SEAS Expert Weighs in on Hurricane Sandy
A sampling of the media coverage in which Sobel is interviewed:
- NBC Nightly News, Nov. 1, Weather Whiplash Hits the U.S.
- National Public Radio, Oct. 31, Prof. Sobel: High-Def Storm Models Yielded Accurate Predictions (Prof. Sobel's segment begins at 2:40)
- Slate, Will Oremus’ Future Tense blog entry, Oct. 30, Is Climate Change Turning New York into a Hurricane Hotspot?
- WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Oct. 29, Special Coverage: Hurricane Sandy
- Slate, Adam Sobel’s blog entry, Oct. 29, We’d All Be Safe and Dry Right Now If Not for the Fujiwhara Effect
- Climate Central, Adam Sobel’s blog entry, Oct. 26, How Hurricane Sandy Can Become a ‘Frankenstorm’
- Fox TV, Oct. 25, Hurricane Sandy: A ‘Perfect Storm’?
Professor Adam Sobel has been in demand leading up to – and during – Hurricane Sandy. The atmospheric scientist has been interviewed by national and international media and has blogged on the massive storm. Here, he provides further insight on the storm, the questions surrounding a link to climate change, and the lessons to learn from its impact and devastation.
Sobel is a professor of applied physics and applied mathematics at Columbia Engineering, as well as a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia and a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Q: Why was Sandy such a devastating storm?
A: Sandy was an unprecedented storm in the historical record for our region. What made it so deadly was the storm surge. At the Battery way downtown, at the southern tip of Manhattan, the sea rose higher than the previous record set in 1821, more than 190 years ago. What made the storm surge so exceptional was its very unusual track, coming in from the east, as well as its slow motion and enormous size.
Q: Are these “extreme” storms linked to climate change?
A: To what extent there is a link to global warming is a difficult question that many of us will be studying in the days to come. Sandy was certainly a very unusual storm, but it could have happened even in an unchanging climate. The climate is warming, and there may be links between Sandy and global climate change, but they are likely to be indirect. There are many fundamental questions about the climate system that we need to understand better in order to answer this.
One thing is clear though: as our climate warms, the sea will rise, and that will make us ever more susceptible to storm surge even if the storms themselves don't change. We always knew this degree of flooding was possible and that the consequences would be disastrous. Hopefully this event will give our city and others the motivation we need to harden our infrastructure against future events like this.
Q: Are there any positive sides to this disaster?
A: In all the wreckage and hardship, there is one huge success story here of which we shouldn't lose sight. The storm was predicted very well, quite far ahead of time (as much as a week), by our weather prediction models and the forecasters who interpret them for us. This allowed the authorities time they needed to make the necessary decisions to protect life and property as well as could be done under the circumstances, and it gave the media and larger population time to understand what was coming. This remarkable prediction could not have been done a decade or two ago.
These predictions result from rapid improvement in the quality of our models, as well as substantial increases in computer power and improved observations of the atmosphere by satellites and other instruments. The investments in science and technology that led to this successful forecast no doubt saved a great number of lives. As catastrophic as this event was and is, it could have been much, much worse.