Monday, July 30, 2007

Sloppy Science

Kudos to NOAA, for its sharp critique of a new British study, which claims that the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic has doubled over the past century, the result of (surprise, surprise) global warming.

As the AP reports:

The increases coincided with rising sea surface temperature, largely the byproduct of human-induced climate warming, researchers Greg J. Holland and Peter J. Webster concluded. Their findings were being published online Sunday by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.


From 1905 to 1930, the Atlantic-Gulf Coast area averaged six tropical cyclones per year, with four of those storms growing into become hurricanes.

The annual average jumped to 10 tropical storms and five hurricanes from 1931 to 1994. From 1995 to 2005, the average was 15 tropical storms and eight hurricanes annually.

Even in 2006, widely reported as a mild year, there were 10 tropical storms

We are currently in an upward swing in frequency of named storms and hurricanes that has not stabilized," said Holland, director of mesoscale and microscale meteorology at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

"I really do not know how much further, if any, that it will go, but my sense is that we shall see a stabilization in frequencies for a while, followed by potentially another upward swing if global warming continues unabated," Holland said.

But NOAA (which runs the National Hurricane Center) has another explanation for the increase: better technology--namely satellites--which allows detection of storms that would have gone unreported in years past.

Chris Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center, said the study is inconsistent in its use of data.

The work, he said, is "sloppy science that neglects the fact that better monitoring by satellites allows us to observe storms and hurricanes that were simply missed earlier. The doubling in the number of storms and hurricanes in 100 years that they found in their paper is just an artifact of technology, not climate change."

And there is empirical evidence to back NOAA's theory. has compiled yearly storm totals for the Atlantic basin (dating back to 1851) based on a variety of data sources. Their tally reveals clear fluctuations in hurricane activity, a pattern one that has also been suggested by several experts, including Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University. In a 2005 interview with James Glassman of, Dr. Gray noted some obvious holes in the theory linking global warming to increased hurricane activity:

Glassman: And from a seasonal, monthly point of view, you had been predicting a growing number of hurricanes. Now, my question is in the wake of Katrina and some of the statements that we’ve heard immediately afterwards by advocates of the global warming theory – is global warming behind this increase in hurricanes?

Gray: I am very confident that it’s not. I mean we have had global warming. That’s not a question. The globe has warmed the last 30 years, and the last 10 years in particular. And we’ve had, at least the last 10 years, we’ve had a pick up in the Atlantic basin major storms. But in the earlier period, if we go back from 1970 through the middle ‘90s, that 25 year period – even though the globe was warming slightly, the number of major storms was down, quite a bit down.

Now, another feature of this is that the Atlantic operates differently. The other global storm basins, the Atlantic only has about 12 percent of the global storms. And in the other basins, the last 10 years – even though the Atlantic major storm activity has gone up greatly the last 10 years. In the other global basins, it’s slightly gone down. You know, both frequency and strength of storms have not changed in these other basins. If anything, they’ve slightly gone down. So if this was a global warming thing, you would think, “Well gee, all of the basins should be responding much the same.”

Glassman: You’re familiar with what your colleagues believe. Do you think many hurricane experts would take a different point of view, and would say, “Oh, it’s global warming that’s causing hurricanes?”

Gray: No. All my colleagues that have been around a long time – I think if you go to ask the last four or five directors of the national hurricane center – we all don’t think this is human-induced global warming. And, the people that say that it is are usually those that know very little about hurricanes. I mean, there’s almost an equation you can write the degree to which you believe global warming is causing major hurricanes to increase is inversely proportional to your knowledge about these storms.

In his discussion with Mr. Glassman, Gray also noted the relationship between global warming theory and meteorological research grants:

"You know, most of meteorological research is funded by the federal government. And boy, if you want to get federal funding, you better not come out and say human-induced global warming is a hoax because you stand the chance of not getting funded."

As we've noted before, Dr. Gray's annual hurricane forecasts are accepted as the holy grail, but the MSM rarely print his views on global warming, despite his eminent credentials as a climatologist. In the wake of the British study, it's doubtful that reporters will beat a path to his door, since his assessment challenges the global warming "consensus."


ADDENDUM: For anyone interested in this topic, we highly recommend Dr. Gray's PowerPoint presentation on hurricanes and global warming, available at the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project website. In his briefing, Dr. Gray notes that hurricane activity has actually increased during periods of global cooling, refuting the purported link between greenhouse gases and more intense tropical storms. He also notes that many of the "experts" in this area--the so-called "Gang of Five" lack prior experience in tropical meteorology, another fact that's often ignored by Al Gore and his ilk. To download Dr. Gray's brief, follow the link in the upper left-hand corner.

No comments: