News / Highlights

News and Highlights in September 2021

David Robinson 1

David Robinson, RCI Affiliate

While more NJ residents died due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the rainfall from Hurricane Ida caused more immediate flooding deaths, according to the Patch. 40 NJ residents died in Sandy, but many of those happened from a variety of accidents in the following days and weeks. Ida caused 28 immediate deaths from flooding, said David Robinson, NJ state climatologist and RCI affiliate. Nearly every death from Ida came as people were overwhelmed by flash flooding. "I really think had this event happened in the daylight we would have had more survivors. It was very dark out, and people couldn't see how deep the water was and they thought they could drive or walk through it," he said. "I also think if we hadn't had so many rescues — many of which were outright heroic — there would have been many more fatalities”. More than a month’s rain fell in one night, overwhelming streams and rivers. "We had three inches of rain in one hour in some places. That's just too much rain in too short a time for the Raritan basin," said Robinson. "It caused all the creeks and streams that drain into the Raritan River to overflow. I would contend that being caught in a flash flood is even worse than being in a rip current. The danger is much greater." The day after the storm, Thursday, that intense amount of rainfall caused the Raritan River to rise 24 feet, cresting at 42 feet on Sept. 2, said Robinson. However, nobody was killed when the Raritan River rose the day after the storm.

Jason Grabosky

Professor Jason Grabowsky

Many factors cause a successful fall foliage season in New Jersey, according to Jason Grabosky, a professor of urban forestry at Rutgers University and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate, in an interview with NJ 101.5. Healthy leaves will give a healthy color, said Grabosky. The heavy rainfall New Jersey has experienced in the past few weeks will lead to healthier and brighter fall foliage. "With the rain we've had and the water in the system, we should have really vibrant colors based on the fact that we have healthy leaves going in," Grabosky said. However, the process that causes the changing of colors is the shortening days. The green leaves will become less green, then fade some more until yellow appears. This transformation is due to the fact that plants stop building chlorophyll as daylight gets shorter and temperatures drop. With elevation and the types of trees species up in the forests, the bright, vibrant leaf colors will probably start popping in the northwest part of New Jersey, then coming south and spreading east in the next couple of weeks, Grabosky said. "f we have cool, sunny days, you'll get better and better reds. So, if you like the reds and you like the oranges, you'll really want nice bright sunny days with really, really cool nights," Grabosky said. The warmer temperatures lately might cause the leaves to change color a week or two later this year.


Robert Kopp

Robert Kopp, RCI Affiliate

Rutgers University will lead a Megapolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH), a project facilitated by a grant through the NSF’s Coastlines and People (CoPe) with funding over $20 Million over the next five years, according to the Rutgers Office for Research. The MACH team will be lead by Bob Kopp, Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate, as well as including other Rutgers faculty associated with RCI such as Victoria Ramenzoni, Clinton Andrews, Lisa Auermuller, Carrie Ferraro, Jie Gong, Jeanne Herb, Shantenu Jha, and Marjorie Kaplan, the co-director of the Institute. “As extreme weather events continue to highlight our region’s and world’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, Rutgers has taken a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis through research, scholarly activities, and meaningful action locally and globally,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway. “In addition to developing a plan for our own university to reduce our carbon footprint, our experts are leading collaborations such as this one to create mutual understanding within our diverse communities, gather insights to guide decisions, and develop adaptation plans that could benefit coastal megalopolises in our region and beyond. It is a proud moment for Rutgers and for our partners to collectively impact change for future generations.” The MACH project will conduct research that develops climate-resilient plans to support coastal communities. It will also link researchers and coastal stakeholders to improve cooperation and planning. “We are dealing with complex and rapidly changing coastal environments and hazards. Rutgers and most of the team working on this project sit within the dense urban mega-region that stretches from New York City, through New Jersey, to Philadelphia. We have to understand the dynamics of how humans and the coastline interact in such complex, urbanized regions so that we can thrive despite rising sea levels and intensifying heat and rainfall, and take advantage of new opportunities like offshore wind,” said Kopp, who is also director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences and professor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. “The lessons we learn here should have application to urban megalopolises around the world.” In light of Hurricane Ida, there is renewed focus on climate change’s impact on New Jersey and the Northeast, and Rutgers will lead the ongoing battle of adaptation, mitigation, and prevention.


Disasters like heat waves, drought, sea level rise, and intense rain are driven by the increasing fossil fuels in the atmosphere. “As the climate warms, the amount of atmospheric water vapor increases because its upper limit increases sharply with increasing temperature,” Anthony Broccoli, co-director of Rutgers Climate Institute said.“For a warming of 1 degree Celsius,” Broccoli continued, “the upper limit on water vapor increases by 7% — studies of past observations have shown that heavy rain events have become heavier as the climate has warmed, and climate models simulate this behavior as well. President Biden visited flood-impacted communities after the storm, noting that the damage represented an opportunity for change and that action can and must be taken.


