Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy?

Posted November 12, 2012

— Fierce winds, ferocious rain, tidal surges and flooding are just part of life along North Carolina's Outer Banks during hurricane season. Kitty Hawk resident Alyssa Hannon has experienced it all and says she doesn’t look far to place blame – climate change.

“I think a lot of these weather changes are the result of climate change, and I think the human population is part of the problem,” said Hannon, who runs a children’s museum.

Gary Lackmann, a professor at North Carolina State University in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Science, has written three papers on climate change and continues to study the subject.

WRAL chief meteorologist Greg Fishel visited him recently to get his opinion on whether climate change caused Hurricane Sandy.

“In a word, no,” Lackmann said, acknowledging that a single word cannot fully answer the question. “I won’t deny that climate change had some effect on Sandy. That remains to future research to sort that out, but so far, no one has done that research.”

Sandy's birth in the Caribbean is not unusual, but it found nurturing water – warmer than normal – in the Gulf Stream. Lackmann says some of that increase in temperature may be caused by man-made climate change.

“With more warming and more water vapor, it could have rained a little more heavily, but the track of the storm, the timing during the full moon at high tide, those are just bad luck,” Lackmann said. “But without question, there has been some rise in sea level; there has been some warming of the sea surface. Those things could exacerbate the situation

“In terms of the weather, there is a lot of research that indicates an increased frequency of extreme events, be it droughts, flood, heavy rain or Sandy,” Lackmann added.

As a hurricane, Sandy was a Category 1 when it brushed by North Carolina and technically wasn't a hurricane at landfall in New Jersey. Other weather factors played a part in the storm – an upper level low and an upper level high, which caught Sandy between them and hurled it at the coast like a softball in a pitching machine.

Gary Lackmann Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy?

Lackmann says people are quick to look for a villain when a storm hits.

“We’ve seen this with a big El Niño event. You get a storm, you get flooding. People love to have an easy culprit, something they can point their finger at. It’s the evil El Niño or global warming, but it’s really a gross oversimplification to say this storm (happened) because of that. The atmosphere is much more complicated than that,” he said.

National Hurricane Center scientist Jack Beven delves into the high-tech science of how meteorologists predict and monitor potential hurricanes:


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  • blahz Nov 14, 2012

    was hurricane Sandy caused by climate change? no.. Easy enough, Greg. Greg so nervous/bugged about "climage change" at the end of the segment he couldn't even look into the camera (all eyes on David and Debra) except when he reached the end and had something to say about a join me on a "web chat" PATHETIC

  • beef Nov 14, 2012

    "scientists who have studied this there whole lives."
    Thanks for pointing out who gets the money.

    It will be interesting to see what Obama does in his second term about shale oil. Will he ride the "drill babay drill" boom and be a hero for the economy, or kill it and take his place next to Rachel Carlson? His actions will say a lot about what he really believes.

  • Bill Brasky Nov 13, 2012

    "I will become more concerned when I see ALL of the leftists and enviros get out of the way of projects like Cape Wind. As it is, most of them claim they support this stuff, but there are always enough naysayers to wage a long, drawn out legal battle."

    You're right beef. We should stop listening to scientists who have studied this there whole lives. We should start listening to people like beef. What's next beef, the world is flat?

  • beef Nov 13, 2012

    Another thing - for all of you who put blind faith in the scientists, you might want to read Eisenhower's farewell address. ALL of it.

  • OzzzMan Nov 13, 2012

    Please check the volcanic eruptions that causes climate changes! You will see what causes our weather.

  • beef Nov 13, 2012

    At the 2007 climate conference in Bali there were so many private jets that only the "A" listers got to park on the island. The rest had to disgorge thier passengers and fly elsewhere until the show was over. All this so they could get together and declare that YOU, YOU, John Q USPublic, are to blame for global warming. It is not hard to see why some people are skeptical.

    I will become more concerned when I see ALL of the leftists and enviros get out of the way of projects like Cape Wind. As it is, most of them claim they support this stuff, but there are always enough naysayers to wage a long, drawn out legal battle.

  • for the people Nov 13, 2012

    why do all the deniers keep blaming Al? wasnt' that like so last decade? do you still blame bush for obama's terrible mishandling of events?

    seriously people. this shouldn't be a political or agenda driven issue. this is about the air we breath, the water we drink, our way of life on this precious but poluted planet.

  • for the people Nov 13, 2012


    i hear you. there are lots of entertainers that deny science. it's tough when that is where folks get their information.

    i'm still very mad at al gore. he helped politicize this urgent issue and he deserves much of the criticism he gets.

    i believe the science.

    fyi,i don't get my information from rush or rachel.

  • njjeff Nov 13, 2012

    Funny how the term 'Global warming' has changed to 'Climate change' I guess it's because the earth is not really warming? Now a swing either way can be blamed on man's terrible carbon footprint. Sorry, not buying into the whole carbon foot print and taxing thing which will lead to Global goverment and wealth redistribution. Nice try Al.

  • for the people Nov 13, 2012


    my bogus premise? i get my information from actual numbers. where do you get yours?