Right Opinion

Hurricane Harvey: Nothing That We Didn't Know

Joe Bastardi · Aug. 30, 2017

Perhaps a more intriguing question is how did its companion, disturbance 92L, come all the way across the Atlantic in a classic arcing path through Florida and up the East Coast and fail to develop? What does that tell us?

There is much being made of Harvey and climate change. Meteorologically, as far as the intensity of the storm, let’s see where it ranks among landfalling Category 4 or 5 storms.

It’s tied for 14th. Look at the storm above it, Hazel. Now, let me ask you: Which is the more extreme as far as deviation from normal with pressure, which is a good metric to objectively evaluate how extreme a tropical cyclone is — a storm that hit in mid October in North Carolina, or one that hits on the central Texas Gulf Coast in late August? Let’s also look at Harvey in relation to other hurricanes in Texas. Behind it is the 1915 Galveston hurricane. That is the lesser of the two evils, because of 13th right above Harvey is the 1900 Galveston hurricane that killed 6,000-12,000 people. And right above that one is the Freeport hurricane of 1932. Notice when these are occurring. Then there is the 1916 cyclone in Texas — just a year after the 1915 Galveston hurricane — and Carla in 1961. Again, this all occurred over 50 years ago. Then there is the 1886 Indianola hurricane.Tthey are all hitting in the area that Harvey hit. So the question becomes, if those same storms, almost all stronger, from many years ago hit today, would they be a sign of climate change? Why is Harvey — and not to downplay the storm, but it was one of many and less intense than most — a sign the climate is changing, but these other storms would not be?

Harvey got trapped not by an expansive subtropical ridge, as one notable climate scientist claimed, but by an abnormally large-scale trough over the eastern U.S. as can be plainly seen in the five-day means at 500 mb.

It dealt with an abnormally cool pattern.

That lined up in textbook fashion with Phase 2 of the MJO that was occurring. I jumped all over this on August 21.

Here’s the observed reaction in Phase 2 in the tropics close to the U.S.

The development of Harvey and the pattern that caused it to stall were all on the table well beforehand for those who looked. However, if you did not look, or you were unaware of previous metrics of strength, then you would fall for the arguments that this is part of climate change. All those other storms continued moving, so they went inland and died as they got further away from the ocean source. Because either a warmer than normal or normal pattern steered them that way. Harvey stalled because of a pattern that has happened before, was on the charts, and involved the opposite of arguments that would lead to a warming conclusion. The stalling of the storm was key since lesser storms that have stalled in Texas history have dumped almost as much, the most notable Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978, a mere tropical storm that dumped 48 inches of rain. Naturally, a stronger stalled storm would dump more, but what stalled the storm was not a result of climate change but a well-known, well-forecasted pattern. 
 So if the 1935 Labor Day hurricane — the most powerful storm to be recorded hitting the US, a storm that went from a tropical storm to a Cat 5 in 36 hours — occurs again, why would it be climate change now, but not then?

If the 1938 storm comes back — a storm that took down two billion board feet of trees in New England, had major river floods in western New England, flooded Providence with 13 feet of water in a storm surge, and had a wind gust of 186 mph at blue hill — occurs again, why would it be climate change now, but not then?

If Donna of 1960 showed up again — with hurricane force winds in every state from Florida to Maine, never recorded before or since in U.S. history — why would it be climate change now, but not then?

I can go on and on with countless storms.

The answer: It is nature doing what nature does. And coming out after the storm and claiming it’s something else reveals either ignorance of the past or, if you do know, an agenda based on deception. If I saw the people commenting on this now making a preseason forecast, or even five days before when the obsession was the eclipse, then perhaps I would be more open to those ideas. But telling people why after the what is Monday morning agenda-based quarterbacking. Perhaps that is the lesson of Harvey.

Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm, and contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues.

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