Hurricane frequency is not increasing
You had to expect that a major hurricane striking the state that has become ground zero of the opposition to the current regime and is home to a Republican presidential aspirant who routinely demolishes liberal pieties would eventually become an occasion for political opportunism of the rankest sort.
It is only unfortunate that it happened so quickly.
There is a lot of propaganda being shared, so let’s just focus on whether this hurricane was created or exacerbated by climate change.
As Christopher Martz, the excellent climate researcher noted, counting Hurricane Ian, hurricane landfalls in Florida have decreased over the last 171 years of record-keeping, and there have been no trends in major hurricanes. Mr. Martz goes on to point out that of the 15 category 4 or 5 hurricanes that have made landfall in Florida, 10 occurred in or before 1960 (and five struck between 1945 and 1950).
How about the United States writ large, what is our experience there?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the United Nations operation that keeps an eye on the science of climate change, has concluded that since 1900 there has been “no trend in the frequency” of hurricanes making landfall in the United States. This includes all hurricanes, including major hurricanes (like Ian).
One of the reasons hurricanes may seem to be increasing recently is because no major hurricane made landfall in the United States between 2006 and 2017. That is unprecedented. We have since returned to a more “normal” pattern. You can read about it here.
How about the Atlantic Basin, which of course includes a much larger area than just the United States? Well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that there remains “no consensus” on human influence on Atlantic hurricane activity. In their words: “[T]here is still no consensus on the relative magnitude of human and natural influences on past changes in Atlantic hurricane activity, and … it remains uncertain whether past changes in Atlantic [hurricane] activity are outside the range of natural variability.”
How about globally? There have been no clear trends in global hurricanes since 1980, according to data collected and graphed by research meteorologist Ryan Maue. In fact, we may be close to a 42-year low in global hurricanes.
Finally, let’s think about the damage from hurricanes. The reality is that, over time, society continues to become richer. That means that we have gotten better at building things — roads, bridges, houses and other buildings — that can survive storms. It also means we can both predict the paths of storms more precisely and move people away from the storms much more quickly.
Our increasing wealth also means that more people live in the path of hurricanes.
What does all of that suggest about damage from hurricanes? Roger Pielke Jr. points out that the damage hurricanes impose when “normalized,” or treated as if it occurred under contemporary social and economic conditions — has shown no trend over time. In other words, hurricanes aren’t doing more damage than they used to. He notes: “It is important for people to understand that what has been observed in terms of hurricane landfalls and losses of recent years is fairly typical of what has been seen over the past century.”
Think about the hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900. It killed as many as 12,000 people. The final toll for Hurricane Ian is likely to be less than 100.
So, when the usual suspects start talking about the existential threat and all of that, keep in mind that the data indicates that the frequency, intensity and damage caused by hurricanes have nothing to do with climate change.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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