Brad Johnston

Post image for Hurricane Sandy and Global Warming

Both the blogosphere and the mainstream media have been abuzz with commentary blaming global warming for Hurricane Sandy and the associated deaths and devastation. Bloomberg BusinessWeek epitomizes this brand of journalism. Its magazine cover proclaims the culpability of global warming as an obvious fact:

Part of the thinking here is simply that certain aspects of the storm (lowest barometric pressure for a winter cyclone in the Northeast) and its consequences (worst flooding of the New York City subway system) are “unprecedented,” so what more proof do we need that our fuelish ways have dangerously loaded the climate dice to produce ever more terrible extremes?

After all, argues Climate Progress blogger Brad Johnston, quoting hockey stick inventor Michael Mann, “climate change is present in every single meteorological event.” Here’s Mann’s explanation:

The fact remains that there is 4 percent more water vapor – and associated additional moist energy – available both to power individual storms and to produce intense rainfall from them. Climate change is present in every single meteorological event, in that these events are occurring within a baseline atmospheric environment that has shifted in favor of more intense weather events.

Well sure, climate is average weather over a period of time, so as climate changes, so does the weather. But that tautology tells us nothing about how much — or even how — global warming influences any particular event. Moreover, if “climate change is present in every single meteorological event,” then it is also present in ”good” weather (however defined) as well as “bad.”

Anthony Watts makes this criticism on his indispensable blog, noting that as carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have risen, the frequency of hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. has declined.

The US Has Had 285 Hurricane Strikes Since 1850: ‘The U.S. has always been vulnerable to hurricanes. 86% of U.S. hurricane strikes occurred with CO2 below [NASA scientist James] Hansen’s safe level of 350 PPM.’

If there’s anything in this data at all, it looks like CO2 is preventing more US landfalling hurricanes.

Data Source: NOAA; Figure Source: Steve Goddard [click to continue…]