October 29th, 2012 by Zachary Shahan
There’s a lot of good coverage out there about Hurricane Sandy / Frankenstorm, a storm that is expected to cause billions of dollars in damage and affect approximately 50 million people. Here’s a roundup of some of those stories:
Toles on Ignoring the Climate Issue (via Climate Progress):
Yes, this is related to Hurricane Sandy.
The sea surface temperatures along the Atlantic coast have been running at over 3C above normal for a region extending 800km off shore all the way from Florida to Canada. Global warming contributes 0.6C to this. With every degree C, the water holding of the atmosphere goes up 7%, and the moisture provides fuel for the tropical storm, increases its intensity, and magnifies the rainfall by double that amount compared with normal conditions.
Global climate change has contributed to the higher sea surface and ocean temperatures, and a warmer and moister atmosphere, and its effects are in the range of 5 to 10%. Natural variability and weather has provided the perhaps optimal conditions of a hurricane running into extra-tropical conditions to make for a huge intense storm, enhanced by global warming influences.
History is being written as an extreme weather event continues to unfold, one which will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.
– A meteorologically mind-boggling combination of ingredients is coming together: one of the largest expanses of tropical storm (gale) force winds on record with a tropical or subtropical cyclone in the Atlantic or for that matter anywhere else in the world; a track of the center making a sharp left turn in direction of movement toward New Jersey in a way that is unprecedented in the historical database, as it gets blocked from moving out to sea by a pattern that includes an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure aloft near Greenland; a “warm-core” tropical cyclone embedded within a larger, nor’easter-like circulation; and moisture from the tropics and cold air from the Arctic combining to produce very heavy snow in interior high elevations. This is an extraordinary situation, and I am not prone to hyperbole.
– That gigantic size is a crucially important aspect of this storm. The massive breadth of its strong winds will produce a much wider scope of impacts than if it were a tiny system, and some of them will extend very far inland. A cyclone with the same maximum sustained velocities (borderline tropical storm / hurricane) but with a very small diameter of tropical storm / gale force winds would not present nearly the same level of threat or expected effects. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This one’s size, threat, and expected impacts are immense.
– Those continue to be: very powerful, gusty winds with widespread tree damage and an extreme amount and duration of power outages; major coastal flooding from storm surge along with large battering waves on top of that and severe beach erosion; flooding from heavy rainfall; and heavy snow accumulations in the central Appalachians where a blizzard warning has been issued for some locations due to the combination of snow and wind. With strong winds blowing across the Great Lakes and pushing the water onshore, there are even lakeshore flood warnings in effect as far west as Chicago.
– Sandy is so large that there is even a tropical storm warning in effect in Bermuda, and the Bermuda Weather Service is forecasting wave heights outside the reef as high as 25′.
Sandy: Latest Status and Maps (highlights):
Hurricane Sandy, already a cyclone of fearsome size and unusual intensity, underwent another alarming round of intensification early Monday morning as it began its dreaded left turn toward the East Coast of the U.S.
Sandy appears destined to enter the history books as one of the most exceptional — and potentially destructive — storms to strike the Northeast in modern history.
(LIVE: Updates and analysis)
Sandy, in terms of geographic size already the largest Atlantic hurricane of the past quarter-century, has spent the majority of the last few days as a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, despite an impressively low central pressure. But despite the lack of extreme triple-digit winds at any single point, the huge breadth of Sandy’s circulation promises widespread disruption to the lives of tens of millions of Americans.
Tropical-storm force winds still extend more than 500 miles away from the center of Sandy, placing Sandy among the largest Atlantic tropical cyclones since at least 1988, according to Angela Fritz and Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.
Worse, those winds are in the northeast quadrant, meaning a huge area of strong winds is blowing water toward the U.S. mainland. Already by early Monday morning, tides were upwards of 4 feet above normal from the Outer Banks of North Carolina north to eastern Cape May, N.J., and three-foot water rises were common as far north as Long Island.
Hurricane Sandy is beginning to make its left turn in the Atlantic on its way to southern New Jersey and, eventually, Pennsylvania. We are already feeling the effects of the rain and wind associated with this massive storm. It’s scheduled to make landfall as about a 945 millibar low – an all-time record for New Jersey. (See my earlier commentary on how this storm is will set itself apart.)
