Atmosphere And Weather

Understanding what a Super Storm is

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"Understanding what a Super Storm is"
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What are the factors that determine a super storm?  They are as individual as the stories of survivors of them.  Factors include ocean temperature, other weather systems, timing and direction.

Super storm Sandy was predicted by some, especially climatologists who have been warning of increased severity and impact of such storms.  Warming of the oceans, a trend of global warming, has increased sea temperatures steadily, and it is this warming that feeds a storm's intensity.  Another factor is rising sea levels. However, no one could precisely predict the hybrid nature of "Frankenstorm," Sandy.  Warmer oceans provide energy for all hurricanes, but it is the collision between this warmer air and frigid northern jet stream air that joined to create the monster storm, Sandy.  Also, in this particular storm, the “Frankenstorm” veered west into the coastal areas from the Carolinas to Canada, whereas many storms are swept easterly, into the Atlantic.  The cold front directed this critical left turn.

In this case, the weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation blocked the storm’s usual eastward direction.  Once hovering at the  Eastern seaboard coast, the storm combined with a seasonal nor'easter, which are storms that usually also drive strong winds north and east, hence the name.   In other circumstances, Sandy would not be designated as a super storm, or even a hurricane, by landfall. If, as typically occurs,  the North Atlantic Oscillation does not block the storm's path,  many storms will  blow themselves out at sea.

The storm surge of Sandy was a record-breaking fourteen feet high.  As the storm surged inland, overwhelming all barriers, many were astounded to see this amount of flooding and damage.  In a super storm, it is the amount of water and wind that matters. Even dedicated meteorologists and climatologists were surprised by the incredible height and ferocity of the waters' destructive power.

Chris Landsea, operations director at the Miami National Hurricane enter, is one of many scientists who correctly warned about the storm and displayed remarkable accuracy in their tracking.  These weather professionals provide an invaluable service, but no one could not have predicted just how catastrophic any one super storm may be.  They do know in advance that the late season timing of a super storm also adds to its power and impact.  A super storm is usually the result of several weather systems interacting with one another.  The difference in high and low pressure, temperature, wind speed and direction churn together to create a superstorm.

Super storms are generated out at sea, where these amplified factors of size, scope and energy, are predicted to be increasing in both frequency and severity.  Global climate change (in this case ocean warming) is a factor, but even extreme measures taken to reduce C02 would take many years to reverse such trends.  Such efforts, of course, are well worth the investment, as prevention and minimizing any disaster costs much less than the aftermath of destruction. Northern melting of sea ice does, of course, provide higher tides, waves and flooding.

For now, the best solution is to invest in offshore wetlands, barriers and natural buffers which slow down the force of storm surges.  Then, of course, there is disaster preparedness.  If, as many climatologists are warning, super storms are going to occur with more regularity, people must be prepared to weather them. 

More about this author: Christyl Rivers

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