Friday, March 15, 2013

How Arctic Ice Loss Amplified Superstorm Sandy - Oceanography Journal

We've written extensively about how global warming worsened the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

Now a new article, "Superstorm Sandy: A Series of Unfortunate Events?" (PDF here) connects the dots even more explicitly:

Cornell and Rutgers researchers report in the March issue of Oceanography that the severe loss of summertime Arctic sea ice - attributed to greenhouse warming - appears to enhance Northern Hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area.

Figure 1a. Atmospheric conditions during Hurricane Sandy's transit along the eastern seaboard of the United States, including the invasion of cold Arctic air into the middle latitudes of North America and the high-pressure blocking pattern in the northwest Atlantic.

The lead author is Charles H. Greene, director of Cornell's Ocean Resources and Ecosystems program. Coauthor Jennifer A. Francis of Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences has written extensively on how arctic ice loss is driving extreme weather:

The piece notes "there is increasing evidence that the loss of summertime Arctic sea ice due to green- house warming stacks the deck in favor of":

  1. Larger amplitude meanders in the jet stream,
  2. More frequent invasions of Arctic air masses into the middle latitudes, and
  3. More frequent blocking events of the kind that steered Sandy to the west

Figure 1b. After the convergence of tropical and extra-tropical storm systems, the hybrid Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey and New York, bringing strong winds, storm surge, and flooding to areas near the coast and blizzard conditions to Appalachia.

So while this does appear to have been the perfect storm, we can, unfortunately, expect many more as we move toward ice-free arctic conditions in the coming years (see "Experts Warn 'Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer' In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue").

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