Where Have All the Big Bad Hurricanes Gone?

Even if we do know with certainty that the Earth is warming, and even if we do know with certainty that humans are responsible (whether in part or in whole) for that, we still don’t know with certainty what the effects will be.

Today we set a record in the U.S. for days between major hurricanes.

The previous record was in the early 20th century, between 1900 and 1906.

While Kevin Trenberth (2005) did note that we couldn’t yet say anything about how warming would affect the number of hurricanes, he did pretty unequivocally say there would be an increase in intensity.

[O]nce a tropical storm has formed, the changing environmental conditions provide more energy to fuel the storm, which suggests that it will be more intense than it would otherwise have been, and that it will be associated with heavier rainfalls. Groisman et al. found no statistically significant evidence that precipitation associated with hurricanes increased along the southeastern coast of the contiguous United States during the 20th century; however, their analysis did not include years after 2000, and there was a distinct increase in hurricane precipitation after 1995. Groisman et al. found a linear upward trend in precipitation amount by 7% in the 20th century in the contiguous United States; the increases in heavy precipitation (the heaviest 5%) and very heavy precipitation (the heaviest 1%) were much greater at 14% and 20%, respectively. Such trends are likely to continue.

Thus, although variability is large, trends associated with human influences are evident in the environment in which hurricanes form, and our physical understanding suggests that the intensity of and rainfalls from hurricanes are probably increasing, even if this increase cannot yet be proven with a formal statistical test. Model results suggest a shift in hurricane intensities toward extreme hurricanes.

Of course we’re dealing with short-range data here (and as Pielke notes, this record streak will end sometime and won’t be repeated anytime soon, a pretty safe bet when dealing with once-in-a-century events), but Trenbarth was also dealing with short-range data (his mention of finding a trend “in the 20th century” is somewhat disingenuous, given that he clearly indicates it is found only because of data from the years 1996-2000).

Will hurricanes get more intense in the future? Maybe. But obviously we don’t yet know really know.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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9 Responses to Where Have All the Big Bad Hurricanes Gone?

  1. Lance says:

    The scientist’s name is Kevin Trenberth not Trenbarth.

    He has also featured quite prominently in the Climatgate emails, both the first release and the just released emails.

    He ranted that a former IPCC contributing author on hurricanes, Christopher Landsea should be fired from his job at NOAA, as a hurricane expert, because he wouldn’t agree that global warming was significantly influencing hurricane strength.

  2. James Hanley says:

    Thanks for correcting the name. Bad proof-reading on my part.

  3. Lance says:

    You know that you’re playing with fire professor Hanley. A post that challenges (if only mildy) climate change orthodoxy?

    Earlier I wasn’t up to it, but I’m feeling it now.

    I think he’s like Beetlejuice, so here goes.

    Michael Heath!…… Michael Heath!…..Michael Heath!

    Is that sulfur I smell or perhaps CO2?

  4. Matty says:

    Didn’t MH decide not to comment on climate related posts here?

  5. Matty says:

    Oh and you might appreciate this fine example of green on green conflict.

    Incidentally I think he is right regardless of the climate issue existing nuclear waste won’t disapear so we either use it or keep it.

  6. James Hanley says:

    Thanks for the link. I hadn’t heard of integral fast reactors before.

  7. Lance says:


    Michael Heath stomped out in a supercilious huff spewing insults. I would enjoy discussing the issue with him if he could do so with out resorting to condescension and moralizing personal insult.

    Monbiot is wrong even when he is right. Nuclear energy should survive, or not, based on it’s merits as a reliable, safe energy supply.

  8. Matty says:

    Yes but leaving aside the bits about carbon Monbiot is advocating a type of nuclear energy that is not only reliable and safe (based on his description) but solves a problem* created by previous nuclear power plants.

    *Even if you take the line that the waste is not dangerous the fact that no one wants it around is still a problem.

  9. Lance says:

    There are several “new” promising nuclear technologies, including IFRs.

    Unfortunately there are people, almost universally on the left that, as Monbiot to his credit points out, are irrationally and vehemently against anything that has the word nuclear attached to it.

    My (stalled) graduate research is in NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) and it is basically the same technology used in MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) by the medical field. You may have noticed that the medical folks leave out the scary word Nuclear since it has been so thoroughly demonized by the political left.

    It is ironic that Monbiot has suddenly noticed all the bad statistical science and obfuscation that has been uses to push the anti-nuclear agenda but remains blind to the same tactics used to push climate change hysteria.

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