Posted by Brad Plumer on October 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm
Every time a major natural disaster barrels along, people want to know whether it has anything to do with global warming. Is climate change causing this storm? That drought? Will we see more disasters like it if the planet keeps warming?
When it comes to tropical cyclones like Hurricane Sandy, the climate links can be somewhat difficult to pin down. On the one hand, humans have warmed the planet about 0.8°C since the Industrial Revolution. As Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research likes to say, that affects all weather events to an extent. The oceans are now warmer, there’s more moisture in the air—those things help fuel hurricanes and alter other weather patterns.
And yet trying to attribute specific hurricanes to changes in global temperature remains quite difficult. In its big report on natural disasters last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said it had “low confidence” that humans were currently affecting tropical cyclone patterns. Hurricanes are far more complicated to study than, say, heat waves and the historical record is patchier. (For more on this, Andrew Revkin has an excellent discussion with climatologists over at Dot Earth.)Share This Post