandy anything from feeding on ‘global warming fuel’ to a megastorm amped up on ‘climate change steroids.’ Businessweek also seemed to corroborate an analysis posted here and supported by an increasing number of climate scientists:

Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean. Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography, provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.

Businessweek then shifted its analysis to insurance providers who have been increasingly vocal about the current ongoing impacts of climate change and about their concerns for the situation continuing to worsen. According to the Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurer, damages caused by extreme weather disasters from 1980 to 2011 (not including this year’s record damage) have reached 1.06 trillion dollars. This level is five times that of the previous 30 year period. Damage also quadrupled in Asia and doubled in the rest of the world. Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe, the company’s geo-risks research chief noted:

“If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”

Businessweek laments the wretched political climate, fueled by climate change denial and fossil fuel special interest money, that has managed to take climate change off the table as a topic of political and policy discussion in Washington. The article also links fossil fuels to economic growth. Though, in our view, given the damage fossil fuels cause and the ever-increasing costs to extract more and more remote resources, this is a dubious proposition. If the thing powering your growth makes your climate too dangerous and damaging for you to keep cities at the coast, for example, then the overall economic pay-off is only short-term and ephemeral. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the rising costs of fossil fuel extraction.

Businessweek did, however, saliently illustrate the increasingly unrealistic and callous position of republican leaders on the issue of climate change:

Mitt Romney has gone from being a supporter years ago of clean energy and emission caps to, more recently, a climate agnostic. On Aug. 30, he belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.

Romney had also pledged to eliminate FEMA as an agency of the Federal Government, the same FEMA that is now helping so many families in New Jersey. The Romney campaign has since backed off its pledge to get rid of FEMA funding. However, the predilection of republicans to remove necessary government services and to cut programs that help people, communities and states during the current period of growing climate crisis is plainly apparent.

During one Republican primary debate last year, [Romney] was asked point-blank whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. “Absolutely,” he replied. Let the states fend for themselves or, better yet, put the private sector in charge. Pay-as-you-go rooftop rescue service may appeal to plutocrats; when the flood waters are rising, ordinary folks welcome the National Guard.

Businessweek also lamented the death of the market-based cap and trade legislation the Tea Party defeated in Congress in 2009:

In 2009 the House of Representatives passed cap-and-trade legislation that would have rewarded more nimble industrial players that figure out how to use cleaner energy. The bill died in the Senate in 2010, a victim of Tea Party-inspired Republican obstructionism…Despite Republican fanaticism about all forms of government intervention in the economy, the idea of pricing carbon must remain a part of the national debate. One politically plausible way to tax carbon emissions is to transfer the revenue to individuals. Alaska, which pays dividends to its citizens from royalties imposed on oil companies, could provide inspiration.

In this, Businessweek brings up an excellent point. Tax and transfer is an incentive plan pushed by none other than NASA scientist James Hansen. It would increase the cost of carbon intensive energy sources and incentivize non-carbon or low-carbon energy sources. The tax would create an economic advantage for those who used less energy, were more efficient, or who were more active in transferring to non-fossil fuel based energy sources like wind, solar and electric vehicles. Such a program would work within the framework of current markets and cause far less disruption even as it speeds transitions to newer energy programs. Incentive and choice still allow for competition and innovation while pushing for better outcomes.

Of related importance was Businessweek’s clarion call for American leadership in climate change. It suggested that the US provide incentive for China and India to shift away from the worst CO2 emitter — coal. But the article saliently noted that, for any such framework to be effective, it must involve real penalties for noncompliance, something many nations have been unable to agree upon thus far.

Businessweek notes that Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. It should also serve as a signal that we are all in this together. Those in danger aren’t just the ones living on islands about to be overwhelmed by the Pacific Ocean. They include those who dwell in all our coastal cities, which are now at ever increasing risk of flooding and dangerous storms. They include the American farmers faced with the prospect of growing decadal droughts. And they include all of us who rely on a stable climate for both our food sources and our economic prosperity.

As for action, or the reason for lack of action, Businessweek provides to most salient argument I’ve seen thus far on the issue:

In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October found that two-thirds of Americans say there is “solid evidence” the earth is getting warmer. That’s down 10 points since 2006. Among Republicans, more than half say it’s either not a serious problem or not a problem at all.

Such numbers reflect the success of climate deniers in framing action on global warming as inimical to economic growth. This is both shortsighted and dangerous. The U.S. can’t afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity. To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they’re helping to cause them.

In other words, if you’re still denying climate change at this late hour, you’re stupid. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to act NOW.


Global Warming Superstorm Sandy May Cost $50 Billion in Total Losses; New York City, New Jersey Sustain Brunt of Damages

(New York City during Sandy. Image credit: here.)

Damage estimates from the storm that global warming made far, far worse just keeps piling up. According to reports from IHS Global Insight and the Associated Press, Sandy will likely result in about $20 billion in property damages and another $10-$30 billion dollars in lost business.

At its peak Sandy caused over 8 million people to lose power across the Northeast and Mid-West. The massive storm ruined communities up and down the New Jersey coastline and wrecked whole neighborhoods on Long Island. If total losses reach or exceed $50 billion dollars, then Sandy will be ranked among the top four most costly hurricanes in US history.