New Jersey resident Carl of Manville, New Jersey was particularly impacted by the recent flooding from Hurricane Ida, losing many of his precious belongings. Manville, positioned between the Millstone and Raritan rivers, experienced some of the worst flooding in the state, reports NJ Spotlight. The Raritan River crested at 27.4 feet on the morning of September 2, 2021, breaking the record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. “If you look at the most recent [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate] report, there are four categories of events which give us quite strong ability to say, yes, human effects are making these stronger,” said Bob Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate, and one of the authors of the IPCC’s latest report, which concluded that global temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius over the last 150 years, due to fossil fuel emissions.


To help coastal communities become more resilient in the face of mounting environmental pressures, the U.S. National Science Foundation has announced that it's Coastlines and People Program has awarded more than $29 million in new grants in fiscal year 2021. Understanding the hazards coastal areas face requires input and insights from many groups. CoPe funding is bringing together geoscientists, social scientists, biologists and engineers to work on complex coastal problems. Rutgers University has been awarded one of these presitgious grants: RCI affiliate Robert Kopp is the Principal Investigator and RCI affiliate Victoria Ramenzoni is a Co-Principal Investigator of the project “Large-scale CoPe: Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH): Researching complex interactions between climate hazards and communities to inform governance of coastal risk.” A complete list of awards is here.


Extreme weather events, such as hurricane Henri and other tropical storms that have impacted New Jersey, will become more common as warmer air and ocean temperatures provide more fuel for such storms, reports NorthJersey.com. "You start packing it all together and it resembles what theory tells us — that when the atmosphere gets warmer and more humid, these events will happen," said David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist and a Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate. No single weather event can be tied directly to climate change, scientists say, but sea surface temperatures have risen almost one degree in the past 40 years, providing strength for more storms. As climate change causes increases in flooding, vulnerable NJ towns struggle to adapt. They have problems with old infrastructure ill-equipped to deal with current extreme rainfall. The 10 warmest years in 126 years of records in NJ have all come since 1990. "Think about it as being turbocharged," said Pankaj Lal, of Montclair State. "Storms are not new here. We've always had them. It is the severity that is changing."


New Jersey’s average temperature has increased more than any other state in the last 100 years, according to the Daily Record. The Northeast has warmed the most over the past 100 years, with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New Jersey autumns warmed up by 2.47 degrees, winters by 2.98 degrees, springs by 2.10 degrees and summers by 2.34. "It's alarming. Around 1980 we can identify the human signal," David
Robinson, NJ state climatologist and Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate said, referring to when the effect of anthropogenic pollution became obvious. The trend over the past 100 years was 2.5 degrees, but the rate over the past 30 yeast was 7 degrees. The warmer air has facilitated a 7% increase in participation as well. Robinson named several ideas, but no scientific study yet, on why the Northeastern U.S. is pushing the thermometer to new heights. "Could it be the ocean getting warmer," he began, "or the winds changing. Weather patterns or less snow, which reflects heat ..."


Fox5 New York reports that although Greece is considering naming heat waves, the United States will likely not, according to David Robinson, the state climatologist of New Jersey and Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate. "We're a bigger country than Greece, where they can set one standard for a heat wave, which I believe they're going to look at 40 degrees Celsius, which is 104 degrees Fahrenheit," Robinson said. "A heat wave in New Orleans is very different than the heat wave in Minneapolis or in New York City. Heat is a big killer — it kills more people every year than hurricanes, tornadoes, and cold, for that matter — it's a very serious, serious situation." The Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center indicates that extreme heat is killing more Americans than any other climate hazard. Robinson does not believe that naming heat waves is a viable option given the changing criteria of heat waves. Robinson advocates for actions that curb warming to avoid excessive heat.


Professor Broccoli on Ida, Historic Flooding, Climate Change 
New Jersey is still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ida, the latest storm to hit the state, reports NJ Spotlight News. The storm brought historic rainfall that caused severe flooding across the state, killing 27 people. The intensity of the rain was unheard of in NJ history, leading to questions of the role of climate change in the intensity of the storm and the increased frequency of powerful storms to hit the state. “Events like this happen when a lot of ingredients come together in just the right way. Climate change adds a little bit more to that list of ingredients. A warmer atmosphere can contain more moisture, and of course when that moisture comes together, triggered by a storm like Ida, produces very heavy rain. We’ve seen evidence from observations that these heavy rains are getting more intense, happening more frequently, and some of that is associated with climate change. How much? That is a question that will require more research in the coming days,” says Rutgers Climate Institute co-director Anthony Broccoli. Broccoli endorses both measures to reduce the causes of climate change, such as limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and to adapt to the effects of climate change. Climate change is not a future event, but a current event, according to Broccoli. He acknowledges the difficulty in changing energy sources to limit climate change, but says that in the meantime the state will need to move infrastructure out of harm’s way.