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More Sandy-Style Superstorms Likely Headed For Europe, Thanks To Global Warming

According to new climate modeling carried out at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, global warming likely means Europe will see more Sandy-style superstorms by the end of this century.

The team ran a simulation from 2094 to 2098, building in future greenhouse gas emissions, and found that the yearly arrival of hurricanes in the Bay of Biscay — which sits on the east coast between Spain and France — would increase from one to six. Researcher Reindert Haarsma put the number as high as thirteen by the end of the century. Many of the storms will likely also feature the same hybrid make-up of Hurricane Sandy: a core of warm, moist tropical air forming a hurricane-force core, with drier and colder air wrapping around the exterior and driving gale-force winds hundreds of miles further out.

Currently, hurricane formation in the tropics usually occurs far enough west that most storms hit North America. A rare number are caught by the Atlantic jet stream and pulled into Europe. But global warming will increase those instances by expanding the area of tropical ocean over which hurricanes form:

The rise in Atlantic tropical [sea surface temperatures] extends eastwards the breeding ground of tropical cyclones, yielding more frequent and intense hurricanes following pathways directed towards Europe. En route they transform into extra-tropical depressions and re-intensify after merging with the mid-latitude baroclinic unstable flow. Our model simulations clearly show that future tropical cyclones are more prone to hit Western Europe, and do so earlier in the season, thereby increasing the frequency and impact of hurricane force winds.

The study focused on winds, but Kevin Trenberth, the head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Summit County Citizens Voice that precipitation could be equally as bad. Global warming not only drives up the power of storms by adding heat energy to the oceans, it also leads to higher levels of precipitation because warmer air holds more moisture. “The resulting flooding episodes will likely dwarf the wind damage,” Trenberth said. “Although [in] some places like the Netherlands, both together could be disastrous.”

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For instance, Sandy’s arrival in the northeastern United States killed 74 people and caused at least $20 billion in damage. That alone would make it one of the costliest American hurricanes ever, and some estimates put the damage as high as $45 billion.