Now, it’s crunch time when we will finally feel the full brunt of Sandy. We are expecting rain amounts of up to 12 inches in southern New Jersey, with 3-6 inches the norm even over 200 miles inland. This will lead to a lot of flooding.
Hurricane Sandy is poised to deliver a potentially historic and devastating blow to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, with a record storm surge predicted for New York City and coastal Connecticut. Hurricane force wind gusts are expected to lash areas from near Washington D.C., all the way to Cape Cod, as a storm of unparalleled strength and size takes a track that is virtually unprecedented — almost due east to west — as it comes ashore in central to northern New Jersey. The storm, which is part hurricane, part nor’easter, is expected to eventually affect the entire eastern third of the country with everything from inland flooding to mountain snows.
The storm’s effects may be felt all the way inland to the Great Lakes, and northward as far as Toronto. At least 10 million people may lose power, according to an analysis from Johns Hopkins University, as winds are projected to gust as high as 80 mph in the Philadelphia and New York City metropolitan areas, with damaging winds eventually spreading well inland. New York City has already taken steps to evacuate 375,000 residents.
Officials said the storm’s large size — it has already set a record for its expansive wind field, with tropical storm force winds extending more than 500 miles from the storm’s center — makes it a fearsome coastal flood threat.
In part, the storm is feeding off of much warmer-than-average ocean waters located off the East Coast. Sea surface temperatures hit record highs off the New Jersey and New England coasts this summer, and warmer water can help maintain a hurricane, or hurricane-like hybrid storm, much farther north than they would typically be able to survive at this time of year. Sandy is tapping into energy from both the ocean and the jet stream, as researcher Adam Sobel explained.
Climate Change Connection?
The storm track is being influenced by an unusually strong “blocking” pattern in the upper atmosphere, with a massive dome of high pressure located southwest of Greenland. Without this blocking, the storm would have been able to turn out to sea, without harming the U.S. It’s an example of what can happen when blocking patterns appear at precisely the wrong time.
Additionally, there are many other ingredients that are converging to create a menacing situation, including a deep dip in the jet stream across the eastern U.S. that is playing a role in essentially capturing the storm and flinging it inland.
“History is being written as an extreme weather event continues to unfold, one which will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States,” wrote Weather Channel senior meteorologist Stu Ostro.
“A meteorologically mind-boggling combination of ingredients is coming together: one of the largest expanses of tropical storm (gale) force winds on record with a tropical or subtropical cyclone in the Atlantic or for that matter anywhere else in the world; a track of the center making a sharp left turn in direction of movement toward New Jersey in a way that is unprecedented in the historical database; a ‘warm-core’ tropical cyclone embedded within a larger, nor’easter-like circulation; and eventually tropical moisture and arctic air combining to produce heavy snow in interior high elevations,” Ostro said.
Recent studies, including Ostro’s own work, have shown that blocking patterns such as the one that is currently over the Atlantic have appeared with greater frequency and intensity in recent years. Some scientists think that may be related to the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is one of the most visible consequences of manmade global warming. The 2012 sea ice melt season, which ended just one month ago, was extreme, with sea ice extent, volume, and other measures all hitting record lows. The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which then absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns. Exactly how weather patterns are changing as a result, however, is a subject of active research.
Global warming is also expected to alter hurricane frequency and strength, making North Atlantic hurricanes slightly more powerful, while reducing the overall number of storms during the coming decades. Detecting such changes in the observational record is difficult, considering the varying ways people have kept tabs on hurricanes prior to the era of hurricane hunter aircraft flights. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warmer sea surface temperatures are tied to an increase in stronger Atlantic hurricanes.
Regardless of any changes in hurricane intensity, storms are already likely to produce more signiifcant coastal flooding, since sea levels have been rising during the past century, due to a combination of warming ocean waters and melting of polar ice caps. If Hurricane Sandy were to strike New York City in 2050, it would cause even more damage, since sea levels are expected to be considerably higher by midcentury.
With Hurricane Sandy making its way along the east coast, you likely are curious about watching exactly what’s going on with the storm. Thank goodness for technology that allows you to see just what’s shaking. Google has created a Crisis Map that allows you to add layers according to what you’re most interested in seeing, including the current location, the forecast track, the three-day forecast cone, and importantly, emergency zone shelters and public alerts among many other layers.
If you’re in an area affected by Sandy or if you have loved ones there, this map is a great way to stay on top of information.
Bill McKibben, Jeff Masters and Greg Jones on Democracy Now:
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