The Super Storm Meme

Unless you have been living in one of the few truly remote areas of the planet, you have been exposed to them. Climate change memes that pass from person to person and are repeated without thought or critical examination. They range from the subtle—bad weather is being increased by global warming—to the banal—over 97% of scientists agree about climate change. We are bombarded with these unsubstantiated ideas over and over again, from talking heads on TV, newspaper headlines, our friends and even the president of the United States. They are blatant untruths that have become legitimized by repetition, until school children and adults alike patriot them to each other. The recent tropical cyclone, Haiyan, has triggered another round of meme infection: it was the worst storm in history, tropical storms are getting bigger every year, there are more storms every year, and, of course, they are all caused by global warming. Trouble is, these “facts” are all false.

The Urban Dictionary website defines a meme as: a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable. One example of such a mind virus can be found in the insistence by many, scientists and non-scientists alike, that tropical storms can be attributed to global warming. According to the meme there are more tropical storms today and they are stronger than in the past, all because of global warming. So pervasive has this idea become that it is mindlessly repeated by news reporters, talk show hosts and politicians alike. Recent events provide proof of this thought infestation.

Over the past weekend, as Haiyan's furry was unleashed on the Philippines, reporters across the globe scrambled for superlatives. While there is no doubt that Haiyan, at its peak a full category 5 tropical cyclone (TC), was a dangerous and atypical storm, the amount of hype generated by news reporters was breathtaking. The BBC, more reserved than most, declared, “Monster typhoon Haiyan roars across Philippines.” They arguably got the particulars right by labeling Haiyan “one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit land.”

The Australian's headline screamed “Super Typhoon Haiyan tears Philippines apart!” In America, National Public Radio and CNN repeated the super typhoon meme. Dana Perino, a panelist on FOX News' talk show, The Five, pronounce it the worst storm in recorded history. Ms. Perino, normally a very sensible, level headed commentator on American politics, illustrates what happens to even the most thoughtful people when they venture outside their areas of expertise. Her colleague, leftist Bob Beckel's response was more typical: “Ask the people of the Philippines how they feel about global warming now!”

Again, it is not that this storm was not fearsome or that the devastation it caused was not a human calamity of the first order, just that the overly excited chattering class has inadvertently handed the climate change cabal another chance to sow disinformation. Statements that the “Super Typhoon” was “off the charts” played right into the climate change meme that storms are getting stronger because of global warming. One reporter stated “it is thought to be the strongest storm to ever make landfall anywhere in the world in modern records.” I guess that would be true if those modern records did not extend back beyond 2006.


Devastation in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines.

Storm intensity is measured by central pressure, the atmospheric pressure at the core of a cyclone. The lower the core preasure, the more intense the storm. Haiyan, at its peak, was measured at 895 hPa (hectopascals). In the North Atlantic, Hurricane Wilma, in 2005, was measured at 882. You have to go back to 1979's Typhoon Tip, to find the most intense storm ever recorded in the Western North Pacific—it pulled 870 hPa and tops the list of all time most intense storms. In fact, when compared to that region's list of most intense storms, Haiyan ties with a clutch of other storms—most recently Yuri in 1991—for an ignominious 21st place. Not only was Haiyan not the most intense storm ever seen, it's not even in the running.

But then the news media never lets facts get in the way of a good story. Remember “Super Storm” Sandy? The only thing super about Sandy was the opportunity it provided the major US news networks to capture it on video. Barely a category 1 storm, it hit a part of the US that had not experienced such a storm in decades, and hence had no frame of reference. My brother, who lives in Florida, where much stronger storms occur more frequently, dismissed the northerners as a bunch of wimps. But the true damage was done by the prominent know nothings who immediately linked that storm with other recent unfavoriable environmental episodes.

We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it's too late.

That scientifically ignorant talking head was President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address. As stated in a recent news article in Science, “there is little or no evidence that global warming steered Sandy into New Jersey or made the storm any stronger.”

