Speculating about an “October Surprise” has long been part-and-parcel of presidential elections. International crises, domestic economic troubles, and unearthed scandalous events/behavior have all had their moments in the month before election day. In 2012, we have a serious potential that the October Surprise will come from an unusual direction and a seemingly non-partisan actor: Mother Nature.
Along the East Coast, residents from Florida to Maine are dealing with the storm’s impacts or watching Hurricane Sandy with an increasingly concerned eye. Predications, at the moment, have a Northeast United States Sandy landfall for Halloween — anywhere between the North Carolina coast to the Boston, MA, area. And, there are mounting concerns that this could be a true Perfect Storm. Uncertainty as to whether, where, and how serious an impact …
However, what we know is that 2012 has been a devastating year in terms of climate disruption damage — floods, droughts, severe weather events, and otherwise around the globe. In the United States, heat waves with massive breaking of high temperature records, likely the hottest year on record, huge portions of the nation with drought, many floods, the shocking Derecho in the east, significant crop damage, and … While some wish to keep their heads in the sand in denial, we are seeing (sadly in real time) humanity’s thumb on the scale and nature of otherwise “natural” events. Even without human-driven climate change, we would have rain and snow, droughts and floods, balmy days and hurricanes, and uncertainty in agricultural production. What scientists are increasingly agreed on is that the amount of and extent of such extremes increase with mounting climate change, thus the term: climate disruption.
Sandy’s low-pressure system is “highly unusual” (according to The Weather Channel) in terms of such low-pressure in the Northeast at this time of year. “Unusual” is an increasingly heard term, it seems, from meteorologists amid mounting climate disruption.
In a quick review, the equation is simple: more climate heat = bigger storms. Some indications of climate disruption links to Sandy:
There are several climate connections for Sandy:
- - hotter than normal ocean temps means heavier rainfall and possibly strong storm:
- 5 degrees for the northeast coast:
- A record-tying Sept for ocean temps: The globally-averaged ocean temperature tied with 1997 as second highest for September, behind 2003, at 0.55°C (0.99°F) above the long-term average.
- Rising sea levels means increased risk coastal flooding, with increased storm surge risks.
- Less certain is link to the “Perfect Storm” risk that some fear. (Whether the Arctic air poised to meet Sandy and threatening a “perfect storm” is air that escaped from the arctic courtesy of changing polar circulation due to this year’s record loss of sea ice.)
In a Presidential election where the political parties’ (and Presidential candidates) perspectives on science (climate science especially) could not be more starkly different, where the nation has seen significant impacts from climate disruption, where climate disruption events have strengthened Americans understanding of climate change and concerns over it, and where analytical work shows climate change discussion favors politicians on the side of science if they engage in discussing climate issues, the stunning climate silence has been deafening.
Is Mother Nature acting to shatter this silence?
Over at Politico, Andrew Restuccia speculated about this in an excellent article, Hurricane Sandy: The next climate wake-up call?
How’s this for some election-year timing: The East Coast faces the real possibility of taking a battering next week from a “perfect storm” roaring in from the Atlantic — right at the tail end of a campaign in which President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and their debate moderators have all drawn criticism for avoiding discussion of climate change.
The brewing, blustery mess could affect the same region that was already knocked around by this summer’s derecho and soaked in 2011 by Hurricane Irene. And it could come just two months after Hurricane Isaac forced the GOP to cancel the first day of its convention in Tampa.
Sadly, rather than engaging in serious debate about the best paths forward for the United States in climate mitigation and climate disruption adaptation, the two candidates seemed to be in a competition during the debates as to merited the mantle as fossil fuels’ best friend. (Note: “Mr. Coal, Mr Gas, Mr Oil” Mitt won that fossil-foolish title in the second debate but President Obama made him work for it.) As Restuccia quoted Brad Johnson,
“Sandy is yet another reminder that the candidates should stop competing over who can poison the weather faster with increased oil, gas and coal production. If they fear that honesty about global warming could cost them votes, they should instead be more concerned that climate silence costs lives.”
Let us all hope that Sandy will divert from off the coast and, if there is landfall, that Sandy does not cause significant damage or add additional loss of life to climate chaos’ toll. No matter Sandy’s physical path, however, we need to wonder whether the storm will impact the path of the 2012 Presidential election by (finally) crashing through the climate silence barrier.