It sure didn’t take long for the vultures to gather round the victims of Hurricane Ida and blame it on climate change. The day after the storm made landfall NPR blared “How Climate Change Is Fueling Hurricanes Like Ida” while climate scientist Bernie Sanders (B.A. in political science) tweeted “The destruction from Hurricane Ida is devastating. Our thoughts are with those in danger and with first responders saving lives. But let's be clear. If we do not act boldly to combat climate change, what we see today will become the norm as the planet becomes more uninhabitable.” To which Michael Shellenberger responded by pointing out the tumbling death toll from disasters, and reminding the Senator that “according to @noaa climate change will make hurricanes 25% *less* frequent and just 5% more intense, not enough to increase harm”. Trying to correct all the misinformation around Ida can feel like blowing into a you-know-what. But let’s do it anyway.
Louisiana governor Jon Bel Edwards said it was one of the worst since at least the 1850s before it even hit. In fact it hit hard, but not that hard, making landfall on August 29 as a Category 4 but rapidly weakening to a Category 1 storm that same day; the New York Times email teaser by early afternoon downgraded it to “one of the most powerful systems to assault the region since Hurricane Katrina.” And NBC helpfully observed that only four verified Category 5 storms have hit the continental US in the last century, three of them before 2000 and the earliest in 1935. But it drew no conclusions. Still, climate change aaaaaaaaaaaah!
As for the supposed science, the story to which that Times teaser linked said “The storm was propelled in speed and strength by the Gulf’s very warm waters, which provide energy to storms. Warming waters have been affected by climate change. For many, the storm stirred painful reminders of the death and devastation that Katrina wrought in 2005, leaving psychological scars that still run deep in the city.” Which kind of raises the question why the storms haven’t been getting steadily worse since 2005. Perhaps because the waters haven’t warmed despite all the warming?
In a post objecting to the ghouls trudging in, atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass didn’t just reprint Roger Pielke Jr’s famous chart of “Continental United States Landfalling Hurricanes” declining from 1900 through 2020, he produced a table of water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico in August showing less than 1°C of warming in 40 years, and one of July temperatures since 1948 showing virtually no trend and July 2021 being “RELATIVELY COOL”. He then produced a list of things a “competent journalist” would do, presumably just for laughs.
Another Times story the same day intoned that “The storm intensified quickly in large part because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is very warm, and warmer water provides more energy to storms. The Gulf is normally warm in late summer, but research over the past decade suggests that climate change also plays a role in the increased frequency of rapidly intensifying Atlantic hurricanes.” Notice the conspicuous lack of actual data. And the silence about the long hurricane hiatus from 2005-2017, back when instead the press told us warming waters reduced the intensity of hurricanes. Or why, as the Gulf boils, between July 9 and August 11 of this year not one single tropical storm formed in the Atlantic Basin. Or why August in Tampa, Florida, saw absolutely normal temperatures.
Mass made his post on August 31. The next day the New York Times’ “Climate Fwd.” wrote “* How the storm quickly became a monster: Climate change means hurricanes can pick up more energy from warmer ocean water./ * As a preview of future storms, Ida is ‘very scary’: There’s broad consensus among scientists that a warming climate will lead to more extreme and heavy rainfall.” Oh really? As we noted last week, the IPCC say no such thing. And Paul Homewood observes that to the extent that there is a scientific consensus, it’s that Atlantic hurricanes follow a cycle driven by the AMO or Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which has been around far too long to be the result of human influence.
The “Climate Fwd.” author in question has a BA in politics from McGill and a Master of “International Affairs, Public Policy and Journalism” from Columbia. We’re starting to see a pattern. Why does it seem like the two things all climate journalists have in common is a total lack of competence and relevant credentials?
Funnily enough, National Geographic did allow that “IDA ILLUSTRATES HOW DEATH TOLLS ARE DECLINING FROM NATURAL DISASTERS” (unfortunately these emails do not always contain links to online versions). But the related story of course delivered the all-bad-things-in-a-bundle package, as “Social scientists have been saying for decades that natural disasters only accelerate pre-existing trends and increase inequities.” Social scientists say. And who could doubt their wisdom, even if they are not named so we can check?
