Bad Timing for These Two Hurricane Experts

The 2005 Hurricane season was the most active and destructive in recorded history. The devastation from hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, and Wilma was powerful evidence that man-made global warming had triggered an onslaught of unforeseen consequences — at least, that was the way the media tended to portray it. Maybe I am wrong, but I think the current focus on global warming in this country would be much weaker had those hurricanes not hit landfall, or had they hit Mexico instead of the U.S.

The scientific community, however, never argued a strong link between global warming and hurricanes. At the Sixth International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones held by the World Meteorological Organization in November of 2006, the participants came to the following conclusions:

Consensus statements by the workshop participants

1. Though there is evidence both for and against the existence of a detectable anthropogenic signal in the tropical cyclone climate record to date, no firm conclusion can be made on this point.

2. No individual tropical cyclone can be directly attributed to climate change.

3. The recent increase in societal impact from tropical cyclones has been largely caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions.

4. Tropical cyclone wind-speed monitoring has changed dramatically over the last few decades leading to difficulties in determining accurate trends.

5. There is an observed multi-decadal variability of tropical cyclones in some regions whose causes, whether natural, anthropogenic or a combination, are currently being debated. This variability makes detecting any long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity difficult.

6. It is likely that some increase in tropical cyclone peak wind-speed and rainfall will occur if the climate continues to warm. Model studies and theory project a 3-5% increase in wind-speed per degree Celsius increase of tropical sea surface temperatures.

7. There is an inconsistency between the small changes in wind-speed projected by theory and modeling versus large changes reported by some observational studies.

8. Although recent climate model simulations project a decrease or no change in global tropical cyclone numbers in a warmer climate there is low confidence in this projection. In addition, it is unknown how tropical cyclone tracks or areas of impact will change in the future.

9. Large regional variations exist in methods used to monitor tropical cyclones. Also, most regions have no measurements by instrumented aircraft. These significant limitations will continue to make detection of trends difficult.

10. If the projected rise in sea level due to global warming occurs, then the vulnerability to tropical cyclone storm surge flooding would increase.

In general, I am not a fan of science by consensus. It is interesting, however, that you can get a bunch of scientists to basically agree that they don’t even know whether global warming will cause hurricanes to increase or decrease. The conclusion is especially surprising because no one ever wants to look like they don’t know the answers, and because scientists who work on hurricanes have strong incentives to convince everyone else of the important of their research. This statement clearly avoids that latter temptation.

Recently, a new study was released that flies in the face of the scientific consensus. Researchers Greg Holland and Peter Webster make the claim that global warming has nearly doubled the number of hurricanes over the last century. Reading between the lines of the various media reports on this study, I don’t think Holland and Webster have convinced many climatologists; in the four or five articles I read, there wasn’t a single endorsement from another scientist. One researcher actually came out and called it “sloppy science” in this Miami Herald report.

Also, could the timing of the article’s release be any worse? Two months into what was supposed to be a very active season, with 7-10 hurricanes predicted, so far not a single hurricane has appeared. By this time in 2005, there had already been three hurricanes. The biggest losers in all of this are the reporters — just think how much fun they could have had with this study had a hurricane been about to make landfall on the U.S. coastline.


Yeah, talk about the truth being inconvenient...


Apparently some scientists feel that integrity has a higher value than an easy grant.


I am not sure if you are establishing a relationship between increase US interest in global warming and the 2005 cyclone/hurricane season. One question I had after watching the now famous power point presentation and reading some scientific critiques about a number of the projects is how do we account for the queue of Discovery channel programs highlighting the melting ice-caps on Kilimanjaro or Everest, the melting glaciers in Greenland, the disappearing of the penguins, drowning of the polar bears, etc., and the connection to the increase in man-made carbon dioxide release? I haven't read this week's Newsweek but the cover article seems to be taking the naysers (those still holding out that no connection can be made) to task for their refusal to accept the conventional wisdom.

Is this just another incidence of experts titlting the conclusions to serve their particular incentives?


A fear of being wrong, and not having enough information to ascert a true opinion, makes the "scientists" sit on the fence... it's a safe place, for now, allowing for future spin where hindsight will be 20-20!

Hopefully Anonymous

Insightful analysis, I enjoyed the meta elements and the positively deviant transparency.


I love how, in the last couple of months, "Global Warming" has morphed into "Climate Change". Kind of hard to disprove climate change on this planet.

On the Newsweek "follow the money" article, I guess Al Gore's $100 million profit from his crusade is just a happy coincidence.


razzmatazz, is that a dry joke or an honest comment?

A fear of being wrong, and not having enough information to assert a true opinion is what makes "scientists" scientists. Yes, they are hedging their bets, but the difference is that, when hindsight becomes 20-20, they will say "we now know x; we didn't before".

I suppose in the days of excessive political spin, it may seem dishonest to say "i don't know", do research, and come back with a wheel-barrel full of data to support your new opinion (which you didn't have the balls to form until you learned about the issue).

Let's hope to see more spineless scientists making decisions based on evidence, instead of their gut.


It sounds more like to me that climatologists can't make a point rigorous to stand up to major criticism with the current available data. That doesn't surprise me. For instance on Kilimanjaro I was nearby during the rainy season of 2006 and heard that snow fell on a lower altitude of the mountain than in recorded history despite the permanent snow cap receding in volume. So while it was a great image in Gore's slideshow, he didn't explain the whole story. There is just too much noise in the data and unfortunately that inconsistent noise includes dangerous weather patterns and droughts.


Donut, the reason the name has been changed is that "global warming" only covers one aspect of the problem. Droughts, floods, sea level rise etc, are considered to be much more serious threats than the warming itself.

erik de koster

I am an MD who has been involved in consensus meetings on medical subjects, and I recognize quite well the level of sophistication which has gone into this climatologists' consensus: it takes a whole lot of very hard evidence before a consensus meeting will declare something like 'we are sure that because of global warming we will see more hurricanes in the near future'. By the same token, the climatalogists' consensus certainly is NOT 'rest assured, there is no danger of seeing more hurricanes in the future'.
The point is that policy makers have to decide whether they need to work out some policy change based on incomplete evidence, and at some point they will have to agree that, even though the evidence is not perfect, it is far more dangerous to do nothing and wait for the perfect evidence than to act now, even if that implies that we may overreact: I would be more forgiving if policy makers will prove to have been overcauscious than for being negligent.



I remember Al Gore's video implying a link between climate change and hurricanes, and damage therefrom. Lomborg successfully, I think, debunked the link with economic damage. I haven't yet seen any evidence or reportage of any evidence between global temperatures and hurricane intensity.

Oden and Tor

Re: viking.
If you're looking for reports of evidence establishing a link between global tempratures and hurricane intensity, why not look at conclusion 6 above: "Model studies and theory project a 3-5% increase in wind-speed per degree Celsius increase of tropical sea surface temperatures."
And, as pointed out in the post by erik de koster, this is a consensus conclusion that all participating participants could agree with. Chances are that 99% of the participants were prepared to make a stronger statement.


What incentive do climatologists have to "discover" that there is no link between man-made CO2-emmissions and climate change? Absolutely none; scientists are flocking to climatology related projects because that is where the money is right now. However funding won't increase if there will be less demand for apocalyptic projections, so why would anyone attempt a career suicide?


pardon the delay, tkmorgan, but the site was not accepting comments...

my comment was more a cynical observation... let me defend...

as a disgruntled washingtonian, i find myself losing respect for special interest advocates everyday, and they appear to crop up in all ways, shapes, and forms, even if unofficial... ie "scientists" worried about securing future funding, so they refuse to assert an opinion or "hypothesis" so as not to anger the gods--er, politicians--along the thought process of "i'm just going to wait for someone else to step out on a limb, and I will spin my data analysis accordinly then."

okay, so maybe it is more like a cynical rant...


There may be no " strong link between global warming and hurricanes", but there is a strong link between high ocean surface temperatures and hurricanes - the former being the direct cause of the latter.

I don't guess the other commenters actually read the 10 point, which are phrased fancily but weak in content. As a public service, I will recap:

Points 1, 4 ,5, 7 & 9 are repeats: all basically "no scientific proof"-style FUD commonly used by the ID crowd. Scientists talk like this, others distort it to their needs.

2, 3 & 10 are interesting but do not really address the same issue as the other points.

That leaves 6 & 8, which taken together (?) suggest that warming will lead to fewer, larger storms. 6 does in fact link global warming and hurricanes, tho maybe not "strongly" enough for this website.

Taken together, the points do not at all support the headline.


the answer was given by g-d long ago in the book of revelations: more hurricanes are a harbinger of the Last Days- in fact one theory of global warming is that it is the slow and inevitable approach of g-d towards Judgement Day- clearly g-d would be hotter than xillion supernovas, so as he approaches the earth, it will get hotter and hotter...

Eli Baker

A long time ago, a very, very, very long time ago (1979 or thereabouts)in the life of computers, the New Yorker published a cartoon about these machines that were changing our lives. There were two men, obviously scientists with the white smock signifying their trade looking over a computer printout several feet long. They were in the computer room. In those days the computer, say an IBM 370, took up an entire room which was air-conditioned day and night because of the heat generated by these massive machines which served an entire university. Lights were flashing behind them as one scientist said (and I quote from memory) ‘it would take 400 mathematicians 400 years to make a mistake like this.'

It is a given amongst scientist that measurement involves error. When a survey is reported with, say, 49% favoring one and perhaps 47% favoring another and the rest undecided, there is always a note reporting the likely error. When our news broadcasters report the numbers on TV they often leave out the possibility of error. When the meteorologists at Penn State show the weather map on TV with their computer models predicting next weeks weather, they show the lines of prediction of the various models. There is a bunching of many, but there are others close by and usually several outliers. The forecaster picks one group for his or her prediction. When the weathermen on the commercial stations predict the weather they don't mention computer models, the multiplicity, the possible rates of error. No need to: we all realize that the weather is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy. We usually have some confidence in tomorrow's prediction, less in next weeks, and even less in next months. We don't discuss this because it is well known by everyone.

And yet when the hurricane center predicted that 2006 would be an exceptionally bad year for hurricanes in Florida, we all went out and bought generators, propane stoves, stocked up on flashlights and emergency stores. These predictions were made from computer models, these are the same computer models that are predicting global warming and blaming us for the future destruction of our planet and encouraging us to change and modify our behavior accordingly.


L P Beron

I'm a skeptic on the subject of man-made global warming/climate change; it very much reminds me of the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis when a young woman solemly advised me that "If this rate of infection continues, it won't be long before EVRYONE on the planet has AIDS!"

"If this rate of ____ continues..." ALWAYS seems to be missing from the worst predictions.


"What incentive do climatologists have to 'discover' that there is no link between man-made CO2-emmissions and climate change?"

Right! because academia pays soooo much better than Exxon-Mobil.

The planet is warming up, and there is an overwhelming consensus that we are causing it. I'm not sure what frustrates me more those who cling to every outlying piece of data as 'proof' that global warming doesn't exist or those who seem to think if we just got rid of the SUVs it wold all just go away. Not that we shouldn't conserve energy, but global warming is largely an engineering problem that is going to require innovative solutions. The sooner we all recognize that, the sooner we can start solving the problem.


I *knew* Levitt would have my back...