Monday, September 5, 2011

Scientists say get used to changing weather

Get used to storms like Hurricane Irene, scientists say.

Get used to storms like Hurricane Irene, scientists say.
Crippling blizzards, roof-ripping tornadoes, hurricane evacuations -- get used to it, New York, the weather is only going to get worse, according to scientists.

"I think it's a trend we expect to see with climate change," said Dr. Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor and member of the mayor's panel on climate change. "Extreme weather can be expected."

Although there are still some doubters out there, most scientists agree that the planet is heating up and polar ice is melting - with a clear impact on local weather.

"As the sea level rises, the base level of water is now lapping at the sea wall," said Bowman. As a result, he said, "Manhattan can be flooded more easily."

Tornadoes, once a weather phenomenon that New Yorkers associated with the movies, are now a reality for the city.

During Hurricane Irene the National Weather Service put the five boroughs under a tornado watch.

Last September, 45,000 customers lost power in Brooklyn and Queens after a powerful storm with 70 mph winds knocked down trees and powerlines.

Witness reported seeing funnel clouds in Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn.

(The 2010 Christmas blizzard crippled New York City for days; Mary Altaffer/AP)

In 2007, a tornado touched down in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, tearing the roofs off homes and toppling trees.

The Christmas blizzard last year can also be blamed on global warming, which increases humidity in the atmosphere, creating greater precipitation all year round.

"We seem to be pushing extreme temperatures in both directions," said Bowman.

A Columbia University study in 2007 projected the number of heat-related deaths in the city could rise nearly 50 percent from the 1990s to 2061.

Temperatures could rise as much as 6.5 degrees if the current trend continues apace, the study concluded.

The challenge for the city is how to prepare for the inevitable.

"What is important is that people realize that the city is vulnerable to weather extremes - whether it is from hurricane-related storm surges, intense rain events, blizzards etc. and that we build enough resilience to take them all on," said Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.


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