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Did Climate Change Make Sandy Worse?

Robert Henson. Photo courtesy of Henson.
Robert Henson. Photo courtesy of Henson.
November 5, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. - Climate scientists say global climate change could have contributed to Sandy's impact. Robert Henson is a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the author of "The Rough Guide to Climate Change." He says it's impossible to talk about a hurricane as having a single simple cause, but he says climate change probably contributed.

"Climate change is never the total cause of any one weather event, but in many cases it play a supporting role. Certainly the atmosphere as a whole globally is warming and moistening. The oceans are warming, and that provides a bit more fuel for hurricanes."

According to Henson, meteorologists haven't nailed down a global-warming link to big storms, because those individual events are more isolated and unpredictable. But he says the link to broader trends is more clearly established, including a tie to heavier rainfall in some places and worse drought in others.

"The warmer atmosphere is pulling more water out of the oceans. It's also pulling water out of dry land. Heavy rains and heavy snows are becoming a little more intense. At the same time, when it's dry, it's tending to be dryer for longer periods."

Henson says one strange thing about Sandy may yet be directly linked to climate change: a high pressure system that diverted the storm.

"This blocking zone of high pressure up towards Newfoundland/eastern Canada forced the hurricane to go west into New Jersey. And there's no record of hurricanes ever taking that almost due west path into the mid-Atlantic."

400 members of the New Hampshire National Guard were readying for deployment to assist in Sandy recovery efforts over the weekend. The hurricane killed more than 100 people when it struck last week.

A free e-copy of the Rough Guide and more on climate change issues can be found at www2.ucar.edu.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH