The 2012 hurricane season, which ended Saturday, is one for the record books. As Climate Central explains:
For the third straight season there were 19 named storms in the Atlantic, which is the third-highest level of storm activity observed since 1851….
Since 1851, only two hurricane seasons — 2005 and 1933 — have been busier than 2010, 2011, and 2012.
And then there was Sandy, the storm of the decade (so far), which will likely turn out to be the second most costly superstorm to hit the United States, after Katrina. Sandy proved that you don’t have to be a major hurricane (Category Three or greater) to cause unimaginably widespread devastation.
We will have to get used to this kind of frankenstorm — see “How Does Climate Change Make Superstorms Like Sandy More Destructive?” ABC News ran an excellent story on this, featuring Climate Central’s Heidi Cullen:
And for the extreme weather junkies out there, meteorologist and former hurricane Hunter Dr. Jeff Masters has the stunning numbers:
Hurricane Sandy was truly astounding in its size and power. At its peak size, twenty hours before landfall, Sandy had tropical storm-force winds that covered an area nearly one-fifth the area of the contiguous United States. Since detailed records of hurricane size began in 1988, only one tropical storm (Olga of 2001) has had a larger area of tropical storm-force winds, and no hurricanes has. Sandy’s area of ocean with twelve-foot seas peaked at 1.4 million square miles–nearly one-half the area of the contiguous United States, or 1% of Earth’s total ocean area.
Most incredibly, ten hours before landfall (9:30 am EDT October 30), the total energy of Sandy’s winds of tropical storm-force and higher peaked at 329 terajoules–the highest value for any Atlantic hurricane since at least 1969. This is 2.7 times higher than Katrina’s peak energy, and is equivalent to five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. At landfall, Sandy’s tropical storm-force winds spanned 943 miles of the the U.S. coast. No hurricane on record has been wider; the previous record holder was Hurricane Igor of 2010, which was 863 miles in diameter. Sandy’s huge size prompted high wind warnings to be posted from Chicago to Eastern Maine, and from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Florida’s Lake Okeechobee–an area home to 120 million people. Sandy’s winds simultaneously caused damage to buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore, and toppled power lines in Nova Scotia, Canada–locations 1200 miles apart!
Imagine what kind of superstorms we will see when it is 10°F warmer and sea levels are 6+ feet higher. Or, better yet, imagine we are somehow smart enough to deploy low carbon technology fast enough to avert that grim future.