Irma might defeat the skeptics and end the climate wars

Houston is under water after the impact of Harvey, a category 4 hurricane. Irma, a Cat 5, might brush by or even hit Miami. Such moments are ideal for a thought experiment (Gedankenexperiment in the original German). How might a catastrophic hurricane season change the politics of the climate change wars — the debate about the appropriate public policy response to climate change (which has both natural and anthropogenic components)? Moments of uncertainty like this force opening our minds to new insights. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes ugly.

A dark scenario: Irma might travel by or through east Florida — and up the east coast.
A hurricane’s winds can extend hundreds of miles from the center points shown.

CFAN forecast of Irma path - ECWMF mean

The above graph shows the mean forecast as of this point in time. Remember, this post is a Gedankenexperiment. If you live in Florida — let alone Virginia — don’t run for shelter yet. Five day predictions of hurricane paths have large error bars (about 225 miles in the National Hurricane Center’s forecasts). The five to eight day (and beyond) forecasts are less reliable. That long-term forecast is both a form of best-guess (albeit of low reliability) and a worst-case case kind of scenario. Let’s explore the possible results if this happens, and Irma visits several American cities.

At the end of this post are CFAN graphs showing the full range of tracks, showing the many possible futures for Irma.

Physical effects in this scenario

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (of Berkeley Earth), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

Category 5 is the highest on the Saffir-Simpson (S-S) scale of hurricane winds, at 157 mph plus.

“Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.” {Source: NOAA.}

The damage and loss of life would be immense. If Irma retained an unusual amount of its strength as it moved over land (instead of quickly slowing), the damage would extend over an extraordinarily large area. The S-S scale measures only wind speed. Other factors also determine impacts, most importantly the size (footprint) of the storm and the amount of rain it drops.

For such a rich powerful nation, America is poorly prepared for even routine hurricane landfalls (see the top 50 in damages and all 32 Cat 5s). For example, the second most costly hurricane landfall in the US was Sandy in 2012 — $70 billion although it was no longer a hurricane (a post-tropical cyclone, with winds of ~80 mph). The funds America needed to build resilient infrastructure (or even maintain our rotting infrastructure) were burned away fighting (and losing) in Afghanistan and Iraq. The political will to prepare for the inevitable repeat of past weather was wrecked by squabbling about the future in the Climate Wars.

The one-two blows of Harvey and Irma (with more hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic) might create the conditions for a change in public opinion. Hopefully including a resolve to prepare better for Nature’s effects.

Using publicity to incite panic.

How the game is played: absence of extreme weather is weather.
Only extreme weather is climate change.

Days between major hurricane landfalls
From “Weather-related Natural Disasters: Should we be concerned about a reversion to the mean?” by Prof Roger Pielke Jr., 31 July 2017.

The 12 years with no major hurricane landfalls on continental USA were considered just weather by activists, activist scientists, and oddly passive journalists. Hurricane Harvey was immediately deemed the result of (or intensified by) climate change — claims amplified (without supporting analysis) by click-hungry journalists, but in a desultory way. After all, this game of all extreme weather, no matter how normal, is climate change, has been played for three decades. But a second hurricane in 2017 with severe damage and loss of life almost certainly would send the climate change publicity machine into overdrive. This would be activists’ long awaited opportunity to panic the US public into supporting their agenda for public policy action.

We can only guess at their odds of success. I would bet on them in this scenario, given their dominate role in academia and the media, plus their lavish funding — compared to the largely self-funded climate skeptics’ websites (e.g., contrast their amateurish appearance with the professionalism of activists’ websites). American’s have always been easily panicked. Routine flu epidemics (e.g., swine flu in 2009) make us panic. A few cases of Ebola sent a nation of 323 million into hysterics.

We are especially fond of moral panics. Wikipedia lists some, but omits some of the biggest: the several “commies under the bed” scares, the day-care sexual abuse mania, the recovered memories scam (which sent many innocent people to jail and boosted Janet Reno to become Clinton’s attorney general), and the late 1980’s child abduction scare (with “hundreds of thousands” or even “two million” children stolen each year, hence the faces on milk cartons). More recently, fears about rampant sex on campuses started on the Right (“Sex, Lies, and Moral Panics“: “Some Christian conservatives are comparing colleges to brothels. But don’t withdrawl {sic} your daughter quite yet, it might just be the latest example of a mass moral panic.”). The Left joined the parade and amped up the story (“Moral Panics Won’t End Campus Rape“, It’s time to forcibly re-shape America to fight the campus rape epidemic! Even if it’s fake.).

Both Left and Right often incite panic for political gain. For example, as the Left did with chemicals (Alar in 1989, and the Right with equally fake scares about recent increases in crime, increased Black Mob Violence, and exaggerations about strength of foreign foes.

After three decades of preparing the public, activists might find it easy to spark panic. No matter what the buttoned-down scientists deep in the halls of NOAA say (e.g., time needed for study, attribution of weather is difficult), on the day after Irma’s impact journalists’ microphones will go to activist scientists announcing their insta-verdicts: CO2 is guilty!

