Wednesday, September 13, 2017

GWPF Newsletter: Beyond Hurricane Hype: A Reality Check

Hurricane Irma Comes 7th In List Of Landfalling U.S. Hurricanes

In this newsletter:

1) Hurricane Irma Comes 7th In List Of Landfalling U.S. Hurricanes
Watts Up With That, 10 September 2017 
2) How Did Irma Get So Strong? Hint: Not Global Warming
Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller, 10 September 2017 
3) Matt Ridley: We Are More Than A Match For Hurricanes
The Times, 11 September 2017 
4) Adaptation & Technology Work: Hurricane Irma Would Have Killed Vastly More People In The Past 
The Washington Post, 11 September 2017 
5) Cooling Atlantic To Cause Fewer Hurricanes In The Near-Future, Study Suggests
Environmental Research Web, 7 September 2017
6) Environmental Reporting in a Post Truth World   
Asia Pacific Media Educator, June 2017 
7) Nick Butler: The Energy Lessons Of Hurricane Harvey
Financial Times, 11 September 2017

Full details:

1) Hurricane Irma Comes 7th In List Of Landfalling U.S. Hurricanes
Watts Up With That, 10 September 2017 
While this won’t be of much comfort for those that are squarely in it’s path right now, it is a small bit of good news. Dr. Philip Klotzbach has compiled rankings of both hurricane Irma and Harvey when they made landfall. Compared to the 1935 Labor Day storm, Irma is a distant 7th, tied with the 1928 Lake Okeechobee storm.
He writes:
Table of all hurricanes with landfall pressures <= 940 mb at time of U.S. landfall. #Irma was 929 mb and #Harvey was 938 mb.

Full post

2) How Did Irma Get So Strong? Hint: Not Global Warming
Michael Bastasch, Daily Caller, 10 September 2017 
Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday morning after making its way across the Atlantic as one of the most powerful storms on record. Irma’s sheer size and power had many asking, “what allowed it to get so strong?”
“The dynamical set up in the atmosphere was extremely favorable for Irma to develop into a major hurricane and maintain very high intensity,” climatologist Judith Curry told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Irma formed off the African coast in late August and quickly became a hurricane strength event in sea surface temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Within hours, Irma became a Category 3 storm.
Hurricanes need warm water, low wind shear and lots of moisture to gain strength. Irma formed at the perfect time. Hurricane season usually peaks in September when the Atlantic Ocean sees its hottest temperatures and has a lot of moisture.
Curry said a major reason Irma intensified so quickly was because of weak wind shear. Wind shear takes away the heat and moisture hurricanes feed off, and it tilts a storm’s vortex, further weakening it. Irma was able to put warm water and moisture to use because of the low wind shear.
“In fact, the dynamics were probably more important than the warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean,” Curry said. “Irma reached Cat 3 status over temperatures in the Atlantic that weren’t all that warm.”
The storm reached Category 5 as it moved into warmer air and water near the Caribbean. Irma maintained wind speeds of 185 miles per hour for 37 hours — a record in the satellite era.
Irma temporarily weakened after making landfall in Cuba, but strengthened to a Category 4 storm Sunday morning when it hit the Florida Keys.
Irma hit Florida has a Category 3 storm, bringing 142-mile-per-hour wind gusts and “catastrophic” storm surge, according to weather forecasting officials.
For days, Florida residents prepared for the massive storm. Many saw the footage of complete devastation wrought by the massive storm, which was much larger than the infamous Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Irma weakened to a Category 2 by the evening while making its way up Florida’s west coast.
The storm made landfall a little more than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, which was linked to man-made global warming by some in the climate science community.
University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass took on claims global warming made Hurricane Harvey worse. He looked at the data and found man-made warming played an “inconsequential” role in the storm.
Full post

3) Matt Ridley: We Are More Than A Match For Hurricanes
The Times, 11 September 2017 
Whether or not tropical storms are becoming fiercer, our growing wealth and ingenuity helps us to survive them