What is the science regarding storm intensity and increasing frequency? There is no doubt that storm damage costs are rising, but is that because there are more people and property in the paths of destructive weather events? In other words, are there more storms or more targets? There was an explicit attempt to find any anthropologically induced trend in tropical cyclones in a paper by Jessica Weinkle et al., published in the AMS Journal of Climate. Here is the paper's abstract:

In recent decades, economic damage from tropical cyclones (TCs) around the world has increased dramatically. Scientific literature published to date finds that the increase in losses can be explained entirely by societal changes (such as increasing wealth, structures, population, etc.) in locations prone to tropical cyclone landfalls, rather than by changes in annual storm frequency or intensity. However, no homogenized dataset of global tropical cyclone landfalls has been created that might serve as a consistency check for such economic normalization studies. Using currently available historical TC best-track records, a global database focused on hurricane-force strength landfalls was constructed. The analysis does not indicate significant long-period global or individual basin trends in the frequency or intensity of landfalling TCs of minor or major hurricane strength. The evidence in this study provides strong support for the conclusion that increasing damage around the world during the past several decades can be explained entirely by increasing wealth in locations prone to TC landfalls, which adds confidence to the fidelity of economic normalization analyses.

The authors examined landfalls in five global development regions that have significant tropical cyclone activity: the North Atlantic (NATL), northeastern Pacific (EPAC), western North Pacific (WPAC), northern Indian Ocean (NIO), and the Southern Hemisphere (SH). This was done using the most recent version of the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship, which compiles TC intensity and location data. To get some idea of the volume of data being talked about, tracking maps for the various regions are shown below.

“We have identified considerable interannual variability in the frequency of global hurricane landfalls,” the authors state, “but within the resolution of the available data, our evidence does not support the presence of significant long-period global or individual basin linear trends for minor, major, or total hurricanes within the period(s) covered by the available quality data.” That is rather unequivocal—there is no trend, increasing or otherwise. This is clearly shown in the graph below.

There is a lot of variation from year to year, which gives our notoriously spotty memories time to forget the last big storm. Combine this with rising property damage assessments and the stage is set for breathless news commentators to pronounce each new storm a “Super Storm.”

Here is how Weinkle et al. summarize their findings:

While there is continued uncertainty surrounding future changes in climate (Knutson et al. 2010), current projections of TC frequency or intensity change may not yield an anthropogenic signal in economic loss data for many decades or even centuries (Crompton et al. 2011). Thus, our quantitative analysis of global hurricane land-falls is consistent with previous research focused on normalized losses associated with hurricanes that have found no trends once data are properly adjusted for societal factors.

According to Richard Kerr at Science, establishing cause and effect between extreme weather and climate change is not only scientifically suspect, it may also be a risky strategy for persuading the public to take climate change seriously. “What disturbs me is assigning anything that comes along to global warming,” says professor emeritus of meteorology John M. Wallace of the University of Washington, Seattle. “That may work in the short run, but I don't think that kind of conversion has staying power.” Indeed, surveys coming out on the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy's landfall (29 October) show the concerns about hurricanes that spiked in the wake of the disaster have nearly faded away. No doubt, Haiyan will cause another temporary uptick.

What of those other calamities blamed on global warming, the other climate change memes? Even the IPCC typically has “low confidence” in such linkage. That goes for droughts (down from medium confidence in the 2007 assessment), floods, and, unsurprisingly, tropical storms. Wildfires aren't even considered, and for good reason. Wildfire researcher Max Moritz of the University of California, states: “fire is a couple steps removed from temperature or precipitation, and our records are short. So detecting a trend is tough and attributing an event to climate change is really, really tough. We have to be very careful.”

