Sandy and the global warming connection

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Sandy has ties to global warming.

Usually a hurricane loses intensity as it moves north over colder water — unless it’s the  “Frankenstorm.”

Sandy’s getting a lot of media attention for its size and intensity, but not so much attention is being made to its connection to global warming.

“This is a beyond-strange situation. It’s unprecedented and bizarre,” wrote The Weather Channel’s hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross on his Facebook page.

The fact of the matter is that the Atlantic Ocean isn’t as cold as it used to be. The water is 5 degrees higher than average and that translates into stronger storms farther north.

Warmer water means more evaporation and that creates more intense rain.

As more Arctic sea ice melts, the water levels rise, creating higher surges and more flooding.

This study showed that warmer sea water does have a connection to more powerful hurricanes off the Atlantic Ocean.

The results of Sandy? Millions are without power in the Northeast. Some subway tunnels in New York City were flooded and this storm caused the worst damage to mass transit in its 108-year history. At least 48 people died as of Tuesday evening.

Since Sunday, Gov. Cuomo’s twitter feed has been blowing up every 20 seconds. He tweeted Tuesday morning that, “The construction of this city did not anticipate these type of conditions.”

“For years (since at least the mid 1980’s) we were told by climate scientists that climate change would be characterized by atmospheric instability, wide variability, and extreme weather conditions including heat waves, droughts, and superstorms,” said Jay Burney, the founder of GreenWatch and director of the Learning Sustainability Campaign.

Burney pointed out that NASA’s James E. Hansen wrote in an oped to the Washington Post that there’s now statistical evidence that proves climate change is the culprit for this extreme weather. There isn’t any other explanation, Hansen wrote.

Burney said the “Frankenstorm” was a huge late-season storm in the Northeast with the lowest recorded atmosphere pressure ever recorded.

“As Bill McKibben tweeted yesterday: ‘So this is the hottest year ever for the U.S. We saw the hottest month ever, and now the biggest storm, and the weirdest heatwave. Wonder whats up?'” Burney said.

Terry Yonker, a local meteorologist, has a fairly conservative opinion about major storms and any connection to global warming. But one thing he is sure about is he’s never seen a storm anything like Sandy. He said the atmosphere acted like a heat engine and anytime more heat is added, the intensity increases.

“I still would say that one single storm, one single hurricane or an increased number of hurricanes or an increase in intensity for a year or two doesn’t tell a complete story on global warming,” Yonker said. “I think it will take a number of storms and a number of seasons.

But, “the evidence is accumulating,” Yonker added.

Related:

Maybe global warming didn’t cause Sandy, but it made her nastier

Television news don’t make Sandy-global warming connection