As Hurricane Irma batters Florida, with Anguilla, Barbuda and Cuba clearing up and Houston drying out after Harvey, it is reasonable to ask whether such tropical cyclones are getting more frequent or fiercer.
The answer to the first question is easy: no. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it recently: “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” The trend in numbers of major hurricanes making landfall in the United States has been slightly downward over the past century. Harvey and Irma have ended an unprecedented 12-year hurricane drought, in which not a single category 4 or 5 hurricane made American landfall. So whatever global warming is doing or will do, it is not so far increasing the frequency of such storms.
The answer to the second question is less certain. Hurricane Irma is certainly breaking records: probably the strongest storm in the Atlantic outside the Gulf of Mexico, almost rivalling Hurricane Allen (1980) for the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall, wider in its impact than Hurricane Charley (2004) or Andrew (1992). Last week it sustained its 185mph winds for 37 hours, comfortably beating a record set by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
But how much of this is down to better measurement? We will never know exactly how ferocious the winds of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 were, or the great Barbados hurricane of 1780. An analysis published last month by the American government’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory stated: “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.”
It remains possible that tropical cyclones are becoming slightly fiercer, but slightly less frequent, which would be consistent with some predictions of climate-change theory.
Incidentally, as the climatologist Judith Curry said of Hurricane Irma last week: “The surprising thing about this development into a major hurricane was that it developed over relatively cool waters in the Atlantic, 26.5C, when the rule of thumb is 28.5C for a major hurricane”. So it was not exceptional warmth, but exceptionally low wind shear (high-altitude wind) that led to Irma’s birth.
Let’s assume that there is a trend towards slightly fewer but slightly more intense hurricanes. What does it mean for policy? Pause to notice one truly spectacular feature of Harvey and Irma: how few people they have killed so far. By stalling near the Texas coast, Harvey caused huge floods in Houston, not quite rivalling those of 1935 in the city but still devastating to many people. Yet they killed only about 60 people. Compare this relatively low number (given the huge population of Houston) with the 10,000 dead in Galveston in 1900, or the 138,000 who died in Cyclone Nargis in impoverished Burma in 2008.
It is a similar story with Irma. That Anguilla and Barbuda have been reduced to rubble with the death of only one person on each is astonishing. I am writing this before Irma fully strikes western Florida, but the state has had more warning than for Hurricane Andrew, which killed 65. People in countries or islands with sufficient prosperity and technology to warn, defend and protect each other are far less likely to die than in the past. Indeed the death rate from droughts, floods and storms globally is about 98 per cent lower than it was a century ago. Wealth is the best defence against storms.
While the cost of damage from storms goes up and up, that’s because there are more buildings and more people in places such as Florida. But as a percentage of GDP the damage done by tropical cyclones has been declining steadily for decades.

