Crazy Weather Week for the East Coast

28 08 2011

Image via The New Yorker

Between earthquakes, tornado warnings, and a hurricane-turned-tropical storm, the US’s east coast has had a tough week in weather. A common question associated with major weather events is whether or not they are caused, or exacerbated, by global warming.

Take a look at this excerpt from The New Yorker for a preliminary answer:


Are more events like Irene what you would expect in a warming world? Here the answer is a straightforward “yes.” In fact, experts have been warning for years that New York will become increasingly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding as the planet heats up. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change, appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, concluded that, as a result of global warming, “more frequent and enhanced coastal flooding” was “very likely” and that “shortened 100-year flood recurrence period” was also “very likely.” Much of the problem simply has to do with sea levels—as these rise, any storm or storm surge becomes more dangerous. Marcus Bowman, an oceanography professor at Stony Brook University, has warned that the city could one day have “flood days,” the way it now has snow days.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures make other risks worse as well. Warm air holds more moisture, so as temperatures rise there is more water available to the system. And warmer ocean temperatures mean there is more energy available to fuel severe storms like Irene. As Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, explained recently on the blog Climate Progress, “Owing to higher SSTs [sea surface temperatures] from human activities, the increased water vapor in the atmosphere leads to 5 to 10% more rainfall and increases the risk of flooding.” Also, “because water vapor and higher ocean temperatures help fuel the storm, it is likely to be more intense and bigger as well.”

When we add all of these risk factors together, we can say with a great deal of confidence that in the future, there will be more and more events like Irene. We can comfort ourselves by saying that this particular storm was not necessarily caused by global warming. Or we can acknowledge the truth, which is that we are making the world a more dangerous place and, what’s more, that we know it.

, The New Yorker

We hope you all had a safe and happy weekend, with or without these weather occurrences!


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