Climate Catastrophe: A Superstorm for Global Warming Research

By Marco Evers, Olaf Stampf and

Part 6: The Myth of the Monster Storm

Photo Gallery: Climate of Fear Photos
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Hurricane Katrina had hardly devastated the southern US city of New Orleans five years ago before a "hurricane war" broke out among US scientists. The alarmists, using the rhetoric of fiery sermons, warned that Katrina was only the beginning, and that we would soon see the advent of superstorms of unprecedented fury. Members of the more levelheaded camp were vehemently opposed to such predictions and insisted that there was no justification for such fears.

The dispute escalated when Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist and a lead author of the IPCC report, announced at a press conference at Harvard University that there was a clear relationship between global warming and the increased intensity of hurricane activity. Chris Landsea, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, was so furious over this unfounded prediction that he withdrew from his participation in the IPCC.

Now the two rivals have reached a surprising truce, and Landsea has largely prevailed with his reassuring assessment.

Last month Landsea, together with top US hurricane researchers, published a study that finally disproves the supposed link between hurricanes and global warming. The study concludes with the assessment that "tropical cyclone frequency is likely to either decrease or remain essentially the same." Top wind speeds could increase somewhat, says Landsea, but the changes would "not be truly substantial."

Setback for the IPCC

The all-clear signal on the hurricane front is another setback for the IPCC. In keeping with lead author Kevin Trenberth's predictions, the IPCC report warned that there would be more hurricanes in a greenhouse climate. One of the graphs in the IPCC report is particularly mysterious. Without specifying a source, the graph suggestively illustrates how damage caused by extreme weather increases with rising average temperatures.

When hurricane expert Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado at Boulder saw the graph, he was appalled. "I would like to discover this sort of relationship myself," he says, "but it simply isn't supported by the facts at the moment."

Pielke tried to find out where the graph had come from. He traced it to the chief scientist at a London firm that performs risk calculations for major insurance companies. The insurance scientist claims that the graph was never meant for publication. How the phantom graph found its way into the IPCC report is still a mystery.

At first, the fear of monster storms seemed easily justified. Scientists conjectured that as the oceans became warmer, hurricanes would accumulate more energy. But, as is so often the case, the truth is more complicated. A specific set of conditions must be present in the atmosphere to allow a hurricane to develop and survive. "Wind shear can destroy a hurricane in an early stage," says Landsea, who flies into storm cells in research aircraft every year. Wind shear, however, is likely to increase in a warmer climate. For this reason, many computer models now even point to a decline in hurricane activity.

'Nothing Will Change'

Hurricanes have in fact increased since the late 1960s, a phenomenon scientists attribute to a natural cycle in ocean currents. The constantly rising insurance claims reported by reinsurance companies are a particularly unreliable indicator. "When you adjust for the growth in new buildings, road and factories being built in hurricane regions, there is no longer any evidence of an upward trend," Pielke explains.

The prognoses for all storms outside the tropical zone are even clearer. There has been a widespread fear that rising temperatures would lead to more and more powerful storms.

But current long-term forecasts offer no evidence of such a trend, especially not in the temperate latitudes. "All computer models show that nothing will change at all outside the tropics," says Jochem Marotzke, director of the Hamburg Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M). "In the future, we will see neither more nor stronger storms gathering over our heads."

In a greenhouse climate, only the storm paths in low-pressure zones are likely to change. There will probably be more wind in Scandinavia and less wind in the Mediterranean region. In Central Europe, on the other hand, no noticeable changes are expected.

It is easy to explain, in physical terms, why stormier times do not lie ahead for most of the world's regions. According to the models, the high latitudes will heat up more substantially than the equatorial zones (which also explains why climate change is already so visible in the Arctic regions). On balance, temperature differences on the Earth's surface will decrease, which in turn will even reduce wind speeds -- meaning the much-feared monster storms are unlikely to materialize.

