Climate change, hurricanes, and an overhyped link

Earth and atmospheric sciences professor Judith Curry urges National Review Online readers to be wary of claims involving climate change and hurricanes.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s catastrophic impacts on the Bahamas, we have been reminded of the inevitability that some aspect of any damaging hurricane will be blamed on man-made climate change.

We first saw this after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with the publication of two papers linking an increase in the strongest hurricanes to increasing sea-surface temperatures. As co-author of one these papers, I was astonished to see the outsize media and public attention that they garnered. Katrina was the first time people realized that a small amount of warming could have substantial adverse impacts. Since then, each hurricane has been viewed as an opportunity by activists to emphasize the urgent need to reduce fossil-fuel emissions. …

… Any convincing claim that man-made climate change has altered hurricane activity requires identifying a change in hurricane characteristics that can’t be explained by natural climate variability. The only conclusion on which there was high agreement among the WMO Task Team members was that there is low-to-medium confidence that the location of typhoons in the North Pacific has changed as a result of climate change. The team members disagreed as to whether any other observed alterations in hurricane activity could be said to have been discernibly influenced by man-made climate change. …

… Why, then, is there so much hype about man-made climate change in the news media after every catastrophic hurricane? Rather than referencing these assessment reports, sensationalized news coverage of the issue tends to lean on activist climate scientists with little or no expertise in hurricanes, implying that their speculative perspective represents the “consensus.”

Insofar as there is any such “consensus,” it is a weak one. Climate and hurricane scientists continue to have a range of perspectives on the impact of man-made climate change on hurricanes.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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