Hurricanes Are Not Increasing from Global Warming
Scientists explain that this hurricane season is not exceptional in the long term view, despite four devastating storms in just a week.
An explainer in National Geographic responds, “Why This Hurricane Season Seems So Catastrophic: Though Harvey and Irma have brought rare devastation, this overall hurricane season is less unusual than you might think.” Michael Greshko explains,
In short: atmospheric conditions were hurricane-friendly, and surface sea temperatures were warmer than usual. The Climate Prediction Center says that multiple conditions, such as a strong west African monsoon, have aligned to make the Caribbean Sea and part of the tropical Atlantic—a storm-spawning area called the “Main Development Region”—particularly well-suited to hurricanes.
The number of hurricanes is above average this year. Some 14 to 19 named storms and 5 to 9 hurricanes were predicted for 2017, he says, compared to the average of 12 named storms and 6 hurricanes for the period 1981 to 2010. Some of these statistics are theory dependent: it depends on what storms meteorologists decide are worth naming. And the results are largely a matter of chance: a small hurricane that strikes a vulnerable city in a quiet year can do more damage than a large one that misses land.
In the longer timeframe, there is no global trend. It’s just been an unlucky year for hurricanes to make landfall, first with Harvey, which sat off the coast of Texas dumping unprecedented amounts of water onshore last month. Now with the prospect of Irma running up the center of Florida, residents are jamming roads to get out of Miami and Key West where the damage is expected to be greatest. Greshko notes that Hurricane Andrew (1992)—the most expensive hurricane prior to this season—came in a relatively quiet year.
Even so, people are wondering what is going on. Is global warming to blame? Leftist comedian/commentator Bill Maher is finding a measure of glee that some conservative “climate change deniers” stand to lose their homes in the wake of Hurricane Irma (Breitbart.com). He calls it an “inconvenient truth” for them. But does Irma have anything to do with global warming? Is it man’s fault?
In the NG article, meteorologist Robert Hart (U of Florida), even though he believes in the climate change consensus, cannot, from the evidence, pin the blame on anthropogenic global warming:
“When it comes to next year’s hurricane activity seasonal prediction, anthropogenic impacts are not a primary concern, as the change due to anthropogenic effects from this year to next year is obviously small,” says Hart. “However, in the decades and century to come, it could easily become the primary concern for driving hurricane activity.”
Since Hart has not experienced decades and a century in the future, this is obviously just an opinion. Live Science points to decadal cycles, not long-term trends, to explain the phenomenon of three hurricanes at once (Irma, Jose, and Katia) after Hurricane Harvey spent itself flooding Texas:
While that may seem like a freak occurrence, it turns out that this hurricane-palooza is a predictable result of clear climate patterns, and an event that happens about once every 10 years, experts say. This year, it may simply be more noticeable because at least two of the monster storms are likely to batter population centers, experts say.
In fact, 2005 was a bad year: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma caused damage during that season. Reporter Tia Ghose says that well-known climate cycles such as the El Nino / La Nina cycle and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation give meteorologists some non-random data to predict hurricane activity. There’s “no clear link to climate change,” the article concludes. Making connections to human activity is “more nuanced than that.”
The science does little to comfort those affected, who have lost homes and businesses. Our support should go to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and our prayers to the inhabitants of Florida who stand to suffer greatly from Hurricane Irma. The Family Research Council recommends sending support to Samaritan’s Purse, a non-profit with excellent organization for mobilizing volunteers and supplies in disaster areas. Franklin Graham said on FRC’s radio broadcast yesterday that a thousand volunteers are already on the ground in Texas, but more are needed—and now they are bracing for possible greater needs as Irma approaches Florida. We should not rely on government to solve all our problems.
In this fallen world, natural disasters take many forms. It’s not the Garden of Eden any more. To what extent God judged the world with natural disasters in the curse announced in Genesis is a matter for theologians; all we know from experience is that they seem to strike randomly, not targeting just the wicked. But there’s a purpose even in that: it keeps us humans on our toes, because we never know when our day will come. “Now is the day of salvation,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 6:2). Also, disasters give opportunities for us to practice unselfishness and experience the power of prayer. Many reporters have noticed how Texans banded together to help one another in the crisis, with exceptional displays of self-sacrifice and humanitarian action. Some evildoers, of course, took advantage of others’ troubles by looting, but many more gave of their time, sweat or money to rescue those trapped, feed them, and comfort them. Samaritan’s Purse will be on the ground for years in Texas, helping inhabitants rebuild and avoid further damage from mold. With Irma bearing down on Florida as we write, consider what God would have you to do. Remember, you could be the next disaster victim at any time. The Golden Rule calls to us all.
Finally, let’s remember to be thankful. Many of the victims had enjoyed years, if not decades, of happiness and productive work before these disasters struck. Were they appreciative of the good times? How often we take good times for granted, as if we deserve peace and quietness all our lives! God never promised that to anyone. “He [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:45). We make plans, build, and work for good things, but we must never make these our idols. Jesus told the story of a rich fool whose only goal was to store up riches so that he could eat, drink and be merry: “This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-19). James warned believers of the proper way to plan for the future: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-17).
There’s nothing like an unexpected disaster to jolt apathetic souls awake, making them consider what really matters in life.