A trove of old documents found by scientists supposedly shows the two recent nor’easters that hit New England this winter produced record-breaking storm surges not seen since the early 1800s.
Scientists who reviewed the documents said their findings show “that rising seas are making severe storms worse” and the record tides in January and March were a “harbinger” of future global warming, the Boston Globe reported.
“The historical data tells us where we’ve been — what’s normal and what’s not,” Stefan Talke, a civil and environmental engineer at Portland State University who reviewed the documents, told the Globe.
“It could be random chance, but it’s definitely unusual to have two storms this powerful in the same year,” Talke said. “I think it’s definitely a wake-up call.”
Except, the Boston Globe’s own reporting deflates Talke’s claim. When put into context, the storm surge from nor’easter storms in January and March were not record-breaking.
Scientists used centuries-old documents found at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicated “[i]n raw numbers, the storms on Jan. 4 and March 2 produced the first- and third-highest sea levels recorded since 1825,” the Globe reported.
But once land subsidence was factored in, “the storms rank slightly lower — as the fourth- and eighth-highest storm tides,” according to researchers. It turns out about the half-foot of sea level rise Boston has seen since the 1800s is due to subsidence.
Subsidence is “part of a geological reshaping of the region since glaciers receded from the area after the Ice Age,” the Globe noted. The moon also played a big role in high storm tides.
The Globe noted “the surge in tides was the result of a combination of events, including long-term lunar cycles and the alignment of the sun and moon, both of which exert greater gravitational pull and increase tidal ranges,” scientists said.
Sea levels started rising long before human activities put large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Scientists have focused on the last century of sea level rise, arguing melting ice caps is accelerating that trend.
The Globe went on to report: “Climate scientists have long warned that global warming will intensify storms, producing more of the kind of massive events that had occurred only once a century.”
“Now, many of them are pointing to the recent nor’easters, as well as last summer’s series of destructive hurricanes, as evidence of their projections,” the Globe reported.
Again, the hype over nor’easters should be taken with a grain of salt.
There’s no indication such winter storms have become more frequent or intense in recent decades, and there’s little evidence global warming is increasing the risks of major winter storms.
Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said “winter storms are a manifestation of winter, not climate change.”
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