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Sandy and Climate Change

December 14, 2012

Every hurricane, or for that matter large storm, including snow storms, brings forth the hue and cry that climate change is responsible.

And, true to form, climate change is being blamed for super storm Sandy, as well as last year’s hurricane Irene.

A poll of New York State residents showed that 69% believed that climate change was responsible for Sandy and Irene.

There are, however, several scientific studies that show there has been little if any change in the number or severity of hurricanes over the past several decades.

It doesn’t require a scientific study, however, to determine whether climate change is causing more hurricanes or increasing their severity. A look at the record over the past 110 years is a common sense way to look at the issue.

The following table shows there have been periods of greater hurricane activity before atmospheric CO2 increased by any significant amount.

In addition, Dr. Chris Landsea, National Hurricane Center, has noted that many hurricanes went undetected before the advent of satellites.

This is an important point, since we can now see embryonic hurricanes as they emerge from North Africa – and then track them as they cross the Atlantic, with many swerving to the North and missing the United States by a wide margin. We might never have known about these storms prior to the use of satellites unless some hapless ship got in the path of a hurricane.

Hurricane Lisa in 2010 that rambled near the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa is an example of a storm that might not have been seen without satellites. Tropical storm Cindy in 2011, far out in the Atlantic, might not have been seen before the advent of satellites, though it crossed the shipping lanes and might have been reported by a ship.

Any claim that a particular year had the largest number of named hurricanes is bogus, because we don’t know how many hurricanes were undetected before the use of satellites.

Table I summarizes the number of hurricanes between 1900 and 2009 that struck the mainland US. Bringing the table up to date for the period 2010 thru 2012, there were two category 3 hurricanes that have hit the United States mainland.

Table I

Hurricanes Striking Mainland US

Decade

All Category 1-5

Major Category 3,4,5

1900-1909

15

6

1910-1919

20

8

1920-1929

15

5

1930-1939

17

8

1940-1949

23

8

1950-1959

18

9

1960-1969

15

6

1970-1971

12

4

1980-1989

16

6

1990-1999

14

5

21st Century

2000- 2009

23

7

Hurricanes that hit mainland U.S.

Source for 20th century storms: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/Landsea/deadly/Table5.htm

Source for 21st century storms1

http://weather.unisys.com/hurricane/atlantic/index.html

http://weather.unisys.com/hurricane/atlantic

There were 90 hurricanes that hit the US mainland during the first half of the twentieth century and only 75 during the second half: There was an average of 7 major hurricanes each decade during the first half and only 6 during the second half of the century.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere were greater in the second half of the twentieth century, the reverse of hurricane frequency. The period between 1930 and 1959 was very active, and this was well before Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

The insurance industry is clamoring for action to be taken to stop global warming because they have suffered large losses in recent years.

However, it was the increase in coastal populations that caused the higher insurance losses. In his testimony to Congress, Professor Lomborg pointed out that “the two coastal South Florida counties, Dade and Broward, are home to more people than the number of people who lived in 1930 in all 109 counties stretching from Texas through Virginia, along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.”

This year, Sandy blasted into New York City, New Jersey and Long Island. It caused extensive damage to these highly populated areas and the insurance losses are sure to be huge.

Last year Irene also caused extensive flooding in Vermont, New York and New Jersey. Though unusual, this was similar to the flooding that occurred in Connecticut in 1955 from Diane when 200 dams received partial or total failure and there were 77 lives lost.

We will likely experience periods of strong hurricanes in the future, but any attempt to attribute hurricanes to global warming should be looked at with a jaundiced eye.

Scientific studies show there is little if any linkage between hurricane frequency and severity with CO2 in the atmosphere, but an objective, common-sense, easy to understand analysis of hurricanes over the past 110 years, also demonstrates that climate change is not affecting the number or severity of hurricanes.

Note: 1 The UNISYS web site is very useful because it shows the tracks of the hurricanes along with their strengths at various times during their existence.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil E. Jones permalink
    December 14, 2012 4:02 pm

    Another well written piece. I hope a million people read it. It would be especially wonderful if they were all commentators, editors, and columnists.

  2. December 14, 2012 5:05 pm

    Thanks. Nothing would make me feel better.

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