WWF-Canada Blog:

Climate change means more intense weather events

WWF is deeply saddened by the loss of life and extensive damage to property and key infrastructure caused by Superstorm Sandy. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragic event.

We wish all of those affected a quick recovery that not only restores what has been lost, but creates communities that are stronger, more resilient and better prepared for the future. Communities will continue to face rising sea levels and changing weather patterns, often including more intense storms and heavier rains.

A satellite image of Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 00:15 UTC, churns off the east coast of the US Photo: NASA via Getty Images

Sandy is the latest example of unusual extreme weather in a long line of such recent events around the world which are becoming more frequent or severe.

Unfortunately, climate change will make extreme weather events like Sandy the norm, and not the exception.

According to climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, rising average sea and air temperatures due to climate change mean that there is more moisture in the atmosphere, resulting in heavier rain. At the same time, climate change drives rising sea-levels, which leads to increased risk of storm surges. So while climate change does not necessarily lead to more storms, it can make hurricanes like Sandy worse. In this case, the fact that Sandy’s landfall coincided with an extra-high tide increased the impact further.

National Wildlife Federation climate scientist Amanda Staudt described the effects of climate change as akin to ‘putting hurricanes on steroids,’ referring to how warmer air and water add to the intensity and duration of already dangerous storms. In the same way that steroids enhance the performance record of an athlete over an entire season, climate change increases the chances of record breaking storms occurring over a set period of time.

That period of time is a chance to establish a trend.  As a New Yorker article posted today put it, “As with any particular ‘weather-related loss event,’ it’s impossible to attribute Sandy to climate change. However, it is possible to say that the storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change.” To put it another way, we can’t attribute any one home run only to a baseball player’s use of steroids, but we know that, with steroids, they’ll hit many more over the course of the season.

Houses flooded by Hurricane Katrina with the city in the background, New Orleans, United States. © National Geographic Stock / Tyrone Turner / WWF

It isn’t that there are more storms.  Global Warming for Dummies (co-authored by our own Zoe Caron) explains that “the number of tropical storms and hurricanes hasn’t increased” but “the most recent science shows that storm and hurricane intensity has grown around the world since 1970.”  It’s just that the storms are stronger and bigger.

And that is exactly why it’s important to be prepared – for recommendations, check out tips from the Red Cross.  Since we know you want to make sure your pets are also prepared, be sure to check out this list from the Ontario SPCA.

Please be sure to be prepared and stay safe – and to take action on climate change today. Ask your elected representatives, community and business leaders to help Canada do more to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the only prevention strategy we have.

  • Ariel Hessing

    The RMS Version 11 U.S. Predictive Wind Model released almost two years ago projected an increase in the frequency and severity of northeastern hurricane and noreaster storm activity tracking toward the coastal states of the northeastern United States, including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusettes in particular. RMS V11 has been painfully accurate, as we have seen Tropical Storm Irene which struck in late August, 2011; the noreaster of late October, 2011; and now the staggering destruction of Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on the New Jersey coastline on October 29, 2012. The storms have increased in frequency, intensity and in their pronounces impact well inland from the Atlantic coast. The U.S. insurance industry will react with restrictions on the availability, pricing and terms of property & casualty insurance that is made available in these northeastern coastal states. This sort of restrictive reaction by the U.S. insurance market is inevitable; it will be effected swiftly; and the changes will be long lasting.

  • Auguste Margaret

    Je suis française mais je me sens concernée par le déséquilibre climatique sur la planète!!!