Climate Change

Hurricane Irma and the Dubious Climate Change Link

No question 2017 has had a couple of major storms, but the '30s, '40s and '50s were pretty bad too.

Jordan Candler · Sep. 8, 2017

This weekend, Floridians will be bracing for another tropical impact just weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas as a Category 4 storm. This week, Hurricane Irma solidified itself as the strongest hurricane to develop in the Atlantic (important note: this excludes the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean). At one point, the storm exhibited 185 m.p.h. sustained winds — easily Category 5 strength — and provided stunning satellite imagery of a structure more reminiscent of a Pacific super typhoon (ironically, the typically busy Pacific is currently without a single named storm). As of this writing, south Florida appears to be the virtually certain landfall destination, but several states over the South will feel its effects.

To be clear, this is a dangerous weather pattern right now, and it demands the appropriate media coverage and preparation. Which is to say: If you’re in the path, leave. Sadly, though, this also means more climate hyperbole and sensationalism. Those under the impression that this late summer’s hurricane frenzy is unimaginable should think again. One reason it may seem so is because the U.S. has become accustomed to a fairly remarkable lull in strong landfalling hurricanes. Moreover, it’s September — the peak of the hurricane season. If strong hurricanes are going to develop in rapid succession, this is naturally when you would most expect to see them.

Let’s juxtapose the current time period with the mid 1900s. Patriot Post contributor and meteorologist Joe Bastardi — who, by the way, worries that Irma hasn’t yet achieved its maximum intensity — addressed the question in a May column, “Is This Really the Worst Time Ever?” In the 1930s, eight major hurricanes (major is defined as Category 3 or higher) hit the U.S. From the 1940s up until 1960, a whopping 19 additional major storms made landfall over the U.S. Tally it all up, and over the span of just 28 years, 27 major hurricanes struck the U.S. Some of those storms went on to make multiple landfalls as a major hurricane. For example, Donna, in 1960, hit the U.S. three times as a Category 3 or higher. Florida was the predominant target in the ‘40s. Consider how a repeat of the 1930s-1950s would be interpreted today.

We already have a clue: Irma — because of its strength — is being blamed on climate change. For example, Bloomberg, under the headline “Hurricane Irma Made Worse by Climate Change, Scientists Say,” claims: “Climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm to form in the open Atlantic Ocean, but did make it much stronger, scientists in Germany and the U.K. said.” And climate blowhard Bill “The Science Lie” Nye added, “It’s the strength that is almost certainly associated with global warming.”

Perhaps then he’d like to explain why the U.S. went 12 years between major hurricane strikes? Was that also the result of climate change, or is it more accurately described as a cyclical outcome? As the Cato Institute’s Ross McKitrick writes in the Washington Examiner, the climate-link rhetoric unscrupulously allows scientists to have their cake and eat it too. “The climate alarmists offer a vague prediction: Hurricanes may or may not happen in any particular year, but when they do, they will be more intense than they would have been if GHG [greenhouse gas] levels were lower,” McKitrick notes. “This is a convenient prediction to make because we can never test it. It requires observing the behaviour of imaginary storms in an unobservable world. Good luck collecting the data.”

Importantly, McKitrick adds, “Science needs to be concerned not only with conspicuous things that happened, but with things that conspicuously didn’t happen. Like the famous dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, the bark that doesn’t happen can be the most important of all.” In the days ahead, there will be heart-wrenching stories as Irma traverses the lower East Coast. But keep in mind, “You’re also talking about 2 of the most flood-prone cities in the U.S. — Miami & Charleston,” observes meteorologist Eric Fisher. “Both flood during full moons let alone storms.” Hurricanes, like any other weather event, require context.

Climate records show not just similarly major hurricanes but an onslaught of them. The world is also much different today: bigger buildings and populations, as well as better technology and communication. And for the most part that’s a good thing. As Danish statistician and author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg writes, “Because we’re much richer and better protected, death rates from hurricanes in the US have declined dramatically. Even the 1800+ terrible deaths from Katrina in 2005 constitute more of an average hurricane risk in the early part of last century.”

Unfortunately, these tools also give climate extortionists the perfect storm to spread climate rhetoric that erroneously links man-made emissions to tropical systems. Even most scientific establishments that adhere to man-made global warmism are hesitant to make that leap. Keep this in mind as you pray for and aid our beleaguered fellow Americans over the coming days.

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