Houston’s recovery from Harvey is truly remarkable. Less than two weeks after the storm the airport was open, the water system was working and the electrical grid (which stayed on throughout for most people) was in good order. Hotels are no longer clogged with flood refugees and are taking normal bookings. The Convention Centre, to which victims of the flooding were taken, is reopening for conventions soon. Note that this survivability depends heavily on non-renewable energy: wind farms and solar panels are no use during hurricanes, while gas plants work fine, as do outboard motors on rescue boats.
Adaptation is and always will be the way to survive storms. Given that hurricanes were hitting Florida, Texas and the Caribbean long before the industrial revolution, let alone the 20th century, it would be absurd to suggest that they could somehow be prevented by any climate-change policy. It would be no more absurd to try to promote calm weather through climate policies. (To be clear, I said the same about the record cold December in 2010: it’s not global cooling; it’s weather.) Adapting to cope with possible future storms will be necessary whether they become more intense or not.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conceded this in its last report. Vicente Barros, the co-chairman of Working Group 2, said at its launch that “investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future . . . adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks”.
Nigel Lawson pointed out 11 years ago in his book An Appeal to Reason that adaptation policies had benefits over carbon-reduction policies: they work unilaterally; can be applied locally; produce results quickly; can capture any benefits of warming while reducing risks; address existing problems that are exacerbated by warming; and bring benefits even if global warming proves to have been exaggerated.
The temptation to blame Irma on fossil fuels or Donald Trump, milking natural disasters for political gain, proved irresistible to some. This makes no more sense than blaming the Syrian civil war on climate change, rather than man’s inhumanity to man, which Barack Obama, the Prince of Wales, Bernie Sanders, Friends of the Earth and the World Bank were all tempted into doing. “In our assessment,” said a study last week by social and climate scientists, “there is thus no good evidence to conclude that global climate change-related drought in Syria was a contributory causal factor in the country’s civil war.”
Full post & comments 
4) Adaptation & Technology Work: Hurricane Irma Would Have Killed Vastly More People In The Past 
The Washington Post, 11 September 2017 
James Hohmann -- With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
Five deaths related to Hurricane Irma have now been confirmed in Florida. Two of the victims died in a car crash southeast of Tampa on Sunday: A sheriff’s deputy had been stationed in an evacuation shelter overnight and was driving home at about 6 a.m. to pick up more supplies. A corrections officer was on his way to work.
Any loss of life is a tragedy, and the death toll is certain to go up, but it’s remarkable the extent to which the human cost of a storm as destructive and powerful as this one — which will cause untold billions in property damage — can be mitigated.
Forecasting has improved dramatically over the past century, as has the quality of construction. We have a much better idea of who should leave when a massive storm is coming, and they have more time to get out. Government officials of both parties are also more willing to order mandatory evacuations. Finally, better roads and equipment make it easier to extract people in harm’s way.
For context, at least 6,000 died when a Category 4 hurricane unexpectedly made landfall in Galveston, Tex., on Sept. 8, 1900. Some estimates put the number of deaths closer to 10,000. With no evacuation from the port town, people were sitting ducks. It remains the deadliest storm in U.S. history.
There are several other storms that may have been less powerful than Irma yet caused vastly more deaths. A storm surge from a 1928 hurricane killed more than 1,800 people around Lake Okeechobee, Fla. Separate hurricanes in 1893 each killed more than 1,000 people.

