Nine years after Katrina, climate activists have earned their reward. We might pay dearly for it.

Summary: We rely on warnings about threats from our watchmen, experts or amateurs, who see danger before we can. Our ability to respond depends on the clarity of their warnings. Sometimes we don’t listen; sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes we suffer because they minimize the danger or exaggerate the time until it arrives. Climate activists have practiced another form of alarm: exaggerating the certainty about and imminence of dangers. That works well — unless they’re wrong about both the timing and scale.As they have been about hurricanes hitting America. Every time they cry “wolf” we become less able to prepare for real threats.

Extreme Weather


“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.


Art Horn (meteorologist) set the background for this sad story in his 9 October 2010 post:

Four hurricanes made landfall on the United States during the 2004 season. All of them hit Florida. … Then there was 2005. The hurricane season of 2005 was one for the record books. The long term average number of named tropical storms in the Atlantic basin is 11. In 2005 there were an amazing 27. The long term average number of hurricanes is 6. In 2005 there were a record 15. Actually the hurricane seasons of 1933 and 1887 were probably very similar in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes. There were no satellites to see all the storms back … This was also the year of hurricane Katrina. …

Making the most of this moment was Al Gore, as in this speech at Sierra Club’s National Environmental Convention and Expo in San Francisco on 9 September 2005. Excerpt:

Winston Churchill, when the storm was gathering on continental Europe, provided warnings of what was at stake. And he said this about the government then in power in England — which wasn’t sure that the threat was real — he said, “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.” He continued, “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences.

… Last year we had a lot of hurricanes. Last year, Japan set an all-time record for typhoons: 10. The previous record was 7. Last year the science textbooks had to be rewritten. They said, “It’s impossible to have a hurricane in the South Atlantic.” We had the first one last year, in Brazil. We had an all-time record last year for tornadoes in the United States: 1,717. Largely because hurricanes spawned tornadoes. Last year we had record temperatures in many cities. This year 200 cities in the Western United States broke all-time records. Reno: 39 days consecutively above 100 degrees.

The scientists are telling us that what the science tells them is that this — unless we act quickly and dramatically — that Tucson tied its all-time record for consecutive days above 100 degrees. This, in Churchill’s phrase, is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until there is a supreme recovery of moral health.

Since Katrina hit climate activists have beat a steady drumbeat warning of doom.

  1. Warming seas cause stronger hurricanes“, Nature (news), 16 March 2006 — “Mega-storms are set to increase as the climate hots up.”
  2. Are Category 6 Hurricanes Coming Soon?“, Scientific American, 12 August 2011 — “Tropical cyclones like Irene are predicted to be more powerful this year, thanks to natural conditions”
  3. Global warming is ‘causing more hurricanes’“, The Independent, 16 October 2012
  4. A Katrina hurricane will strike every two years“, ScienceNordic, 19 March 2013 — About a study in PNAS by geophysicist Aslak Grinsted of the Niels Bohr Institute Copenhagen U. This got big coverage, such as this in “US News & World Reports.
  5. Hurricanes Likely to Get Stronger & More Frequent“, Climate Central, 8 July 2013 – About a study in PNAS by Kerry Emanuel et al.

It’s not that these were wrong or bad. Science advances by bold predictions, whether right or wrong, and they’re valid news. But journalists didn’t state the long-term nature of these forecasts, so readers expected disasters soon. Journalists showed only one side of the debate among scientists and so hid the uncertainty in these forecasts. There were balanced reports, but activists and their journalist allies chose not to use them.

  1. Can we expect more hurricanes like Katrina?“, The Guardian, 1 September 2005.
  2. Debunking the Myths of Hurricane Katrina“, Popular Mechanics, 15 February 2006 — However debunked, most of these myths remain widely believed.
  3. Climate myths: Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming“, New Scientist, 16 May 2007.
  4. Hurricanes and global warming: 5 years post Katrina“, Judith Curry, 13 September 2010 — Good summary of the research to that date.

Assessing the record, and alarmists’ responses to it

Gore correctly predicted a “time of consequences”, but got the details backwards. He quoted Churchill’s 1936 warning about Hitler, given less than 3 years before the invasion of Poland. Now after 9 years (and 26 years after the Hansen’s Senate testimony) we have seen few of the predicted consequences. The record pause in hurricane landfalls continues, global numbers and energy of hurricanes has not risen, number of severe tornadoes, number of extremely hot days in the US, total arctic and global sea ice, almost every metric of extreme weather have remained stable (details here and here). Nor is there evidence we’ve hit the “tipping point”, despite passing so many deadlines during the past 30 years.

Even the air temperature has frustrated Gore’s predictions, as the pause continues in its second decade (the somewhat ramshackle global surface air temperature networks show a peak of hundredths of a degree this year, far less than their error bars; the two satellite-based networks show no record for 2014.

The consequences: a loss of credibility for the climate change activists, as the US public rates it among the least serious threats polled (see the numbers here and here). The giant UN “My World” poll had similar results.

Instead of learning and adapting from their failure, climate activists have doubled down. Most continue to deny the pause in warming of the atmosphere, even as climate scientists study its causes and forecast its duration. They ratchet up their claims about future doom, with journalists’ support. Like this: “Optimism Faces Grave Realities at Climate Talks“, New York Times, 30 November 2014:

Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans.

The Times quotes no climate scientists for this remarkable claim. The IPCC’s reports say nothing like this. Climate change poses a threat, albeit of uncertain timing and magnitude (as do most large threats). These wild claims hurt us more than they help.