Of course National Geographic also threw in climate change: “Ida intensified rapidly as it approached the Louisiana coast – a process that a 2019 study as well as the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said will become more common as a result of climate change. Hurricanes need warm ocean water to grow, and as greenhouse gas emissions add more heat to the atmosphere, it warms the ocean. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are now as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average in some parts. With warmer temperatures creating more fuel for hurricanes to feed off of, it loads the dice for stronger storms.”
Whoa Nelly. How’d we get from a few degrees to eight? Scientists must have said. Although that story added that “Until last year, when Hurricane Laura came ashore as a Cat 4 storm, Louisiana had not been struck by a Cat 4 in more than half a century, since Camille in 1969 and Betsy in 1965.” Strange. What did scientists say about why warming didn’t increase the frequency, intensity, deadliness and social injustice of storms? BTW in case you’re wondering Katrina was a Category 5 (winds over 157 mph/252 km/h) at sea but made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 (over 130/209) then Louisiana as a Category 3 (over 111/128.)
By Sept. 2 the Times was going “The deadly flooding in the Northeast, on the heels of destruction from Louisiana to California, shows the limits of adapting to climate change. Experts say it will only get worse.” Experts say. Apparently that “Disasters cascading across the country this summer have exposed a harsh reality: The United States is not ready for the extreme weather that is now becoming frequent as a result of a warming planet.” Note how this assertion that extreme weather is becoming not just more frequent but flat-out frequent has gone from conclusion to premise without stopping for testing.
Ida continued to do damage as it moved through the northeast as a “post-tropical cyclone”. And the Times’ staff did as well, including David Leonhardt somehow stapling it to the fate of Fair Bluff, NC in an item “Climate Bankruptcy” that said “Like much of eastern North Carolina, it sits on a coastal plain, one that is increasingly vulnerable to flooding because of the rise in extreme rainfall and severe hurricanes spurred by climate change.” So, see, “Fair Bluff offers a worrisome glimpse into the future. The increasing frequency of extreme weather has left countless towns, in the U.S. and around the world, vulnerable to both physical devastation and economic insolvency.” And again never mind documenting this “increasingly frequency of extreme weather”; just assert it and roar onward to the apocalypse including, in this particular word salad, wildfires. Which surely at least the pounding rain will put out. (Still, in a fun interactive feature, you get “Has climate change altered your life? Share your story with The Times.” So it’s not like they’re not doing thorough research.)
NBC jumped back into these turbulent overheated waters on Sept. 2 with “Wetter and warmer: How climate change is fueling hard-to-predict storms” by two climate journalists, one a Canadian (yay Canada) with, wait for it: a BA in Criminology from the University of Toronto and an MA in Journalism from NYU and the other oddly enough an actual certified meteorologist with a relevant BA and MS from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Despite which their story said “The storm was forecast days in advance; the New York office of the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch as early as Monday. But the intense rainfall still seemed to catch many off-guard, underscoring just how difficult it can be to predict the most dangerous aspects of climate change-fueled storms.” Uh, didn’t you just say it was predicted days in advance? Well, you know, with climate change everything is just so terrible it’s awful. It even has the power to cloud men’s minds.
One meteorologist was quoted that “It can be difficult to visualize what it means when we say ‘life-threatening flash floods.’ Some folks hear ‘this is the remnants of a hurricane’ and think: It’s no big deal. It’s just the leftovers.” Right. That phrase “life-threatening” being so ambiguous that presumably many thought “Is it a holiday camp?”
At least this story did temper its scare tactics with some actual facts: “The dangerous disconnect may become even more problematic as climate change supercharges storms and hurricanes. While the frequency of storms is not expected to increase in a warming world, research has shown that climate change is intensifying storms when they do occur — and that can often manifest itself in deluges of rain.” Research says. But as usual the story gets out of hand quickly regardless: “Climate change is making storms wetter because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. Scientists have estimated that for every 1 degree Celsius of temperature rise, the atmosphere can hold 7 percent more evaporated moisture. The Northeast is especially susceptible, being the region with the greatest increase in heavy rain events since the 1970s.” Uh if it’s a law of physics why did it not happen everywhere? And are you saying the effects of climate change kicked in by 1980? If so, can we please see the temperature increase between, say, 1900 and 1980 that you’re blaming?
