North Carolina television station WRAL recently hosted a segment claiming climate change is making hurricanes more intense and dangerous. This claim is false. By making this claim WRAL is perpetuating a counterfactual alarmist set of talking points. Data show that hurricanes are neither becoming stronger nor more frequent.
In the segment, titled “Hurricanes and climate change: The need for resiliency,” the anchor says climate change is causing worse hurricanes, and that “scientists say more areas need to prepare for stronger, wetter, and slower moving storms.”
“All of the effects of the storms themselves seem like they’re getting a bit worse,” said Dr. Rick Luettich of the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences, who was interviewed for the story by WRAL. Official data refute Luettich’s claim.
As previously explained by Climate Realism here, here, and here, there has been no detectable or statistically significant change in the intensity or frequency of hurricanes.
There is quite a bit of misinformation and misdirection when it comes to hurricane activity. It was only in recent decades that hurricanes and other tropical storms were able to be tracked continuously and in every part of the globe using satellites and aircraft. Before these inventions, many mid-ocean storms were likely missed, or mislabeled. Taking the improvements in technology into account, and only counting landfalling major hurricanes that were unlikely to be missed, there is no increasing trend in the number of major hurricanes in the United States. (See figure below)
However as described by Climate Realism previously, here, increased costs of damages to properties can be most logically attributed to the increased populations and infrastructure in coastal regions.
WRAL’s broadcast discussion of the importance of saltwater marshes and other coastal features as factors that help mitigate the impact storm surges was relatively reasonable. However, WRAL also rehashes the oft-repeated claim that climate change is accelerating sea level rise, making coastal communities more vulnerable to storm related flooding. Data show this is false. As discussed in Climate Realism here, for example, tide gauge measurements do not show either that present sea level rise is outside the average rate of rise experienced during the current interglacial period or that it has accelerated in recent years.
Specifically for North Carolina, the rate of sea level rise is highly variable, as shown in the figure below, with some areas in the state experiencing among the highest rates of rise on the U.S. east coast, and some areas experiencing some of the lowest rates of sea level rise.
Tectonics, and land subsidence from wetland destruction, compaction, and ground water withdrawals— the latter three due to increasing coastal urbanization—are the most likely factors driving accelerated sea level rise in areas seeing the fastest rate of rise.
WRAL is right to encourage people and the state to prepare for the impact of natural disasters, regardless of climate change. It’s the responsible thing to do. Coastal communities should educate themselves on how they can best mitigate the damage caused by powerful storms, such as instituting building codes that account for hurricane wind speeds and possible flooding, restoring saltwater marshes, and, where necessary, constructing sea walls. Where WRAL goes off the rails is by hyping demonstrably false claims about climate change making hurricanes worse. It may help ratings but it is false and a disservice to its audience. Neither data nor the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate hurricanes are becoming more frequent or powerful.