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1. Will humans, for once, be sensible?
plotinus 04/01/2010
I constantly point out, and people constantly ignore, that, in the absence of countervailing forces, if you pour carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the atmosphere _*must*_ warm up. This is just basic physics, and is as certain as the Law of Gravity. Of course there are possible mitigating factors, such as changes in cloud cover and the injection of certain types of dust into the atmosphere; but these factors are, as yet, far more problematical than the raw fact of global warming. The Earth has already become warmer and sea levels have already risen. These facts are clearly visible in what is happening to low island nations and to the arctic regions. The Spiegel article is calmer and more reasonable than those in many other popular journals, but I would fault it for not mentioning that changes in the arctic must necessarily increase heat absorption in those regions, and for not mentioning the release of greenhouse gases as polar permafrost melts. Also, it is important to point out that it is not relevant that humans and other life forms survived even greater changes in climate in the past. Those changes almost always were very slow, occurring over many hundreds and thousands of years. There was time to adjust. The global warming which we are creating will, from the point of view of Earth history, occur in the blink of an eye. The effects on life on the planet will be incalculable and much more serious than those that occurred in the past. We must tune out the noise created by zealots, self-interested moneyed interests, and political and religious ideologies. For once in the life of the human species, let us be careful and rational.
2. Climate catastrophe?
StSwithin 04/01/2010
An excellent article which presented a balanced view of the current situation. One fact, which is often ignored, is that sceptics like McIntyre actually believe that global warming is taking place. They just do not believe all the forecasts of tipping points and imminent catastrophe. One of the weaknesses of the IPCC stance is that they only present selected data. When you look at longer term data it is clear that claims such as "the rate of temperature rise is accelerating" are just not true. Temperature rose just as fast from 1910 to 1945 as they did at the end of the last century. For a balanced review of the data see: www.climatedata.info
3.
vespasian678 04/03/2010
---Quote (Originally by plotinus)--- Also, it is important to point out that it is not relevant that humans and other life forms survived even greater changes in climate in the past. Those changes almost always were very slow, occurring over many hundreds and thousands of years. There was time to adjust. The global warming which we are creating will, from the point of view of Earth history, occur in the blink of an eye. The effects on life on the planet will be incalculable and much more serious than those that occurred in the past. ---End Quote--- I am an archaeologist who works with Holocene climate records on a regular basis (part of our project involves the palaeoecology of our region). The statement above is incorrect. The Younger Dryas, for instance, saw abrupt changes of perhaps 5 degrees Celsius in the mid-latitudes and 10 degrees in high latitudes over the course of a few decades (at most; cf. http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/pi/arch/examples.shtml). Mid-latitude precipitation also changed rapidly and dramatically, at least in Europe (contrary to popular belief, as temperatures warm it tends to get wetter, at least on a large scale - there may of course be regions of decreasing precipitation). Although I think energy policy should be managed as if global warming was imminent (more nuclear and other non-CO2 emitting generation, incentives for conservation, internalising the externality of CO2 emissions through taxation, etc. - call it the "Pascal's Wager" approach to AGW) It seems to me that the "skeptics" in this debate hardly have a monopoly on "zealots, self-interested moneyed interests, and political and religious ideologies".
4. An excellent article which presented a balanced view?
jensmacha 04/03/2010
Obviously,there are other opinions out there! First of all: Jones was rehabilitated. Secondly there seems to be a certain climate bashing around. I recommend: http://www.wissenslogs.de/wblogs/blog/klimalounge/medien-check/2010-04-01/klimaforscher-bashing-beim-spiegel http://blogs.ajc.com/kyle-wingfield/2010/04/02/climate-er-change-a-papers-sober-look-at-the-science/
5. CO2 GH effect is logarithmic, no linear
tomfp 04/03/2010
[quote=plotinus;108476]...if you pour carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the atmosphere _*must*_ warm up. False. The GH effect of CO2 is logarithmic, not linear. At some point, therefore, rises in concentration MUST cease to produce a significant rise in GH effect. Much reputable opinion holds that at present concentrations it is already at that stage. You can find a good discussion of this flaw in the "basic science" of AGW alarmism here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/
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