Look at the trends in extreme weather & see the state of the world

Summary: Climate activists make bold claims about extreme weather caused by our CO2 emissions, attributing most big weather events to CO2’s influence. Let’s look at the numbers. Have extreme weather events become more common? The answers are easily available. Too many journalists and activists prefer to ignore them.

“Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies …”
— Matthew Yglesias in “American democracy is doomed” at Vox.

Non-extreme thunderstorm in Montana, from National Geographic.

There are a thousand and one ways to look at global weather. Here are some of the metrics most commonly used by climate activists to panic the public into supporting their policy agenda. Has extreme weather already grown worse? Simple graphs tell the tale, supported with some quotes from the peer-reviewed literature.

(1)  Hurricanes and global tropical cyclones

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 activists said hurricanes would become more frequent and powerful. Has that happened? NoAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory gives us a straight answer in “Has Global Warming Affected Hurricane or Tropical Cyclone Activity?“, 17 March 2017.

“It is premature to conclude that human activities – and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming – have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity. ”

Graphs of global tropical cyclone activity by Dr. Ryan N. Maue.

The numbers, as usual in science, tell the tale. As in these graphs of tropical cyclone activity. In the next graph, the top line is the number of global tropical cyclones (TCs) that reached at least hurricane-force (maximum lifetime wind speed exceeds 64-knots).  12-month running sums. The bottom line is the number of global TCs that reached major hurricane strength (96-knots+). No rise in either TCs or major TCs.

Global Hurricane Frequency

Next — The last four decades of Global and Northern Hemisphere Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). 24 month running sums. The number for each year represents the value of ACE for the Northern Hemisphere (bottom line/gray boxes) and the entire globe (top line/blue boxes). The area in between represents the Southern Hemisphere total ACE. No trend in cyclone energy.

Global Tropical Cyclone Energy

Next —  The last four decades of Global Tropical Storm and Hurricane frequency. 12-month running sums. The top time series is the number of TCs that reach at least tropical storm strength (maximum lifetime wind speed exceeds 34-knots). The bottom time series is the number of hurricane strength TCs (64-knots+). No trend in global frequency of tropical storms or hurricanes.

Global Tropical Cyclone Frequency

(2)  Severe tornadoes in America

The bottom line from NOAA’s climate information website: “The bar charts below indicate there has been little trend in the frequency of the stronger tornadoes over the past 55 years.”

US strong tornadoes (EF3-EF5) 1954-2014

(3)  Winter snowfall extent

“However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.”

— “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past“, The Independent, 20 March 2000.

The end of snow has been a common activists claim. But the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab shows that northern hemisphere snow extent has increased slightly since 1967 (see below). Spring snow extent has declined; fall extent has increased slightly.

Winter Northern Hemisphere Snow Extent

(4)  Rising seas!

Global Mean Sea Level, by the U of CO Sea Level Group.

U of CO Sea Level Graph

Oceans have been rising during the two century-long warming, a subject of much hysteria by activists. Has their rate of rise accelerated? See this paper by members of the U CO Sea Level Group: “Is the detection of accelerated sea level rise imminent?” by Fasullo et al. in Scientific Reports, 10 August 2016 — Abstract…

“Global mean sea level rise estimated from satellite altimetry provides a strong constraint on climate variability and change and is expected to accelerate as the rates of both ocean warming and cryospheric mass loss increase over time. In stark contrast to this expectation however, current altimeter products show the rate of sea level rise to have decreased from the first to second decades of the altimeter era.

(5)  Wildfires

The 20th century policy represented by Smokey the Bear — “only you can prevent forest fires” — and the mistaken belief that all forest and grassland fires are bad and must be prevented — turned the western US forests into tinderboxes. The resulting massive fires are, of course, blamed on climate change. But the number of fires has not increased in recent years, per this graph from the EPA. They massive stores of dead wood allow the fires to grow. Also see the data on wildfires at the National Interagency Fire Center.

Number of wildfires in the US 1983 - 2015

(6)  What about the Texas 2010-2014 drought?

“If climate change is the real deal, then the human race as we know it is over …”
— Linden Morris from “Fear in a Handful Of Dust” by Ted Genoways in The New Republic.

Activists blame anthropogenic global warming for the southwest drought. See the research about it, and the conclusions of these two papers.

(a)  “A link between the hiatus in global warming and North American drought“ by Thomas L. Delworth et al at the Journal of Climate, May 2015. From the abstract: “This suggests that anthropogenic radiative forcing is not the dominant driver of the current drought…

(b)  NOAA’s Drought Task Force: “An Interpretation of the Origins of the 2012 Central Great Plains Drought“, 20 March 2013. From the Executive Summary: “The central Great Plains drought during May-August of 2012 resulted mostly from natural variations in weather. …Neither ocean states nor human-induced climate change, factors that can provide long-lead predictability, appeared to play significant roles in causing severe rainfall deficits over the major corn producing regions of central Great Plains.”

