Weather extremes: What’s behind major events from heat waves to Henri

Weather Science

NEW YORK — The Northeast has dealt with crippling weather extremes over the past few years. Most recently, the tri-state area received a crushing blow from Tropical Storm Henri. Now, as tropical moisture from Ida moves over our area, heavy rain, flash flooding and possible tornadoes are a concern. 

While there are a lot of factors that go into dissecting weather patterns, climatologists say greenhouse gases are a main source for extreme conditions. A report by NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information confirmed that 2020 was among the three warmest years in records dating to the mid-1800s, even with a cooling La Niña influence in the second half of the year. New high temperature records were set across the globe. 

Even though carbon emissions slowed during the pandemic, NOAA’s findings revealed that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere also reached record highs in 2020.

Greenhouse gases are needed to moderate temperatures across the globe. But too much of it could have a devastating impact causing record heat.

According to NOAA, heat waves are occurring three times more often than they did in the 1960s. So far this year, the National Weather Service reported six heat waves in Newark, five at LGA, and three in Central Park. A high-pressure system in the Northeast allowed for warmer, moist air from the south to send temperatures soaring. 

The extreme heat also means warmer sea surface temperatures and moisture needed to fuel tropical cyclones. With water temperatures near 90 degrees in the Gulf of Mexico, Ida was able to rapidly intensity to a category 4 storm. The same rings true with past tropical cyclones including Harvey, Michael, and Laura, all making landfall as category 4 or 5 hurricanes.

As Henri made its way to the tri-state, a record 1.94 inches of rain fell at Central Park ahead of the tropical storm with a record daily rainfall of 4.45 inches. With that prolonged period of rain came flash flooding — turning streets into rivers.

These more robust cyclones take a lot longer to weaken than storms of the past, oftentimes producing powerful winds that spawn tornadoes. Annual averages from 1985 to 2014 indicate 10 tornadoes in New York state, three in New Jersey, and two in Connecticut. So far this year, the National Weather Service reports eight in New Jersey, two in Northern Connecticut and four in New York. These extreme conditions are fueled by climate change. That’s why It’s important to do our part by protecting our planet, stay ahead of the storm and prepare for the impacts.

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