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Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change

October 29, 2012

While weather reporters and commentators continue to avoid or downplay the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events, there are a few exceptions to the rule. In “The Science behind Hurricane Sandy: Climate Change or Freak Storm?” StateImpact writer Terrence Henry sums it up like this: “In situations like Sandy, climate scientists will often use an analogy: climate change is like putting expected extreme weather events on steroids.”

Terrence Henry draws on work by Mother Jones writer Kate Sheppard: “As Kate Sheppard notes in Mother Jones, whether or not Sandy is a direct result of climate change may be a moot point. Rising sea levels — something that’s been definitively linked to climate change — means that damage from storm surges like the ones from Sandy will be increasingly severe.

An excerpt from Sheppard’s Mother Jones article lays out the link clearly:

“In the US, we have 4,514 miles of shoreline—20 percent our total miles of coastline—that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says is highly vulnerable to sea level rise. That includes 82 percent of Virginia’s coast. You can see what that means for storm surges with this great map that Climate Central created. Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at Weather Underground, says we can expect 3 to 6 foot storm surges where Sandy makes landfall.

Climate change is already speeding up sea-level rise. But it’s also making mega storms more likely. A warmer climate and more moisture in the atmosphere makes for more extreme storms, as Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explains. As Masters put it, ‘I call it being on steroids kind of for the atmosphere.’”

You can read Terrence Henry’s full StateImpact post here, and Kate Sheppard’s full article in Mother Jones here.

What You Can Do

Please press the commentators and weather reporters in your area to make this same link. I just asked Alan Watts, a meteorologist and author, on the air (WHYY, this morning 10 – 11 AM) about the link between climate change and extreme weather events like Sandy. I was careful to acknowledge right off that we know no particular storm can be specifically “pegged” to climate change. Nonetheless he hemmed and hawed, first going on about how liberals “believe in” climate change and conservatives don’t “believe in” climate change… then saying we need more data… instead of explaining the mechanisms through which climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms and other extreme weather events.

Of course we need more data! But does it really serve us to stick our heads in the sand and keep them there?

WHYY’s Marty Mosscoane did not follow up by explaining that climate change isn’t something to be “believed in” or not, either. So please keep pushing. The press will continue to generally minimize or obfuscate the biggest challenge our planet faces unless and until we rise up and demand they help the public understand and face climate change realities.

I asked another question on the air: what will happen to all the shallow, open fracking waste pits throughout Pennsylvania during Sandy’s heavy rains? PA DEP continues to allow toxic radioactive flowback to be stored in these unsafe, plastic-lined shallow pits, despite ongoing leaks and despite the frequency and severity of what DEP calls “precipitation events” in this state. We are having a precipitation event right now, and that’s one more argument that frack pits should be banned immediately. If you have time off due to the hurricane, take a minute to let DEP and more to the point, your PA legislators, know it’s time to shut down those pits — called flowback impoundments — immediately. They leak into soil and groundwater constantly, even without “precipitation events.”

The frack pit question wasn’t addressed on the air at all.  It was left hanging– like all of us are, right now.

Stay safe y’all!

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