In the wake of Hurricane Sandy there has been a significant increase in the number of Americans who strongly agree that climate change makes extreme weather worse, as evidenced by polling done immediately before and after the disaster. And a robust majority of Americans understand that Sandy, in particular, was made worse by climate change.
Post-election polling commissioned by Climate Nexus and conducted by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) found that 60% of American voters agree with the statement that “global warming made Hurricane Sandy worse.”
The survey also found that 73% of respondents agreed with the statement: “Global warming is affecting extreme weather events in the United States.” While this result is consistent with pre-Sandy polling done on this question, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who strongly hold this understanding, indicating that a deeper and stronger understanding of climate change and its impact on extreme weather is emerging in the United States.
Nationally, there has been a 36% increase in the number of people who strongly agree that climate change is affecting weather, and the increase in understanding can be seen in every region of the country. A Yale/GMU poll conducted in early September of 2012 found that 74% of American adults agreed with the statement “Global warming is affecting weather in the United States.” In that poll, 28% “strongly” agreed with this statement, while 46% “somewhat” agreed. Post Sandy, the PSB poll asked an even tougher question: “is global warming affecting extreme weather events,” and found that 46% of voters strongly agreed, with 73% agreeing overall.
A comparison to polling on Hurricane Irene is also telling. A Yale/GMU poll conducted in March of 2012 found that 14% of Americans strongly agreed that climate change made Hurricane Irene worse. In contrast 28% of respondents in the post Sandy poll strongly agree that climate change made Hurricane Sandy worse, doubling the numbers of Americans who unambiguously see the connection, with 60% agreeing overall. Interestingly, an increase was also witnessed post-Sandy in the understanding of the impact of climate change on this year’s drought and record high summer temperatures.
Note: The connections between climate change and Hurricane Sandy are numerous and have been well documented. A wetter, warmer atmosphere loads such storms with energy and rain. Glacial melting has already led to sea level rise in the U.S. (about 12" in the New York harbor) creating more flooding when storms hit (PDF). In addition, new research shows arctic melting creates the barometric pressure that drives powerful storms southward.