The northeastern United States is preparing for Nemo, a winter storm anticipated to bring upwards of 30 inches of snow, hurricane force winds, and coastal flooding from storm surges. Nemo is the latest example of a pattern of more frequent extreme rain and snowfall events driven by climate change.
First, above average sea surface temperatures, caused in part by climate change, increase the precipitation carried by storms. Right now, water temperatures off the northeast coast of the U.S. are higher than normal, feeding the storm with additional moisture. These conditions create the potential for Nemo to produce record-breaking snowfall in New England.
Sea level rise, which is strongly linked to climate change, can also contribute significantly to the intense nature of a storm like Nemo. High water levels give storm surges a higher launching pad, increasing the likelihood of destructive coastal flooding. This is especially true on the northeast coast of the U.S., where sea levels are rising faster than the global average. According to the draft National Climate Assessment report, even without any changes in the intensity of storms, by 2100 sea level rise will triple the likelihood of coastal flood events. This means that flood events which previously occurred once every ten years will instead happen every once every three years.
Nemo is another instance of a pattern of intensifying storm events tied to climate disruption. The last century has witnessed a 20% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest rain and snow events. The Northeast has been particularly vulnerable, experiencing a dramatic increase in one-day precipitation extremes during the October to March cold season.
Given the destructive nature of the extreme storms seen in the past 12 months, bold climate action is needed now from the U.S. – for both domestic and international safety. The draft U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in January 2013, delineated potential effects of climate change in both high and low emissions scenarios. The dramatic range of impacts of these scenarios makes one thing clear: action to reduce emissions is needed immediately to prevent the worst climate impacts, including more storms like Hurricane Sandy and snow storm Nemo.
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About the AuthorEmily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.
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