Climate change blamed for $8bn of devastating Hurricane Sandy losses

For the first time scientists have been able to attribute a portion of the devastating cost of Hurricane Sandy to climate change, estimating the bill at $8.1bn.

According to a studypublished in Nature Communications, sea level rise caused by carbon emissions accounted for approximately 13% ($8.1bn) of the $62.7bn in losses incurred by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from the ferocious 2012 hurricane.

A parking lot full of yellow cabs is flooded as a result of superstorm Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 in Hoboken, NJ. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Image:Dozens of taxis left submerged in New Jersey (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

The study’s authors found human-caused climate change had raised New York-area sea levels roughly four inches (10cm) in the century preceding the ferocious storm, which killed 150 in the US and 233 people in total.

The raised water levels allowed the super storm to cause deeper and further inland flooding, affecting an additional 36,000 homes and 71,000 people.

Benjamin Strauss, lead author of the study and CEO of Climate Central, told Sky News: “To my knowledge it’s the first that a portion of the damage from a single weather event has been attributed to climate change.”

A girl plays on a fallen tree on Brighton 6th Street in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn in New York on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Image:A girl plays on a fallen tree in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn in New York (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Mr Strauss said that for sea level rise, once you have done the attribution analysis, “we can state that essentially any economically damaging coastal flood anywhere in the world in the last half century is attributable at least in part to climate change”.

“The big take home message here is we are already getting hurt by climate change a great deal more than most people realise. It’s not just a problem for the future.”

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His team isolated the effect of human caused sea level rise because that allowed for the “cleanest and most confident analysis”.

This results in a low end estimate of the role of climate change because it didn’t take into account the likelihood that climate change made the storm stronger, or affected its track or timing.

“I can imagine some future study finding that the sharp deviation of the jet stream that… steered Sandy back to the west into New York. If that could ever be attributed to climate change, you might say that all the damages were due to climate change.

“The science isn’t there yet. One day we might be able to make a better assessment.”

This aerial photo shows the Breezy Point neighborhood, in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, where more than 50 homes were burned to the ground Monday night as a result of superstorm Sandy. Sandy, the storm that made landfall Monday, caused multiple fatalities, halted mass transit and cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Image:This aerial photo shows the Breezy Point neighbourhood, in New York, where more than 50 homes were destroyed

While scientists often point to climate change increasing the conditions or likelihood of extreme weather events, it is notoriously difficult to attribute individual events to human influences events.

But a growing field of “attribution science” allows scientists to compare what did happen with what would have happened in parallel scenario without human caused climate change.

Dr Friederike Otto, Associate Director, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford told Sky News that science, politics and the media tend to measure climate change in degrees of temperature increases.

But he said that global mean temperature fails to account for impact as a metric of climate change, such as “rising sea levels, drought, warming oceans-angry weather and its impact on humans and the world’s delicate ecosystems.”

Studies such as these help give “a realistic picture of what the impacts of human-cause climate change really are”, he said, which is crucial to understanding “what climate change means” and “identify where it really is a game changer”.

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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