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On Tuesday morning, millions of people all over the world woke up to the horrifying images of the destruction caused by Frankenstorm Sandy that made its landfall on the shores of New Jersey on Monday night, a few hours earlier than had been expected. While it had been downgraded to a 'post' tropical storm by the time it arrived, Sandy proved to be as powerful as promised, flooding thousands of homes and businesses and leaving millions of people all the way from West Virginia to Atlantic City and Connecticut without electricity.
Among the worst hit was the city of New York. With lower Manhattan and seven subway tunnels flooded by the surging East River and almost 250,000 people and businesses still without power, life in the normally bustling city has come to a standstill. Hundreds of people especially in the flooded areas like the South Shore of Staten Island had to be rescued from their attics or rooftops.
What made things worse was that with about 200,000 calls coming in every hour, the emergency systems were so inundated that many people had to seek help by reaching out to their friends on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Financial markets and Federal Government Offices remain shuttered for two days and public transportation systems including airports are still struggling to get back to normal. So far, about 34 people across all the affected areas are believed to have lost their lives to this unprecedented hybrid monster.
Though weakened considerably, Sandy is not done yet - After leaving New York she purposefully marched on to Pennsylvania where she spent most of Tuesday shedding more moisture and causing over 1.2 million people to lose power. And, believe it or not she still keeps going - As of last night Sandy was headed north of the Great Lakes where the residents of Michigan and Ohio were preparing for floods! While the coastal impact of the storm is largely done, officials are still worried about some additional flooding in the lower-lying areas.
As is always the case when the weather turns extra violent, the debate about if this epic storm is the result of global warming is beginning to simmer among the experts. And of course, the opinions are divided.
To begin with, while the North American hurricane season does peak towards the end of September, it is not unusual to have ones that linger into October and sometimes even as late as November. What is making some scientists attribute part of the issue to global warming is the storm's strength.
As you all know hurricanes and tropical cyclones are formed when warm ocean air rises and mingles with atmosphere that is saturated with moisture. Given that the ocean surface temperatures have risen about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century and the fact that a recent study publlshed in the Geophysical Research Letters has revealed that hurricanes and cyclones seem to get to Category 3 status (5 being the highest), an average of nine hours faster than they used to a quarter of a century ago, is leading some scientists to conclude that the hurricane intensity of storms like Sandy can be at least partially attributed to global warming.
Of course, Frankenstorm Sandy cannot give all the credit to this phenomenon either. In normal circumstance even she would have been losing steam by now given that this is normally what happens when storms move into colder, much calmer waters. But that is not happening because Sandy is not only getting extra oomph from some low pressure cold air coming down from the Arctic but also from the skies, thanks to a full moon. If that isn't enough encouragement, there is a third factor - A high pressure system coming in from northeastern Atlantic ocean which is the reason that Sandy continues to march inland, so strongly.
As to whether Sandy is a result of global warming or not is probably something that will be debated for many years to come. For now, everyone is just waiting for her to leave so that they can begin the clean-up efforts and resume their normal lives!