As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, we have news to report regarding current understanding of that tremendous storm.
One of the major questions confronting atmospheric scientists in the face of that unusual event was whether Sandy was a direct result of a warmer climate. This is a difficult question because there are so many elements that conspire to produce major storms.
One condition that influenced the impact of Sandy was the sea level. It is true that the sea level has risen as the planet warms, and so it is likely that at least some of the flooding associated with Sandy would have been less severe in the absence of climate change.
On the other hand, recent research, conducted using numerical forecast models, has suggested that the intensification of Sandy from the Caribbean to the New Jersey coast most likely was not influenced by climate change.
However, the development of conditions that set up this period of intensification may be linked to climate change — though there is not yet experimental or theoretical evidence that clearly makes this case.
The atmosphere-ocean system is complicated, so questions such as whether events like Sandy are direct consequences of the changing climate are also complicated. The interested citizen, like the interested scientist, may be well advised to be skeptical of such a connection while remaining open to being convinced as the evidence and analysis continues to be considered.