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Why Hurricane Sandy Has Morphed into a 'Frankenstorm' -- And Why We Should Get Used to Catastrophic Weather

Here's how manmade carbon pollution is making many of the most destructive kinds of extreme weather events -- Frankenstorms -- more frequent and more intense.
 
 
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This GOES-13 satellite image provided by the US Naval Research Laboratory shows the eye of Hurricane Sandy it churns just off the eastern coast of the US.
Photo Credit: AFP

 
 
 
 

What would you call an “ unprecedented and bizarre“ storm that is:

  • The “largest hurricane in Atlantic history measured by diameter of gale force winds (1,040mi)” [ Capital Weather Gang]
  • “A Storm Like No Other” [National Weather Service via  AP]. NWS“I cannot recall ever seeing model forecasts of such an expansive areal wind field with values so high for so long a time. We are breaking new ground here.”
  • “Transitioning from a warm-core (ocean-powered) hurricane into an extra-tropical low pressure system, a classic Nor’easter, fed by powerful temperature extremes and swirling jet stream winds aloft to amplify and focus the storm’s fury” [meteorologist  Paul Douglas]
  • Being fueled in part by “ocean temperatures along the Northeast U.S. coast [] about 5°F above average,” so “there will be an unusually large amount of water vapor available to make heavy rain” [former Hurricane Hunter  Jeff Masters]
  • Also being driven by a high pressure blocking pattern near Greenland “forecast to be three standard deviations from the average” [ Climate Central and CWG]
  • “Stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.” [ Bill McKibben]

McKibben explains “Our relationship to the world around us is shifting as fast as that world is shifting.  ‘Frankenstorm’ is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now.”

CBS News offered another coincidental reason for the name in  its headline, “Hurricane Sandy may slam into U.S. East Coast as Halloween week ‘Frankenstorm’.”

Readers of my book, “ Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga,” know the unique power of metaphors. As one review article put it, “Studies reveal that virtually all of our abstract conceptualization and reasoning is structured by metaphor.”

Frankenstein — and his monster — have become a metaphor for the unintentional consequences of scientific and technological advances.

Humans are changing the climate in dangerous and unprecedented ways. At first it was unintentional, but no one in the public arena can possibly claim today they haven’t been warned — repeatedly — by climate scientists and others (see, for instance  Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”)

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained in a must-read 2012 review article in  Climatic Change:

The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question.  All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….

We can even make a stronger statement today in the case of hurricanes thanks to a brand new study, “ Homogeneous record of Atlantic hurricane surge threat since 1923

We demonstrate that the major events in our surge index record can be attributed to landfalling tropical cyclones; these events also correspond with the most economically damaging Atlantic cyclones.  We find that warm years in general were more active in all cyclone size ranges than cold yearsThe largest cyclones are most affected by warmer conditions and we detect a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923. In particular, we estimate that Katrina-magnitude events have been twice as frequent in warm years compared with cold years.

The name “Frankenstorm” fits. The unique severity of the storm is the point! Manmade warming has consequences. The time to act is now.

 
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