HuffPo Blames Sandy on Global Warming, Meteorologist Responds

In the wake of hurricane Sandy, many have rushed to seize the opportunity as a platform for pushing forward their global warming agendas. Headlines are rampant, sparking fears about more storms to come if climate change isn’t addressed. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was one of the first to hit the microphone on the issue, when he spoke at a press conference on October 30th

"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement," Cuomo said. "Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality."

One of those outlets to have published voluminous material in the days since Sandy struck has been the Huffington Post.  (I stopped counting at 40 articles in an advanced Google search).  On Monday, the website headlined with a story titled “Zoned for Destruction: Hurricane Sandy Damage Amplified By Breakneck Development Of Coast,” in which the authors heavily cite global warming’s rising sea levels as a factor in Sandy’s devastation and warnings about it that were supposedly ignored by developers and officials.

Developers built up parts of the Jersey Shore and the Rockaways, a low-lying peninsula in Queens, N.Y., in similar fashion in recent years, with little effort by local or state officials to mitigate the risk posed by hurricanes, experts said. Real estate developers represent a powerful force in state politics, particularly in New Jersey and New York, where executives and political action committees have been major donors to governors and local officeholders.

This coastal growth took place even as public and private sector leaders in both New York and New Jersey began expressing growing concern over the potential for climate change to intensify storms and accelerate already rising sea levels. New York City officials in particular were well aware of the ways in which climate change would make the potentially destructive effects of a major hurricane worse, scientists said.

The city is “one of the leaders of the country and the world,” on climate change, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She has worked with both the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the local New York City Panel on Climate Change, a body the mayor convened in 2008 specifically to look at how to adapt the city and its infrastructure to rising sea levels.

Despite the known risks and a push for quick action by some experts, however, only limited protective steps were taken, even as development in at-risk coastal areas boomed.

Al Gore, owner of Current TV, took to the airwaves and to the Huffington Post to declare that Sandy may now prove to be “a time when the climate crisis…became a reality.”  In an earlier interview, Gore went so far as to state that Sandy was testament to overwhelming evidence of climate change causing the recent pattern of storms.

The storms are getting stronger. The stronger storms are getting more frequent.  And you know, this is the second time in two years that part of Manhattan has been shut down. And you know, that didn’t used to happen like this.  But the evidence is now so overwhelming…

In that same interview, Joe Bastardi, a noted meteorologist and former Accuweather forecaster who now co-leads long range forecasting at WeatherBell Analytics, challenged Gore’s claims.  Bastardi has been critical of similar claims in the past, so I reached out to him to get his take on some of the claims in Monday’s Huffington Post article.  He points out that we are instead seeing weather history repeat itself, and poses an important question to activists pointing to Sandy as “overwhelming evidence” of global warming as its cause:

“Was it global warming in the 1950’s when the East Coast was consistently devastated by hurricanes more powerful than Sandy?”

The following is Bastardi’s response in its entirety.

The idea that the devastation from Sandy was caused by global warming is wrong for many reasons.  Those pushing this agenda are ignoring meteorological history, or purposefully leaving it out of the discussion.  On top of the fact that we have seen much stronger storms hit these areas before with more frequency, the premise of the argument lacks credence because global temperatures have not increased since the late 1990’s.

Anthropogenic global warming activists claim that all extreme weather events are somehow related to “global warming,” which has been re-termed “climate change” since global temperatures are no longer warming.  The FACT remains that global tropical activity, which can be measured using the ACE Index (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), is near record lows according to peer-reviewed research and even the most recent UN IPCC Special Report on Extremes (SREX 2012).

But one cannot simply equate global conditions with regional weather events, which is a cornerstone of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) arguments.  We are seeing increased tropical activity in the Atlantic because we are in a warm phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).  We are seeing decreased tropical activity in the Pacific because we are in cold phase of the Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation (PDO).  This SAME situation occurred in the 1950s, when numerous major hurricanes hit the Eastern Seaboard (Carolinas and North) from 1954-1960.

There was far less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during that time period and we saw far more destructive hurricanes hit the Northeast.  Keep in mind that major hurricanes are defined as having sustained winds greater than 115mph.  Hurricane Sandy at its strongest had sustained winds of 90mph.

In 1954, Hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel -- all major hurricanes -- hit the US East Coast.  Carol drove ten feet of water into Providence, Rhode Island.  Eleven days later, Edna bisected Cape Cod as a major hurricane.  Hazel hit the Carolinas with 140 mph winds on Oct 15th 1954 in a pattern that captured the hurricane and sent her NNW all the way to Toronto, where hurricane force winds were still being recorded. In 1960, Hurricane Donna made landfall in New England after devastating Florida and Carolinas.  Donna delivered hurricane force winds to every state along the East Coast.

Hurricane Sandy generated record flooding in NYC and NJ because the storm’s track was optimal for generating storm surge in those areas, not because of global warming.  However, we have seen far stronger storms impact the Northeast and generate unimaginable storm surges that dwarf the surge of Sandy.  Sandy did not generate record surges in Rhode Island and the eastern end of Long Island.  The Great 1938 hurricane, nicknamed the Long Island Express, sent what was said to be a 50 foot wall of water over the Hamptons and a 30 foot storm surge up Narragansett Bay, which put Providence, RI under 13 feet of water.  Sustained winds of 121 mph were recorded at Blue Hill, Massachusetts with gusts to 186 mph.   If the track had been a bit further west, a landfall near JFK airport, 20 feet of water would have surged over the battery!

In 2006 when the Pacific turned cold, I hypothesized that we would see more hurricane landfalls on the East Coast.  We are in a climate pattern similar to the 1950’s and can expect to see more storms like Irene and Sandy until the Atlantic cycles back into its cold phase.  The AMO flipped warm in 1995 and we can expect to see the AMO flip cold in about ten years.   Dr. William Gray of Colorado State forecasted back in the 1970’s that when the AMO flipped warm, the US Coastline would be much more vulnerable.  

Sadly, AGW activists ignore that history is repeating itself.  Was it global warming in the 1950’s when the East Coast was consistently devastated by hurricanes more powerful than Sandy?  How do they account for the fact that Earth’s temperatures have not been increasing while CO2 continues to rise?  Despite reduced global tropical activity, the fact remains that over the next decade, we should expect to see more storms like Sandy, and possibly stronger.  Property damage will be catastrophic if we continue to see hurricanes like we did in the 1950’s.

It is imperative that the public knows and understands what has happened before, and not simply accept as fact the word of people who won’t tell you how violent the weather was the last time we were in this cycle.

I feel the best way to counter distortions about the present and future is to bring up the facts of the past.  Knowledge of what hurricanes have done in the last climate cycle similar to this one can debunk an argument that is based on an agenda that is being pushed by Al Gore, among others.

One can argue whether or not there should be development along the shore areas; it’s an argument that’s existed for years and will of course likely continue as the East Coast rebuilds in future months and years.  Residents have lived along the shorelines of every coast of our country for years and years, and – just as residents live in earthquake or tornado prone areas – they’ll continue to live there, and will better prepare. Governor Christie himself acknowledged such critics after Sandy struck, and reaffirmed that the Jersey Shore will very likely rebuild.  Perhaps some may consider construction improvements and new building methods in the process. But as those details are considered, it will be that much more important that hyperbole and political agenda do not drown out facts and historical reality as the process of reconstructing homes and lives takes place.

Visit WeatherBell Analytics for more analysis from Bastardi and other forecasters.


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