For now, this is the definitive snap of what we know.

Kevin Trenberth in The Scientist:

Sandy started as an ordinary hurricane, feeding on the warm surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean for fuel.  The warm moist air spirals into the storm, and as moisture rains out, it provides the heat needed to drive the storm clouds.  By the time Sandy made landfall on Monday evening, it had become an extratropical cyclone with some tropical storm characteristics: a lot of active thunderstorms but no eye.  This transformation came about as a winter storm that had dumped snow in Colorado late last week merged with Sandy to form a hybrid storm that was also able to feed on the mid-latitude temperature contrasts.  The resulting storm—double the size of a normal hurricane—spread hurricane force winds over a huge area of the United States as it made landfall.   Meanwhile an extensive easterly wind fetch had already resulted in piled up sea waters along the Atlantic coast.  This, in addition to the high tide, a favorable moon phase, and exceedingly low pressure, brought a record-setting storm surge that reached over 13 feet in lower Manhattan and coastal New Jersey.  This perfect combination led to coastal erosion, massive flooding, and extensive wind damage that caused billions in dollars of damage.

In many ways, Sandy resulted from the chance alignment of several factors associated with the weather. A human influence was also present, however.  Storms typically reach out and grab available moisture from a region 3 to 5 times the rainfall radius of the storm itself, allowing it to make such prodigious amounts of rain. The sea surface temperatures just before the storm were some 5°F above the 30-year average, or “normal,” for this time of year over a 500 mile swath off the coastline from the Carolinas to Canada, and 1°F of this is very likely a direct result of global warming.  With every degree F rise in temperatures, the atmosphere can hold 4 percent more moisture. Thus, Sandy was able to pull in more moisture, fueling a stronger storm and magnifying the amount of rainfall by as much as 5 to 10 percent compared with conditions more than 40 years ago.  Heavy rainfall and widespread flooding are a consequence.  Climate change has also led to the continual rise in sea levels—currently at a rate of just over a foot per century—as a result of melting land ice (especially glaciers and Greenland) and the expanding warming ocean, providing a higher base level from which the storm surge operates.

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The Adventures of an Accordion Guy in the Twenty First Century:

While Hurricane Sandy was hammering Manhattan, a Twitter user with the handle of @ComfortablySmug made a series of alarming tweets to his 6,500+ followers, including:

  • BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water.
  • BREAKING MT @jhlipton: Con Ed shut down lower Manhattan system due to high tides
  • BREAKING: Con Edison has begun shutting down ALL power in Manhattan

The problem with these posts? They’re all false. He made them up, for kicks.

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NBC, in this case, actually states the question, “What is happening to our world?” – goes to Kevin Trenberth and Katharine Hayhoe for answers.  As the East Coast media picks itself up and spits out teeth, look for more of this. Take a look at this AP piece that found its way on to Fox News’ website…


WASHINGTON –  Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer stood along the Hudson River and watched his research come to life as Hurricane Sandy blew through New York.

Just eight months earlier, the Princeton University professor reported that what used to be once-in-a-century devastating floods in New York City would soon happen every three to 20 years. He blamed global warming for pushing up sea levels and changing hurricane patterns.

New York “is now highly vulnerable to extreme hurricane-surge flooding,” he wrote.

“The ingredients of this storm seem a little bit cooked by climate change, but the overall storm is difficult to attribute to global warming,” Canada’s University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver said.

Some individual parts of Sandy and its wrath seem to be influenced by climate change, several climate scientists said.

First, there’s sea level rise. Water levels around New York are a nearly a foot higher than they were 100 years ago, said Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Add to that the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean, which is about 2 degrees warmer on average than a century ago, said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. Warm water fuels hurricanes.

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Rachel Maddow interviews Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on Sandy’s impact.

How much of a game changer is this?  I believe this summer of 2012 was an inflection point for climate attitudes in the US – and Sandy just put an exclamation point on the inflection point.

Bad Astronomer:

A question I’ve seen a lot is: what was the role of global warming in all this? Christopher Mims wrote a short, measured analysis of this that matches my thinking almost exactly. Basically, it’s hard to know the precise role of global warming in the formation, movement, power, and damage caused by Sandy, but what we do know is that the Atlantic had warmer temperatures for longer than usual – conditions consistent with global warming – and that is a source of both energy and water for the hurricane. There is some thought that the huge arctic sea ice melt this year may have contributed to the abrupt westward turn of the hurricane into the coast. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation; the details are difficult to calculate and we may never know.

