Irene and Climate Change

Is climate change the driving force behind Hurricane Irene?

Kim Knowlton is a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She told the HuffPo:

“No one is going to point to Irene and say this is climate change…But we can say that we are seeing the fingerprint of climate change this year.”

This is in reference to the growing list of extreme weather events which have run amuck in the U.S. this year.

Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms with “more destructive potential” have been linked to climate change as far back as the 1970s, according to Knowlton. Such higher wind speeds and larger quantities of rain are expected to accompany future storms, similar to the one currently pounding the East Coast.

Global warming apparently also redistributes storms, sending them on a northward trajectory. That means cities such as Boston and New York are in crucial danger.

This vulnerability to hurricanes is increased by other factors, some of which are linked to climate change than hurricanes themselves.

It seems as if some of the storm’s worst consequences, particularly the flooding, are being exacerbated by the long-term trend of rising sea levels. According to one expert:

“Sea levels around New York have gone up 13 inches over last hundred years…What that means is that the five foot wall protecting Manhattan is one foot less able to keep water out than it was a century ago. This is going to be a kind of wake-up call for New York City: It’s the first time they’re going to have to evacuate from Zone A, and it’s not going to be the last.”

A Gallup poll released last Friday reports that Americans considered climate change less of a problem in 2010 than in any year past: only 55 percent of those polled thought that it posed a threat to both they and their families. Perhaps that figure will change when 2011 is finished.

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