This photo from 1900 shows a large part of the city of Galveston, Tex., reduced to rubble by a surprise hurricane. At least 6,000 people were killed in what remains the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. (AP/File)
-- Erik Larson wrote a gripping account of the Galveston hurricane in a 1999 book called “Isaac’s Storm.” The protagonist is Texas’s chief weatherman Isaac Monroe Cline, who led the Galveston observation office of the United States Weather Bureau when the storm hit and lost his wife to the storm surge. For a full decade leading up to the devastation, Cline insisted publicly that the idea Galveston could ever be “seriously damaged” by a hurricane was “simply an absurd delusion.”
“It would be impossible for any cyclone to create a storm wave which would materially injure the city,” Cline wrote in a piece for the Galveston News. That op-ed helped dissuade city fathers from investing in a sea wall that could have saved thousands of lives when the storm came.
Cline was once on his way to Mexico for a work trip when his steamship encountered a low-intensity hurricane. Rather than counting his blessings, the meteorologist concluded (insanely) that hurricanes were more survivable than conventional wisdom depicted.
He believed he was an especially gifted, even brilliant, scientist. But, Larson writes, “he did not know there was such a thing as the jet stream, or that easterly waves marched from the coast of West Africa every summer, or that a massive flow within the Atlantic Ocean ferried heat around the globe. Nor had he heard of a phenomenon called El Nino.” […]
-- In its April edition, Popular Science chronicled how much the federal government’s satellites and technology for interpreting data have improved even in the past few decades: “Although predicting where tumultuous weather might go is challenging, NOAA’s errors in storm tracking have been cut in half in the last 12 to 15 years … And beginning five years ago, the agency could give imperiled residents 12 more hours of notice that a hurricane was expected to hit (we now get 36 hours of advanced noticed — up from 24 hours). …
In a 2007 study published in Natural Hazards Review, scientists demonstrated that improved storm forecasting prevented up to 90 percent of deaths that would have occurred should satellite-less, error-prone technology still have been used to predict hurricanes. The researchers found that between 1970 and 2004, an average of around 20 people died from hurricanes each year. But if forecasts were as faulty as they were in the 1950s, they estimated that 200 people would have died each year, simply because significantly more people had settled into the path of destructive cyclones. ‘The bottom line is that the number of deaths have been going down, but the coastal population has been going up,’ says Hugh Willoughby, the study's lead author and a hurricane researcher at Florida International University.”
-- There has also been a paradigm shift in how public officials prepare for storms. Politicians have become more likely over time to err on the side of caution when it comes to ordering evacuations. Back in 1900, the Weather Bureau (which became the National Weather Service in 1970) banned the use of the word “tornado” in dispatches to avoid panicking people. The government-run network also “took special pains to avoid using the word hurricane, except when absolutely necessary or when stipulating that a particular storm was not a hurricane,” Larson writes. “The Weather Bureau’s reluctance to use words like hurricane and cyclone inadvertently reinforced the bravado of sea captains.”
Full story
5) Cooling Atlantic To Cause Fewer Hurricanes In The Near-Future, Study Suggests
Environmental Research Web, 7 September 2017
New research predicts that North Atlantic hurricane activity will reduce over the next decade and a half, due to the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and changes in North Atlantic sea surface temperature. The open ocean is expected to experience the largest decrease, with approximately four fewer tropical cyclones per decade.
Woosuk Choi from Seoul National University in Korea and colleagues used a track-pattern-based tropical cyclone model to examine the role of natural variability and anthropogenic forcing on climate in the near-future – the next one or two decades.

A predicted increase in the frequency of El Niño episodes provides unfavourable conditions for tropical cyclone formation – for example, enhanced vertical wind shear erodes the vertical structure that the storms need to maintain in order to develop. In the North Atlantic, the study shows, the cooling effects of natural variability dominate those of anthropogenic warming. This results in a cooling of the North Atlantic sea surface, which will also suppress tropical cyclone formation.

Many studies focus on cyclone genesis frequency or maximum intensity. But when considering impact, the location of the tracks is most important, as it relates to landfall. Choi and colleagues from the University of California, US, and City University of Hong Kong used a model that divides tropical cyclone tracks into four patterns. They based predictions for each pattern on climate projections from the Climate Forecast System version 2 (CFSv2) in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), and compared tropical cyclone activity between 2002–2015 and 2016–2030.
Predicting cyclone activity in the near-future is complicated by uncertainties from both internal variability (natural oscillations) and external forcings such as greenhouse gases. The timescale lies between short-term predictions and long-term climate change, where in each case only one of the uncertainties dominates. Predictions in the near-future, however, are vitally important for planning mitigation strategies for extreme weather such as hurricanes.
Full post 
Near-Future Prediction Of Tropical Cyclone Activity Over The North Atlantic
Woosuk Choi et al. (2017) Journal of Climate, August 2017
Abstract: Prediction of tropical cyclone (TC) activity is essential to better prepare for and mitigate the TC-induced disasters. Although many studies have attempted to predict TC activity on various time scales, very few focused on near-future predictions. Here we show a decrease in seasonal TC activity over the North Atlantic (NA) for 2016–2030 using a track-pattern-based TC prediction model. The TC model is forced by long-term coupled simulations initialized using reanalysis data. Unfavorable conditions for TC development including strengthened vertical wind shear, enhanced low-level anticyclonic flow, and cooled sea surface temperature (SST) over the tropical NA are found in the simulations. Most of the environmental changes are attributable to cooling of the NA basin-wide SST (NASST) and more frequent El Niño episodes in the near future. Consistent NASST warming trend in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 projections suggests that natural variability is more dominant than anthropogenic forcing over the NA in the near-future period.
Full paper
6) Environmental Reporting in a Post Truth World   
Asia Pacific Media Educator, June 2017 
David Blackall, University of Wollongong

