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Irene and Sandy were teasers

Posted on Oct 27, 2013

This week marks the first anniversary of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, and we are now a little more than two years past Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. I know I am not the only person to see all of the recent Sandy articles, reports, television shows, and so forth. I am also not the only person disinterested in this almost celebratory atmosphere when it lacks a critical component – namely, that while both of these storms were strong and severe, producing fatal impacts and devastating lives, but they were soft punches and almost teasers for future more powerful tropical cyclones and other weather disasters.

When I moved from coastal Connecticut to Chautauqua County this August I knew the only coast I would be seeing regularly was that of Chautauqua Lake and occasionally Lake Erie. Suffice it to say I was not entirely adverse to this pleasant change from the chaotic and worsening conditions present in every season on the Atlantic coastline. There are many stretches of what we would call normal and typical weather in Connecticut but it comes while setting records for snow depths and snowfall rates, high temperatures and heat waves, rising coastal waters and storm surges, frequent wind events and other historic conditions. The highlights of the last few years in particular are staggering.

Increasingly volatile and foreboding skies

Increasingly volatile and foreboding skies seem to be circling areas like the Atlantic coast

This past July was the hottest on record in my area and featured the longest heat wave ever. While I was visiting RTPI and Jamestown in June the people back home had a record rainfall event with widespread flooding. In February I was in the heart of the Blizzard of 2013 while enjoying at least 40 or so inches of snow in around 24 hours. Last October we had Sandy and a week later in early November we had several inches of snow, very early for coastal Connecticut and quite the dichotomy as spring and autumn continue to die as seasons in New England. We had probably a 500-year or greater snowfall event in October 2011. Irene had arrived that August and right before her in July we had the highest temperatures ever recorded across a large swath of the region. The winter of 2010-2011 was astonishing with a parade of strong to historic winter storms beginning with the Boxing Day Blizzard continuing through March.

This isn’t even mentioning a dozen or more events that instantly come to mind. All of this is weather activity, and looking at these events in a vacuum does not allow one to draw any climate conclusions other than it was a bad storm or we’ve been on a difficult run of weather luck. However, when we add in the reality that is global warming and climate change because of our actions, it seems rather obvious that increasing the power to the planetary weather machine is going to make for a lot of extremes. We will have hotter summers and prolonged droughts, certainly, in many areas. But we will also have colder winters, heavier rainfall, stronger thunderstorms, and more potent winter storms. The more warmth and moisture in our atmosphere the more menacing that weather machine can become until it runs off the track entirely and crashes.

Even without climate change factored in to the equation it is a certainty that the New England and upper Mid-Atlantic coast will see more devastating storms coming with far worse consequences than came from Irene and Sandy. Living through both of them in back-to-back seasons gave me the sense that many fellow residents thought, “Hey, we took not one but two big punches and the second was a ‘Superstorm’, so if we can make it through that then we can make it through anything!” essentially. I’m sorry to say that is incorrect, and they were very likely only previews of more of the historic events to come in the next few decades. They will tax, cripple and in some cases destroy often ancient infrastructure like the power grid, seawalls, drainage systems, roadways, and anything located on the water while shredding the limited bits of mostly mismanaged, understudied and already disturbed natural habitat remaining in the populous region.

It’s time to talk a lot more about climate change and global warming, rising sea levels, temperature departures, record-setting events, unprecedented storms and the overall impact on our environment across America and the world. We are already seeing shifts in avian migration, feeding, breeding and behavior across hundreds of species, and if we care to enjoy birds as we always have we must talk about what may be the greatest threat to the most number of species on the planet, and to ourselves. Extinction due to climate change will be an outcome for numerous life forms and we cannot be so arrogant to think it is not possible for ours as well if we do nothing to stop it.


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch