Hurricanes

Hurricane Joaquin: The Great East Coast Hurricane Drought Likely Continues

No sign yet that global warming is making hurricane damage worse

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Joaquin
NOAA

Hurricane Joaquin, currently spinning off the east coast of the United States, has been upgraded to category 4. Despite some earlier worries, the good news is that weather models are now predicting that the storm will likely not come ashore on the U.S. East Coast after all. This means that the great East Coast hurricane drought continues.

Earlier this year, researchers from NASA and the ACE Tempest Re Group reported that "the U.S. has experienced no major hurricane landfall since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, a drought that currently stands at 9?years." They further noted that this is the longest period in which no major hurricanes have come ashore in the United States, and they calculated that such an extended hurricane drought occurs every 177 years or so. (Major hurricanes are defined as category 3 and above, meaning that their sustained wind speeds exceed 111 miles per hour.)

Mid-Atlantic residents who suffered through Superstorm Sandy in 2012 might question the notion that there has been a hurricane drought since 2005. The storm surge and flooding produced by Sandy killed 72 people in the U.S. and caused more than $50 billion in damage. Nonetheless, when Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, it was no longer a hurricane.

In 2005, by contrast, we were hit by Katrina, Rita, Dennis, and Wilma. That year's hurricane season broke numerous records. Most tropical storms: 28. (Old record: 21, in 1933.) Most hurricanes: 15. (Old record: 12, in 1969.) Most category 5 hurricanes: 4. (Old record: 2, in 1960 and 1961.) Most property damage: $150 billion. (Previous record: approximately $50 billion—in 2005 dollars—in 1992 and 2004.) After wild season like that, a hurricane drought was a welcome phenomenon.

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasted a below-average season for 2016, featuring 6 to 10 named storms, 1 to 4 hurricanes, and 0 to 1 major hurricanes. Excepting Joaquin, so far this year has seen 8 named tropical storms and two hurricanes. This is well below the annual average of 11.7 tropical storms, 6.3 hurricanes, 2.4 major hurricanes, 1.7 U.S. landfalling hurricanes, and 0.6 major landfalling hurricanes.

In 2005, one widely reported study found that globally, the number category 4 and 5 hurricanes had doubled since 1970. Taking an additional 10 years of data into account, a 2015 study in the Journal of Climate now finds instead that the "global frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes has shown a small, insignificant downward trend." One comprehensive measure of tropical storm activity is accumulated cyclone energy, which calculates the destructive power of storms by taking into account their sustained wind speeds. The 2015 Journal of Climate study reports that accumulated cyclone energy has experienced a large and significant downward trend globally since 1970.

In the North Atlantic, accumulated cyclone energy trended upwards in fits and starts from 1968, reaching its highest ever point of 250 in the annus horribilis 2005. But it dropped to 36 in 2013 and was 67 in 2014, levels similar to those seen in the milder hurricane seasons of the 1980s.

How might global warming affect hurricane strengths, frequencies, and storm tracks? In general, model projections suggest that a warmer climate will produce fewer, but stronger hurricanes in the North Atlantic. A 2015 study that analyzed global trends in tropical cyclones between 1984 and 2012 found that rising temperatures correlated with six fewer storms than would have been expected, while boosting average wind speeds by 3 mile per hour. With regard to storm tracks, computer models offer varying forecasts. Some expect fewer hurricanes to strike the eastern United States, whereas others predict that fewer will hit the Gulf Coast while more storms will crash into the northeastern U.S.

Can researchers now discern any effect that the recent increase in global average temperature has had on people and their property? Not really. In the U.S. annual deaths resulting from hurricanes have not exceeded three-digits since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, with the notable sad exception of 1,016 deaths from Hurricane Katrina.

What about economic losses? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's 2014 Adaptation report observes: "Economic costs of extreme weather events have increased over the period 1960–2000, with insured losses increasing more rapidly than overall losses." But the report goes on to note that "the greatest contributor to increased cost is rising exposure associated with population growth and growing value of assets." Similarly, the same group's 2014 Synthesis report notes that "increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather-and-climate-related disasters." To repeat: There is more damage because there are more people and more stuff to be harmed.

To see if climate change is adding to the destruction, researchers "normalize" losses by taking into account the number of people and the value of the property exposed to extreme weather events. For example, far more people live in Florida now than 50 years ago, with lots more houses and businesses, so hurricanes that strike there today are more likely to cause damage than those than hit that state, say, in the 1920s. Taking such increases in population and wealth into account, the Adaptation report concludes that "Studies of normalized losses from extreme winds associated with hurricanes in the U.S. and the Caribbean, tornadoes in the U.S. and wind storms in Europe have failed to detect trends consistent with anthropogenic climate change."

A review article published in the January 2011 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—surveyed 22 studies of trends in natural hazard losses. The article covered every study that looked at economic losses, covered at least 30 years of data, and was peer reviewed. It found "no trends in the losses, corrected for change (increases) in population and capital at risk that could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Therefore, it can be concluded that anthropogenic climate change so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters."

Another 2010 study actually identifies a "strongly negative trend" in normalized weather disaster damages in developed countries. Translation: In relative terms, the amount of damage caused by severe weather is declining. The authors speculate that this might "indicate a stronger capability of richer nations to fund defensive mitigating measures, which decrease vulnerability to natural disasters over time." Richer societies are likely reducing their weather losses by establishing better early warning systems, enacting stronger building codes, and constructing firmer levees. People may be doing a better job of protecting themselves against the consequences of storms and floods, even though the weather is getting worse.

A 2011 study reporting the results of four different climate models concluded that it might take as long as 40 to 170 years for a clear global warming signal to emerge from hurricane damage data. Basically, projected hurricane damage will be within the bounds of natural causes for some time to come.

So will Joaquin end the current major hurricane drought? It is looking that it will not. Some models suggest it will drop to a category 1 storm as it scoots northward away from U.S. shores. Drought, however, will not be on the minds of East Coasters as they endure the expected onshore inundation from rains associated with the storm this weekend. So fellow East Coasters, batten down and take your hurricane preparedness precautions this weekend.

NEXT: Will Lawrence Lessig Be Locked Out of the Debates?

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  1. Breaking news:

    Climate alarmists wrong about everything. Again. Unexpectedly!

    1. No, no, no

      People bad, planet good.

      1. Yep, humanity is not natural to the planet.

  2. “No sign yet”?

    “Yet” implies that it’s going to happen.

    1. Eventually.

      We know the Earth’s poles have been ice free at some time in the past. So it is entirely reasonable to assume it will happen again.

      Might take a while though, better bring a book.

  3. I’m just glad that Christie suspended his pointless Presidential campaign to preemptively shit his pants in response.

    1. He got his face on camera. That was the point.

    2. So some good did come of this.

  4. I recently saw an exhibit at a local science center (sponsored by Bechtel and Lockheed-Martin) asserting that the CA drought has been caused by global warming, which will reduce global precipitation and dry out the world.

    In 2005, of course, global warming was going to cause a constant stream of virulent hurricanes that were going to drown us all.

    Ain’t it funny how things change?

    1. Heads they win, tails you lose.

    2. Of course, Jerry Brown recently helpfully explained that global warming is causing drought on the West Coast, and flooding on the East Coast, as its evils can be really nebulous that way. . .

      1. Gaia works in mysterious ways; REPENT!

    3. Wasn’t AGW forecast to increase raininess in CA? Or did I mishear?

      Has it been considered that the large amount of water getting pumped out of the ground for agriculture could be a culprit?

      1. AGW is predicted to cause whatever just happened.

      2. No. Not from what I’ve heard in Cali when I’m there. Apparently there was some microscopic shrimp that was being deprived of water because the water was being dammed. The government in its infinite wisdom let the water out of the dam in order to ensure these shrimp, located at the river deltas was not starved of water. Instead, Californian people have been deprived of water.

        This is an environmental policy disaster, not an environmental disaster.

    4. and this is why the name morphed to climate change, much less declarative. If you call it warming or cooling, then one of those things has to eventually occur. Climate change is almost its own null hypothesis – it is always going to occur, but it will be virtually impossible to connect the change to any variable.

      1. I was at a cocktail party the other night. A rabid enviro fanatic was there and sequestered me for 20 minutes as he told me of the doomsday scenario we were facing.

        Apparently, they have now discovered the economic catastrophe we are facing, coming absolutely without question by 2030, has a large ‘non-linear’ component which makes it difficult to predict its actual effects. Because it is ‘non-linear’. And, therefore all over the place.

        I said “how come temperatures have been flat for 20 years, and how is this ‘non-linear'”. Flat temps for 20 years seems almost the opposite of non-linear to me. He didn’t have an answer, but he said, by 2030, we’re all in trouble.

  5. How might global warming affect hurricane strengths, frequencies, and storm tracks? In general, model projections suggest that a warmer climate will produce fewer, but stronger hurricanes in the North Atlantic.

    Whatever is currently happening is because of global warming.

    1. No, when something bad happens it is global warming, when something not bad happens it is merely weather.

    2. Yes.

      From the list:

      hurricanes; hurricane reduction; hurricanes fewer; hurricanes more intense; hurricanes not

      1. “women cheat on vacation” is on that list lol

    3. Unless temperature, precipitation, wind, seismic activity, traffic, and murder are all exactly average. Then it’s just weather.

    4. I seem to remember when global warming was going to produce more and stronger hurricanes. Whatever happened to that prediction?

      1. It was…

        :dons sunglasses:

        Blown out of the water.

      2. They had to adjust it based on new data. So now global warming is causing fewer hurricanes. Or whatever else may actually happen.

        1. Slow down there, WTF.

          Global warming only causes fewer hurricanes, if fewer hurricanes is a bad thing.

  6. The factors involved in creating hurricanes are incredibly complex. Water temperature and depth, fetch, the intertropical convergence zone, etc etc.

    An increase in average global temperatures is more likely to decrease hurricane activity than anything else.

    I’m so glad that the alarmists hitched their wagons to this.

    1. Tornadoes also didn’t pay off for them. Some evidence indicates that tornadoes need cold air masses as much as anything.

      Why doesn’t Russia get tornadoes like America does?

      1. You need a mixing of warm moist air and cold air, plus a rotating storm.

        Russia doesn’t have a Gulf of Mexico.

        1. Hmm . . . rotating . . . warm moist . . . cold.

          Now I know why she called it “the hurricane”.

          1. No, it was because there was a lot of excitement at first but it ended in disaster.

            1. [checks it see if PornHub has taken video down yet]

      2. They get some:

        http://www.ustornadoes.com/201…..the-world/

      3. Russia does not have a warm and wet air mass generator like the Gulf of Mexico not blocked by mountains close to their steppe region.

        That would be my layman’s WAG at it.

      4. One of the factors is missing. Just like in the South Atlantic for hurricanes.

        IIRC, there has only been one hurricane in recorded history in the South Atlantic because the shear from the ITCZ is so strong.

      5. It is mostly a function of geography. Warm and cold air masses are necessary, of course, but North America’s geography is more likely to produce the conditions for tornadoes, especially strong tornadoes.

        Here is a map that highlights the areas most likely to have tornadoes.

  7. Climate change redistribution!

    1. Climate change equity!

      1. I like it. There ought to be a law.

        1. We should implement a highly progressive tax on global temperatures.

      2. Yep, we need climate justice!

  8. “The Great East Coast Hurricane Drought Likely Continues”

    I blame Booosh for causing this nefarious drought!

  9. and they calculated that such an extended hurricane drought occurs every 177 years or so.

    This about sums it up IMO, precise scientific calculations are required to describe something that, if the record is even passably maintained, should be easily detectable/demonstrable without them and those precise calculations yield a precise result or so.

    1. The link, you SF’d it.

  10. “People may be doing a better job of protecting themselves against the consequences of storms and floods, even though the weather is getting worse.”

    Whut?

    *scrolls up to read the article again*

    Did I miss something?

    1. Somebody missed he part about how the weather isn’t actually getting worse, that’s for sure.

  11. Huh. Turns out that making predictions is difficult. Especially about the future.

    1. Nah. Not really. But you would have had to actually read the article Ron wrote.

      The second to last paragraph. It cites a study written by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT, who clearly states you won’t see extensive damages from hurricanes for 40 or more years. Oh, and that was written 4 years ago, so this is old news. Oh, and Emanuel is what you would call an alarmist.

      Reading. Try it some time.

      1. Jackand ASS-

        who clearly states you won’t see extensive damages from hurricanes for 40 or more years.

        I’ll be dead for at least 20 years by then- and I also live in Ohio. Tell me why I should care…

        I have no kids- thus no grandkids, and my nephew is a worthless piece of shit.

        Why is this my problem?

  12. Hey, Ron. I know how much you love them, but you might want to get away from the pseudo-scientologists of AGW- er, “climate change”, religion and check out what some actual scientists, astronomers, at the Royal Astronomical Society, have to say about how the weather is going to be in about 15 years. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that what happens with that big, giant ball of gas about 93 million miles away that lights up our sky might have the most serious consequence for Earth’s weather. Just as a thought exercise, if the Earth was permanently eclipsed from the sun, do the AGW nutjobs think that somehow man could generate enough noxious fumes to overcome that??

    Check out RAS Predicts Maunder Minimum

    I’ll give you a clue: the astronomers think you should invest in a nice, warm parka.

  13. Although the reduction in ACE is the key argument against warmist predictions, we shouldn’t overplay the “hurricane drought” line. There have been numerous hurricanes–they’ve just followed a track more offshore than they used to. We’ve been lucky in that regard. IOW, the warmists haven’t been as wrong as it looks by looking just at the land-falling drought.

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