A new paper about hurricanes shatters the narrative

Summary: A new paper provides new information about hurricanes, one of the top natural disaster threats. It shatters the media’s narrative and illustrates how science works in the real world.

Hurricane Irma
Photo of Irma by GOES-16 on 8 Sept 2017. NOAA.



  1. Real science in action!
  2. Overview of the trends.
  3. News about a new paper.
  4. The bottom line.
  5. For More Information.
  6. Book recommendations.

(1)  Real science in action!

Science shapes our world, revealing secrets of nature that allow humanity to build a better world — more secure and prosperous. Yet the public has little understanding of how it works. People believe myths, such as the cornucopia produced by basic science (gains come more often from focused research to achieve immediately useful goals). People believe scientists are logical beings, like Mr. Spock — instead of the fallible, passionate, pack animals that run other institutions. People believe new papers reveal TRUTH (what Andrew Revkin calls the “single study syndrome” (e.g., here and here).  This leads to disillusionment when people look under the covers and see the battles for precedence and power, the petty personal rivalries, and the misuse of science for political gain.

One cure for this is reading books about science, such as those by Lewis Thomas, Stephen Jay Gould, and Thomas Kuhn. Another is reading papers by scientists, seeing the exploration of reality using inadequate data and imperfect theories — with new insights usually gained inch by inch. This is the reality, not journalists’ daily declaration that our political biases are proven correct!

Here is an example: a new paper about the trend in hurricanes, among the most destructive of routine natural phenomena (not as bad as asteroid strikes or super volcanoes, but much more common). It is especially relevant as an alleged effect of our emissions of CO2.

(2)  Overview of the trends in hurricane action

There are many oddities in the long campaign to get public policy action to fight climate change. One is that we often forecast that the very serious future danger is the one we just experienced.  Big damages in US from hurricanes in 2005 sparked headlines that an age of more and bigger hurricanes had begun. A 12 year long hurricane “drought” in the US followed. So that story went down the memory hole. Droughts in California and in Texas sparked headlines about the new age of droughts. Now after a year of destructive hurricanes in the US, headlines warn about a future of awful hurricanes.

Let’s look at the global trends, then the look at the latest science. This graph is from the website of Roger Pielke Jr., an update of data from “Historical Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls” by Jessica Weinkle in the Journal of Climate, July 2012. No significant trend, with a low frequency for 7 of the last 9 years. Dr. Ryan Maue has a graph of global tropical cyclone frequency (not just landfalls): same result.

Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls - Weinkle

For another perspective, here is Dr. Maue’s graph of Accumulated Cyclone Energy for the world and Northern Hemisphere (24 month running average). Again, no trend. As demographer Ben Wattenberg wrote in his 1984 book: The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong. So far.

Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE)

(3)  News about a new paper

“Their paper is a useful update, a synthesis of several threads of research providing context for the high damage losses from the 2017 hurricane season.”
— Dr. Judith Curry, CEO of Climate Forecast Applications Network. She writes at Climate Etc.

Continental United States Hurricane Landfall Frequency and Associated Damage: Observations and Future Risks

By Philip J. Klotzbach, Steven G. Bowen, Roger Pielke Jr., and Michael Bell.
In press at Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Quotes and graphics posted with the authors’ generous permission.

The abstract reveals findings that contradict the mainstream news narrative about hurricanes during 2017. It cites other studies with similar findings (all ignored by journalists — Roger Pielke Jr. has mentioned that some of this data got him labeled a “climate denier” by climate activists — details here). The conclusions are a clear example of focused research applied to questions important for America.

“While United States landfalling hurricane frequency or intensity shows no significant trend since 1900, growth in coastal population and wealth have led to increasing hurricane-related damage along the United States coastline. Continental United States (CONUS) hurricane-related inflation-adjusted damage has increased significantly since 1900. However, since 1900 neither observed CONUS landfalling hurricane frequency nor intensity show significant trends, including the devastating 2017 season.

