Brace for Impact – Heavy Weather Ahead (and a Changing Climate is Part of the Reason It is Happening)

Seth Kaplan

If you have a sense that this business of hurricanes becoming routine in October is new and that we didn’t use to have to worry about such storms with names starting with S, T and higher in the alphabet so much in the past then you are correct.

As Hurricane Sandy (no relation to CLF’s ace Vermont Senior Attorney Sandy Levine) moves up the coast it is worth noting that some of the sharpest observers of our climate and weather, like the founder of weather website Weather Underground the redoubtable Dr. Jeff Masters, are seeing a very real relationship between our changing climate and the advent of these “perfect storms” that bring tropical and winter weather into a fiendish collaboration.  As Dr. Masters writes (note sentence I have underlined in particular):

The Northeast U.S. scenario

If Sandy makes landfall farther to the north near Maine and Nova Scotia, heavy rains will be the main threat, since the cold waters will weaken the storm significantly before landfall. The trees have fewer leaves farther to the north, which will reduce the amount of tree damage and power failures compared to a more southerly track. However, given that ocean temperatures along the Northeast U.S. coast are about 5°F above average, there will be an unusually large amount of water vapor available to make heavy rain. If the trough of low pressure approaching the East Coast taps into the large reservoir of cold air over Canada and pulls down a significant amount of Arctic air, the potential exists for the unusually moist air from Sandy to collide with this cold air from Canada and unleash the heaviest October rains ever recorded in the Northeast U.S., Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This Northeast U.S. scenario would probably cause damages near $100 million dollars.

 The story is clear and frightening.  Warmer water (a clear part of the story of global warming) is keeping these tropical storms alive later and later in the year and putting water into the atmosphere that then pours down on us in these storms.

And you were wondering why we were so intent on taking the steps needed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming? The answer is very clear: self-preservation.

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