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Friday, August 29, 2014

Scott Brinton
Global warming could bring us more Sandys

Quick: Where do East Coast hurricanes originate?

A. Antarctica
B. The Southern Ocean
C. The Sahara Desert
D. The Indian Ocean

If you answered C, the Sahara, you would be correct. Surprised? I was too. I didn’t know the answer until I looked it up.

I had long thought that hurricanes began their destructive paths in the tropical latitudes of the central Atlantic Ocean. That would be partially correct.

They actually start in the Sahara. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, who cares where they start? Hurricanes form. They move. They destroy. What else do you need to know?

When Hurricane Sandy recently roared up the East Coast, barreling into New Jersey, New York City and Long Island like an immense freight train, it caught us unaware, leaving us in a state of stunned belief. No one expected such flooding, such devastation. That was the common refrain heard among storm victims.

I was among the victims. Sandy stole both my cars and a third of my house. And I live in a “low-risk” flood zone.

Suddenly, I began to think of hurricanes not in theoretical terms, as remote possibilities, but rather as the concrete manifestation of nature’s fury unleashed in my backyard –– and my front yard, and my home.

I anthropomorphized the hurricane. It became my mortal enemy, an inimical, savage, unrelenting foe far more powerful than I.

We cannot do battle with a hurricane. We cannot control it. We can only try, as best as humanly possible, to outsmart it. That requires an understanding of the complex natural systems that lead to the formation of these storms, and the risks they pose, so we know when and how to act when we face one. That is, we need to understand when and how to run and hide. And, faced by the very real threat of global warming, which scientists predict will lead to stronger hurricanes, we must begin to rethink how we build our homes and businesses.

Back to the Sahara Desert, the world’s largest mass of scorched earth, a nearly 3.6-million-square-mile sand dune that stretches across northern Africa. For comparison, the United States measures 3.8 million square miles. Take out Hawaii and the Sahara is larger.

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