The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has reopened the topic of climate change. Understandably the loudest voices come from those most affected, worried that this unusual storm is just the beginning of weather as usual on a warm planet. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City was especially forthright.
How did we get such a strong hurricane so late in the season? Why did it hit New Jersey, a place that’s had only one hurricane make landfall in 161 years of hurricane records? (And that was in 1903.)
I learned the answers on WESA’s Allegheny Front on Saturday. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground explained how hot ocean temperatures, prevailing winds, and high pressure centered over Greenland spawned the storm and steered it west. (Click here to listen to the podcast.)
And though this individual storm can’t be pinned on climate change, its causes can. The bottom line: The whole world is hotter.
I hadn’t realized how much hotter and how rapidly the heat has increased until I watched this NASA animation of global surface temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2011. Using the average global temperature in the mid-20th century as baseline, the map is colored blue when colder, orange when hotter.
Play the animation and see for yourself.
The train is rolling down the track. (Perhaps it’s naive of me to say…) we could do something if we worked together politically and individually. Meanwhile …
Old Charlie stole the handle
And the train won’t stop going
No way to slow down.
— Jethro Tull, Locomotive Breath, 1971
(animation from Goddard Multimedia, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, January 2012. Click here for more information)