Careful indeed. The next time the natural disaster du jour is pronounced “Super” or “the worst ever” step back and take a deep breath. Odds are it is nothing of the sort. And when your friend or coworker blames the latest drought, heatwave, flood, blizzard or cold snap on global warming realize that they are just mindlessly repeating a meme, implanted into their minds like a disease by other witless carriers of global warming syndrome. Sadly, the only cure is to wait for the madness to fade in the fullness of time.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

[ If you wish to help the victims of typhoon Haiyan we suggest a donation to the Salvation Army, CARE, International Rescue Committee or other reputable international aid organization. ]

Haiyan

While I agree with most of the commentary, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that a lot of the hype about Haiyan was it's intensity at landfall. That is the comparison that should be made with other hurricanes, not necessarily the highest wind speed recorded. I believe that Wilma's wind speed at landfall was 150 mph; Camille's speed at landfall was 190 mph (the previous record holder), and Haiyan's windspeed at landfall was estimated at 190-195.

Depends on who you listen to

Where Haiyan falls in the lists of worst storms ever depends on who you trust and what methodology was used to measure the wind speed. Calling it the worst storm ever based on satellite estimated wind speed at land fall is sort of a reach to my mind. Again, not that it wasn't a reall big, really powerful storm, but rather, I was protesting the hyping of it and every new storm to come along as the "worst ever" by the airheads in the news media. Here is a quote from Wikipedia (the ultimate arbiter of truth on the Internet):

The highest sustained winds on record for a tropical cyclone were recorded for Typhoon Haiyan which reached 169 knots (87 m/s) or 195 miles per hour (314 km/h) sustained winds shortly before making landfall in the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013.[142] The previous record-holder and still most intense (lowest pressure) storm was Typhoon Tip in the northwestern Pacific Ocean in 1979, which reached a minimum pressure of 870 mbar (652.5 mmHg) and maximum sustained wind speeds of 165 knots (85 m/s) or 190 miles per hour (310 km/h).[143] Tip, however, does not solely hold the record for the second strongest sustained winds in a cyclone. Typhoon Keith in the Pacific and Hurricanes Camille and Allen in the North Atlantic currently share this mark with Tip.[144] Until Haiyan, Camille was the only storm to actually strike land while at that intensity, making it, with 165 knots (85 m/s) or 190 miles per hour (310 km/h) sustained winds and 183 knots (94 m/s) or 210 miles per hour (340 km/h) gusts. [145] Typhoon Nancy in 1961 had recorded wind speeds of 185 knots (95 m/s) or 215 miles per hour (346 km/h), but recent research indicates that wind speeds from the 1940s to the 1960s were gauged too high, and this is no longer considered the storm with the highest wind speeds on record.[110] Likewise, a surface-level gust caused by Typhoon Paka on Guam was recorded at 205 knots (105 m/s) or 235 miles per hour (378 km/h). Had it been confirmed, it would be the strongest non-tornadic wind ever recorded on the Earth's surface, but the reading had to be discarded since the anemometer was damaged by the storm.[146]

In addition to being the most intense tropical cyclone on record based on pressure, Tip was the largest cyclone on record, with tropical storm-force winds 2,170 kilometres (1,350 mi) in diameter. The smallest storm on record, Tropical Storm Marco, formed during October 2008, and made landfall in Veracruz. Marco generated tropical storm-force winds only 37 kilometres (23 mi) in diameter.

A major bad storm? Undoubtedly. The worst ever? No. But more importantly, such storms are not unusual—infrequent, but not unusual. They are not proof that global warming is ravaging the planet. For more info check here.

Chicken Little Weathermen

We are living in the age of natural phenomenon hyperbole: every storm is a “super storm,” and every typhoon is a “super typhoon.” It is bad enough that gushing airhead weather broadcasters have started to name storms (that makes them more personally threatening) but they have taken to mislabeling types of storms to jack up the potential disaster quotient for every bout of inclement weather. A case in point, every storm that moves into the northeastern part of the US is now a nor'easter.

You see, a nor'easter is a very specific type of storm, caused by conditions that are not rare but certainly not ubiquitous. According to NOAA, A nor'easter is a type of massive cyclonic storm that forms within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the United States' East Coast, traveling inland into the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions and reaching northward to the Atlantic-facing side of Canada. Also called "northeasters," these storms take their name from the strong and continuous northeasterly winds that blow them ashore. See “Know the dangers of nor’easters” for more info.

