Sandy: Hybrid megastorm challenges the language

The trouble between tropical storm Sandy and the English language began when the hurricane was still far from the United States. It started on Thursday in, of all places, an offical teletype-style all caps release from the National Weather Services Hydrometeorological Prediction Center that referenced, for the first time ever, surely, a 19th-century writer. Forecaster Cisco prophesized: 

HIGH IMPACT OF ENERGETIC SYSTEMS ANTICIPATED OFF MID-ATLANTIC COAST ANTICIPATED…ONCE THE COMBINED GYRE MATERIALIZES, IT SHOULD SETTLE BACK TOWARD THE INTERIOR NORTHEAST THROUGH HALLOWEEN INVITING PERHAPS A GHOULISH NICKNAME FOR THE CYCLONE ALONG THE LINES OF "FRANKENSTORM," AN ALLUSION TO MARY SHELLEY'S GOTHIC CREATURE OF SYNTHETIZED ELEMENTS.

CNN soon announced it was not referring to Sandy in any sort of joking way, because the hurricane had already killed people. Star blogger Matt Yglesias wondered why forecasts were shouting at him. And Bill McKibben endorsed the Frankenstorm concept: 

"You can’t, as the climate-change deniers love to say, blame any particular hurricane on global warming. They’re born, as they always have been, when a tropical wave launches off the African coast and heads out into the open ocean. But when that ocean is hot—and at the moment sea surface temperatures off the Northeast are five degrees higher than normal—a storm like Sandy can lurch north longer and stronger, drawing huge quantities of moisture into its clouds, and then dumping them ashore.

[snip]

"Frankenstorm" is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They're stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural. Some state will no doubt bear the brunt of this particular monster, but it will also do its damage to everyone's state of mind."

For Climate Central, Andrew Freedman unpacks that "spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural" in Sandy's case:

"Recent studies have shown that blocking patterns have appeared with greater frequency and intensity in recent years, which some scientists think may be related to the loss of Arctic sea ice as a result of global warming. The 2012 sea ice melt season, which just ended one month ago, was extreme, with sea ice extent, volume, and other measures all hitting record lows. The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns. Exactly how weather patterns are changing as a result, however, is a subject of active research.

While it is not unusual to have a high pressure area near Greenland, its intensity is striking for this time of year. As Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang wrote on Wednesday, the North Atlantic Oscillation, which helps measure this blocking flow, "is forecast to be three standard deviations from the average — meaning this is an exceptional situation."

Hurricane Sandy may be an example of what can happen when a blocking pattern that may have been supercharged by sea ice loss occurs at just the wrong time — when a hurricane happens to be moving up the Eastern Seaboard."

May be: Guess we'll have to wait for the attribution studies to be sure. Dr. Jeff Masters predicts a multi-billion dollar disaster, with the possibility that New York City's subways could be flooded, and notes the massive reach of this storm, as big as last year's Irene, about the size of Europe: 

Oct27_sandy

Science writer Carl Zimmer wonders if he's overly afraid and perhaps suffering from hurrichondria. Or is that warmophobia? 

Seems to me the language can't keep up with the weather anymore. 

Comment (1) Add yours ↓
  1. john

    Hey Kit
    Glad you are on top of this. Expect ALL-CAPS updates – Lorrie is currently in NYC, planning to fly out Wednesday, what are the chances??

    October 27, 2012 Reply

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