Scott Pelley spent much of his 60 minutes’ segment pushing the latest liberal narrative that global warming made the rainstorm Harvey worse, despite not speaking with a single hurricane expert or trained meteorologist. He even intuited that hurricanes were increasing in strength and frequency. He first began his segment by saying:
“The number of storms is higher than usual but it’s their intensity that is extremely rare with two Category Fours and two Category Fives making landfall in a month.”
In just the first few lines, Pelley’s already playing fast and loose with the truth, which is nothing new given he previously traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula in the summer to show the effects of er, summer?
None of the recent hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, made landfall as a category five in the U.S. Harvey, Irma, and Jose made landfall as a Cat 4, while Maria made landfall in Dominica briefly as a Cat 5. Irma briefly made landfall in Cuba as a Cat 5, and not in the U.S.
Hurricanes aren’t also increasing in frequency as implied by Pelley. In fact, 2017 is an average year for hurricanes, and the so-called records being set are only true if you don’t ignore the available data. As one meteorologist noted, after the nearly 12-year lull in hurricanes, this is what hurricane season looks like.
Hurricane experts measure a storm’s “intensity” by its minimum central pressure since most devices before the satellite age couldn’t withstand the high winds to accurately measure wind speed. Of the four this season, only Maria made the top 10 (since recordkeeping began in 1851), coming in last. Irma, Jose, and Harvey didn’t even make the top 25 list.
If you prefer to measure a hurricane’s intensity by wind speed, the top ten hurricanes are shown below. Allen struck in 1980 during the height of the global cooling scare. As you can see, only Irma is on the list but not for its high minimum central pressure. That’s why the storm devolved so quickly:
Then Pelley dragged out climatologist-turned-climate activist Katharine Hayhoe to prove his point. Unlike other climatologists, Hayhoe isn’t a hurricane expert but gets paid by the U.S. government to write scary reports with the outcome already predetermined by the authors.
One such report is the National Climate Assessment, and upon its release three years ago, she said: “Climate change is here and now, and not in some distant time or place,” adding: “The choices we’re making today will have a significant impact on our future.”
Hayhoe told Pelley you can’t link climate change to these hurricanes (without bothering to explain the naturally occurring events that created the devastating rainstorm) and said, “It’s too early to tell. The postmortem will take years, so to speak, because climate science is all about the long-term statistics we can say, absolutely without a doubt, that this hurricane took place over altered background conditions.”
She then goes on to explain that ‘background conditions’ mean more evaporation, warmer sea waters, and sea level rise. That’s about an inch a decade. Yet three of the hurricanes formed over ocean waters that were two degrees cooler than what hurricanes prefer.
Harvey was kept in place by two high-pressure systems that prevented it from moving northwards and dissipating. As such, the rainstorm bounced between the two systems by traveling over land, getting pushed back out over the water, coming in and out over land, and bringing with it lots of rain.
In fact, the reason Pelley didn’t talk to a hurricane expert or a meteorologist is that he probably couldn’t find anyone willing to go on the record and say global warming was connected or linked.
Instead of pointing out that we’ve gone through an abnormally long time (nearly 12 years) without a major hurricane making landfall, he instead began his segment by saying:
“Like rounds of artillery, hurricanes are coming in a salvo the likes of which we haven”t seen in more than a decade. Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico this past week, was the first Category Four to make a direct hit on the island in 85 years.”
Pelley left out that Puerto Rico was hit by three major hurricanes over the next three decades starting in 1899. According to Paul Homewood:
Puerto Rico has been lucky to have gone nearly 90 years without a hurricane as powerful as Maria. But they were not as lucky back then, as two Cat 4 and 1 Cat 5 hurricanes hit the island in the space of 33 years.
Maria was only the second strongest hurricane to strike Puerto Rico, behind the 1928 San Felipe Segundo hurricane. Funny how Pelley didn’t mention that. Last week, Dr. Roy Spencer’s explained the nearly 12-year hurricane drought was much more unusual than two Cat 4 strikes, something lost on Pelley:
Weather.com published an article noting that the two Cat 4 hurricane strikes this year (Harvey and Irma) is a new record. Here’s a nice graphic they used showing both storms at landfall.
But the statistics of rare events (like hurricanes) are not very well behaved. Let’s look at this new record, and compared it to the 11+year period of no major hurricane strikes that ended when Harvey struck Texas.
The Probability of Two Cat 4 Strikes in One Year
By my count, we have had 24 Cat 4 or Cat 5 landfalls in the U.S. between 1851 and 2016. This gives a probability (prior to Harvey and Irma) of one Cat4+ strike every 7 years. It also leads to an average return period of two Cat4+ strikes of about 50 years (maybe one of you statisticians out there can correct me if I’m wrong).
So, since the average return period is once every 50 years, we were overdue for two Cat4+ strikes in the same year over the entire 166 period of record. (Again, for rare events, the statistics aren’t very well behaved.)
The Probability of the 11-Year “Drought” in Major Landfalling Hurricane
In 2015, a NASA study was published which calculated how unlikely the (then) 9-year stretch with no major hurricane landfalls was. They came up with a 177 year return period for such an event.
I used that statistic to estimate what eventually happened, which was 11 years with no major hurricane strikes.
I get a return period of 560 years!
Now, which seems more unusual and potentially due to climate change: something that should happen only once every 50 years, or every 560 years?
Maybe global warming causes fewer landfalling major hurricanes.
Pelley’s true motive can be summed up in one line he said: “Was the world capital of fossil fuels brought low by climate change?” Really?
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