Sandy’s climate impact adds to that of the recent droughts, heat waves, fires, the derecho and other extreme weather made far worse by global warming this year. Total damages from climate change related events for 2012 will likely exceed $150 billion dollars. This year was already ranked the most extreme weather year on record by the National Climate Data Center. Now, a top-five hurricane is adding to 2012’s already record extremity.

Here’s an excellent video putting the crisis, its costs, and its potentials for the future in context:

Hurricane Sandy, The Storm that Climate Change Wrought; How Global Warming Made Sandy Far, Far Worse

(Earth. See that massive swirl of clouds with arms stretching up into the Arctic and back across the Atlantic Ocean? Yes, that’s Sandy.)

This year was already the worst extreme weather year ever recorded. Fires, heatwaves, a monster Derecho and a devastating drought together would have made 2012 one for the record books. The one saving grace, it seemed, was that hurricane season hadn’t significantly added to an already severe problem. That was before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the US Northeast causing what many think will be in the range of 10-20 billion dollars in damage. If total damage estimates exceed 20 billion, Sandy will be one of the five most costly hurricanes in US history.

Sandy was nothing if not unprecedented. Never has the Northeast seen this kind of storm so late in the season. Never has New York and New Jersey been subject to such a high level of ocean flooding over such a broad area. According to CNN’s chief meteorologist: “There’s no one that’s not 300 years old that has seen anything like this.” That’s just a finer way of saying that there is no record for a storm like Sandy ever occurring in this region of the country. And, in many cases, there’s no record for a storm like Sandy occurring period.

What made Sandy so unique? In two words: climate change. We’ve seen northeastern Atlantic Ocean storms where powerful troughs combine with hurricanes in ways that create a much stronger storm. The last time such a thing happened was during the 1991 ‘Perfect Storm.’ But that storm formed over the open waters of the Atlantic and only caused damage as it brushed New England with the powerful squall lines and heavy surf it cast off. In the case of Sandy, the Perfect Storm came ashore far further south and west than is usually possible.

Sandy’s Global Warming Ingredients

Since 1991, atmospheric changes and alterations to the Earth’s physical characteristics have been taking place that make storms like Sandy more and more possible. These ‘ingredients’ include increasing ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream, and the receding boundary of Arctic Sea Ice.

To understand how these changes made it possible for a storm like Sandy to have such a devastating effect on the US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic so late in the season, it helps to follow the life of the storm that became Sandy…

Like so many other hurricanes, Sandy was born of the tropical Atlantic. She started as a pulse of thunderous rain storms swirling off the coast of Africa. This tropical wave slowly gathered energy from the hot tropical Atlantic as she moved west, gradually twisting into the classic coma shape as she entered the central Caribbean.

(GOES weather satellite Image of Sandy from October 22. Sandy is already large for a tropical system. But Sandy will soon grow even larger by combining with other storms to the north.)

Ocean heat content for the South Atlantic and Caribbean was abnormally high this year. Most of this added heat content came from human caused global warming. In many regions, temperatures were 2-3 degrees above average. This meant that, for a storm like Sandy, these waters were about as warm as they would have been two to three weeks earlier during a typical season of the 20th century. This added energy increased the likelihood that the storm would form in the first place. It also gave the storm more capacity to strengthen even in an environment of increased wind shear.

As Sandy tracked northward, she plowed through Jamaica and hopped over the eastern tip of Cuba. Maintaining significant strength as a category two storm, Sandy grew to a large size, boasting a tropical storm wind field in excess of five hundred miles in diameter. Hovering off the coast of Florida, Sandy was about to enter the second stage of her development.

Two systems to the north would play key roles in Sandy’s growth and path. Both were products of new ‘blocking patterns’ that have emerged as regular weather events during the past decade. ‘Blocking patterns’ occur when the jet stream makes deep swoops down from the Arctic and into the mid and lower latitudes. These swoops make giant wave-like patterns in the jet stream. They also create a huge amount of atmospheric inertia. The result is that weather patterns tend to be more persistent. In the under-belly of a blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally hot and dry conditions to persist over long periods of time. In the frontal down-slope of the blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally cool, wet, and stormy conditions. The peaks of these blocking patterns tap the tropics and the troughs tap the Arctic.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, these blocking patterns have emerged as a result of sea ice loss in the Arctic. The receding edge of the sea ice pulls air northward changing the shape of the jet stream from that of a rippling halo to that of a circle of sine waves.

The new blocking pattern that had established itself over the central US allowed a powerful cold front to sweep southward, both lending energy to Sandy via strong temperature and pressure gradients and steering Sandy first northward, then pulling her in toward the Mid-Atlantic coast. A second aspect of the blocking pattern emerged in the form of a new high pressure system that has tended to form recently over Greenland. This particular high pressure system blocked the path of Sandy northeastward, shoving Sandy back up against the frontal trough that ended up lending her so much strength.

