ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Guest Blog

Guest Blog


Commentary invited by editors of Scientific American
Guest Blog HomeAboutContact

Frankenstorm Sandy: Stitched Together from Elements Both Natural and Unnatural

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, made a comment the other day that really captured the essence of the monster hybrid storm, Hurricane Sandy: “This thing is stitched together from elements (both) natural and unnatural.” Most elements of this storm have indeed been observed in the past without any need for invoking global climate change as a causative agent. Nevertheless, I would call this one “Beyond the Perfect Storm.”

What distinguishes Sandy from similar storms in the past, including the 1991 Perfect Storm of book and movie fame, is Sandy’s unprecedented turn to the west, making a beeline straight for the most densely populated area in the U.S. October hurricanes tracking along the eastern seaboard almost always veer out to sea and only rarely head due north. Sandy is the first October hurricane to turn left and slam into the east coast on a westward trajectory.

Because Sandy started out as a hurricane, our natural tendency is to look for how global climate change may have influenced this particular storm. Although ocean temperatures are unusually warm for this late in the hurricane season, I think that perspective is the wrong way to look at the problem. What makes Sandy so unusual are the atmospheric interactions that transformed her from a modest hurricane into a monster hybrid storm that combines the worst features of a late-season hurricane and an early-winter nor’easter. This huge and powerful hybrid storm did not lose energy after making landfall like a typical hurricane because it was supercharged with energy derived from a Jet Stream low-pressure trough associated with invading cold air from the Arctic. Therefore, I think the better way to look at the global climate change connection is to ask why are the extra-tropical conditions so unusual?

This year we have experienced the greatest loss of Arctic summer sea-ice on record. That has stacked the deck in favor of more frequent invasions of cold Arctic air masses into the mid-latitudes. It also sets the stage for larger amplitude waves in the Jet Stream, more persistent weather conditions as these waves travel more slowly, and the increased likelihood of blocking patterns developing. All of these things can happen naturally (without human influence) in association with climate oscillations, like the Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation. However, the recent unprecedented loss of sea ice due to the Arctic amplification of greenhouse warming certainly raises the specter of global climate change potentially playing an important role in this monster storm’s unusual behavior.

The unprecedented western trajectory that Sandy followed is associated with a blocking pattern that developed in response to an extremely high pressure system over Greenland and the North Atlantic for this time of year. This blocking pattern caused the Jet Stream to double back on itself. Such behavior, although unusual, is not unheard of. In fact, meteorologists have a name for this atmospheric dance: the Fujiwhara Effect. What has never been observed before is the sucking of a late-season hurricane into this dance and then its subsequent transformation into a monster hybrid storm.

Would this monster hybrid storm have emerged without the effects of global climate change? I don’t think we will ever be able to answer that question without some ambiguity. What I will say is that the climate system is now predisposed to favor the development of such unusual storms both this week and in the future. The coincidence of Sandy’s storm surge with the full moon and its associated astronomical high tides was simply bad luck, and unfortunately, it greatly amplified the damaging effects of this $20-billion storm.

The coincidence of Sandy’s landfall with the run-up to the presidential elections is something that I attribute to the candidates’ bad karma for failing to discuss global climate change during their debates.

Images: Bomboloni on Flickr and Paul L. McCord Jr.

Charles H. Greene About the Author: Charles H. Greene is professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, director of the Ocean Resources and Ecosystems Program and a fellow of the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University. He also coordinates the university’s educational programs in sustainable earth, energy and environmental systems

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Tags:






Comments 7 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. InterestInMaths 9:32 am 11/1/2012

    Charles H. Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, director of the Ocean Resources and Ecosystems Program.

    Your Statement?

    Although ocean temperatures are unusually warm for this late in the hurricane season, I think that perspective is the wrong way to look at the problem.

    ?????????????????????????????

    Great opinion Sir

    Until research tells you that the storm was directly related to surface temps and sub surface layers of the Atlantic?
    And also interaction of all sea’s all Oceans?

    The Ocean and Orbit regulate the temps of this planet as your well aware,causing the weather patterns we see?

    Hope you do not see this as me slating you. Not meant to.

    To all reading.

    America Baked did it not under drought conditions?
    Do you Know what happens when water evaporates?
    It finds it’s way to the Ocean and add’s a number to it.
    The ocean feel the numbers lets say?

    The orbit of this planet? in Sync with season and the ocean
    feeling temps as we enter summer and then again winter and it reacting by slowing and speeding up it’s global water conveyors that are regulating the planet temps our biosphere?

    Regulating the waters by moving equatorial warms to northern latitudes and vise versa in the south poles?

    The Himalayan mountains did not just pop up there for nothing.
    Part of a strategic move by the tech plates just like the other high mountain ranges than also work or
    weave the interaction on global climates. Looks Mathematically worked out to me? In balance both hot and cold climates working hand in hand with the planets orbit?

    How many Lakes dried up across the US?

    Also

    Look the the Tibetan plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas?

    It is also melting? permafrost? Ice Gone? Where to? We are not fining it is quantity on land?

