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Did Climate Change Make Sandy Worse?

Robert Henson. Photo courtesy of Henson.
Robert Henson. Photo courtesy of Henson.
November 6, 2012

PHOENIX - Climate scientists say global climate change could have contributed to Hurricane Sandy's impact, although some political leaders are unconvinced. 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 plays 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 the individual events are more isolated and unpredictable. However, 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 drier for longer periods."

Henson adds that Sandy was unusual historically. There's no record of a hurricane ever taking basically a due-west path into the mid-Atlantic states.

A free e-copy of the Rough Guide, and more on climate change issues, are at

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