As Hurricane Sandy dissipates and recovery efforts begin, people are asking what role climate change plays in influencing such storms.
Oceans have absorbed much more of the excess heat from global warming than land and scientists understand that when hurricanes form, higher water temperatures can energize them and make them more powerful. Warming is also causing the atmosphere to hold more moisture and concentrate precipitation in stronger storms, including hurricanes. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, it retained much of its strength as it tracked across ocean water that was 9 degrees (F) warmer than average for this time of year.
However, the evidence is unclear when it comes to how frequently major late-season hurricanes such as Sandy may form in a warming world. Several factors, including differences in wind speed and direction, can break up hurricanes.
More broadly climate change is increasing sea levels globally, which affects all coastal storms, including hurricanes. Locally, sea level rise along the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts has been among the highest in the world. Additionally, Hurricane Sandy made landfall during a full-moon high tide, which further drove storm surges that caused extensive coastal flooding. With continued warming, such high tides will become higher and more damaging.
“Human-caused climate change is delivering a one-two punch that is chipping away at our coasts,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Sea-level rise and more intense precipitation from a warmer, moister atmosphere make coastal storms more damaging.”
New York City, which has integrated aspects of climate change into its disaster-response planning, is currently grappling with flooded streets and subways. Ekwurzel said that climate change and aging infrastructures challenge many coastal cities.
“For the most part, our sewers, roads and transportation networks were built for our grandparents’ climate,” said Ekwurzel. “When it comes to climate change, city planners need to be our first responders.”
The link between extreme weather and climate change is the subject of much ongoing research. A special report on extreme weather from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this summer concluded that coastal flooding and more extreme precipitation were strongly linked to human-induced climate change and are expected to get worse in the future. By contrast, scientists can have only “low confidence” when it comes to the historical link between hurricanes and climate change. In the future, the report said, it’s likely that heavy rainfalls associated with hurricanes will become more intense. Overall, hurricane strength—measured as wind speed—is likely to increase while the frequency of hurricane formation is likely to either remain unchanged or decrease.
UCS created an infographic that puts the report’s conclusions about weather extremes and climate change since 1950 in context.
The size of the circles relate to the strength of the evidence for the connections to climate change of observed extreme
events since 1950. Assessment based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change SREX report (2012).
Figure source: Union of Concerned Scientists.
Last year, UCS prepared a backgrounder on Hurricane Irene which broadly applies to Sandy, too. It covers global sea-level rise, increasing rainfall for hurricanes and the hard economic choices coastal communities face in a warming world.
Earlier this month, UCS released a letter from more than 120 city and county officials and scientists in Florida calling on the presidential candidates to discuss sea-level rise.
So, what role does climate change play in altering the characteristics and impacts of extreme weather and climate events? What approaches exist for reducing vulnerability and exposure and for managing impacts and disasters associated with extreme events? Scientists discuss the findings of a new international report that brings together, for the first time, expertise in climate science, disaster risk management and adaptation. Watch the video below:
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
By Gudrun Heise
Just as scientists are scoring successes in coronavirus research, new problems are on their way. Fall is with us and winter is around the corner, so the season for colds and flu has begun — joining COVID-19.
Influenza Vaccination<p>A flu vaccination may thus be able to narrow down the diagnostic options when flu-like symptoms occur, but whether such a vaccination also has an influence on the behavior of the dangerous new virus is — like so much else — not clear. "It is conceivable that there is an indirect effect. But it is, I believe, a matter of speculation whether it has an immunological effect in the narrower sense," says Krause.</p><p>Every winter, doctors' waiting rooms are full of people who are coughing and sniffing but who mostly turn out to have only a severe respiratory infection. According to current knowledge, the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is also likely to be subject to seasonal fluctuations. </p><p>In winter, cold viruses, at least, flourish because cold and dry air offers ideal conditions for their spread. In addition, it becomes more difficult to air rooms regularly and intensively — an important further measure to counteract the coronavirus and contain to some extent the danger posed by aerosols.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://www.rki.de/DE/Home/homepage_node.html" target="_blank">Robert Koch Institute, Germany's public health agency</a>, between 5% and 20% of people in Germany become infected with flu viruses every year. These viruses are also dangerous and can be fatal. The flu vaccination must be adapted to the influenza viruses every year, because they mutate. But at least there is a vaccination.</p><p>Most experts agree that there is unlikely to be a vaccine against the coronavirus by the time the next wave of influenza comes around. And even if a vaccine were to be approved, many unknowns remain.</p>
COVID-19 and Flu Simultaneously<p>For example, there is a lack of practical experience in dealing simultaneously with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. It is possible to speculate that having influenza could facilitate the entry of the coronavirus into the human body. "The general weakening of the immune system during an influenza infection could increase the susceptibility of a patient to a SARS-CoV-2 infection," Krause says.</p><p>However, it is uncertain how dangerous this double infection could ultimately be and what can be done about it. Krause is of the opinion that we must arm ourselves against all three diseases — colds, flu and COVID-19. If we have a cold, bed rest, hot tea and cough medicine usually help. We can get vaccinated against flu. But how do we deal with COVID-19?</p><p><span></span>Probably people can only hope that if they get the illness, they will have a mild form with as few after-effects as possible. Here, it will certainly help to stick to suggested rules on hygiene to reduce or prevent our exposure to the virus. In an interview with DW, Bonn-based virology professor Hendrik Streeck made it clear that COVID-19 usually takes a more severe course when there is a high viral load at infection.</p>
Hygiene, Hygiene, Hygiene<p>The same hygiene measures with which we are trying to get at least some kind of grip on COVID-19 also apply to influenza. The less we come into contact with viruses, the greater the chance that we will be spared an infection or that it will be mild.</p><p>These measures include general hygiene precautions such as frequent hand washing and the wearing of protective face masks. "The various hygienic measures against COVID-19 will also reduce the spread of influenza," says Krause. "Possibly, further connections of a more immunological nature will be discovered."</p><p>Let us hope that is the case, because the flu season hasn't even started.</p>
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Rising temperatures in the air and the water surrounding Greenland are melting its massive ice sheet at a faster rate than anytime in the last 12 millennia, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
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A grim new assessment of the world's flora and fungi has found that two-fifths of its species are at risk of extinction as humans encroach on the natural world, as The Guardian reported. That puts the number of species at risk near 140,000.
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By Sharon Zhang
Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.