Nor'easters have wreaked havoc upon major metropolitan areas of the Northeast in the past: the Halloween Storm of 1991 damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes from Maine to the Carolinas; the February 1979 Presidents Day Storm brought the nation's capital to a standstill; and the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 battered the northeast coastline with rain, snow, sleet, coastal flooding, and wind for five days.

So look at the circulation patterns and see if there is a cyclonic swirl off the coast of New England before pronouncing something a nor'easter. I'm afraid that the latest winter storm, a massive cold front moving across the country, is not going to result in a nor'easter—even though a number of overly excited weather weenies have pronounced it one in advance.

IPCC scientist wins prize for linking CO2 & extreme weather

Dr Qin Dahe, a glaciologist from China, was awarded the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize for his research into how climate change leads to more extreme weather events. The Volvo Environment Prize consists of a diploma, a glass sculpture and a cash award for SEK 1.5 million (approximately EUR 167,000 or US$ 209,000). It is not a suprise that Dr Qin also had a leading role in the IPCC’s fifth assessment report. Qin chaired the 1st Working Group, whose report the ‘Physical Science Basis’ was released in September. What do you call a scientist who accepts money for lying about climate change? A politician.

See more at: http://tcktcktck.org/2013/11/ipcc-scientist-wins-prestigious-environment...

Superstorm Sandy

Two factors, neither of which have anything to do with global warming, created Superstorm Sandy. 1) The convergence of a strong EARLY WINTER storm coming down from Canada with Hurricane Sandy, and 2) The high population density where it hit. I mentioned this just the other day to an otherwise intelligent liberal, who responded with: "Well, don't you think the intensity and the timing of the storm coming down from Canada was awfully strange?" I answered the question with a question, "Are you suggesting that early cold weather confirms global warming?" Her answer, "Weather is getting wackier and climate change is responsible." I could see I was not going to win an argument with someone as ignorant and passionate as she; so I ended the discussion. I expect she feels she beat me in the debate.

Suffering and the sin of climate change denial

This article in the Washington Post shows the desperation of the green leftists. They are resorting to religion to attack climate skeptics and the oil industry.

    Christian theology distinguishes between “natural evil,” that is, destruction and suffering that can be caused by natural phenomena like earthquakes or storms, and moral evil, the kind of evils that result from the interlocking effects of human sin.

    Is the destructiveness of Typhoon Haiyan a tragedy of “natural evil,” the kind of horrible occurrence that occurs randomly in nature? Or, is it actually moral evil, traceable to human sin?

The answer, according to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, is that the storm is "an act of willful disregard for God’s creation, and the neglect of the human responsibility to care for the planet."
More twaddle at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/11/12/super-typhoon...

Sins of the academic theologian

That piece in the Post is without a doubt the most breathtaking display of ignorance, irrationality and warped theology I have ever read. Did she actually write that with a straight face? That anyone could claim tropical cyclones are God's punishment for humans burning oil and denying climate change is beyond bizarre, it's psychotic.

Gutfeld on Thistlethwaite

See Greg Gutfeld's monologue about the inane statements by Thistlethwaite (sorry about the ad):

http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/the-five/videos#v/2839255396001

Climate Alarmist Bingo

Here is a nifty game you can play when someone at a meeting or party starts droning on about climate change. The game card changes each time you refresh the page.

http://unfrozencavemanmd.blogspot.com/2013/09/climate-alarmist-bingo.html

Deadliest Tropical Storms

Even if the much mentioned death toll of 10,000 holds up (it has since been revised downwards), Haiyan will not rank as one of the deadliest tropical storms on record. According to this list on weather underground the top killer was the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1979, which killed +300,000 people in Bangladesh. Haiyan will not even make the top 35 list. A terrible tragedy to be sure, but still exaggerated by the press and pundits.