This image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite at 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:42 Universal Time) on 28 October 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

Contact: Shaye Wolf,  (415) 385-5746,
30 October 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (Center for Biological Diversity) – As America copes with the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Clean Air Act to take emergency action against climate change. Global warming creates a “superstorm triple whammy” that helps turn nasty weather into a nightmare of killer winds and devastating storm surges.

“The terrifying truth is that America faces a future full of Frankenstorms,” said Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., the Center’s climate science director. “Climate change raises sea levels and supersizes storms. The threat of killer winds and crushing storm surges will grow by the year unless we get serious about tackling greenhouse gas pollution.”

Here’s how scientists say climate change feeds the superstorm triple whammy:

1. Global warming loads storms with more energy and more rainfall. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Katrina-magnitude Atlantic hurricanes have been twice as likely in warm years compared with cold years. In warm years hotter ocean temperatures add energy to storms and warmer air holds more moisture, causing storms to dump more rainfall. Global ocean temperatures hit their second-highest level on record in September, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

2. Storm surge rides on higher sea levels, so more coastline floods during storms. In the northeastern United States, sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average, putting major U.S. cities at increased risk of flooding and storm surges, according to a June 2012 study in Nature Climate Change. The West Coast is not immune: Most of California could experience three or more feet of sea-level rise this century, heightening the risk of coastal flooding.

3. Melting sea ice and accelerating Arctic warming are causing changes in the jet stream that are bringing more extreme weather to the United States. Climate change in the Arctic is destabilizing the jet stream, causing bursts of colder air to drop down farther into the United States. In Sandy’s case, a collision with a cold front acted to turn the hurricane into a superstorm. Recent research, including studies by Georgia Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, has linked Arctic warming to increased risk of a variety of extreme weather events.

Deep and rapid greenhouse gas cuts are needed to reduce extreme weather risk. The Clean Air Act is America’s leading tool for curbing greenhouse gas pollution, and more than three dozen U.S. cities have joined the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign urging the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to help reduce carbon in our atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million, the level scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Climate Change Feeds Superstorm Triple Whammy



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