Hurricane Sandy Speaks

Historic SuperStorm Sandy Heading for New York City

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Sandy here again. Early this morning I turned north-northwest and am about 500 km (300 mi) southeast of New York City. I am probably the largest storm on record, spanning 3,200 km (2000 mi). I wanted to stay out at sea but a massive band of cold air and low pressure over the Great Lakes region has pulled me in this direction. The coming collision between very cold and moist, warm air will make me more powerful and dangerous: a historic SuperStorm.

It’s impossible to say for certain if the record melt of sea ice in the Arctic is responsible for this. I do know that most of the Arctic sea ice melted this year. Ice reflects the sun’s energy but the dark ocean absorbs it. In order for the Arctic ocean to freeze again the heat has to be released into the air. Right now there are record amounts of heat energy getting into atmosphere up there.

This has been happening every fall for the last few years. It is no surprise that all that extra heat being released has been disrupting weather patterns. The jet stream – the west-to-east winds that are the boundary between the cold Arctic and the warm mid-latitudes – is slowing down, moving north and become more erratic.

Arctic Ice Melt Sept 2012

Another factor that’s pushed me into the US northeast is a massive dome of high pressure located southwest of Greenland.  Without this high-pressure block I probably would have resisted the pull of the low pressure system and stayed out to sea. That high pressure system has been locked in place for weeks – weather geeks call it a ‘blocking event’. It delivered a record span of warm temperatures and a record melt of the Greenland ice sheet.

I’ve used the word ‘record’ a lot. That’s because the climate has shifted into uncharted territory because more heat and moisture is being trapped in the atmosphere by an ever thicker blanket of CO2. This summer’s record heat and drought in the US is just one example of this “uncharted territory”.

Things are going to keep changing. Storms like me may get bigger. We may come more often, or we may just show up in places where we don’t usually go. There is no way to know.

All you can be sure of is that the climate of the past 20 and more centuries is gone. I am part of the new normal.

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