Forecasts of increasing hurricane intensity

Little of the science about climate change is settled. We know the past two centuries has warmed, and that we caused more than half of the warming since 1950. Many of the assertions journalists so confidently report remain uncertain. Such as the effect of warming on hurricane intensity: “Validating Atmospheric Reanalysis Data Using Tropical Cyclones as Thermometers“, James P. Kossin, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in press — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

The question of how tropical climate variability and change has affected and will affect tropical cyclones has been the subject of intensive study. Theory and numerical modeling simulations suggest that increases in the mean potential intensity of the environment through which tropical cyclones track will cause mean tropical cyclone intensity to increase.

… Time series of the annual-mean storm-local potential intensity calculated from the MERRA, ERA-Interim, and NCEP/NCAR data … the NCEP/NCAR data exhibit a statistically significant increasing trend, but no trends are found in the MERRA or ERA-Interim data. … This has important implications because a lack of storm-local potential intensity trend implies that there is no manifest expectation within the constructs of potential intensity theory that mean tropical cyclone intensity has increased over the past 30 years.

Another high-profile prediction of increased tropical cyclones is “Downscaling CMIP5 climate models shows increased tropical cyclone activity over the 21st century” by Kerry A. Emanuel in PLOS, 23 July 2013 — Abstract:

A recently developed technique for simulating large numbers of tropical cyclones in climate states described by global gridded data is applied to simulations of historical and future climate states simulated by six Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) global climate models. Tropical cyclones downscaled from the climate of the period 1950 – 2005 are compared with those of the 21st century in simulations that stipulate that the radiative forcing from greenhouse gases increases by 8:5 W m−2 over preindustrial values. In contrast to storms that appear explicitly in most global models, the frequency of downscaled tropical cyclones increases during the 21st century in most locations. The intensity of such storms, as measured by their maximum wind speeds, also increases, in agreement with previous results. Increases in tropical cyclone activity are most prominent in the western North Pacific, but are evident in other regions except for the southwestern Pacific.

The increased frequency of events is consistent with increases in a genesis potential index based on monthly mean global model output. These results are compared and contrasted with other inferences concerning the effect of global warming on tropical cyclone

Update on hurricane landfalls on America

No major hurricane (category 3 or more) has hit the continental US since Hurricane Wilma in Florida on 24 October 2005. That is the longest on record according to NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, whose data goes back to 1851.

For the latest analysis turn to “Comments on “Monitoring and Understanding Trends in Extreme Storms: State of Knowledge” by Christopher William Landsea in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, July 2015. Emphasis added.

Figure 1 provides an analysis of U.S. hurricanes from 1900 through 2014. The record begins at the start of the twentieth century as it was approximately at that time that enough coastal communities were established along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean coasts to ensure a relatively complete monitoring of all U.S. hurricanes …

The figure shows that there has been a small, statistically insignificant downward trend in the frequency of U.S. hurricanes in this century-long time series. Instead, the record is dominated by interannual- to decadal-scale variability, with the busiest periods occurring in the 1910s, the 1930s to the 1950s, the mid-1980s, and the mid-2000s, while the quietest periods are seen during the 1920s, the 1970s to the early 1980s, the early 1990s, around 2000, and the last few years.

This U.S. hurricane record then puts the results of Kunkel et al. (2013) for Atlantic basinwide activity showing a sizeable increase in activity since 1970 into perspective. The long U.S. landfall record is an indication that this recent upward phase of activity in the Atlantic basin was preceded by quiet and active periods of similar magnitude.

Truth Will Make You Free

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Especially see these posts about climate forecasts:

  1. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century, 16 October 2010
  2. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010
  3. Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future, 6 January 2013
  4. Will we see the end of snow? More importantly, when will we learn to see the world clearly?, 10 February 2014
  5. 5 years later: checking up on the 2-minute hate at George Will about melting of the polar ice, 10 June 2014 — He was right; Gore was wrong.
  6. Looks like yet another false alarm. Probably no super monster El Niño coming this year, 25 June 2014.

2 thoughts on “Nine years after Katrina, climate activists have earned their reward. We might pay dearly for it.

  1. FM-

    The RL Stevenson quote is a keeper!

    I am trying to get a better understanding of the consequences of adding in a lot RE- primarily solar- to the stability of the grid in CA.

    My actions in 2006, putting in our little PV system and signing up for a TOU Net meter rate schedule, have led to some ingrained behaviors at our household in regards to when we use grid supplied energy that in 2015 should likely be modified given some of the concerns CASIO has shared in regards to curtailment at recent CEC meeting:

    “Energy storage is one of several options available to provide operational flexibility and mitigate renewable curtailment.”

    It will be interesting to see how things work out over the next few years out here in CA.

    My wife would be more than happy to modify how we, make that Robin, accomplish drying our laundry. We no longer dry our clothes with our electric dryer during peak hours as our costs for a kWh of electricity can be over 50 cents at certain times in the summer. It sounds like we need to consider using the dryer from a grid stability point of view rather than adding to the oversupply of RE (compared to the grid level demand) with our little PV system.

    Oh well I have a few months to figure things out. I definitely understand why PG&E doesn’t want to fix, correct, the Day Light Savings time mismatch with our TOU smart meter as the current mismatch of PG&E time vs actual time encourages us to delay using grid power till an hour after what is considered the end of peak time (for our billing) as it helps them manage the supply and demand a bit better (at a less expense cost to them for sure).

    1. Mark,

      That’s an important question, how interruptable energy sources like solar and wind affect stability of the electric grid as they become a larger share of supply. Increasing the size of the grid helps, as does upgrading it to become “smarter”. It’s a technical question receiving a great deal of attention; there’s a large and growing literature on this. Experience will teach us much during the next decade!

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