Although neither candidate focused much on the subject during the 2012 election, experts say climate change is a growing threat to the nation.
According to University of Wisconsin life sciences communication professor Dominique Brossard, Hurricane Sandy may have increased climate change visibility for the nation. She noted it has significantly affected public opinion on the issue.
“According to a recent poll, 64 percent of Americans consider global warming to be a very serious or somewhat serious problem,” Brossard said in an email to The Badger Herald.
Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across much of the eastern seaboard, but according to Ankur Desai, an associate professor in the UW atmospheric and oceanic science department, no particular storm or weather phenomenon can be directly linked to climate change.
Desai added global warming is likely to change the probabilities of extreme weather events.
“We expect hurricanes to intensify, though not necessarily change in frequency with increased warming,” Desai said in an email to The Badger Herald.
There are many likely impacts of climate change to Wisconsin, he said.
“[These changes include] increases in severity of droughts and extreme precipitation events, both of which will require adaptation for urban flooding, farming and recreation,” Desai said in the email.
He noted while Wisconsin is not as affected by tropical cyclones, it is affected by other severe weather complications.
“We did see near-record wave heights on Lake Michigan from Sandy,” Desai said in the email. ”Wisconsin is no stranger to other weather phenomena like severe thunderstorms, drought, heat waves, winter storms and so forth.”
Desai said he is unsure how these phenomena will affect the future climate, but finding evidence of continued warming over the next century is “highly likely.”
He added he thinks Sandy is a storm that will be studied closely for years.
“I do think we are starting to see a greater understanding of how a somewhat abstract concept like global greenhouse gas concentration and mean temperature changes manifest themselves into changes in likelihood of various weather phenomena and changes to sea levels, ice and vegetation,” Desai said in his email.
Richard Keller, a UW associate professor in the department of medical history and bioethics, said no single weather event can be tied to climate change.
“Large aggregate seasonal shifts in weather patterns are what climatologists anticipate as the hallmarks of global climate change,” Keller said in an email to The Badger Herald. ”In other words, climate change is about changes in broader weather patterns rather than single storms.”
Keller said it might be tempting to see Sandy as a part of climate change due to its severity, but said there have been multiple, similar storms in the past involving the intersection of multiple weather systems.
Keller noted Sandy could be a precursor for what is to come.
“Given the increases expected in unstable weather systems, most climatologists anticipate that storms such as Sandy will be more frequent in the future. Storms [such as Sandy] and other atypical weather systems [such as] this summer’s nationwide heat wave and drought could well become the new normal under a climate change scenario,” Keller said in his email.
Keller added the Great Lakes present an enormous and vulnerable shoreline for Wisconsin.
“We should not be complacent even though hurricanes don’t represent a threat. Extreme weather on the coasts can present significant threats to Wisconsin by virtue of its capacity to alter weather systems thousands of miles away, and flooding can result from a number of extreme weather conditions,” Keller said.
Keller said Wisconsinites need to think carefully about how to protect citizens from a wide variety of “unpredictable future weather events.”