Right Opinion

Hurricanes Become a Ping-Pong Ball in the Climate Debate

Joe Bastardi · Oct. 23, 2015

This caught my eye, from USA Today:

Study: Climate change adding billions to U.S. hurricane costs.”

Oh really?

The study quoted ended in 2005, not factoring in the last 10 years. During that time, by way of the Saffir-Simpson scale, there were no major hurricane hits on the U.S. (On my power and impact scale, there have been three borderline majors.) It’s been an amazingly quiet period, meaning the dire ideas that we heard about have been nothing but wrong.

Another USA Today headline from 2006:

New study ties global warming to stronger hurricanes.”

There are numerous articles on how global warming (climate change is a redundant focus group-driven term that is now used since there has been no significant warming for nearly 19 years) is causing everything to be worse. Tropical cyclones, since they are awesome to look at and report on, are front and center as examples of how bad things are. But there is a big problem here: They aren’t as bad. This chart by National Hurricane Center researchers Eric Blake and Chris Landsea plainly shows the busiest decade for major hits in the last 30 years (2001-2010) is equaled or exceeded by six of the 15 decades in the chart.

I often go after Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — who lately has been pushing the idea of RICO-like investigations on scientists who do not believe in human-induced global warming — for his pronouncements on hurricanes being worse now than before. It’s astounding given he is from a state that was devastated in 1938, 1944, 1954 and 1960 by major hurricanes. But look at the hits of majors. 1871-1880, 1891-1900, 1911-1920, 1931-1940, 1941-1950, 1951-1960 — all were decades equal to or greater than 2001-2010. In addition, the 30-year period from 1931-1960 had 61 hits, or two a year, 27 of which were major (almost one a year). By contrast, the most recent 30 years ending in 2010: 43 hits, 19 majors. Not even close!

The idea that costs are going up is not from increased frequency and intensity of storms. It can’t be since the frequency and intensity of landfalling storms has decreased. So we have one side of the debate that is pushing hurricanes as a reason to suspect there is, as they put it, climate change, even though the facts show there are less landfalling storms now than there have been in many years before.

Right off the bat, the immense buildup of coastal development means that storms are going to be much costlier. I will leave it to others to play with inflation figures, but an example could be Hazel in 1954. This is the latest Category 4 storm to hit the U.S., and that it hit on the coastal Carolinas in mid-October is extreme in itself. In 1954 dollars, the storm did $354 million dollars in damage. The government’s inflation calculator says it would be 10 times that now, but crucial is the fact that in 1954 there was not near the amount of buildup in the areas Hazel hit (it had hurricane force winds all the way to Toronto!). But that is not climate change or global warming. It’s a product of man believing he is in control of the Garden of Eden, as if this is paradise and nothing bad happens. The thumbing of the nose is not CO2 in the air, but buildings on the beach.

My side of the climate debate counters this with what seems to be an intuitive argument about the lack of storms being a sign that there is no global warming. This is a very dangerous tactic. It’s one thing to counter, as I did above, the argument that landfalling storms are stronger and more frequent, simply because they aren’t. But that is all that means. So what happens if seven majors hit in two years like in 1915 and 1916? And guess what? I am very concerned that we are about to see a major burst of hurricanes between 2016 and 2018. Why? because I have seen this before. If we look at sea surface temperatures for next hurricane season, by next July the El Niño is gone and is reversing to a La Niña! The main development region of the Atlantic is very warm.

Now look at the sea surface temperatures in July of 2005 in the tropical breeding areas.

Very similar to the mega year of 2005! Major bursts of landfalling storms occurred in ‘95 and '96 after the El Niño of '94, '98 and '99 after the El Niño of '97, and '03, '04 and '05 after the El Niño of '02. It’s natural, it’s happened before and it’s about to happen again. So I would not be touting the lack of hurricanes as anything but what it is — a lack of hurricanes. But much more deceitful, in my opinion, is using hurricanes as a sign of global warming. It shows the gall of the people suggesting that. Even with facts staring them in the face, they simply ignore them and say it anyway.

Hurricanes are nature’s way of taking heat out of the tropics and redistributing it to the temperate regions. Weather and climate are nature’s way of seeking a balance it can never attain because of the very design of the system. Nothing more, nothing less. Attributing such things as hurricanes as a sign of so-called climate change is provably wrong. Hurricanes are much more than ping-pong balls for someone’s agenda. They are an awesome display of nature, sometimes resulting in terrible consequences, but all part of the natural up and down that is inherent in the system.


Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm.

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