    No we are losing it? Japan, China, Mongolia, everywhere Europe water in drought conditions disappearing to the atmosphere, The Aral sea, Africa Malawi = global?

    where’s the water where’s it going, and what Powers big storms?

    Water Powers big storms simple, it is energy? along with light and heat.

    Luggy;s cuppa Hypothosis

    I make you a cuppa tea?

    So Now you start with a wee china cup and saucer full of hot tea?

    you have ten minutes to drink it before you get another cuppa?

    You blow it and in just enough time it will cool down and you get the next cuppa?
    Saucer stays dry.

    Now then 12 months are 12 months a yr? with seasons? That’s your 10 minutes ? ok.

    Now lets give you a bigger mug of hot tea?

    This will take longer than ten mins to cool down even if your blowing the water.

    So time up ten minutes have passed you have half cup of tea left and now another comes? Big cup again = heat not cooled in time?

    You have not finised cup one? So now you have a second cup and still ten mins to now fin cup 1 and 2?

    ten mins later you have one three quaters of a cup left, it’s to hot and not enough time to cool down the bigger cup i gave you under the limited time scale?

    Flood of tea?

    If you were gave half cup cold half hot you could mix both and drink all in 10 mins as it is now cool and you have time in your orbit of ten mins = 1yr.

    Look at the planet again, and oceans?

    So what happens when we enter winter and the seas are too hot? The ocean and all interacting systems work on each other and come up with surprising results?

    Math =, 12 months 1yr a set of season are not in SYNC?

    To much Vapor moisture in the atmosphere at any one point? = Disaster to the rest of the interaction as they leap forward and Revere to far trying to catch up with the rest of the interaction so the whole interactions Dance BUT NOT IN TUNE?

    global CLIMATE PROBLEM RISE? and AMPLIFY AND BECOME MORE AND MORE PROMINENT.

    It was not just the US that had the drought and evaporation of so much waters?

    Look at China Japan Tibet, all cold climates, and hot climates are all raining because the water is airborne more
    than should be.

    All because the seas are too full and thus to warm this creates the feedback loop in the ocean that will cause
    a feedback loop in the Poles also and then there no stopping things??

    It is also melting? Permafrost? Ice Gone? Where to? We are not finding the water in quantity on land are we unless it floods?

    No we are losing it?

    Water Powers big storms we said..

    The Biosphere

    It is not alive, not controlled but has a way of self regulating to stabilize to humans benefit using the orbit of the planet and aplied math.

    We use maths to tell a computer to tell us where a storm is heading?

    All Maths? Everything is maths. We do not make up maths we have very clever minds that can work out and give to a language that can then be handed on and taught?
    So the maths are there before we find them.

    Big bang or boing? So lets do the maths ey.

    USA Baked quite good over 2010 11 12? Back to back flooding ? and then Drought.

    While Texas had Drought i had cold and lost exotic trees same yr along with many Europeans who lost plants to extreme cold snaps? These patterns in Europe have a bearing on The West as it happens.

    Rob peter Pay Paul kind of Maths yes? Problem here add more water.. but it add’s to much why? why flooding?

    Well the drought has taken the water from lands? Globally i do not need to tell you what countries are suffering with water disappearing at alarming rates? Do the maths.

    Remove water from ground it get airborne? Vaporized. eventually find a river end up back at sea? Aquifers for drinking and industry do similar to droughts? they remove water that cannot be replaced by nature at speed equal to the removals? This is a another LOOP.

    Look at economic growth to see the future problems hey?

    I have wrote this in a way that does not include scientific wording so as to allow other readers to see the point i am making.

    There is a balancing act with global weather related to oceanic and all Waters of this planet?

    Water power’s the Storms? To much heat into the oceans = Hurricanes powered from the ocean, why would the ocean be so warm = volume and time it has to regulate its self, out of SYNC?

    = To much heat with to much volume and not enough time in the season to cool down the waters to required levels,

    within the time scale given to the interacting variables.

    12mths or A luggyCuppa ten mins.

    Luggy’s Cuppa, the Climate Hypothesis=

    Why sea levels are so important.

    = or Higher sea levels = Evaporation on land= raise sea= levels of sea = heat up and climate feedback loops occur and worsen if the ice caps are depleted in a time governed circuit?

    The feedback loop is explained with the cuppa and ten mins to hel;p readers, i could go on about so many types of interaction, interaction that would lose the average reader flat out.

    But Ocean Temps are the Key word in solving the Puzzle.
    funny how maths can do all this for us?
    If only we knew the correct Eq.

    I know i will have confused some= ey?

    Limited time, and space to speak the full script as i see things?

    Thanks for the Article by the way.

    Enjoyed it.

    Link to this
  2. 2. InterestInMaths 10:11 am 11/1/2012

    Luggy’s Cuppa, the Climate Hypothesis=

    The Luggy’s cuppa Hypothesis explained?

    i think?

    I can demonstrate with 4 items.
    a cloth for land and a cup plus a mug.
    plus kettle.

    Ok start with one cup of tea = all the water on planet or the boiler?

    you have water on land and ocean = balance?

