Bad Weather Is No Reason for Climate Alarm

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump greeted the cold snap that was gripping much of the U.S. by tweeting, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.” He was criticized for confusing weather with climate. But he’s hardly alone in making this mistake, as we have seen in coverage of the most destructive weather-related events of 2017.

The past year was filled with bad weather news, much of it tragic, with whole communities even now still struggling to recover. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, and Hurricane Irma struck Florida and Puerto Rico after devastating other Caribbean islands. Wildfires torched the dry expanses of Napa and Ventura counties in California, and Australia experienced severe heat waves.

It has become routine for the media, politicians and activists to link such awful events with climate change. The basic claim is that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing more extreme weather of every kind—more droughts, floods and hurricanes. This comes in addition to concerns that a rise in global temperatures will have potentially dire effects in the long term on polar ice and sea levels.

By looking at the world as a whole, however, and at long-term trends (climate) rather than at short-term events (weather), we can better test the claims that 2017 was an unusual weather year and that weather is getting more extreme as the world warms. This global and long-term view also puts other possible threats from climate change in perspective.

While the U.S. witnessed record damages in 2017, the rest of the world was actually hit by far fewer natural disasters than usual. On average, the globe suffers some 325 catastrophic natural disasters a year, but last year (through November) they were down to around 250, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Leuven in Belgium. A third fewer people were killed by climate-related hazards, according to the Centre’s International Disaster Database.

As for major weather events and the most prominent indicators of long-term climate trends, here is a rough scorecard for 2017:

Temperature: The past three years have set global records for high temperatures, partly thanks to the recurring warm-water El Niño cycle in the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, temperatures have been at historic highs since 2000, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record. But average surface temperatures have dropped by a half degree Celsius since the El Niño peak in 2016, according to the UK’s Met Office, and are now almost back to pre-El Niño levels.

Though temperatures have increased, the rise is not accelerating and has fallen short of the most authoritative projections. In 1990, the first assessment report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that temperatures would rise at the rate of 0.3 degree Celsius per decade, equivalent to 3 degrees Celsius (or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) a century. In fact, temperatures have risen since 1990 at between 0.121 and 0.198 degrees Celsius per decade, depending on which of the best data sets is used—that is, at a third to two-thirds of the rate projected by the IPCC.

Hurricanes: In August, Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi as a Category 4 storm, ending a record 12-year period without a major U.S. hurricanes. Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was particularly hyperactive, ranking as the seventh most intense Atlantic season since records began in 1851.

But cyclones (as hurricanes are known elsewhere) are found in all three tropical oceans, and globally the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index—which measures the combined intensity and duration of these storms—is currently running 20% below its long-term average. In fact, the index for 2017 was less than half of normal cyclone activity for the Southern Hemisphere.

Fires and droughts: More than 9,000 wildfires burned some 1.4 million acres across California this year. But the number of wildfires in California has actually been declining for 40 years, according to UCLA’s Jon Keeley, a leading researcher on the subject. A review published in 2016 by Britain’s Royal Society documented that the global area burned by wildfires has also declined in recent decades.

As for drought, a comprehensive database published in 2014 in the journal Nature found that the proportion of the world suffering from abnormally low rainfall has slightly declined since the 1980s.

Floods: In 2017, California had its second wettest rainy season since record-keeping began more than a century ago, setting off massive floods. But a study published last year in the Journal of Hydrology by Glenn A. Hodgkins of the U.S. Geological Survey and colleagues ​concluded that the number of major floods in natural rivers across Europe and North America has not increased in 80 years. Globally, too, floods have decreased in recent years. […]

Short-term weather fluctuations often carry a terrible human cost, and these extreme events rightly catch the headlines. But they don’t capture the reality of the planet’s climate. Over the past several decades, the world has been getting slowly warmer, slightly wetter and less icy. It has also been no stormier, no more flood-prone and a touch less drought-prone. And sea level continues to creep slowly upward.

There is little excitement here for those who expect cataclysms—and little comfort for those who say nothing is changing.

—Mr. Peiser is the director of the London-based Global Warming Policy Forum. Mr. Ridley is a member of the House of Lords and the author of many books, including most recently, “The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge.”

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Comments (10)

  • Avatar

    Amber

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    I know it isn’t warming because Bill Nye hasn’t placed any thousand dollar bets of “record ” temperatures . NOAA’s climate fudge machine is jammed by a Trump . New records can be expected
    when a Democrat gets elected and Bill can start placing safe bets again .
    Mr. Peiser should write a book about the many benefits of the warming trend and I certainly hope he isn’t pitching CO2 as
    the temperature control thermostat . That con-game is best left to failed politicians , comedians and bad actors with zero scientific credentials .