Actually, you’d better not, since over in the Pacific the trend in typhoons in July has been downward for the last 70 years. Think warming caused that one?
Then NBC uncorked this non sequitur. “Global warming is amplifying the risk of flooding. Storms such as Hurricane Harvey, which dropped up to 60 inches of rain over parts of Texas in 2017, and Ida, when it made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday as a hurricane and as it moved up into the Northeast, show how dire the consequences can be — particularly in cities. ‘Rain flows more quickly on pavement than across grass, so runoff can allow water to pool much more readily in an urban landscape than, say, across a meadow,’ Henson [“Bob Henson, a meteorologist and writer for Yale Climate Connections, an online news service”] said. ‘That’s why urban flash flooding is such a threat.’” Ah. And obviously climate change causes pavement so… never mind. “The growing frequency of violent storms — which many weather and climate scientists warn will persist — is pushing meteorologists to figure out how to better communicate the risks.” Which to an audience that doesn’t know what life-threatening means could prove difficult. Scientists say.
Of course the last-ditch alarmist might say well look, it all proves our theory, because hurricanes aren’t increasing and the water isn’t warming QED. Instead they blamed a result that isn’t happening on a cause that isn’t and put “scientists say” in to nail it down.
The NPR story, by a science reporter with an unspecified BA from Harvard (that turns out to be in Neurobiology), explained that “The ocean was the temperature of bathwater — about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a few degrees hotter than average, according to measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Heat is energy, and hurricanes with more energy have faster wind speeds and larger storm surges. As the Earth heats up, rapidly intensifying major hurricanes such as Ida are more likely to occur, scientists say. The trend is especially apparent in the Atlantic Ocean…” And of course it gets worse. “Abnormally hot water also increases flood risk from hurricanes. Hurricanes suck up moisture as they form over the water and then dump that moisture as rain. The hotter the water — and the hotter the air — the more water vapor gets sucked up.”
Once again note the way in which trivial changes in conditions, a few degrees F, are meant to cause apocalyptic changes. But if so, surely it stands to reason that colder conditions would have seen fewer storms.
In fact a hurricane in 1856 estimated as a Category 4 “leveled Louisiana’s Last Island and killed more than 200 people, according to the National Weather Service.” And back then it had just over half a million people, versus today’s 4.67 million. So why was the weather so bad that year? (Incidentally if you look up “Hurricanes in Louisiana” on Wikipedia you get a list since 2000. But the full list indicates that, well, it gets a lot of them and has since at least 1812 when an unnamed storm hit during the War of 1812 and killed about 100 people.)
Katrina was very bad because of poor municipal planning and a botched response, resulting in an estimated 1,833 deaths across several states, an astonishing number in a wealthy country. And to their credit, the authorities responded by dramatically improving New Orleans’ storm defences with impressive results. As of Monday Sept. 1, the death toll from Ida was thought to be six although it got worse both in the impact area and in the Northeast as the weakening storm brought heavy rain to cities poorly designed to manage it.
In the New York Times version, “43 Die as Deadliest Storm Since Sandy Devastates the Northeast/ A huge volume of rain overwhelmed the region’s infrastructure, showing the lethal impact of climate change” as “most of this storm’s toll — both in human life and property damage — reflected the extent to which the sheer volume of rain simply overwhelmed the infrastructure of a region built for a different meteorological era.”
In New York City 11 of 13 deaths occurred in code-violating basement apartments. Which are obviously caused by this meteorological era rather than, say, a housing shortage driven by stupid regulations.
“Heavier downpours are a signature feature of global warming, because warmer air can hold more moisture. Climate scientists say that the Northeast has seen 50 percent more rainfall during the heaviest storms, compared with the first half of the 20th century.” So you’re saying climate change kicked in back in 1950? Or are you just blaming everything bad on climate change and not bothering to connect the dots?