This Week's Missing Links, November 3

A view of the changed coastline in New Jersey. Photo: NASA Goddard

Instead of gathering a widespread assortment of the week's best articles, videos, and photos, I've included the most thought-provoking and eye-opening articles on Sandy and her aftermath. Some are snapshots of people and places, others take a look at the science of the storm, and some take a look at the political effects of a storm that has caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and more than 150 deaths internationally. The articles begin with a blog posted on October 24.

Please share the best articles you've read about Sandy in the comments section.

For the best longreads of the week, check out "Weekend Reading: Eyes Open."

"Sandy Strengthens to Hurricane on Approach to Jamaica; Odds of East Coast Impact Grow," Capital Weather Gang

The deterministic runs from the various global models continue to diverge, with some still showing a track out to sea (GFS and CMC) and some showing a more northerly track into the northeast U.S. coast (ECMWF and NOGAPS). It’s unclear yet which will verify, if any, but the ensembles have been trending westward, with more members now showing a very powerful cyclone (probably not completely tropical) slamming into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.

The ominous forecast by last night’s ECMWF deterministic run places an incredibly strong cyclone off the New Jersey coast on Monday evening ... with tropical storm to hurricane force winds covering every state between Virginia and Maine (note that the wind speeds on this map are at 5,000’ altitude, not the surface). A scenario such as this would be devastating: a huge area with destructive winds, extensive inland flooding, possibly heavy snow on the west side, and severe coastal flooding and erosion.

"Perfect Storm" Set to Occur on 21st Anniversary of Historic Event
, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Blog

While there is still inherent uncertainty in the forecast, especially considering we are at least five days away from the phase, the majority of the numerical guidance has now come into agreement that a phasing event will occur precisely on the 21st anniversary of the Perfect Storm somewhere between the mid-Atlantic states through Maine or potentially the Nova Scotia region. Most of the models now indicate even stronger jet dynamics will occur next week than occurred during for the Perfect Storm, and that today’s storm could potentially deepen to well below 960mb or even below 950mb. The fact that the Gulf Stream is anomalously warm for this time of year means that Sandy will weaken less as a tropical system than it otherwise would have prior to the phase. Also, a very strong blocking scenario (very negative NAO) has developed over the north Atlantic means that the cyclone will be very slow moving, and is likely to retrograde westward into the northeastern U.S. rather than continue out to sea like most recurving extratropical cyclones do. While it is too early to pin-down exact impacts from the system at this time, it is likely that portions of the coastal Northeast will experience a damaging storm surge, significant beach erosion, and a prolonged severe wind and heavy rain event. Meanwhile, interior regions of western Pennsylvania into Ohio may simultaneously be experiencing heavy snowfall. Stay tuned!

"Late Season Tropical Storms That Have Affected the U.S. North of Hatteras," Weather Underground

As it appears increasingly likely that a ‘Frankenstorm’ may hit the U.S. coast somewhere between Delaware and Maine between October 29 and November 1 I thought I would take a look back and see what other late season storms of this nature and magnitude have previously affected the region.

"David Attenborough: Force of Nature," The Guardian via Grist

“[It] does worry me that the most powerful nation in the world ... denies what the rest of us can see very clearly [on climate change]. I don’t know what you do about that. It’s easier to deny.”

Asked what was needed to wake people up, the veteran broadcaster famous for series such as Life and Planet Earth said: “Disaster. It’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it? Even disaster doesn’t do it. There have been disasters in North America, with hurricanes and floods, yet still people deny and say ‘oh, it has nothing to do with climate change.’ It visibly has got [something] to do with climate change.”

"The Coast Empties Out as The Storm Moves In," The New York Times

The streets of this seaside town, filled on Saturday night with trick-or-treaters dressed as witches and pumpkins, emptied swiftly on Sunday as the storm drove water up to the beach dunes that protect the Boardwalk.

Halloween events were cancelled. Hotels were closed. Dolle’s, the town’s source of saltwater taffy for 85 years, stayed open longer than any other oceanfront shop. But the owner, Thomas Ibach, turned off the lights at 4 p.m., a few hours before the state evacuation deadline. “You just never know,” he said. He said a 1962 northeaster had wiped away Dolle’s previous building.

"Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change," New Yorker

A couple of weeks ago, Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, issued a study titled “Severe Weather in North America.” According to the press release that accompanied the report, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” The number of what Munich Re refers to as “weather-related loss events,” and what the rest of us would probably call weather-related disasters, has quintupled over the last three decades. While many factors have contributed to this trend, including an increase in the number of people living in flood-prone areas, the report identified global warming as one of the major culprits: “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”

Almost three years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, 370,000 people are still living in the tent camps that became their homes.

Now, some have lost even that. Haitian officials say that 18,000 families living in tent camps have been rendered homeless by Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 52 there since making landfall last week.

The number of casualties may continue rising, as aid workers have found 86 new cases of cholera just in the earthquake survivor camps of capital city Port-au-Prince. A cholera outbreak that began after the quake has killed an estimated 7,400 since October 2010.

"In Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing," The New York Times 

Hurricane Sandy, in the wily and savage way of natural disasters, expressed its full assortment of lethal methods as it hit the East Coast on Monday night. In its howling sweep, the authorities said the storm claimed at least 40 lives in eight states.

They were infants and adolescents, people embarking on careers and those looking back on them—the ones who paid the ultimate price of this most destructive of storms. In Franklin Township, Pennsylvania, an eight-year-old boy was crushed by a tree when he ran outside to check on his family’s calves. A woman died in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, when her car slid off a snowy road.

There were 22 deaths reported in New York City, where the toll was heaviest, and five more fatalities elsewhere in the state.

Most of all, it was the trees. Uprooted or cracked by the furious winds, they became weapons that flattened cars, houses and pedestrians. But also, a woman was killed by a severed power line. A man was swept by flooding waters out of his house and through the glass of a store. The power blinked off for a 75-year-old woman on a respirator, and a heart attack killed her.

"Leaving Langone: One Story," New Yorker 

Virginia Rossano is 17 years old and has been suffering from epileptic seizures since she was six. She and her family live north of Boston. After consulting with Orrin Devinsky, a renowned neurologist and epilepsy specialist at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, the Rossanos decided to pursue a surgical course for their daughter. Virginia and her mother, Cathy, came to N.Y.U. last week, and on Thursday Virginia underwent a craniotomy. Surgeons removed skull tissue and connected electrodes to the brain to monitor her brain functions. The next step was to wean Virginia from her medications and induce a seizure. Doctors could then locate the source of the seizures and remove the offending tissue. “Dr. Devinsky said that surgery could be a home run for us,” Cathy Rossano told me.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

"Sandy's Climate Context," The Columbia Journalism Review

It should come as no surprise that as Hurricane Sandy spiraled up the eastern seaboard, a variety of media outlets sought to explain the so-called super storm’s relationship to climate change. A few did well, but generalizations about extreme weather continue to mar this type of coverage.

Take Rebecca Leber’s attempt to bash the press for ignoring climate change at Climate Progress. “Despite the hysteria surrounding Hurricane Sandy,” she wrote, “not one major newspaper has reported the scientifically established link that carbon pollution fuels more extreme weather.”

That assertion about an established link is misleading. In reality, climate change fuels some extreme weather in some places, and the links are not very well understood.

"Just How Unprecedented Was Hurricane Sandy?" Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science Blog

While Sandy was both historic and disastrous for the Northeast, there was one other historic side of the story that is actually positive: the forecasts for the track of Sandy were spot-on.

"How Hurricane Sandy Slapped the Sarcasm Out of Twitter," The New York Times

In the early days of Twitter, there was a very big debate about whether reporters should break news on Twitter. That debate now seems quaint. Plenty of short-burst nuggets of news went out from reporters on Twitter on Monday night and they were quickly followed by more developed reports on-air or on the Web. There were abundant news posts from @antderosa of Reuters, @acarvin of NPR and @brianstelter of The New York Times, among many others, but there were also tweets from ordinary people relaying very important information about their blocks, their neighborhoods, their boroughs. I knew what was happening to many of my friends as far away as the District of Columbia and as close as the guy up the block. There is no more important news than that.

"Bloomberg Backs Obama, Citing Fallout From Storm," The New York Times

Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent in his third term leading New York City, has been sharply critical of Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Mitt Romney, the president’s Republican rival, saying that both men had failed to candidly confront the problems afflicting the nation. But he said he had decided over the past several days that Mr. Obama was the better candidate to tackle the global climate change that he believes might have contributed to the violent storm, which took the lives of at least 38 New Yorkers and caused billions of dollars in damage.

