Misleading Headlines

Hurricane World WideThere is a new study that has noted that the number of catagory 4 and 5 hurricanes have increased. During the 1970’s there were on average 10 catagory 4 and 5 hurricanes globally. In the 1990’s that number has gone to 18 per year globally. But what is interesting is that this article has the title, Hurricanes are getting stronger, study says whereas the Houston Chronicle has the title Study links global warming to stronger storms. Pretty significant differences in my opinion. Especially when we contrast the final paragraphs of the Inovations Report article,

“But we don’t know a lot about how evaporation from the oceans’ surface works when the winds get up to around 100 miles per hour, as they do in hurricanes,” said Webster, who adds that this physical understanding will be crucial to connecting trends in hurricane intensity to overall climate change.

“If we can understand why the world sees about 85 named storms a year and not, for example, 200 or 25, then we might be able to say that what we’re seeing is consistent with what we’d expect in a global warming scenario. Without this understanding, a forecast of the number and intensity of tropical storms in a future warmer world would be merely statistical extrapolation.”

Further, we must remember that quite a bit of the global warming is going to take place in the comming decades. The idea that future warming is influencing current hurricanes is…well…stupid. The Houston Chronicle article does not this (to the author’s credit),

Landsea said it’s unlikely global warming would already be increasing hurricane intensity.

But it also does not have the quote by Webster suggesting that quite a bit more needs to be understood before making connections between hurricane intensity and global warming can be made. Also the warning about needing a longer time frame for the data as well. For example, this article notes that hurricanes run in a 20 to 30 year cycle. I haven’t a clue what periodicity is for hurricanes and if the time periods in this recent study correspond to this cycle or not, but it something to keep in mind.

Update: The Long Beach Press Telegram has perhaps the most hysterical headline, Katrina due to global warming?.

FILED UNDER: Media, Natural Disasters, Science & Technology,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Anderson says:

    The hurricane’s not global warming‘s fault, it’s Bush‘s fault.

    Sheesh. Stay on message, people!

  2. odograph says:

    I think it is fairly simple. Generally, higher ocean temperature drives stonger hurricanes. We’ve had higher ocean temperature in the Gulf of Mexico recently, and with that stronger hurricanes. But, since you can never be sure if a local temperature is “local variation” or part of a long term trend until you plot the trend (over more time as you say), there is room for doubt.

    I think it is fair to say stonger hurricanes are consistent with global warming, but certainly not a proof of global warming, or that global warming is driving these storms.

  3. odograph says:

    BTW, I saw the head of NOAA on TV during the run-up to Katrina. IIRC he flatly said there was no connection between Katrina and global warming. I think a real scientist would attempt to describe the uncertainty. Only a “policy hog” would be … certain.

  4. pragmatist says:

    I would say there is growing concern in the scientific community that storms may be getting stronger due to global warming.

    But it is at best a hypothesis not a theory. Certainly no one could say a specific hurricane was caused by global warming because the effect would be statistical.

    I often feel alleged “environmentalists” are working for the Bush administration, just as in my sour moods I suspect the most vocal war supporters work for the terrorists in their frequent claims of “victory” that never quite pan out and demoralize the public, so much in the way of fact is sloppy.

    The “Population Bomb” is celebrated blindly, though the issue is flaws in prediction. Today I read in the newspaper an activist claiming that when a smoker throws a butt on the ground it takes a century to compose, the real numbers are 1 to 10 years.

    When people lie too much or engage in wild claims it eventually comes back. This is starting to happen to Limbaugh and the rest of the Republican Guard, it seems we could use this kind of discrediting for various interest groups on the other side.

    By the way I believe global warming is a danger, that other enviromental issues are important, that some real cost and sacrifice will be necessary. But I have little trust in the lobbying groups which make most suggestions. Their failure to propose gas taxes insisting that it was all car company’s fault was an example of the same kind of lazy, let’s not upset people with costs that they feel that has directed the action of the current administration on terror and other things.

  5. Dean says:

    This is a crock..

    I put this post together a week ago —
    The Myth of Hurricanes and Global Warming

    As much as anyone wants to try, it is not possible to link change in temp to hurricances.

    Whether or not you are a believer in global warming, it is hard to connect recent or longer term environmental change to the number of hurricanes. There is actually a declining trend from 1950 to today. It seems pretty clear, unless you believe global warming has caused a decrease in frequency, (tongue firmly planted in cheek)

  6. Sherri says:

    Storm frenzy is not an anomaly, but a phase is kind of like the Chron’s last part of the article, except that it goes into more detail about how they’re checking past maritime temperatures, back to 1854, and also studying ancient tree rings: “Healthy weather produced wide tree rings. Drought or other trauma caused narrow rings“, to come up with their 65-70 year AMO cycle theory. I guess it seems to make sense (I’m not a meteorlogist or climatologist though).

  7. Anderson says:

    I think a real scientist would attempt to describe the uncertainty. