Friday, August 26, 2011

More on McKibben and Hurricane Irene

While attributing Hurricane Irene to global warming, Bill McKibben also wrote:
Just about the only trauma we haven’t had are hurricanes plowing into the U.S., but that’s just luck—last year was a big storm year, but they all veered out to sea.
which is true (number of tropical storms = 19, major hurricanes = 5, ACE = 165), but 2010's ACE ranked only as 12th highest on the 1950-2010 list, despite it being tied for the warmest year according to NOAA. In particular it was outranked by the years 1950, 1961, 1955, and 1964. He says it was "just luck" that they veered out to sea, which is a classic case of confirmation bias because of course it could just as well be "luck" that Irene has veered up the East Coast.

Ryan Maue, who is with the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey and who has a PhD in meteorology, and in particular is all over the cyclone statistics, does not see a link between global warming and global tropical cyclone frequency or intensity:
Recent arguments concerning global warming's influence on causing tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons) to become more frequent and more intense has been given much coverage in the media and by some published papers which claim a valid linkage. But observational data shows no such linkage. Despite the global warming of the sea surface that has taken place between the mid 1970s to the late 1990s and the general global warming of the last century, the global numbers of tropical cyclones and hurricanes and their intensity have not shown any significant trends except for the Atlantic where multi-decadal circulation variations in the ocean drive large multi-decadal variations in major hurricane (Cat 3-4-5) numbers.
See as well as his 2009 paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

Finally, I just don't trust McKibben because he is an activist and head of an activist organization that has mouths to feed. They need money, and they see climate change in everything. Last December, in a email to members sent from Cancun, the site of the climate conference, May Boeve of wrote:
"Meanwhile, out in the real world, climate impacts are all too visible. Since the negotations began 10 days ago, climate disasters have struck all over the world: flooding in Australia, Venezuela, the Balkans, Columbia, India; wildfires in Israel, Lebanon, Tibet; freak winter storms in Europe and the United States. These events have been devastating--hundreds are dead, and hundreds of thousands have been affected."
Come on. Floods happen. Fires happen. Freak winter storms happen. And hurricanes happen. They always have, and they always will. That doesn't mean that climate change doesn't have an impact or that its something to consider lightly, only that you can't separate out its influence and attribute it in a binary fashion. I think the best statement is something I think Gavin wrote (but now I can't find it): 'There's a little bit of climate change in everything now.'

But that doesn't motivate your funders, I guess.

PS: No, I am not a member of I'm not a member of any environmental organizations.

PPS: I am sorry to say something nice about Gavin Schmidt twice in the same day. No, I don't know him, but have met him twice at conferences, and he answers my emails when I ask questions. It's not my fault if he's very quotable.


Anonymous said...

Dr Maue is about as Wattist as they get - he write articles for WUWT that ooze what Watts and co yearn to hear.

Nuff said...

David Appell said...

Maybe. I'm focusing on his data.

Steve Bloom said...

But is he being selective with his data? Kerry Emanuel, who pretty much invented TC theory, thinks ACE is not so good, and prefers something called PDI (Power Dissipation Index).

Steve Bloom said...

This hot-off-the-press summary of the current science on North Atlantic TCs is good. The upshot is that there's too much uncertainty in the data to allow any firm conclusion to be drawn, noting that trying to argue as Maue does that there's proof of no influence is also unsupported. I know you quoted Maue on global rather than just North Atlantic TCs, but the same principle applies.

BTW, this from Maue --

"(...) multi-decadal circulation variations in the ocean drive large multi-decadal variations in major hurricane (Cat 3-4-5) numbers."

-- is a bridge way too far. Not only isn't there much of a basis for it (IIRC it derives from an attempt to correlate the AMO with major TC activity using a record that is far too short), but it's a scientific game that he lacks the chops to play.

Finally, although the Watts connection probably made the point clear, please bear in mind that Maue's activities amount to an attempt to distract attention from the rather strong consensus about TC activity in coming years.

Steve Bloom said...

Kerry Emanuel was just quoted in a Politico article re Irene. The author is obviously somewhat unclear on the pecking order in hurricane science. Note KE's view that there is an AGW signal in Atlantics TCs (which surprises me, since last I knew he'd been avoiding saying so).

Also, Joe Romm has a nice discussion.