U of I geography professor explains dynamics of Superstorm Sandy

MOSCOW, ID - Hurricane Sandy has been called the perfect storm and with good reason.

"You need the right sort of ingredients just to form a hurricane to begin with," said University of Idaho Assistant Professor of Geography John Abatzoglou." But then to get the ingredients for a hurricane to merge with a mid-latitude storm, those are sort of luck of the draw, or perfect storm type events."

Abatzoglou researches climate change for the University of Idaho. He explained why Sandy is unusual.

"Hurricanes and tropical storms can form in the Atlantic in October," said Abatzoglou. "They can even form in November. But typically they sort of peter out as they head north and they encounter cooler waters off the coast of the Atlantic."

But Northeastern ocean waters were five degrees warmer than usual this year.

"It can make a difference," said Abatzoglou. "That five degrees in terms of oceans temperatures is like a heat wave in the ocean."

A lot of that extra heat is due to natural fluctuations.

"But when you take for example, a three degree increase in ocean temperatures and then you add additional heat to the atmosphere and the earth ocean system, that three degrees becomes five degrees," said Abatzoglou.

Also, the hurricane created historic storm surges in New York that were caused by rising sea levels.

"We've seen about a foot sea level rise in New York over the last hundred years and much of that sea level rise is due to a warming," said Abatzoglou.

Storms like Sandy happen every hundred years or so, and it's clear that the hurricane was not caused by climate change. But, it can be argued that it provided fuel to the fire.

"But climate change may have contributed a couple extra coals under the fire that helped Sandy maintain its strength and intensify its impact upon making landfall, said Abatzoglou.

There is a silver lining in that hurricanes like Sandy provide a lot of information for forecasters, allowing them to better predict and prepare for hurricanes in the future.