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Sonnyhill

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    Perception matters. Global Warming didn’t deliver as predicted so….it was rebranded as Climate Change. People notice this stuff and it’s adding up. The Paris Accord farce and Obama’s subterfuge by joining without congressional approval.
    Along comes Trump and a good old fashioned winter. Cold reaching the Gulf of Mexico and probably more to come. El Nino is now La Nina .Climate Change is now the butt of jokes. It’s weather that matters , not global average temperature. The only people who remain concerned about AGW are those who depend on it and their gullible followers. Its political force is spent.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    David Lewis

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    This is an excellent article summarizing the issues of draught, floods, wild fires, hurricanes, sea level, and rate of temperature rise in one place.

    It is interesting to note that the actual observed temperature rise since 1990 at between 0.121 and 0.198 degrees Celsius per decade is right in line with the goals of the Paris Treaty. This is the do nothing approach. We are not seeing the 1990 predicted raise of 0.3 degree per decade. If we did, this would be just over 3 degrees by 2100. The 2 degree limit was arrived at by a pure political process and there is nothing indicating 3 degrees would be a problem.

    We all know that when the warming wasn’t happening as predicted “global warming” became “climate change” with the assertion that extreme weather event are some how being caused by extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yet, I have not heard even a lame theory from the alarmists on how carbon dioxide is supposed to increase extreme weather events in the absence of the predicted warming.

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    • Avatar

      Sonnyhill

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      How do we know what the temperature trend “is” ? (define “is” ) The data and records have been collected and adjusted by organizations that have become politicized. Their predictions have consistently been wrong, in the warm direction, so they warp the data to comply. The researchers involved with climategate are still in business (as usual).
      Hot summers confirm their theories. Cold winters confirm them, too? Sinking islands confirm rising sea level??? There’s fewer hurricanes but CO2 makes them worse? They can’t count (polar bears). California is burning up because climate change made it rain too hard in the spring? Only lately has the science community seen fit to quantify the CO2 from volcanoes. The Warmists focus was only fossil fuels.
      The Warmist inner circle is insulated by well educated accomplished prevaricators. Black is white and up is down. A willing MSM is their bullhorn. The big lie is repeated daily.
      Based on this, they’ve littered our environment with expensive, part-time wind turbines and solar farms. They’re demolishing generators that actually provided cheap power, on demand. The populace shrugs. They’ve come to expect incompetence.

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Squidly

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      It is interesting to note that the actual observed temperature rise since 1990 at between 0.121 and 0.198 degrees Celsius per decade is right in line with the goals of the Paris Treaty.

      Ah, that’s all fine and dandy, however, it is also a bunch of bovine scatology. Temperatures since 1880 have actually cooled slightly. So that kind of blows the whole “increasing temperatures” thing right out the window. Measuring from 1990 is meaningless. Much as measuring from 1880, but even more so. You can create any trend you like, just by selecting your starting point. Choose 1973 as a start, and WHAM! .. warming! .. select 1934 as a start, and WHAM! .. cooling! .. It’s all meaningless.

      Reply

      • Avatar

        Sonnyhill

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        Well said.
        Give M. Mann a starting point in history and he’d still arrive at “warming” . Don’t ask him to show you how.

        Reply

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover

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    Providing that liberal enviromental nutcases blame everything on Global Warming/Climate Change him and his rediculous Manbearpig while he recites his stupid poem to the starrieyed simpletons who read his fake science books and watch his two junk science fake Documenties

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover

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    CNN called Trump Stupid over his rejection of the Paris Accord that real stupid ones is CNN Al Bore Leonardo DiCaprio,Greenpeace,NRDC,EDF and all those who took part in those silly climate marches including Robert Kennedy Jr and his stupid Riverkeepers Alliance

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Charles Higley

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    ““Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.” He was criticized for confusing weather with climate. But he’s hardly alone in making this mistake”

    Oh, Come On! He was poking fun at the global-warming-by-man crowd. He was not confusing anything! He was right on target.

    Liberals and people who do not think need to realize what humor looks like. They spend much too much time taking themselves seriously.

    Life is too serious to be taken seriously.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover

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    These modern enviromentalists wackos are nuts and crazy if it wasnt Pesticres or deforestdation its dissaperaring speices we have yet to discover Envromentalisms a from of Insanity cuased to watching Al Bore or Leonardo DiCaprio’s fake movies or hearing Al Bores dumb poem

    Reply

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