(7)  What about the just-ended California drought?

Activists blame anthropogenic global warming for the California drought. See the research about it, such as in these three papers.

(a)  “The Key Role of Heavy Precipitation Events in Climate Model Disagreements of Future Annual Precipitation Changes in California“, David W. Pierce et al, Journal of Climate, August 2013 — Open copy here. “Climate model simulations disagree on whether future precipitation will increase or decrease over California, which has impeded efforts to anticipate and adapt to human-induced climate change.”

(b) From NOAA: “Causes and predictability of the 2011 – 2014 California Drought“, December 2014 — “The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895.”

(c)Causes of the 2011 to 2014 California drought“, Richard Seager et al, Journal of Climate, September 2015 — Ungated version. “{T}he precipitation deficit during the drought was dominated by natural variability, a conclusion framed by discussion of differences between observed and modeled tropical SST trends.”

(8)  Conclusions: few signs of increases in extreme weather

The world has been warming for two centuries, since 1950 with “over half of the warming comes from anthropogenic causes” (IPCC AR5 WGI SPM). This has caused a wide range of effects. But there are as yet few noticeable increases in extreme weather, other than in temperature- and perhaps precipitation-related events. That was the conclusion of the IPCC’s “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (SREX, 2012), and of the IPCC’s AR5 report (2013). And so it is today.

Activists claim otherwise to build support for their policy agenda — Plato’s “noble lie” in action. But three decades of exaggerations has achieved almost none of their desired policy changes.

But the climate is still changing. We are still face an uncertain future, with the possibility of unpleasant surprises — perhaps the repeat of past extreme weather (inevitable eventually), or new extreme weather caused by climate change. Whatever happens, we need to clearly see the world in order to prepare and cope with whatever happens. Reports from the IPCC and the major climate agencies — not scary headlines fed by climate activists to click-hungry journalists — are our best source of guidance about climate trends.

Preparing for Extreme Weather
NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.

(9) For More Information

Also see this about floods: “Climate-driven variability in the occurrence of major floods across North America and Europe” by Glenn A.Hodgkins et al. in the Journal of Hydrology, September 2017.

“Trends in major-floods from 1204 sites in North America and Europe are assessed. Trends based on counting exceedances of flood thresholds for groups of gauges. The number of significant trends was about the number expected due to chance alone. Changes in the frequency of major floods are dominated by multidecadal variability.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these Reference Pages for other posts about climate on the FM sites:  The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also, see these posts about our lack of preparedness for the past…

  1. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Despair about the fate of Earth: a win for the doomsters.
  4. Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?
  5. A leaked memo about climate change explains why we’re unprepared.
  6. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?
  7. More good news about climate change: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse.
 The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

… see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research). From the publisher…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”


19 thoughts on “Look at the trends in extreme weather & see the state of the world”

  1. Typo: “turned into the western US forests into tinderboxes” should probably be “turned the western US forests into tinderboxes”

  2. My one complaint would be is that you put too much faith into the IPCC, given Michael Mann was one of its key contributors and is a serial liar (Congressional testimony, winning a Nobel prize, etc…). Also, you left out “95% confidence” that “over half of the warming comes from anthropogenic causes.”

    But that would be a minor nitpick. Otherwise, you did some excellent research that I hope gets a lot of attention or used by news outlets. Or even better, used by policymakers who seem to rely more on plutocrats like Al Gore instead of plain common sense and factual information.

    1. John,

      One thing I learned in 3 decades in the investment biz: researching a subject doesn’t make one an expert in it. Crossing that lines leads to expensive mistakes (been there, done that). I’m not a climate scientist, and so take these institutions as givens. Imperfect as are all social structures.

      Here I don’t debate climate science, except by posting occasional articles by climate scientists. I report on the findings of climate science, and discuss the public policy implications of climate science.

      “Michael Mann was one of its key contributors and is a serial liar (Congressional testimony, winning a Nobel prize, etc…”

      (a) Experts should be judged not by their personalities but by their professional work. Many of the great scientists and philosophers of history (esp the latter) were horrible people.

      (b) That’s too harsh, imo. I don’t believe Mann is a serial liar in any useful sense of the term (see my comment up-thread. Now Trump is a serial liar. Mann exaggerated his “Nobel Prize”, but vanity is a venial sin.

    2. John Christy’s lengthy note and Judith Curry’s pointed editorial are indeed well worth reading. Steve McIntyre’s work on the notorious hockey stick also deserves mention – John Christy does so indirectly with his comments on a few trees making the hockey stick. Mann seems to have forgotten Feynman’s admonition to scientists not to fool themselves.

  3. Nice summary. Are you aware of any counters to Fasullo et al’s statement on gmsl increase? I looked but could find nothing.

    1. Bernie,

      Me, neither. No critical comments on the Nature website.

      The CO group is an A-team player in sea level measurements. Not people to contradict lightly. Much better for activists to ignore them, and loudly chant “Acceleration Acceleration Acceleration!”

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