Sorry, AP, Data Refutes Claims That Hurricane Sandy Caused Greater Flooding Due to Climate Change

An Associated Press (AP) story, titled “Study: Climate change added $8 billion to Superstorm Sandy damages,” is getting wide pick-up by the mainstream media. The story claims new research proves human caused climate change resulted in an increase in the costs of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Data shows this is false. There is no evidence the damage caused by Hurrricane Sandy was more severe or extensive than it would have been absent the past century’s modest warming.

According to the AP story:

“During Sandy — a late fall freak combination of a hurricane and other storms that struck New York and surrounding areas — the seas were almost 4 inches (9.6 centimeters) higher because of human-caused climate change, according to a study in Tuesday’s journal Nature Communications”

The AP’s story draws on a report, titled “Economic damages from Hurricane Sandy attributable to sea level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change” by Strauss et al., published in Nature Climate Change. This report can’t link any actual damage from Sandy to climate change, because it does not reference actual data, instead as its authors write:

“We employ a high-resolution dynamic flood model and spatially varying error correction to simulate Sandy’s peak flood both as it occurred…”

To be clear, despite the fact that actual measurements of rising seas and the impact of flooding from Sandy were available, rather than reference actual data, the authors of the Nature report instead used a computer model to “simulate” flooding based on a number of assumptions.

Interestingly, the authors of the Nature report upon which the AP’s story is based, themselves admit there’s no actual evidence Sandy was enhanced by climate change. They also acknowledge the best evidence indicates climate change will have little effect from on tropical cyclones in the future.

“Studies have so far found no evidence that Sandy’s intensity, size, or unusual storm track were made more likely by climate change,” write Straus, et al. “More broadly, a recent study found that future climate change effects on tropical cyclones will have only a small effect on extreme sea levels in New York Bight, relative to the effects of sea-level rise.”

The tide gauge at the Battery in New York City confirms the rate of sea level rise has not increased during the recent period of modest global warming. As the figure below demonstrates, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  show sea levels have been rising steadily by approximately 2.88mm (0.11 inch) per year since 1856, when the tide gauge station was first opened. 1856 is long before “climate change” became the favorite boogeyman of science and socialists alike.

Figure 1. Sea level data and trend in New York City since 1856, annotations added by Anthony Watts. Source:

Simple math demonstrates that to reach the 4 inches of effect claimed to be on top of the storm surge from hurricane Sandy, at the rate of 2.88mm/year they’d have to go back 35 years to 1977 to get that 4 inches of claimed sea level rise due to climate change.

Calculation: 2.88mm/yr x 35yr = 100.8mm or 3.96 inches

As I’ve pointed out in Figure 1, either ALL of the rise in sea level since 1856 is caused by climate change, or none of it is due to climate change, since there was no change in the rate of sea level rise in last 35 years compared to the previous 121. You can’t scientifically claim the last 35 years were specific to climate change when they are identical to rate of change for the previous 121 years.

There was no increase in the rate of sea level rise before Hurricane Sandy struck 2012, and there has been no measurable increase since. As a result there is no evidence flooding during Sandy was enhanced by four inches due to climate change. The observed sea level rise appears to be part of Earth’s natural process.

Computer model simulations are no replacement for actual data when such is available. The real data shows that sea level has been rising at a small, steady unchanged pace, with no acceleration long before climate change became an issue.


Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website

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  1. The Holy Grail for climate change theorists is a storm like Sandy. The mainstream media bit on it wholesale. Heartlanders’ are so fortunate to have a real atmospheric scientist in Anthony Watts, who can expose the truth.

    BTW-The rapid deepening of Sandy as it turned west was bombogenesis, an upper atmosphere process intensified by tropical moisture near the surface. It expanded the maximum wind field to the north. Wind-driven waves and swell created the damage along the NJ/NY coast. Sea level would have been increased by wave action, advection of warm Gulf Stream water and Sandy’s storm surge as it continued to move north.


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