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The Inconvenient Truth About Hurricanes

Posted By Rich Trzupek On March 23, 2010 @ 12:05 am In FrontPage | 19 Comments

Al Gore has been keeping a lower profile in general of late, but there’s one aspect of “climate change” that he doesn’t seem to talk about at all anymore: the supposed relationship between greenhouse gases and hurricanes.

Recall that shot of Gore from “An Inconvenient Truth” that showed Big Al standing in front of a satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina as the storm appeared ready to devour the gulf coast. He explained how, as ocean temperatures increase, hurricane activity would increase and, although he did not explicitly say so, the clear implication was that “global warming” would lead to hotter oceans and therefore more frequent and destructive hurricane activity.

Gore stuck to this theme for quite a while and the mainstream media readily accepted the supposed link between greenhouse gases and extreme weather. Katrina was just the beginning, we were told. The weather would get worse. But, quite unnoticed by most, this chapter in the global warming narrative has faded into the background over the last couple of years. I can only find one instance of Gore directly mentioning hurricanes at his blog for over a year, and he quietly dropped a PowerPoint slide that deals with the issue from his standard presentation in 2009. The media doesn’t seem to talk about the global warming-hurricane connection much, if at all, any more. So what happened?

The inconvenient, perhaps embarrassing, truth is that global hurricane activity has been steadily dropping since 2006. In fact, the years 2008 and 2009 represent a thirty year low in hurricane activity. That’s the reason that you don’t hear much about the supposed connection between greenhouse gases and hurricanes in the mainstream media any longer. Doing so would undercut the message that “the science is settled” and would provide further evidence that the way political figures like Gore make predictions are based on a rudimentary, and ultimately faulty, understanding of the way that the earth’s climate actually functions.

There is no doubt that there is a strong relationship between oceanic temperatures and hurricane formation. So why the precipitous drop in hurricane formation over the last four years? There’s a few likely reasons. For one, our ability to accurately measure oceanic temperatures, particularly in this era of politically-driven science, has been called into question by more than one skeptical scientist. In other words, ocean temperatures probably haven’t risen as much as alarmists claim, if at all. For another, some climatologists have suggested that there are self correcting mechanisms at work in the global climate that are much more important than the negligible effect of a small increases in relatively insignificant greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Finally, as far as 2008 and 2009 in concerned, there is the La Nina effect. La Ninas are cooling events, a part of those natural, self correcting mechanisms that appear to be doing their jobs.

It should be noted that when we talk about a drop in global hurricane activity, the correct way to measure that activity is not the number of hurricanes that form in the North Atlantic, or even the total number of hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons that form across the planet. All storms are not created equal. Some, like Katrina, are monsters that span across hundreds of miles and release tremendous amounts of energy. Others are relatively small and release a fraction of the energy of a Category 5 behemoth like Katrina. When scientists look at the effect that hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons have each year, they consider the total energy released by all of those storms, what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls “Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” or “ACE.” Using this standard of measurement, hurricane activity – in both in the Northern hemisphere and across the planet as a whole – dropped to levels that we have not seen since the late 1970s.

Those who subscribe to the theory that burning fossil fuels is causing disastrous climate change will, no doubt, dismiss this particular issue as unimportant. Increased hurricane formation is, after all, merely one among the many hundreds of terrible things that are supposed to happen as the concentration of greenhouse gases increases in the atmosphere. But, how would alarmists have reacted in an alternate reality? If 2008 and 2009 featured more and larger storms than we actually had, is there any doubt that Al Gore and mainstream media would have claimed those events were further evidence that mankind is destroying the planet?

This is one the reasons that the alarmists have less and less credibility as time goes on. They say, repeatedly and in the strongest possible terms, that this disaster or that catastrophe is about to happen because of greenhouse gases. Glaciers will melt away in twenty five years. The rainforests will disappear. Giant hurricanes will devastate the planet. Then, when it turns out that the doom-and-gloom predictions not only didn’t come true, but that they were based on pseudo-science, the public is told that those predictions really didn’t matter anyway. Is there any doubt as to why global warming skepticism is on the rise in America?

It will be interesting to see what happens this year. We are, as we speak, in the midst of a mild El Nino, an event that tends to warm the planet. Most climatologists seem to think it will be over by the middle of the hurricane season, but – and predictions at this time of year are never definitive – most believe we will see an increased number of North Atlantic hurricanes as compared to last year. If that happens, it is probably cynical to predict that some in the mainstream media and some environmental groups will use this occurrence to proclaim something like: “Hurricanes are on the rise; it’s further evidence of global warming!” But, given the way this issue is politicized, that seems very likely to happen.

Rich Trzupek is a chemist and Principal Consultant at Mostardi Platt Environmental, an environmental consulting firm based in Oak Brook, Illinois. He specializes in air quality issues and is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Air Quality Permitting and Compliance Manual. Rich is a confirmed skeptic with regard to the theory that human activity has caused global warming. He is also a regular contributor at threedonia.com.


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