Frankenstorm – Is this a sign of what’s to come?

The elongation of the hurricane season saw a tropical storm from the south meet with a regular winter low-pressure system from the north to create ‘Frankenstorm’ – a hybrid monster. These storms are extremely rare and there are few opportunities to study them, but this is known: hurricanes are powered by the evaporation of sea water whilst winter storms are powered by temperature contrasts in the atmosphere. These hybrid storms are so powerful due to their ability to tap into two energy sources.

A view from space gives some idea of the scale of the system

There’s ample research to suggest that the hurricane season is starting earlier and finishing later and many have attributed the warmer and stormier oceans to climate change. However, the complexity of these events means that it is virtually impossible to link them to one phenomenon, whether it be climate change, El Nino or Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ being overplayed over Halloween weekend (highly unlikely, but we just don’t know!).

Should this be interpretted as a sign of an overall global weather trend?

In the end, it really doesn’t matter if these events are attributed to climate change or more short-term cycles, what matters is that these events are becoming more frequent and more devastating; up to 25cm of rain, 115mph winds and 2ft of snow has been forecast leading to damages (in the US alone) worth a potential $10bn-$20bn, predicted by Eqecat, the disaster estimating firm. Many states are ill-equipped to deal with such conditions in terms of public health, search and rescue teams and telecommunication services.

People can argue over the cause of Sandy all they want, but what is really needed is action – strategic adaptation plans that try and counter the devastating effects of these super storms that are expected to become more frequent in the future.

The iconic Manhattan Bridge looks down over flooded streets

Here are just a few of the things that Sandy left in her wake…

  • Over 80 people have been killed throughout the Caribbean and the US.
  • 69 people have been reported dead in the Caribbean – mostly from Haiti where the infrastructure is still weak since the 2010 earthquake.
  • NYC’s subway was flooded after a 4m tidal surge swept the city.
  • Also in NYC, a fire destroyed 50 homes, 200 people were evacuated from a hospital (after a blackout and the failure of a backup generator to start)and a power sub-station exploded.
  • Oyster Creek nuclear power station in New Jersey was put on high alert due to rising water.
  • The New York Stock Exchange was closed on both Monday and Tuesday – the first time since 1888 that it has stayed closed for two consecutive days.

For live updates on Sandy, visit Sky News.

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