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Hurricane Reality Check

December 16, 2011

In recent years, especially after the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, it has been popular to predict that upcoming hurricane seasons would produce more and bigger storms.

With all this hoopla, it’s worth taking a look at the facts.

This year’s hurricane season has officially come to an end, and it hasn’t been as severe as predicted. There have been eighteen named storms, but only one hurricane hit the United States. Two tropical depressions also hit the United States.

The following table shows there have been periods of greater hurricane activity before CO2 in the atmosphere 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. This year, tropical storm Cindy, far out in the Atlantic, might not have been known about, though it crossed the shipping lanes and a ship might have reported it before the advent of satellites.

This table summarizes the number of hurricanes in the last century. Bringing the table up to date, 2010 and 2011: one category 3 hurricane.



All Category 1-5

Major Category 3,4,5































21st Century

2000- 2009



Hurricanes that hit mainland U.S.

Source for 20th century storms:

Source for 21st century storms


Of the hurricanes that reached the continental United States, there were 90 during the first half of the twentieth century and only 75 during the second half: An average of 7 major hurricanes reached the U.S. 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 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 was an exception, in that Irene 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 them to global warming should be looked at with a jaundiced eye.

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