“Two large-scale climate modes that have been noted in prior research to significantly impact CONUS landfalling hurricane activity are El Niño-Southern Oscillation on interannual timescales and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation on multi-decadal timescales. La Niña seasons tend to be characterized by more CONUS hurricane landfalls than do El Niño seasons, and positive Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation phases tend to have more CONUS hurricane landfalls than do negative phases.

Growth in coastal population and regional wealth are the overwhelming drivers of observed increases in hurricane-related damage. As the population and wealth of the US has increased in coastal locations, it has invariably led to the growth in exposure and vulnerability of coastal property along the US Gulf and East Coasts. Unfortunately, the risks associated with more people and vulnerable exposure came to fruition in Texas and Florida during the 2017 season following the landfalls of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Total economic damage from those two storms exceeded $125 billion.

“Growth in coastal population and exposure is likely to continue in the future, and when hurricane landfalls do occur, this will likely lead to greater damage costs than previously seen. Such a statement is made recognizing that the vast scope of damage from hurricanes often highlight the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of building codes, flood maps, infrastructure, and insurance in at-risk communities.”  {Red emphasis added.}

We are told that global warming makes hurricanes worse — some combination of more frequent and more intense (depending on the source). There is an easy first test of this. The world has been warming since the middle of the 19th century. The IPCC’s AR5 tells us that…

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

What is the trend in hurricane activity during the past 12 decades? One of the best records is that of landfalls on continental US. The authors show the data (graphs below; click to enlarge). The first graph shows all hurricane landfalls. The second shows landfalls of major hurricanes (Saffir-Simpson Category 3-5). These cause over 80% of all hurricane-related damages. Do you see any trend in either graph, in the “natural” era (1900-1950) or the anthropogenic era (1951-2017)? Klotzback has posted more detailed data back to 1851 about North Atlantic hurricanes. As to the future, only time will tell.

US Landfalling Hurricanes

US Landfalling Major Hurricanes


The bottom line: a warning.

“In the years since the last official decadal census in 2010, an even more pronounced trend of coastal growth has occurred as some of the greatest rates of population growth were found in particularly vulnerable hurricane landfall locations. Of the top 20 fastest-growing counties from 2010-2016, 13 were 281 in hurricane-prone states…

“Losses from future hurricanes have significant potential to dwarf those of the past based on societal change alone. Event losses will be even greater with potential increases in storm intensity (Knutson et al. 2010, Walsh et al. 2015) as well as flood-related impacts associated with an accelerated rate of sea level rise (Mousavi et al. 2011) and/or increased amounts of rainfall (Emanuel 2017). This highlights the continued importance of modernized and consistent building codes across hurricane-prone states, updated flood maps, and improved coastal/inland infrastructure given assumed impacts in the future.”

(4)  The bottom line

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

Potential future increases in hurricane intensity, sea levels, and rainfall will increase damages from hurricanes. But our obsession with climate change blinds us to other sources of increasing weather-related risks. Such as increased population and economic development in areas exposed to hurricanes. And how our rotting public infrastructure increases our vulnerability to hurricane-related damage. The combination of these could have painful results. The public policy gridlock about climate change has left us unprepared for not just future risks but also the inevitable repeat of past weather.

This year the people of Puerto Rico and Texas paid for our folly. Population growth in hurricane-affected regions means that eventually the cost in blood and money will be even larger — unless we get smarter.

(5)  For More Information

To learn more about hurricanes.

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

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. Also, see all posts about hurricanes, about extreme weather, and especially these …

(6)  Book recommendations.

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder. See my review.

Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith (meteorologist and SVP at Accuweather) — The true story of how science tamed the weather. See my review.

The best book to start for those that want to understand the climate policy wars: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. How science works in the wild, not the process conducted by logical demigods described in the news. Probably the top-selling science book ever (1.4 million copies sold by 2012), and one of the most often cited in academic papers. See a review of it here.

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.
Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather
Available at Amazon.


22 thoughts on “A new paper about hurricanes shatters the narrative

  1. The misuse of science for political gain: exactly. Our county’s southern border is the Delaware River, and one of the United States’ oldest cities. On the local level, all that the obsession with climate change has produced has been to secure $200,000 to produce a study that could have been written by a 10th grader with Wikipedia access. Meanwhile, our storm sewers are still clogged with debris left from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and the levees washed away in the 1970s were never built back.

    1. Sun Village,

      A sad but common story! Note that the obsession with climate change is a subset of our rotting public infrastructure problem. Look at the ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card. Everything is rotting, as public funding is inadequate to maintain our public infrastructure — let alone build it match our growing population and new needs.

      The reasons for this are important, but beyond the scope of this post.

  2. Failure to address known problems has consequences. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has estimated that 470,000 Puerto Ricans will migrate to the U.S. post Maria and that the heaviest exodus will be to Florida. https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/RB2017-01-POST-MARIA%20EXODUS_V3.pdf
    Consequences began quickly, putting stress on local school systems in central Florida.
    https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/CentroReport-RB2017-02-POST-MARIA-FL-PR-EXODUS%20%281%29.pdf. Of note from the latter paper is that Puerto Rican immigration to Florida had increased from ~500,000 at the beginning of the century to more than 1,000,000 in 2016, before Maria. The net vote for President Trump in 2016 was 120,000. If the Center’s estimate is correct, the failure to address the rebuilding of Puerto Rico and the resulting increase in the rate of exodus could be sufficient to turn the voting balance in Florida, since the Puerto Rican population is young and growing and traditionally Democratic leaning, while many of the more conservative elements of Florida’s population are elderly, Obviously there are many factors at work, including the net balance of incoming elderly migrants versus death rates and I wasn’t able to find any recent data on that.

    1. Bill,

      Let’s have a national vote on Puerto Rico remaining part of the US! I’ll bet that there would be a decisive vote “no.” That would make the loud Left happy, who constantly screams about our colonialism — as we send large sums of money to PR every year (it’s a drain, not a resource).

      They deserve the opportunity to stand on their own feet and find their own destiny. Let’s give it to them.

  3. Greenhouse theory predicts warming in the tropics, but most actual warming has been observed at the poles. Less temperature difference between equator and poles means less violent weather. Also notice how wheat harvests have been smashing records all over the world in the last few years. Plants love warm weather and they love CO2, who would have guessed?

    You don’t hear much about the benefits of global warming because it contradicts the narrative. Historically, human populations increased during warm periods and fell during cold periods, mostly due to crop failures.

    1. Dave,

      A key insight of Thomas Kuhn is that paradigms always have anomalies — where theory do not match observations. Anomalies do not disprove the paradigm.

      “You don’t hear much about the benefits of global warming because it contradicts the narrative.”

      Exactly! No only does this change the result of the calculations about the effects of warming — but also creates doubt about the bias in those that make them (that they only include ill effects of warming, but not benefits).

  4. When governmental units encourages through public subsidies
    the construction of structures in disaster prone areas, it is just
    another mark of a failed society.

    The latest federale budget, includes 16 billion dollars for the bankrupt
    national flood insurance program. 50% of Broke-o-Rica housing stock
    was under code (you mainlanders will pay for that).

    Remember the failing earth damn in Disneyfornia, with the damaged spillway,
    1/2 of billion dollars in national taxpayers money went to its repair. Where
    was the Dreamer Corps?

    Everytime there is a natural disaster the states governors run to WDC,
    with their untidy hands out.

    There is an absence of personal responsibility.

    1. Bill,

      “it is just another mark of a failed society.”

      Worry not! There is a society that meets your high standards — and does not make such mistakes. But you must die to get there.

      Perhaps realistic standards might more effectively motivate political action than despair (i.e., regarding America as a “failed society”).

  5. Kuhn is actually part of the problem – along with Quine and Duhem a precursor of post modern science and post modern ways of applying it to policy.

