Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On superstorms and climate change

First, of course, all of our thoughts and good wishes go out to those in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery.

As the cleanup begins, it is worth considering the links between strong storms and climate change.  First, let's acknowledge that there have always been megastorms, in the northeast and elsewhere. Andy Revkin has written in his indispensible DotEarth blog that severe hurricanes have been a regular feature of the northeast in the short - e.g. 100-years - and long - e.g. 5000 years - time-frames. Such events occur with a certain frequency in periods of cooler and warmer climate, and so their existence in-and-of-themselves is not evidence of a new climate.

However, you are correct if you've been thinking that exceptional weather has become, well...the norm. This year we've had the mega-drought in the midwest, west, and southwestern United States, massive wildfires in Colorado and elsewhere,  a destructive "derecho" storm that hammered states from Illinois to Virginia, and now Hurricane Sandy. Of course, these come on the heels of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, which devastated nearby Scoharie County and other areas in upstate New York and Vermont.

Climate scientists, for years, have been prefacing every statement about extreme weather and climate change by saying "no individual storm can be tied to climate change." But that is changing. A host of new published studies and individual statements have made the link clearer.
Yes, we had megastorms before. But the increasing intensity of weather events - droughts, hurricanes, thunderstorm activity - are entirely consistent with what climate models have been predicting. To say that it is unrelated to climate change is no longer defensible.

Newspapers and TV, like the candidates,  are ignoring the obvious - and well-documented - connections between extreme weather and climate.

That makes it all the more remarkable that our own Gov. Andrew Cuomo made this crystal clear statement:
"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement ... Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality. "
And, not incidentally, denying the evidence.

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