Sandy: Chronicle of a Storm Foretold

As Hurricane Sandy wreaks its havoc, we need to recognize that global warming scientists have been predicting for decades now that extreme storms would become more likely.

In the first report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, back in 1990, it noted that humans were contributing to global warming, and warned that “climate change is likely to bring changes in climate variability and extreme events as well.”

In its second assessment, in 1995, it predicted greater floods and a “higher

risk of extreme events due to climate change” and warned that “infrastructure would be more vulnerable to increased frequency or intensity of extreme events.”

In its third assessment, in 2001, it said: “Flood magnitude and frequency are likely to increase in most regions,” and it also warned that “extreme events” would become more common.

In its fourth assessment, in 2007, it warned that “high-energy swells” would be “more extreme,” and that we could expect to see “increased extreme water levels and wave heights; increased episodic erosion, storm damage, risk of flooding.”

For North America, in particular, it warned of “rising sea levels and risk of storm surge, water scarcity, and changes in timing, frequency, and severity of flooding,” which could lead to “increased deaths, injuries, infectious diseases, and stress-related disorders and other adverse effects.”

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report entitled, “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.” That report warned that “future flood losses in many locations will increase,” and that “climate change may alter both the frequency of extreme surges and cause gradual sea level rise, compounding such future extreme floods.”

One of the lead scientists of that report was Christopher B. Field, who is the director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science and professor in the departments of Biology and Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford. On August 1, Field testified before United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“There is no doubt that climate has changed and that changes will continue in the future, with human emissions of heat-trapping gases playing a major role,” he said. “There is also no doubt that a changing climate changes the risk of extremes that can lead to disaster.”

The scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel are not the only ones who’ve been ringing the alarm bells about the disasters that we’ve been creating with the climate.

James Hansen, NASA’s chief climatologist, has been warning about extreme events since his 1988 testimony to Congress.

In his “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity,” published in 2009, Hansen predicted “heavier rains, more extreme floods, and more intense storms.”

And, of course, there was Al Gore, in his 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” drumming home the risks of extreme storms and flooding.

And Bill McKibben of 350.org has been warning us for decades himself. He notes that no single storm can be attributed to global warming, but he adds that when the “ocean is hot—and at the moment sea surface temperatures off the Northeast are five degrees higher than normal—a storm like Sandy can lurch north longer and stronger, drawing huge quantities of moisture into its clouds, and then dumping them ashore.”

He says, with Sandy, we may begin “to sense what the future may be like, as more and more of the world finds itself facing ever-more-frequent assaults from the amped-up forces of the not-so-natural world.”

The know-nothings can deny global warming all they want.

Meanwhile, it is here, and it is taking its toll.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Romney in Denial about Lethal Lack of Health Insurance."

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