Superstorm Sandy – Template for Future Storms?
February 5, 2013
The track of Hurricane Sandy was unprecedented in the historical record of North Atlantic Ocean Basin hurricanes, and its deadly storm surge — while exceedingly rare — is likely to become a more frequent event as the climate continues to warm due in large part to manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Those are the conclusions of a forthcoming study from researchers at NASA and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Observatory.
Timothy M. Hall, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and Adam Sobel, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Observatory, set out to investigate how common Hurricane Sandy’s impact angle was under static climate conditions. Given that global average temperatures are rising, their findings may support the idea that global warming helped influence the jet stream in ways that made the storm’s left turn more likely to occur.
“… Either Sandy was an exceedingly rare storm, or our assumption of long-term average climate conditions is erroneous, and Sandy’s track was made more likely by climate change in a way that is yet to be fully determined,” the study said. The study is undergoing peer review for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and was first reported by WNYC News.
Other research has found that rapid Arctic warming, and the related loss of Arctic sea ice, is increasing the odds of such unusual weather patterns, and the study’s finding that Sandy’s track is so rare under long-term average climate conditions would support the argument that there may have been a climate change influence. In an interview with Climate Central, Hall said that much more research needs to be done in this area before reaching more definitive conclusions.
The researchers used statistical techniques and computer modeling to simulate millions of “synthetic” tropical cyclones in the Atlantic in order to determine the likelihood of another storm making a Sandy-esque dramatic left hook toward the coast, striking the most heavily populated region of the U.S. at a nearly perpendicular angle.
The study found that Sandy’s track stands alone in the historical record dating back to 1851, and that modeling simulations showed such a track is an event that would occur about once every 714 years. However, that does not mean that a storm like Sandy won’t affect New Jersey and New York for another 714 years, but rather that the average annual probability of another Hurricane Sandy occurring is .14 percent.
That may seem low, but according to Hall and separate research published in Nature Climate Change in February of 2012, global warming-related sea level rise is likely to make destructive storm surges like Hurricane Sandy’s much more common in the next few decades, regardless of whether storms follow a path similar to Sandy.
See more on Sandy’s track here: