NY Times ‘Knows’ Hurricane Facts that Are Actually False

A story in the New York Times today is misleadingly titled, “5 Things We Know About Climate Change and Hurricanes,” (Emphasis mine). In the story, the Times substitutes speculation by a few climate alarmists for facts. The real fact is there is no evidence hurricanes are becoming more frequent or severe as the Earth modestly warms.

“Scientists can’t say for sure whether global warming is causing more hurricanes, but they are confident that it’s changing the way storms behave … there’s a solid scientific consensus that hurricanes are becoming more powerful,” writes the Times.

Actually, scientists can say for sure that there is no evidence hurricane are becoming more frequent. Data from Climate Atlas, reported in Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes, demonstrate there has been no increase in global hurricane frequency during the recent period of modest warming. To the contrary, objective data show that the number of tropical storms has declined modestly during the past 50 years. (See the figure below).

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agree with this assessment, stating in its 2018 interim report that there is “only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.”

The 2020 hurricane season has been very active. The Times says this is due to unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures. However, there is no evidence climate change, as opposed to natural oceanic cycles, are responsible for the high ocean temperatures. Research shows cyclical oceanic circulation patterns, like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and El Nino and La Nina temperature shifts, dominate ocean temperature changes.

Even in the midst of modestly warmer temperatures in recent years, the United States recently went more than a decade (2005 through 2017) without a major hurricane measuring Category 3 or higher, which is the longest such period in recorded history. America also recently experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight-year period (2009 through 2017) in recorded history.

“Warm ocean water is just one factor in the formation and intensification of hurricanes,” writes meteorologist Anthony Watts in Climate at a Glance: Hurricanes. “Wind shear inhibits strong storms from forming and rips apart storms that have already formed. Scientists have learned that global warming is likely to cause more wind shear in places where hurricanes form and intensify. It is misleading to discuss one factor in hurricane formation (warmer oceans) while failing to discuss an equally important factor (wind shear) that diminishes hurricane formation and intensification.”

The Times claims climate change is making it more likely for hurricanes to move more slowly. The Times also claims the regions impacted by tropical storms and hurricanes are expanding. However, these claims aren’t backed by any data cited by the Times. There is also no objective data showing climate change is “enlarging the zones where hurricanes can form,” as the Times asserts. Indeed, the data that does exist show hurricane zones have been stable over recorded history, neither shrinking nor expanding.

Instead, the paper quotes one or two scientists who have made such claims about expanding hurricane zones as if they represented a scientific consensus on the matters. They don’t! Moreover, if the same number of hurricanes and tropical storms are forming, and those storms are being stretched out over a greater area, then currently hurricane-prone therefore experience even fewer storms each year as the storms get more spread out.

Concerning the claim that climate change will cause hurricanes to move more slowly, the Times writes, “[r]esearchers do not yet know why storms are moving more slowly, but they are. Some say a slowdown in global atmospheric circulation, or global winds, could be partly to blame.” The Times can’t write, “we do not yet know why storms are moving more slowly,” and then assert, “we know” climate change is causing hurricanes to move more slowly. There is no evidence human-caused climate change is causing a slowdown in global wind speeds or circulation patterns. There is simply a paucity of data. As such, the Times is unjustified in asserting climate change has or will slow the pace at which hurricanes move.

Readers of the New York Times would have been better served had the paper consulted actual hurricane data, rather than quoting a few alarmist scientists, concerning what we “know” about the links between climate change and hurricane behavior. The data are, in fact, quite unalarming.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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