Tom Evslin: No significant change in number or intensity of hurricanes hitting US between 1900 and 2017

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

The following two charts are from an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The article itself contains complete sources for the data as well as methodology. You can check yourself but the data is solid and the methodology straightforward.

Let’s look at what we’ve been hearing in the news which makes the actual record so surprising.

The latest UN IPCC says that the storms are evidence that the danger from man-made warming is increasing

This is not what the latest UN report says! It is how many politicians and media people choose to interpret the report. The latest report somewhat reduces the high end of its estimate for global warming in the near future. Specifically on the subject of tropical storms its says: “There is low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones. Event attribution studies and physical understanding indicate that human-induced climate change increases heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones (high confidence) but data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale.” (Section A.3.4 in the Summary for Policy Makers). In other words, we think global warming should cause more tropical storms but we can’t find evidence of that actually happening.

The number of named hurricanes in 2020 set a record

We only name the storms we can see. These days thanks to satellites we see them all. Prior to that we missed many of the storms which stayed at sea. That’s why the American Meteorological Society article only counts storms which make landfall. We do have an accurate record of them. Number of named hurricanes is not a useful statistic on which to base public policy.

In most people’s lifetime, there has been an increase in the number of storms hitting the US

That’s actually true but misleading. Most people haven’t lived as long as I have. If you look at the charts above, there was a very unusual lull in the number and intensity of storms hitting the US between 1960 and 1984. Since then, hits have gone up almost to the level I remember as a kid in the 50s when hurricanes Carol and Diane floated my boat in the street and flooded my basement in New Rochelle, NY.

Monetary damage from coastal storms is way up over the last 120 years

That’s absolutely true. Again to quote the article from the AMS: “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 United States has increased in coastal locations, it has invariably led to the growth in exposure and vulnerability of coastal property along the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts.”

Central Park had its rainiest hour ever during Ida

True enough if you interpret ever to mean since 1869 when record keeping began. This is a big country and it is likely that local records which are at most a couple of hundred years old will continue to be set, especially if you look for extreme hours. It’s always useful to ask how old the previous record was to give context. According to the Washington Post, the total for the day of Ida in Central Park was “only” the 5thhighest ever. According to the National Weather Service, the wettest 24 hours in New York history happened in 1903.

Ida tied as the 5th strongest storm to make landfall in the US, again according to the Washington Post.  It shared honors with Laura in 2020 (oh oh) and Last Island Hurricane in 1856. The strongest Atlantic storm we have record of is the Great Hurricane of 1780, which killed more than 20,000 people and incidentally helped the American States win the Revolutionary War with the damage it did to the British fleet.

President Biden Says that Ida is irrefutable proof of man-made climate change

President Biden is trying to sell an infrastructure plan which is long on questionable green initiatives and short on the kind of infrastructure improvements which actually protected New Orleans from Katrina-like damage during Ida. If Trump had said that, we’d call it a lie; let’s just assume that Biden’s speech writers didn’t read the facts on hurricane trends.

In conclusion

Why does it all this matter so much? The fact that hurricanes hitting the continental US haven’t increased in number or intensity over the last 120 years doesn’t prove that man-made warming isn’t happening. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. The hurricane record to date does cast some doubt on the accuracy of the models which predicted their increase. But what’s really important is that misdiagnosis and specious attributions even in a good cause lead to bad policy decisions. We can all start driving only electric cars immediately and hurricanes will keep happening. Extreme weather is not going to go away and climate is not going to stop changing even though we may be able to influence its trajectory.

We need good information to make good decisions. That’s not what we’re getting from either politicians or the press in general.

Image courtesy of NASA

3 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: No significant change in number or intensity of hurricanes hitting US between 1900 and 2017

  1. ‘Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’… ???

    This is pure sophistry. While absence of evidence, if one isn’t looking for it, may not be evidence of absence, is it evidence of something, nonetheless? With so many people analyzing the climate change phenomenon AND referencing hurricane activity to support their contention, isn’t it reasonable to assume the investigation into climate change and hurricane activity is intense and prolific?

    Is our planet in a warming cycle? Yes. Are there more people on the planet than there were a couple hundred years ago? Yes. Are they using more hydrocarbons now than they did years ago? Yes. Does that mean humans are contributing to the warming cycle? Well, maybe. Are there other reasons the climate is changing? Yes. Is anyone investigating those ‘other reasons’, at least to the extent they’re investigating human contributions to climate change? Not really.

    But this is where the certainty ends. After all, ‘absence of evidence isn’t evidence’, especially when no one is looking for it… OR …they discount the evidence that there has been “No significant change in number or intensity of hurricanes hitting US between 1900 and 2017” …as even being …‘evidence’.

  2. If applesauce brain biden say’s it it’s a lie and that’s backed up by his 48 + years of being on the wrong side of every issue and his known lying, plagiarizing, and just
    making stuff up..Giving these fools money to fix a issue that’s not fixable by the US is insanity on steroids. Who in their right mind would assume someone who’s ruined our immigration laws, opened the boarder, destroyed our energy independence, made inflation a tax we shouldn’t be bearing, killed off the small business economy, lost out to a bunch of barbarian islamic goat herders, ruined our military, and turns his back on America would have a clue how to FIX anything…

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