    You get a cuppa representing only the ocean one yr not the water from the boiler

    you have china cup of tea this yr, next yr you gets a mug? how?

    The climate rising temps and removes the vapor from land ..the boiler to the cup?

    moisture is gone from land added to ocean = next yr a bigger cuppa tea to cool down when the orbit
    comes closer to the sun over 6 month

    then retracts for 6 cooling down the oceans ..

    so lets say one yr the balance goes and to much water from land goes to the sea?

    Link to this
  3. 3. InterestInMaths 10:13 am 11/1/2012

    Luggy’s Cuppa, the Climate Hypothesis=

    In FULL :) Sorry for above being half blank :)

    The Luggy’s cuppa Hypotosis explained?

    i think?

    I can demonstrate with 4 items.
    a cloth for land and a cup plus a mug.
    plus kettle.

    Ok start with one cup of tea = all the water on planet or the boiler?

    you have water on land and ocean = balance?

    You get a cuppa representing only the ocean one yr not the water from the boiler

    you have china cup of tea this yr, next yr you gets a mug? how?

    The climate riseing temps and removes the vapour from land ..the boiler to the cup?

    miosture is gone from land added to ocean = next yr a bigger cuppa tea to cool down when the orbit
    comes closer to the sun over 6 month

    then retracts for 6 cooling down the oceans ..

    so lets say one yr the balance goes and to much water from land goes to the sea?

    Your cuppa next yr is bigger?

    Look at the Drought we had to prove the vapor added to the sea means more volume to cool down in your cup…?

    where did it all the moisture go globally, all the water dissapeared over ten yrs?

    3 yrs of drought caused this effect in some areas
    10 yrs drought in others?

    So lose it from the land = add to the sea? = from boiler to cup or combined atosphere land and sea?

    the sea temps are now up
    as you have more volume to cool down yes?

    Think of the cup again and your ten minutes are over

    i add more tea to Mug 1 = Flooded cup yes? Balance is gone.

    You have ten mins = 12 mths to cool the bigger mug. You do not do it and i add more tea next yr to the same cup= ocean ..LOOP

    And problem..

    For you have a toilet contected to a water filter that
    will reboil your wee only and serve more tea very soon??
    but you cannot tip tea down the toilet, only to ground when the cup fills?

    So your emptying your boiler and dealing with a flood?

    Not drinking china cups of tea and recirculating the system?

    your having ten minutes of tea in a mug that does not cool down before the arrival of a refill and flood?

    Link to this
  4. 4. InterestInMaths 10:24 am 11/1/2012

    The cup or mug = combined oceans to begin with you only had a china cup full to cool down then got a mug = ocean full from land based water.

    Link to this
  5. 5. InterestInMaths 10:27 am 11/1/2012

    The reason your having a mug next not a china cup is becuse the drought has romved the land based water to the ocean?
    Or, your china cup, so now i gave you a MUG not china cup as you have more volume, but still ten mins to cool down that mug before more tea.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Mark656515 5:04 pm 11/1/2012

    “Would this monster hybrid storm have emerged without the effects of global climate change? I don’t think we will ever be able to answer that question without some ambiguity.” What will it take for the author to face the facts and believe in evidence for global warming? Himself to melt, perhaps?

    The longer it takes for action to address the unavoidable changes that must be made, as described by conservationists, it will simply make things worse. We must Clean Our Act Up – but not for fear. Never mind the “I told you so, and things will only get worse”. So much is obvious. But we must Clean Up for logic, for good sense, because it‘s the right thing to do, because the post-oil transition would only have to be done at a later date anyhow and if we shift now, while there are still some reserves, we may leave a bit for posterity, regardless of warming, as a safeguard.

    It is embarrassing to see a nation that claims to value world leadership to leave for others the role of leading the world into a brighter future. An extensive public geothermal program, as proposed by the MIT, would be the single largest step in this shift. Even a conservative could see the beauty of ceasing to hand over the equivalent vast amounts in money to one’s sworn enemies, and reaching self-sufficiency in energy.

    http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf
    http://www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/pdfs/evaluation_egs_tech_2008.pdf

    Wind + solar + sea (as a portfolio), and deep geothermal (very stable, great jobs), complemented by nuclear thorium (far more abundant than uranium, almost no proliferation issues, great for mini-plants the size of a house) and the myriad gizmos that are sure to be invented, while nuclear fusion is perfected… WILL do the job.

    Link to this
  7. 7. InterestInMaths 11:54 am 11/7/2012

    One theory for warming involves a lack of soil moisture, Schrag said.

    Moisture is deposited in the soil by rain and given back into the atmosphere by transpiration, which cools the Earth.

    Schrag said recent droughts have prevented that cooling — a chicken-and-egg theory,
    he acknowledges,
    but an intriguing one.
    —————————–

    Aye where did he hear that Theory …#?

    Monday Evening 5th Novemeber Look what Havard anounce?

    Schrag, is also a professor of environmental science and engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/11/hello-again-climate-change/

    @interestinmaths Has been saying this for some time :)

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Holiday Sale

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Blow-Out Sale

Enter code:
HOLIDAY 2014
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >

X

Email this Article

X