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Campus News

Sandy Barrels up the East Coast Leaving a Wake of Destruction

by Zazie Tobey, staff writer

Students on campus were shocked last week when they woke up to snow on the ground, after having enjoyed a beautiful, warm and sunny week prior to Sandy's arrival. Photo by Wyatt Pace

Hurricane Sandy was born in the Caribbean Sea on Sunday Oct. 21 and hit the southern tip of Cuba by Oct. 24, continuing to follow its predicted path over Jamaica and the Bahamas. Sandy continued to steer north up the east coast and slam coastal states with her gale force winds and heavy rainfall, leaving a wake of destruction from New Jersey to South Carolina. With almost 1.5 million still without power in New York, New Jersey and the Jersey Shore, people are without heat as the temperatures continue to drop.

Scientists and meteorologists are saying Sandy is the largest storm ever measured in the Atlantic. This year, temperatures have been the highest in American history and according to most scientists, the climate change we have been experiencing is as a loaded gun for extreme weather events to come. Meteorologists have found that the Earth’s average global temperature has risen between 1.5 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, leading to an increase in atmospheric moisture by around 5%, increasing levels of rainfall and the probability for more powerful storms, such as Sandy, to form.

NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRIMM) recorded images of the amount of rainfall that Sandy produced, the most rain, around ten inches, fell over the open waters of the Atlantic, but levels of over seven inches fell in many areas near the Atlantic coast, such as Jersey Shore.

The sea levels are rising due to thermal expansion of the water and the increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers. Hurricane season is upon us and the height of the sea surface in relation to the land is a grave concern for coastal communities.

“The sea is expanding—the laws of thermodynamics are going to come into play big time with this,” said Stan Cross, the Environmental Leadership Center Education Director.

There’s a difference between weather events and a climactic change. It seems we’ve rode the global warming bandwagon for so long now most people have stopped focusing on climate stability.

“[Sandy] sheds light on other big topics which it’s related to and it’s tempting to connect disaster events to global warming, but we can’t connect it to individual storms,” said David Coffey a Physics professor new to Wilson this year. “Statistically, continuing on the current path we’re on —raising carbon levels, which raises the temperature, the path we have been on for the past 30 years or so—we will see more storms like Sandy in the future.”

Climate change is a long process and there is no doubt it will continue happening slowly, causing many to arrive at a ‘there’s nothing we can do’ solution. An immediate solution to climate change is unrealistic, but claiming that nothing can be done is erroneous reasoning.

“Climate activists should be alarmed,” Cross said. “[Sandy] should reinforce our passion to work on all the things we’re working on.”

Remnant clouds have dispersed over a large area of the northeastern United States and Canada and Sandy’s path has ended, although the worst is not yet over. During a radio address Nov. 3 President Barack Obama warned citizens “recovery will be a long, hard road for many communities.”

Sandy leaves East coast residents high and most certainly not dry, some losing houses, others losing loved ones; around 106 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. alone.

According to a New York Times article published Oct. 4, more than 700,000 utility customers remained without power in New York state, 154,000 in New York City and 404,000 on Long Island. The article also stated 164,000 residents of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York had applied for housing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who responded by granting around 137 million dollars in financial assistance.

“Large parts of New York City are underwater, millions are still without power, and tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes,” said Bill McKibben, writer and environmental activist, in a recent e-mail sent out to those signed up for the mailing list on his web site, 350.org. “Last night (Tuesday Oct. 30) the floodwaters were swirling around the bottom floor of our Brooklyn offices.”

I e-mailed Mckibben myself, searching for answers and a scientific opinion on the ‘frankenstorm’ as the media has dubbed it.

“It’s not that Sandy is the new norm, it’s that it shows the outer edges of what is possible has shifted,” McKibben said in his response. “We’ve changed the natural world, and now a whole new range of consequences is always possible, and so we always have to plan with them in mind. The biggest trouble, of course, is that those changes will go on getting bigger and bigger unless we stop burning fossil fuels. Right now, the most important thing we can do is come together as a community and support the relief efforts that are already underway.”

Communities are working together to rebuild their homes and those available are volunteering, unable to bear the thought of sitting in their warm, lighted houses while their friends throw buckets of water out of the living room window. Groups of joggers are spreading out along the east coast, running out supplies in some of the hardest hit areas. Residents of New Jersey and New York have set up temporary donation stations; blankets and clothes piled high on street corners. Surfers with shovels spread out helping residents in the Rockaway in Queens shovel mud and sand out of their houses, families are driving around in cars distributing hot drinks and food, food banks and schools acting as warming shelters have popped up all over. The same effort can be made at Wilson by reaching out and supporting campus members who have friends and families in the east coast aftermath.

The difference between climate and weather is time. Climate is measured in long term trends, while weather is typically displayed as a five day forecast. Climate change and the effects from global warming will slowly continue to happen but no connection can be drawn between them and hurricanes like Sandy. It’s more reasonable to consider the full weight of all of the earth’s systems and understand the big picture rather than pointing at one storm as evidence of climate change. Hurricane Sandy did not begin as a result of climate change but according to meteorologists, scientists, and physics bloggers, it did intensify the hurricane’s conditions, as can be seen in the copious amounts of rain, wind and flooding.

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