But we do know that something looking very much like this has been predicted by climate scientists. This may be an unusual event – after all, the nor’easter timing was important, and the spring tides from the full Moon contributed as well – but it’s hard to say just how unusual it will be in the future. Warmer waters lead to an extended hurricane season which can stretch into the time when nor’easters are more likely to occur. These circumstances loaded the dice. And as Mims so aptly phrased it, the reality of global warming means “climate change, by definition, is present in every single weather event on the planet.”

There has been some political opportunism with this storm as well. I am not a fan of such parasitism; latching on to an opportunity under the thinnest of pretense to trump a partisan view. However, let me be clear: we just had the world’s biggest metaphor come ashore in the United States. Years of outright climate change denial and faux skepticism will hopefully be shaken by this event. Sea ice melting happens far away; droughts, fires, shifting weather is unpredictable and difficult to grasp; statistical graphs are easily manipulated by special-interest groups and generally difficult to interpret anyway. But a hurricane a thousand miles across doing tens of billions of dollars of damage and causing untold chaos is more than a wake up call.

It should be a shot of adrenaline into the heart.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie described his first look by the light of day at the devastation wrought on the Jersey coast by Frankenstorm Sandy. He looks shaken.

Some rather harrowing B-roll video here.

Meanwhile, daughter of the former presidential candidate, Meghan McCain, tweets  –

Pro Forma qualifiers notwithstanding (‘we can’t attribute any particular event yadda yadda…) – this current storm, crashing on top of the east coast media establishment – has inevitably pushed the media conversation to a new level of climate discussion.

And not just the usual suspects..

Charleston Gazzette:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston church group recently heard a slide lecture on billion-dollar weather damage and mass human suffering caused by global warming, worsened by air pollution. The grim show came from the Climate Reality Project headed by former Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his warnings.

The lecture is apt today as Hurricane Sandy, the “Frankenstorm,” ravages the populous East Coast. Hurricanes, caused by ocean heat, have become stronger, deadlier, more costly. Sandy spans nearly 2,000 miles across its cloud swirl, almost the distance from Charleston to California.

More Frankenstorms and other weather horrors can be expected, the Gore group says. It warns:

* Tornados have become worse menaces, obliterating some cities such as Joplin, Mo.

* Floods and mudslides from monster rains ravage Third World cities. Mississippi Valley floods also have become more destructive.

* Droughts are turning some agriculture regions into worthless desert, bankrupting farmers and elevating food prices.

* Wildfires have consumed vast sections of western forest and suburban neighborhoods.

* Tropical diseases and parasites keep moving northward.

Newark Star-Ledger:

No one talks much about climate change anymore. But let’s get real: This hurricane is exactly the sort of event that scientists have warned us about.

The climate-deniers will tell you that a hurricane like Sandy might have hit us anyway, and that storms of this magnitude occurred long before the industrial revolution. All true.

But when we see a never-ending series of gigantic, record-breaking weather events across the globe, any sane person has to concede that something is terribly amiss.

Nine of the 10 hottest years since record-keeping began have occurred since 2000. The glaciers are melting. And there has been a measurable increase in freak weather — from the record floods in China and Bangladesh that left millions homeless last summer, to the freakish Halloween storm that buried New Jersey last year.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney concedes the problem and says mankind is contributing to it. But his cynicism on this issue is breathtaking. Because at the same time, he is campaigning hard in coal country, stirring up resentment against regulations imposed by the Obama administration. And he promises to reverse the singular climate achievement of the Obama years, the doubling of auto efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by the year 2025.

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October 29 lecture by GeoScientist Christian Shorey at the Colorado School of Mines, describing the most current knowns and unknowns about Sandy in the context of climate change. 15 minutes long, good summary for anyone that needs an instant cliffnotes primer.

Where we Are Now

October 30, 2012

This photo by Ana Adjelic is, for me, the most iconic yet of the current disaster, and the larger context of waters literally rising around the climate denialist dream world.

“Attention Shoppers, pay no attention to that water outside the window…blue light special in aisle 13…”