(A visible satellite shot of Sandy beginning to combine with a powerful Arctic cold front. The massive trough of cold air is outlined in blue. Sandy is in the red circle. To the northeast is a blocking high backing in over Newfoundland. Note the extraordinary size of the combined trough and Sandy.)

As Sandy began to touch the trough’s strong, cooler winds, her tropical storm wind field spread out, eventually reaching 900 miles in diameter. In addition, Sandy found herself cloaked in the trough’s rain shield. This shield helped to prevent the worst effects of wind shear which, at times, was powerful enough to rip a normal storm apart.

Sandy’s encounter with the Arctic-born cold-air trough caused her to explode in size and as she moved north, she pummeled the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Coastal Virginia from 300 miles off shore. What strength she lost at her core was multiplied manifold in the expanding reach of her effect. North Carolina and Virginia coasts experienced impacts usually reserved for those in the direct path of a Hurricane — powerful winds, heavy rains, and storm surge flooding. Roads were washed out, dunes were breached, homes were flooded. Water rises exceeded seven feet in some places.

(Sandy taps hotter than normal Atlantic Ocean water in final rush to the coast. At this point, Sandy is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.)

Yet Sandy was still hundreds of miles away, biding her time for the final rush to shore. And in this critical time period, global warming again played its hand. Sandy was now moving parallel to the Virginia coast. In normal years, water temperatures would begin to drop off here, sucking energy from the storm. This year, though, water temperatures had heated to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal through, the year after year, heat trapping effects of human emitted greenhouse gasses. Sandy drank deep from this added heat and, as the Arctic-born trough began to pull Sandy in to shore, she intensified.

Maximum sustained winds reached 90 mph, tropical storm force wind diameter reached 1000 miles, hurricane force wind diameter reached 200 miles, and the pressure fell to an unprecedented 940 millibars. Sandy was now a storm for the record books. A storm that was the largest tropical cyclone ever to form in the Atlantic. A storm never seen before in this region of the world. A storm powerful enough to push ocean water nearly a mile inland up and down the Jersey coast. A storm mighty enough to create a nearly 14 foot water rise in New York City.

Without climate change, the storm may not have formed in the first place, the storm probably wouldn’t have reached category 2 strength or grown to such a large size, the storm would have not combined with such a powerful trough sweeping so far south, the storm would have not been blocked from going out to sea by the new Greenland/Newfoundland high pressure, the storm would not have strengthened so far north over abnormally hot waters, and the storm would have not been pulled into the coastline by the powerful blocking pattern caused by melting sea ice.

Sandy was, in all ways, the storm that climate change wrought. And since the pattern is now established for this kind of storm to happen now, it is likely that this kind of ‘300 year storm’ will happen again. Almost certainly with growing force and almost certainly within the next decade or two.

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Time Magazine:

“Perhaps, if you are in your 60s or 70s or 80s, Sandy’s destructive forces are a once in your lifetime event. But younger generations—those of us in our fifties, and our children—will likely be looking at flooded coastal cities, devastated infrastructure, blownout power, and storm surges for the rest of our lives.”

(Graffiti scrawled on the side of a house flooded by Sandy. Image credit: here.)


Hurricane Sandy Intensifies as She Approaches Coast; Record Storm Surge Likely; Ocean City, Atlantic City NJ Under Water

At 943 mb lowest central pressure, Sandy will be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall in the Northeastern US. Described as a hurricane wrapped in a Nor’easter, the beating heart of this monster storm is now growing more powerful.

Sandy’s maximum winds have intensified to 90 mph, a rapid intensification from 75 mph just 12 hours ago. It is rapidly approaching the New Jersey shore and will likely make landfall there between 8 and 11 PM this evening. Water temperatures in the region are 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal and a powerful dip in the jet stream is lending energy to this immensely powerful storm.

It is difficult to underestimate the potential coastal effects of this storm, particularly to the right of the center as it comes ashore. First, the storm is coming in at or near the time of high tide, an abnormally high tide amplified by the moon. So storm surges of 4-11 feet or more will pile up on top of an abnormally high tide of 2-4 feet above mean low water. In addition, water rises of around 4 feet or more are already being recorded along the coast. This water rise is being pushed against the coast by the wind and by the force of the approaching storm. The result is that many places may see water rises of 10 feet or more above normal. Given the intensity of this storm and the fact that it is continuing to intensify as it approaches the coast, these values may be underestimated.

Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York City, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts may all experience the highest water rise values ever seen. Already, significant flooding has occurred along the Outer Banks and into the Hampton Roads area. Below is a picture of Chicks, a popular VA Beach restaurant being flooded out by Sandy.

After two days of battering, scenes like these have become commonplace in North Carolina and Virginia Beach. But what has happened there is just a prelude to what will likely unfold over the next few hours as Sandy comes ashore.


Reports are coming in that Atlantic City New Jersey is now under water (11:35 Oct 29).


Some locations in New Jersey are reporting 9 feet water rises. Record rise for the region are 10 feet. The below image shows Ocean City flooding.


Reports are coming in that the Point Pleasant, NJ dunes have been breached and sea water is rushing through city streets like a river (7:53 PM).


Some locations in New York City are reporting storm surge flooding above 9 feet (7:53 PM).


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