Fresh on the heels of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction historical climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss on Wednesday said the weather phenomenon that generated the nearly 1,000-mile wide storm that slammed into the East Coast is here to stay for a while.
Due to a change in climate that will keep waters in the Atlantic warmer than usual for the next 20 years of so, more storms for the East Coast are likely, particularly late this winter, Browning-Garriss, editor of the Browning Newsletter and author of several books on climate change, said during the annual Property Casualty Insurers Association of America meeting in Dana Point.
The annual PCI meeting wrapped up on Wednesday, and included several speakers addressing global insurance issues. Like Wednesday, previous days of the conference focused on catastrophes and the news making Hurricane Sandy.
According to Browning-Garriss, this year not only was the water in the Atlantic warmer than normal, but the warm water arrived about six weeks early, yielding coastal temperatures in May that were more like they are round July, she said.
Sandy drew its energy from that warm water, and the East Coast can expect more severe weather in this winter and the next several seasons over the next 20 years as a long weather cycle plays itself out, Browning-Garriss said.
“We have never seen the waters off the East Coast as hot as they’ve been this year,” she said, adding that going forward warm waters will magnify the size of any storm that reaches the East Coast, and when a storm comes it will be slower to leave because of wind being brought in by a change in the historical climate cycle.
“We’re going to see slow, wet storms, and a lot of them,” she said.
Another cyclical weather pattern could pose a problem not only for the East, and it’s not great news for the West either, she added.
The El Nino that seems to be developing will likely be weak one, meaning the West can expect it to be dry and warm and the East will stay cold and wet, according to Browning-Garriss.
More drought on top of the record drought years that have been experienced in portions of the West could mean a destabilization of food and water supplies, and that demand will grow on power supplies due to more heat waves, she said.
And for the East, “When late winter comes look out, we are probably going to be seeing some nor’easters,” she said.
Browning-Garriss described several occurrences that lead to the strange weather patterns the world has been experiencing in the past year, including volcanic eruptions in the Arctic, the three major oceans warming – the Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Ocean – a rapid change from a La Nina weather pattern to El Nino conditions, and a tipping point in the PDO in 2006 that will continue creating warmer temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean for the next 20 years.
The PDO, or Pacific decadal oscillation, “tipped” in 2006, leading to extreme weather that has been experienced around the globe beginning in 2007 through present time, she said, adding “Now we have seen the Pacific change and we have a new normal,” she said.
But it’s not the first time people alive have seen such a weather cycle.
“This is the climate we had in the 1950s and 60s,” she said.
The problem is that afterward, in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, people went looking for property that was cheap and near the ocean, forgetting the flooding and storms on the East Coast in the 1950s and 60s.
“The last time we saw these types of conditions were in the 50s and 60s,” she repeated, “but we got through them – it’s was just a different risk base.”