    Quine contributed the incoherent idea of the Indeterminacy of Meaning. Duhem points out rightly that observations are often or always theory-laden, and this can later be, and was, misused in the drift to post modern approaches. Another precursor is Kuhn and the use of his account in the liberal arts media.

    It is very doubtful that science actually works, as a social discipline, in the way Kuhn claims, and its even more doubtful that it is a good thing, if and when it does.

    As so often we find an expression of this in the Guardian by an author who does not understand the implications of what he has said.

    “But what really set the cat among the philosophical pigeons was one implication of Kuhn’s account of the process of paradigm change. He argued that competing paradigms are “incommensurable”: that is to say, there exists no objective way of assessing their relative merits. There’s no way, for example, that one could make a checklist comparing the merits of Newtonian mechanics (which applies to snooker balls and planets but not to anything that goes on inside the atom) and quantum mechanics (which deals with what happens at the sub-atomic level). But if rival paradigms are really incommensurable, then doesn’t that imply that scientific revolutions must be based – at least in part – on irrational grounds? In which case, are not the paradigm shifts that we celebrate as great intellectual breakthroughs merely the result of outbreaks of mob psychology?”

    Quite so. In the background of this is an unconscious recollection of the Hegelian dialectic, which is so much part of modern culture that its in the air we breathe, and it is a short step from this to the the Parisian nonsense factory. And the mentions in the piece of the ‘Whig view of history’ are a striking example of the problem. We in the Guardian reject something we are sure existed and was bad: the Whig view of history. So we compare this thing, a standard intellectual Bad Thing in our circles, to a view of the philosophy of science which we then claim to be, by analogy, as obsolete as the Whig view of history.

    One result of the abandonment of intellectual rigor in the general cultural move to post modern attitudes has been to legitimize traditional logical fallacies as valid methods of argument. So in the post-modern doctrine that statements are simply reflections of the class and gender interests of the asserter we legitimize ad-hominem argument. So in the Guardian’s use of the Whig view of history we find argument by analogy legitimized.

    When telling people to read Hegel, Nietzche, Quine, Kuhn in order to understand the crisis in our intellectual culture, do so for the right reasons. This tradition is part of the problem, its not part of the solution. Read them by all means, they are valuable if understood as symptoms, in some cases astonishingly early, of a desperate cultural illness. But you’ll no more find any hints of a solution in them than a member of the Nomenklatura would have found answers to his crisis of belief by reading Lukacs or Hobsbawm or Gramsci.

    Where will you find answers? Well, this post is long enough. But if you wonder what has gone wrong with Climate Science and its application to public policy, you will not find the answer in Kuhn.

    1. Simon,

      I disagree with two core aspects of your comment.

      (1) “Kuhn is actually part of the problem”

      Kuhn loudly and often spoke out against people misinterpreting his work to support post-modern science. He was describing the sociology of science. How people behave (i.e., scientists are logical demi-gods). Following in the footsteps of the great physicist Max Planck: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

      (2) I disagree with your assertion that “science” is broken.

      It is working fine. It could be done better, just as every human institution can be improved. And it is improving — as seen in the replication crisis, from which valuable improvements will come.

      I think the application of science in politics is pretty flawed. But given the low level of science education of most Americans, that might be inevitable today. A Congress filled with attorneys is not going to use science well.

  6. I understand that this is not what Kuhn had in mind. But the way ideas get expressed and become pervasive in cultures is complicated. Writers often express things that are around in the air, so to speak, and whose significance we only see in retrospect, in the light of what they led to. I think this is the case with Quine as well. What happens is that there is an idea which turns out to have applications very different from the way the originator saw it. And we only see that when the latent social and cultural changes have taken place. Then we look back and see, yes, the seeds were there.

    Not that the author advocated or approved of what came next. But he expressed something in the air of the culture of his time, this was driving towards what came later, and so when we look back, we see that his expression legitimized something that was a building block in the later changes. I think he was a precursor, though obviously not an advocate. As was Quine.

