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The Inconvenient Truth About Hurricanes and Global Warming

Posted by Noel Sheppard on August 2, 2006 - 09:29.
Since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans last summer, there has been a lot of media and left-wing speculation that the apparition called global warming is responsible for an upsurge in hurricane activity and intensity. Fortunately, for those seeking sanity amidst the hysteria, a new study written by a group that includes two members of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration published in this week’s Science Magazine refutes this contention (hat tip to Gary Hall).

Since this phantom meteorological nexus was first introduced to the public, it has become almost commonplace in the lexicon of the new religious cult known as the Global Warmingists, and is a mainstay of the sect’s leader, famed political scientist sans climatology degree Dr. Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. In fact, this is a central tenet in Gore’s recent schlockumentary, An Inconvenient Truth, as evidenced by the following passages at the movie’s website:

• With 2005, the worst storm season ever experienced in America just behind us, it seems we may be reaching a tipping point – and Gore pulls no punches in explaining the dire situation.

• The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.

Yet, as first reported by Martin Merzer of the Miami Herald on June 27, not all scientists are drinking Gore’s Kool-Aid:

Studies that link global warming to an increase in hurricane ferocity might be full of hot air, according to a research paper that will be published Friday in a major scientific journal.

The paper, co-written by Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade, challenges earlier findings that hurricanes have grown more powerful in the last 30 years.

Why do the authors believe the assertions of the Global Warmingists are all wet?

It says those studies failed to account for technological improvements that now produce more accurate—and often higher—estimates of a storm’s power than were available in the past.

This seems quite logical; Landsea, one of the leading hurricane researchers and experts in the nation, asked a pivotal question to drive home the point:

“If you say, `Hey, the number of Category 4 and 5 storms has doubled since 1970,’ you have to ask where is that coming from and can we accept that as true.’’

In reality, this part of the global warming debate began about a month before Hurricane Katrina made landfall last year when Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote a paper for Nature magazine entitled “Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones Over the Past 30 Years.” As Merzer observed:

[Emanuel] analyzed historical wind-speed reports by the hurricane center and concluded that the accumulated power of hurricanes in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico more than doubled since 1970.

‘’The large upswing in the last decade is unprecedented and probably reflects the effect of global warming,’’ Emanuel wrote.

As one can imagine, for such statements, Emanuel became almost a pop hero to the mainstream media after Hurricane Katrina hit. He was even named to Time magazine’s “Top 100 People Who Shape Our World” list with an article about him entitled “The Man Who Saw Katrina Coming” that amazingly concluded:

According to a TIME/ABC News/Stanford University poll, 85% of Americans now agree—about as close to unanimity as a fractious population like the U.S.’s ever reaches—that the earth is growing warmer. Emanuel alone did not drive us to that understanding. But just as nature has its trigger points, so does public opinion, and Emanuel was clearly one of the forces that nudged us across an important line.

Yet, according to Merzer, Landsea and his team don’t agree with Emanuel’s findings:

No connection has been found between global warming and the number of hurricanes. Many scientists believe that the current period of hyperactivity is caused mostly by long-term natural cycles unrelated to global warming.

In fact, many meteorologists and climatologists have been warning for a number of years that hurricane activity is indeed cyclical, and that after a sub-normal period that began in the ’70s, some increase in activity was to be expected:

Landsea agreed that the accumulated power of Atlantic hurricanes has increased, but said that was largely because the natural cycle has produced more storms. He said the accumulated power of hurricanes has remained constant elsewhere in the world, casting doubt on global warming as a cause in the Atlantic.

However, the crux of the debate rests with technological enhancements to science and instrumentation in the past couple of decades that Emanuel appears to have ignored:

More to the point, Landsea said, scientists who do not account for vast improvements in technology since the 1970s can produce flawed studies.

Landsea and his team offered as an example a 1970 storm in Bangladesh that killed over 300,000 people:

Using the technology available at that time and place, forecasters were unable to estimate that storm’s intensity. Now, with improved technology, that storm likely would be rated as the equivalent of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Yet, using 1970 technology, this devastating natural disaster wasn’t even considered a hurricane at the time. As Landsea astutely pointed out:

``If you miss that one, it shouldn’t be shocking if you’re missing a whole bunch of others that didn’t even hit land.’‘

How vast has the improvement to meteorological technology been?

In 1975, only two geostationary satellites monitored hurricanes. Now, eight more powerful satellites serve in that capacity, often prompting forecasters to produce higher wind estimates than might have been reported for a similar storm in the past.

“’More satellites with improved imagery mean that you get `stronger’ hurricanes without the hurricanes changing at all,’’ Landsea said.

That is no less than a threefold increase in hurricane measurement capability. Might this be responsible for the detection of more storms today of greater magnitude? Obviously, Landsea et al believe so.

To put this in proper perspective, in 1975, Americans weren’t walking around with cellular phones in their pockets, or sitting in their dens with computers on their laps possessing the processing power of many buildings worth of IBM mainframes. Consider, too, how technology has advanced medicine in the past 30 years, and what C-T scans and MRIs can detect today versus back then. Such tools now can tell a pregnant mother that all of the vital organs within her fetus have formed, and can identify fingers, toes, and ribs. Eighteen years ago when my wife was pregnant with our first child, ultrasounds barely showed a mass of cells with a heart beating.

Unfortunately, though every member of the media today directly benefits from such technological enhancements in their professional and private lives, few seem willing to consider how this is impacting the fields of meteorology and climatology.

Since Merzer filed his report last Thursday, with Landsea et al’s full article published the following day, virtually no mainstream media outlet has paid much attention. A LexisNexis search identified absolutely no television coverage of this study on any of the broadcast networks or cable news channels. And, America’s leading dailies have either not reported the findings, or have completely buried it as indicated by the following Google news search.

I guess it’s safe to say that the legacy media will only report studies that support their Global Warmingist philosophies, and that Landsea certainly won’t be one of Time’s “Top 100 People Who Shape Our World” next year.