In an election season marked by little talk of climate change, Hurricane Sandy has unexpectedly brought the issue front-and-center near the finish line.
While scientists acknowledge that climate change cannot be held solely responsible for a destructive storm like Sandy, most researchers say it does stack the meteorological deck. As Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said in an interview Monday, global warming is known to increase the length of hurricane season, meaning subsequent storms that can interact with winter weather systems are more likely.
And the formation of blocking ridges of pressure like the one that corralled Sandy, pushing her back towards the U.S., has been tied by some researchers to the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is thought to affect the temperature gradient that influences the jetstream.
Rutgers University researcher Jennifer Francis noted that while blocking ridges happen naturally, it's possible that the particular ridge that steered Sandy towards the northeast may have been boosted by this year's record-breaking loss of sea ice.
"While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic," Francis told New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin.
Now, with New York, New Jersey, and other states mopping up after historic storm surges and flooding, it's not just environmentalists that are joining the chorus of voices calling for something to be done about climate change.
"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press briefing on Tuesday, according to LiveScience. "Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited climate change as a major deciding factor that tipped his endorsement in Tuesday's election to President Barack Obama.
“We need leadership from the White House – and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption,” Bloomberg wrote on his political website.
The mayor praised Obama's enactment of higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. The administration's tighter controls on mercury emissions will help shut down the dirtiest coal power plants in the country, estimated to kill 13,000 Americans each year, Bloomberg said.
Mitt Romney, Bloomberg noted in his endorsement, once tackled climate change. During his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, Romney endorsed a regional cap-and-trade program aimed at bringing down carbon emissions. At the time, Romney said the benefits of that cap-and-trade plan would be “long-lasting and enormous – benefits to our health, our economy, our quality of life, our very landscape.”
But now Romney has reversed course and disavows cap-and-trade, Bloomberg said.
Neither candidate can be said to have put climate change at the forefront of their respective campaigns, and the issue was not front-and-center at any of this electoral season's debates.
Pennsylvania State University climate change researcher Michael Mann told LiveScience that climate change's role in powering the storm is still not getting enough attention.
"When one politicial party has the official position that climate change is a hoax, when we're politically divided as to whether we should even accept the science, it's difficult to have a meaningful discussion," Mann told LiveScience.