How To Talk About Sandy and Global Warming Responsibly

This post was written by guest writer Christopher S. Johnson, who is one of my favorite people and who has shared sage advice and wisdom on the climate with me and now he is generously sharing with you too.

You wake up in the morning after having gone to bed angry the night before — a fight with a partner. The alarm failed to ring and now you’re a full hour late for work. *There is no coffee.* You realize that your favorite shirt has a stain set in it from this past weekend’s dinner party and you have to put on another shirt that is slightly too tight, and keeps your muscles from relaxing. You jump into your car and begin to drive in a very frustrated fashion, trying to make up for lost time. Then, BANG, you hit an industrial sized nail in the road and take on a full flat tire, and on the side of a busy highway to boot.

What’s the difference between your handling the flat tire on this morning, instead of another morning, where everything else was perfect? What would be the difference in how you reacted to the tow truck driver’s condescending attitude upon his arrival to the scene? And what is the difference in driving style and the impact with the nail? THAT is the difference between storms, and storms with extra heat and moisture. It may have happened anyway, but climate change exaggerates, irritates, tips hands, and loads the dice a certain direction. It makes events worse and more likely.Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth is a Senior Scientist at the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In his article, Hurricane Sandy Mixes Super Storm Conditions with Climate Change, he says, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….”

Dr. Trenberth added this about Sandy specifically,

“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.”
As some of my friends already know, I’m a conservative on this issue. I avoid talking about hurricanes and tornadoes (things that spin) in the context of global warming because they are extra-complicated and difficult to evaluate compared to heat waves, droughts, and deluges/floods (which are easy to associate with global warming). And I also usually concentrate on thinking about the more serious future effects rather than the present day. But enough meteorologist and climatologists are connecting the dots here with the unusual added heat feeding this storm. It’s real and tangible. It’s not something to snidely joke about at your political party’s national convention like we saw last month.-Christopher

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