AUSTRALIA'S Climate Commission has misrepresented data from the leading US meteorological bureau to highlight a link between climate change and the severity of Superstorm Sandy which this week crippled New York.
In a statement on the disaster that hit North America on Monday, the federal government-sponsored Climate Commission said "all the evidence suggests that climate change exacerbated the severity of Hurricane Sandy".
Matthew England, chairman of the commission's Science Advisory Panel, said it was important to get the message out that storms today were "operating in a different environment than they were 100 years ago".
Professor England said increased humidity, higher sea levels and warmer sea surface temperatures were all contributing to the severity of storms.
The commission quoted data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that "the temperature of the surface waters from which Sandy drew energy were three to five degrees warmer than average".
However, senior NOAA climate scientist Martin Hoerling said the higher sea-surface temperatures quoted by the Climate Commission were not significant in relation to Sandy.
Dr Hoerling told US public radio in the aftermath of Sandy that ocean temperatures adjacent to the US eastern seaboard had been running several degrees higher than normal.
But he said the unusually warm waters were in areas where the background temperature was relatively cool. "So adding a few degrees Fahrenheit at that cool water temperature doesn't matter too much for the intensity of a hurricane," Dr Hoerling said.
Dr Hoerling is a research meteorologist, specialising in climate dynamics, in NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory located in Boulder, Colorado.