If they are successful, the resulting public uproar might be the biggest since the 1950s, when the unexpected Soviet atomic blasts and the fall of China to the red commies led to mass hysteria in America. “Witch hunts” of suspected communists in Hollywood (banning Charlie Chaplin)! Loyalty oaths!

Victory Is The Goal


“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
— Samuel Johnson as reported by Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson.

Massive changes of public opinion prove that America is still a democracy. Congress responds fast (those are great jobs). When they do not or can not  respond we get a wave election or even a realignment election — and unemployed politicians.

So if a large majority of the public demands action to fight climate change, the Republican majority in Congress will not refuse. They might take moderate and well-founded measures, such as long-term steps to decarbonize the economy and building new infrastructure to make America more resilient (i.e., prepare for repeats of past weather). Unfortunately, looney measures are just as likely.

The public’s fear and anger will be used outside of Washington. The insults and demonization skeptics experience today are like spring rains compared to the resulting thunderstorms of public blame and condemnation. The Left talks about banning skeptics from the news media and suing them. In their fantasies (occasionally displayed to the public) activists imagine killing them. We can only imagine what they will do if they gain power.

“With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines while making people laugh. …Many people found the resulting film extremely funny…”
— Lizzie Gillet, the 10:10 global campaign director talks about this film.

Prominent skeptics might be harassed and demonized on a scale far greater than anything seen in generations. Sometimes unemployment will follow, as companies and universities in self-defense cut them lose (tenure has failed to provide protection in the past, and it is weaker today).

History suggests that the only choice Congressional committees will give skeptics is poison or the knife (metaphorically speaking). “Lukewarmers” might be grilled: “were you ever a skeptic or associated with skeptics?” Skeptics can prepare for these inquisitions by studying medieval confessionals and the accepted forms of self-criticism in Mao’s China. I have written about this scenario in the past. Soon we might see if I was right.

Too bad that both Left and Right abandoned the IPCC.

This was all unnecessary. For over two decades the IPCC’s work was describes as the “gold standard” consensus of climate scientists — imperfect but the best available (perfection is found only in Heaven). The Working Group I reports of the IPCC provide an adequate basis for sensible policies to deal with climate change, both natural and anthropogenic.

The Right opposed it adamantly. The Left initially supported the IPCC, but with diminishing enthusiasm over time. Many on the Left condemned the IPCC’s AR5 report (2013) as “too conservative” (e.g., see Inside Climate NewsThe Daily Climate, and Yale’s Environment 360). That was a decisive moment in the US climate policy wars. Since then activists have gone full doomster, all the time — with the enthusiastic support of journalists. The possibility of a political consensus faded away. Those of us supporting the IPCC found ourselves attacked by both activists and skeptics. For more about this see these posts.

  1. The IPCC gets better. Climate alarmists freak-out.
  2. The IPCC gives us straight talk about Extreme Weather.
  3. The IPCC rebukes the climate doomsters. Will we listen?
  4. A summary of the state of climate change and extreme weather.
  5. The IPCC releases its advice on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. To be attacked from both sides.
  6. More good news about climate change from the IPCC: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse.
  7. Another disturbing article about climate change. Fortunately we have the IPCC!
  8. The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen.

Some important things to know about Irma.

(1)  For current information about Irma, see the National Hurricane Center’s website. For more technical information, see  Levi Cowan’s website (Ph.D. candidate in tropical meteorology at Florida State U): Tropical Tidbits.  Update: see Dr. Curry’s analysis “Hurricane Irma eyes Florida” at her website, Climate Etc. She also discusses Irma’s relationship to global warming.

(2)  Irma is hitting the Caribbean region hard. Our prayers and sympathy — and aid — should go to them. As for Florida, NOAA has — as always — careful and professional forecasts.

“Direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and rainfall are possible in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida Peninsula beginning later this week and this weekend. However, given the forecast uncertainty at these time ranges, it is too soon to specify the location and magnitude of these impacts.” {10 AM EST NOAA forecast}

“Irma is a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane and will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards …The threat of direct hurricane impacts in Florida over the weekend and early next week has increased. Hurricane watches could be issued for portions of the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula on Thursday. (10 PM EST NOAA forecast.)

(3)  Long-term forecasts for Irma after Florida (5+ days) are unreliable. See CFAN’s high-probability tracks and the full ensemble of tracks. There many possible futures for Irma. These are based on CFAN’s calibrated tracks from models of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). Red is their deterministic model.

CFAN’s graph showing high probability tracks.

CFAN forecast of Irma's path: high probability paths

CFAN’s graph showing the full ensemble of tracks. One might be right.

CFAN's forecast of Irma paths - full ensemble

About Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN).

There is a revolution in weather forecasting. New insights from research about weather dynamics. Better data. More powerful computers. Owned and run by scientists, CFAN is on its cutting edge. They build forecasting tools that give longer and more accurate warnings of extreme weather events, so clients can better prepare and recover – and better protect life and property.

