The science of Sandy, and what it might mean to climate change
As with all Nova documentaries, the focus is on science, and this does a good job of explaining how Sandy turned into a monster through the combination of three weather systems, along with arriving at high tide at a full moon. There is some discussion of the possible role of global warming and melting ice in the Arctic Ocean on changes in the Jet Stream position, which was a factor in steering this hurricane.
There are interviews with some people who stayed in their homes, more to describe what the storm was like than to elicit emotions. The weak part is that because it was done so soon after the storm, we see less of the lingering impact of the storm, through water damage on homes and the continuing cost of repairs and cleanup. I fear that some people might say, that's not so bad, when seeing this, if they are not following the continuing news coverage of the damage and cleanup. It is very bad.
The focus is on New Jersey and NYC, which bore the brunt of the eye of the hurricane. But this was an enormous storm, as seen in satellite photos and a brief shot from the Space Station, yet we do not learn how much effect it had outside the center, such as in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, etc.
For some reason, a version of this documentary was shown on the BBC with a British narrator and different text, though the interviews and graphics seem to be almost entirely the same. But the BBC version has the music cranked up to disco levels, sometimes nearly drowning out the words of scientists and victims, and certainly distracting from what they are saying. It also seems to use more superspeed video in distracting fashion, one of the annoying gimmicks that no contemporary British science documentary would be caught dead without.
Americans living on the East Coast need to watch this to understand the possible impact of global warming on hurricanes, as well as to stay abreast of the technology that is providing remarkably accurate predictions, many days in advance.
Interestingly, the first warning of how serious Sandy would become came from a British meteorology center with a supercomputer, eight days in advance. American meteorologists have supercomputers, too, but they are using many programs, some old, some new, that produce varying results, which was shown. The ultimate American forecasts do, however, seem to be very accurate, even a week in advance. The Nova documentary does not explain why the British model got it right so early, but apparently it had to do with the jet stream over a larger area than is usually encompassed by the American hurricane models.
Nova provides good context to help the viewer get a sense of the big picture, both of the storm, and of the possible connection to climate change. No, it is not certain that this particular storm is the result of climate change. But the Jet Stream has been changing over the last two decades, and ocean temperatures will get warmer.
Will there be more Sandy-class storms? This is not clear because it resulted from three storm systems combining, and we don't know how probable that will be in the future. On the other hand, Sandy could have been worse if winds had been more powerful, on the level of a Category 3 or 4 (5's are very rare). If the science of global warming is sound, we may be seeing such monster hurricanes in our lifetimes, wreaking even more damage because of higher ocean levels. That's ultimately what is so chilling about watching this program.
All told, it is remarkable how quickly the producers pulled this material together, and still got it right. Perhaps there will be a follow up on the long-term effects of the aftermath of the storm.
My advice: Watch the Nova version, unless you have ADHD and need loud, annoying music to keep you from falling asleep during footage of massive wind, waves and destruction from one of the largest hurricanes in history, in which case, watch the BBC version. The Beeb version also has a few more minutes of material, not needing to pay homage to sponsors.
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