“The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast—in lost lives, lost homes and lost business—brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote in an editorial for Bloomberg View.

“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be—given the devastation it is wreaking—should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

"It's Global Warming, Stupid," Bloomberg Businessweek

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

"On Sandy and Humanity's 'Blah, Blah, Blah, Bang' Disaster Plans," Dot Earth

For millions of people in the New York metropolitan region and adjacent areas flooded, scorched, and pummeled by the extraordinary hybrid storm once known as Sandy, arguments about how much of the storm’s ferocity was human-created are secondary.

Arguments about how to discuss such extreme events in the context of climate policy—while important—are down the list, as well, even with a presidential election days away. After all, that debate is perennial. (Go here for a valuable 2009 discussion of this question in relation to climate change and African megadroughts; plug in hurricanes where you see drought and the pattern will feel familiar.)

While scientists and campaigners debate what mix of factors shaped this epic storm, what’s indisputable is that much of the disaster that unfolded as it came ashore was the result of human actions and decisions—ranging from where we’ve chosen to build or subsidize development to how seriously our governments take the need to build with the worst in mind (as always, of course, with budgets in mind).

This post is truncated by the troubles I’m having getting online in a blacked-out part of the Hudson Valley, but I want at least to start a discussion of the prime question of the moment: What are the political, economic, societal and personal traits that caused one of the world’s wealthiest and most sophisticated cities to end up (despite longstanding warnings) with flooded tunnels, subways and neighborhoods and widespread flood-triggered loss of electricity?

"Waiting for Someone to Call," Outside

In the post-Sandy recovery, these juxtapositions are truly alarming. Downtown Brooklyn is alive and happening; Coney Island, seven miles away, is a set from The Day After Tomorrow. North of Montauk Highway, which runs west-to-east on Long Island, it’s business as usual—bagel shops, blue skies, box stores—only with less gas, dark traffic lights, and more kids on the street, since schools are closed. South of Montauk, where numerous canals and inlets divvy the shore up into miniature peninsulas, trees lie on power lines, boats sit askew in yards, and the National Guard stands watch. On Wednesday, in many places, standing water still surrounded houses.

"In New York's Public Housing, Fear Creeps in With the Dark," The New York Times

Elsewhere in the building, Sandra Leon, 35, a mother of two, kept an eye on her door fearing another attempted break-in. Victor Alvarez, 60, waited for any word of his wife, Lucet, who suffers from schizophrenia and had disappeared into the wreckage-strewed neighborhood. And Marilyn Smalls, 48, sipped a room-temperature Corona that she had liberated from a gas-station trash bin the day before, along with sodas and bags of beef jerky—which drew neighbors knocking, as word of the haul got out.

Perhaps more so than in any other place in the city, the loss of power for people living in public housing projects forced a return to a primal existence. Opened fire hydrants became community wells. Sleep-and-wake cycles were timed to sunsets and sunrises. People huddled for warmth around lighted gas stoves as if they were roaring fires. Darkness became menacing, a thing to be feared.

"Sandy's Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide Deaths Spring Up After the Storm," Star-Ledger

For all of Hurricane’s Sandy’s power and fury, it also spawned a silent killer that could become one of the storm’s deadliest legacies.

Carbon monoxide poisoning has claimed at least five lives in New Jersey since Monday, mostly from the fumes of gas- or diesel-powered generators.

"In the End, Marathon Didn't Feel Right," CNN

On her way to pick up her New York City Marathon bib number Friday, longtime New Yorker Lauren Mandel was having second thoughts of running in the iconic race.

Just four days after Superstorm Sandy hit her city, she was wracked by a knot in her stomach as she got closer to the convention center serving as the hub for race participants.

"Walking past ... generators heating up tents for people to eat pasta tomorrow night when there are people who haven't eaten a hot meal in five days" left her with the feeling: "This is so inappropriate and this is so wrong," she said.

"A State-By-State Look at Superstorm's Effects," The Associated Press

"Disruption From Storm May Be Felt at Polls," The New York Times

Some New Jersey voters may find their hurricane-damaged polling sites replaced by military trucks, with—in the words of the state’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno—“a well-situated national guardsman and a big sign saying, ‘Vote Here.’” Half of the polling sites in Nassau County on Long Island still lacked power on Friday. And New York City was planning to build temporary polling sites in tents in some of its worst-hit neighborhoods.

—Joe Spring

Filed To: Science / Nature
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