    He also looks back. I doubt he had ever read Hegel in any depth, but he has absorbed the idea of the dialectic so unconsciously that it is simply part of the way he thinks about history and cultural change.

    Is there a problem with science? No, not in general. But yes, in some particular sciences. Climate is one. The science surrounding heredity is another. The demand for a feminist science of geography shows the temptation. There have been, I think though cannot now recall the refrerence, to math as being male, patriarchal, and hence essentially sexist and racist. One wishes we could see a feminist version of set theory…. But you can see where this goes: it provides a non-rational way of rejecting the conclusions of a discipline.

    I differ from you in not thinking the problem is that we have a legislature of lawyers. I don’t think a legislature of any other profession would be acting differently. I think that in the public sphere there is a general flight from evidence, logical implication, in short, from proper reasons for policies. And I think this has been facilitated, maybe even made possible, by the prevailing ethos of relativism.

    Have another look at Praz. Its not that the late Romantics and Decadents advocated mass slaughter. But all the same. when reading them in the light of WW1 annd WW2, one will find oneself saying, Ah, that is where that came from. They too were precursors. This is what I think Quine, Kuhn and Duhem were.

    There is an interesting book of a London conference on Kuhn which is worth reading. Its called Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, published by Cambridge University Press, edited by Lakatos and Musgrave.

    I don’t believe that, historically, science has worked the way Kuhn thought, and I don’t believe it should. And I think it very interesting and important that his book became a best seller. It caught a cultural current and expressed what people felt instinctively but had not expressed explicitly, and the reason he is part of the problem is that, whether he wanted to or not, there was enough of his work that could be read as legitimizing subjectivity and relativism by the next generation, that it both seemed important, and could be used for their purposes.

    What seems revolutionary and novel at the time always does so because it is actually mainstream and the received wisdom, often thought, but never so well expressed. People feel its amazing and truthful. Their amazement is actually that the world has come to think like them. And that’s when its getting dangerous.

    Cf Rousseau and the Terror….

  7. First off, the observation of greater $$ damage for huricanes becasue more people llive in those areas looks a lot like the observation that US surface temp rise is because of urbanization (see Wattsupwithat.com – specifically https://wattsupwiththat.com/category/surfacestations-paper/)

    Second the observations about “, scientists are logical demi-gods” reminds me of a Chesterton quote that is something like this “People who stop beleiving in God won’t beleive in nothing, they will beleive in everything” – including that scientist are gods of logic, or atleast demi-gods.

    1. ACT,

      I can’t make heads or tails of your comment.

      (1) “the observation of greater $$ damage for huricanes becasue more people llive in those areas looks a lot like the observation that US surface temp rise is because of urbanization”

      Are you kidding?

      (2) Chesteson quote.

      That’s a bit harsh, imo. The work of scientists is largely incomprehensible to most people and has produced wonders, so it unlike believing in mythical super-beings. Schools teach little about how science as an institution work – so even scientists themselves — who in fact know better — often buy-in to beliefs about their wonderful selves.

    2. Larry,

      “Am [I] kidding?” not sure what part of my post that went with, so more detail, and no I’m not kidding, but I’m probably also not verbose enough in that post.

      If you look at Anthony Watt’s crowd sourcing work on the US temperature locations – that is the surface stations that have been used in the past for calculating the surface temp of the US and it going up – you will see that he found fless than 15% were within guidlines. Of the 85% outside guidlines for proper siting of the thermometer, mover than 50% were in locations that would read hot.
      For example, they commonly use ones at airports which are going to read “hot” because of local conditions like Jets taking off and landing, or hot tarmac. Or over time, the local government decides to utilize the land it has for thermometer station of other purposes, like expanding it’s fire station. While it may have been ok originally, it is corrupted over time.
      The point is, the increase we’ve measured in temperature in the US may be an increase in Urbanization, NOT driven by other man made effect. Certianly some of it is. In the same way, the increase in huricane damages in dollar value is in large part driven by how many people live in huricane prone areas. And that is what your quotes from the report showed. – take a look at the link I posted, and you will see more of what I mean.

