September 13, 2017

The Absurdity of It All

We have had two major hurricanes strike hurricane-prone areas back-to-back in the past two weeks.

We have had two major hurricanes strike hurricane-prone areas back-to-back in the past two weeks. The record, by the way, is 23 hours in 1933. I am still waiting to see if we had verified Category 4 sustained winds with Irma, but no matter — Irma and Harvey were major hurricanes. These areas have been left alone, along with the rest of the nation, from the known extremes of hurricane frequencies for the past decade. That in itself should raise questions as to the idea that CO2 is causing storms to be stronger and more frequent. A three-week, well-forecasted period (as far as the hurricane spurt is concerned) should immediately have people calling into question the shrill voices we are hearing now.

Think about this. Suppose the system that ended up re-intensifying into Harvey had just kept moving. Suppose we had a normal subtropical ridge like we did with Carla — a much bigger storm in 1961 for the Texas coast as far as the extent of wind and lower pressure are concerned — instead of a pattern with a weaker ridge that allowed the trough to catch and stop Harvey and produced tremendous rain. It would have been a major hit, but missing Houston and Corpus Christi and ending up like a lot of the other storms that went into that area of Texas. This is known to people like me who study these but not to most people. Harvey’s infamy is because of circumstance — opposite the man-made global warming missive about stronger ridges.

Now consider this: What if the ridge over the Southeast was stronger and forced Harvey farther south across the southern Gulf? There would be no time for it to intensify, no time to come up, so it would have been like Franklin and Katia — rather normal western Gulf of Mexico hurricanes that are expected over most seasons. A stronger ridge may have suppressed Harvey! The weakness there is what helped him gain latitude. But my point is these occurrences are pattern-driven, not CO2-driven. Harvey was a disaster because of reasons that have nothing to do with any argument about climate change. One could even argue that the stronger subtropical ridge could have saved the U.S. from Harvey, but, alas, there was no stronger ridge; there was a trough. So instead of moving west from a more southerly latitude, it came up.

Harvey illustration:

Here’s Franklin, obviously impacted by a stronger ridge to steer it west.

Now back to Irma. Let me play the opposite card, the more intense card. Irma’s path 50 miles south to the north coast of Cuba Saturday did two things: 1) it stopped the intensification process, and 2) reversed it. If the storm was 50 miles further north it would have been over the water. We know the atmosphere and sea surface temperatures were ready for the deepening because it was starting to intensify before reaching Cuba. And after it came off Cuba it intensified again for about 12 hours. But that 12 to 18 hours over land not only took away the period it would have been intensifying, it made Irma re-intensify at a weaker point. The result was a big mitigating circumstance, one I was covering Friday afternoon and night on national outlets. Fifty miles likely saved $50 billion, and 100 miles $100 billion, because a track away from Cuba and 100 miles to the east would have been a worst-case scenario for southeast Florida.



Was it CO2 that “saved” Florida and forced the storm south into Cuba, or the totality of the forcing that has always been there? How can one tell if CO2 caused Irma to be a monster in one place but less of a beast in another? The fact is, some modeling caught the move into Cuba, and no model I know of has a CO2 input. The argument that the water is warmer because of climate change doesn’t hold water because we have had stronger storms in there (the 1935 Labor Day storm was 35 mb lower and 50 m.p.h. higher than this), so preexisting knowns debunk the argument of the unknown.

It really is getting absurd. That these missives are being used at a time of tragedy to push an agenda with an “I told you so” attitude based on something that a) just looking at history showed was bound to come back and b) was warned about by our forecast team before this season using analogs of other seasons where CO2 had nothing to do with the impact makes it more absurd. And the same people who are trying to shut down debate are in reality the ones crying fire in a crowded theater to create chaos.

So here is the rule for agenda-driven comments when a storm is coming: If it hits someone, it’s climate change. If it misses or is way out to sea, it’s weather.

The truth: It’s all weather, and there is nothing new under the sun.

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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