The science publication Nature Climate Change this year published a study demonstrating Earth this century warmed substantially less than computer-generated climate models predict. Unfortunately for public knowledge, such findings don’t appear in the news. Sea levels too have not been obeying the ‘grand transnational narrative’ of catastrophic global warming. Sea levels around Australia 2011–2012 were measured with the most significant drops in sea levels since measurements began. This phenomenon was due to rainfall over Central Australia, which filled vast inland lakes. It was not predicted in the models, nor was it reported in the news. The 2015–2016 El-Niño, a natural phenomenon, drove sea levels around Indonesia to low levels such that coral reefs were bleaching. The echo chamber of news repeatedly fails to report such phenomena and yet many studies continue to contradict mainstream news discourse. Whistle-blower Dr. John Bates exposed the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) when it manipulated data to meet politically predetermined conclusions for the 2015 Paris (Climate) Agreement. This was not reported. Observational scientific analyses and their data sets continue to disagree with much of climate science modelling, and are beginning to suggest that some natural phenomena, which cause variability, may never be identified.
Full paper  
7) Nick Butler: The Energy Lessons Of Hurricane Harvey
Financial Times, 11 September 2017
The most important lesson for the energy sector emerging from Hurricane Harvey is that the key issue of energy security is no longer physical shortages of fuel supplies but the quality of the infrastructure system that takes energy to the final consumer.
Consider what happened in the days after the hurricane hit Texas (These facts are taken from the daily market summary produced by S&P Global Platts.) 
  • A week after the event 19 refineries were wholly or partially closed. The rough estimate for the volume lost is some 3.2m barrels a day.
  •  Some 100,000 b/d per day of oil production and 270m standard cubic feet a day of natural gas production from the Gulf was shut in. 
  • Crude oil prices fell in the immediate aftermath of the flooding because the closed refineries stopped buying crude. 
  • Gasoline prices spiked by up to 10 per cent because the refineries were unable to keep producing. 
Two weeks on some of these effects are still obvious. Overall, however, the market has adjusted remarkably quickly. Production and refinery throughput is gradually being restored. Prices have settled back.
Hurricane Harvey was a human tragedy with at least 60 people killed and thousands forced out of their homes. But it has not produced an energy crisis. The US system has proved to be remarkably resilient. Other countries need to learn from what has happened.
Harvey is a sharp reminder of how much has changed in energy security. There was no shortage of crude oil — in the US or at the global level. The market is well supplied. Despite the Opec production quotas, and the problems in Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela where output is running below capacity, supply easily covered the shortfall in the US. If, as David Sheppard wrote in the FT last week, the US Federal authorities held stocks of refined products as well as crude there would have been no break in supplies at all.
But other issues can pose a challenge to the flow of supply that consumers take for granted. Primary sources — the raw materials — need to be processed and converted into forms of energy that can be used by consumers. Crude oil must be refined into gasoline or other products, gas or coal converted to electricity. And the lines and grids must be in place to take energy from the point of production to the point of consumption.
This aspect of energy security tends to be ignored — because we are in an age of plenty. The last two weeks have shown that security of supply means more than being able to withstand embargoes or politically motivated cuts in supply. The breakdown of infrastructure is far more of a risk.
The US seems well able to cope. A century and more of development, helped recently by the growth of the shale business, gives the US a diversified network of supplies linked by a web of lines carrying crude, products, gas and electricity.

Although the refinery business is concentrated around the Gulf coast, there are enough sources of products to cover temporary shortfalls.
Full post

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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