      As to #2 about scientist? yeah there is a worship of science (that the worshiper agrees with). And a pedistalizing of the scientist (again that the worshiper agrees with). If it is harsh, then realize A) my assumption was you blog was ok with being harsh – I came here off links from Dahlrock’s site. and B) sometimes individuals need to be told things that are harsh so they change behavior. ok C) I may have used some hyperbole saying most people elevate scientists to god or demi-god status. They certianly put them on pedestals

      ” The work of scientists is largely incomprehensible to most people and has produced wonders, so it unlike believing in mythical super-beings. Schools teach little about how science as an institution work – so even scientists themselves — who in fact know better — often buy-in to beliefs about their wonderful selves.”

      Aurthor C Clark observed that “Sufficently advanced technology is indistiguishable from magic[or miricles]” So if the first half of your sentence is correct – then the second half is actually wrong as to the average person these things are miricles, or at least well accepted wonders. Heck looking over your quote you seem to both agree and disagree with my sentament about scientists being viewed overly favorable by most people.

      As to Chesterton quote . Humans are hard coded to believe in something. Even noted atheists like Penn Gillette show a belief in something. Chesterton’s observation that a change in our belief from a Creator God will just become a belief in everything can be understood a lot of ways. One is that people in general will have a multiple beliefs either as the individual or atleast the group – that is individual members may only believe in one thing, but not the same as the rest of the group members. Or an individual will believe in those multiple things himself.

  8. Mr Kummer, I and the PR nationionalists would agree with your suggests. I am afraid they would support a union as it leads to bountiful, bevy of bennies.

  9. ACThinker is on to something. Watts has good data and solid research regarding human foibles, which is directly applicable and useful. The graph of the raw number of landfalling hurricanes over the past 115 years? Not very useful in measuring actual impact: Agnes in 1972 is but a blip in a quiet year. Folks in the Southern Tier of New York State and mid-Pennsylvania, though, mark this as the point when this area pivoted into despair and never recovered.

    1. Sun Village,

      “ACThinker is on to something. Watts has good data and solid research regarding human foibles, which is directly applicable and useful.”

      You’ll be better off paying attention to the major climate agencies and the IPCC.

      “The graph of the raw number of landfalling hurricanes over the past 115 years? Not very useful in measuring actual impact”

      If you are looking for the one graph that displays all knowledge and answers all questions, then good luck to you. Graphs show one aspect of reality, at most.

    2. Larry,

      The problem with paying attention to NOAA and IPCC, and this is documented at Watt’s is that they retroactively cook the data. It is the whole “nature trick” written large. Heck Voxday has an post on that today, and he is linking off from here –

      Unless the point of your post is a ‘climate change doesn’t matter so much, we should have disaster prep instead’ sure I can get behind that. Part of that would be to stop moving into flood zones. That disaster prep would seem to be the point of your links (back to your site) in section 6.

  10. “climate change”, the watered-down term for human-caused global warming is non-existent. Do some basic research, but first you must have an open mind and desire to come to your own conclusions.

    Here’s a simple start, get a thermometer which records a log of lows and highs, especially if you don’t live in an urban area with lots of concrete. Understand what the term “cherry picking” regards to data means. Compare your readings to the “official” readings. Research ice core data regarding climate before industrial age – or before modern civilization – hint, go to sites with both sides of the argument.

    Motive? research al gore’s investments, there’s a start.

    1. Sneeb,

      Five years ago I said that climate activists exaggerated the number of science deniers out there. Either their numbers have increased or I was just wrong.

      I used to attempt to reason with them, but long experience showed that this was a waste of time.

      Now for the bad news: many Leftists behave in the exact same way when their favorite fringe science is challenged (e.g., modern monetary theory). Suddenly the “consensus of scientists” means nothing. The work of eminent scientists is disregarded when it conflicts with the unpublished speculation of fringe scientists.

      This should not surprise us. Both groups are Americans, and share the same backgrounds and patterns of thought.

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