CFAN’s staff applies the latest weather and climate research to a wide range of customer challenges, helping businesses and government around the world. Their advanced prediction tools provide clients with the confidence to make complex and difficult decisions about weather risks.

CFAN’s research has been assisted by grants from NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy. Dr. Judith Curry is the President of CFAN. Dr. Peter Webster is its Chief Scientist. For more information see their website. See their August forecast for the 2017 Hurricane Season.

For More Information

To learn more about the matters discussed here.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about the IPCCthe keys to understanding climate change and these posts about the politics of climate change…

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  3. Ignoring science to convince the public that we’re doomed by climate change.
  4. A leaked memo about climate change explains why we’re unprepared.

A fun example of debunking the climate propaganda.

Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change by Susan J. Crawford. From the publisher…

This book explains why polar bears are thriving despite the recent decline of Arctic sea ice. It describes polar bears’ ecology and conservation issues, providing up-to-date information in an easy to digest format — fully referenced. It is the book giving the science about polar bears that people have been requesting. Contents…

1. Polar bear & sea ice basics
2. Feasting/fasting life of polar bears
3. Evolution & climate change
4. Conservation & protection
5. Failure of the polar bear predictions
6. Biggest threat to polar bears
7. Summary
8. Conclusions

Susan Crockford is a zoologist with more than 35 years of experience, including published work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia (a “non-remunerated professional zooarcheologist associate”) and co-owner of a private consulting company, Pacific Identifications Inc. See her publications and her website Polar Bear Science. She has also written a novel, Eaten — a polar bear attack thriller.


7 thoughts on “Irma might defeat the skeptics and end the climate wars”

  1. I’m already getting incredulous “it can’t happen” responses to my post. That’s odd, since there are examples in history beyond count of public opinion changing decisively and suddenly on the basis of events.  Especially when stoked by powerful special interest groups.  The two big “red scares” are close analogues. They resulted from the cumulative impact from years of stories that were in spirit like today’s in The Guardian: “The unprecedented drought that’s crippling Montana and North Dakota.”

    Kirn’s story is typical across the high plains in Montana and the Dakotas this summer, where one of the country’s most important wheat growing regions is in the grips of a crippling drought that came on with hardly any warning and, experts say, is without precedent. …

    Most farmers in and around the Fort Peck Reservation agree that climate change is to blame for the sudden drought and ruined crops, but that doesn’t change the fact that farmers and others who make their living off of agriculture are now subject to shifting political winds and strained debate around the issue. “This is unprecedented,” says Tanja Fransen of the National Weather Service in Glasgow, a larger city just up the road from Fort Peck. “This is as dry as it’s been in recorded history and some of our recording stations have 100 years of data. A lot of people try to compare this to previous years, but really, you just can’t.”

    Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist for North Dakota describes the unusual draught in terms that are reminiscent of descriptions of deluge brought on by Hurricane Harvey.

    The effectiveness of such large-scale and long-term campaigns is usually surprising to people, which is itself surprising. But as Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

    Note: The Guardian article gives no evidence whatsoever for its claims. Quite the opposite. Those happy few who read deep into Guardian’s article for details will find evidence that these events are not extraordinary. Bold emphasis added.

    Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist for North Dakota …said that March through July was the third-driest five-months on record in North Dakota since 1895 …Partly as a result of the drought, Montana is also dealing with one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. As of early September, wildfires have burned more than 1m acres – among the state’s top five most devastating fire seasons in terms of acres burned

  2. With as yet unconfirmed estimates of Harvey costs at $170 Billion, a worst case Irma scenario might take total U.S. hurricane costs for 2017 above $1/2 Trillion. Seems like that’s a big enough number to justify some level of pre-disaster planning/preventative action, perhaps even including acceleration of alternative energy investments, which are rapidly becoming cost competitive with petrochemicals.

    Properly funded the post storm restoration process would provide a nice temporary boost to the national economy, but there are lots better ways to prime the pump.

    1. John,

      Irma and others would have to be immensely destructive to generate over $330B in damages. It is, of course, possible. The current NOAA track forecasts Irma going up the center line of Florida. Miami would have a bad day. Fortunately, it has a small footprint — limiting the damaged area. Also, wind forecasts predict a rapid falloff in velocity once over land.

      “Properly funded the post storm restoration process would provide a nice temporary boost to the national economy, but there are lots better ways to prime the pump.”

      The “broken window” effect works well when the economy is operating well below capacity. It’s a form of Keynesian stimulus. We’re probably too close to full utilization for the growth to offset the wealth and income lost.

      “a big enough number to justify some level of pre-disaster planning/preventative action,”

      We can only hope so.

  3. Pingback: What you need to know and are not told about hurricanes | Watts Up With That?

  4. Pingback: What You Need to Know and are Not Told About Hurricanes | US Issues

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: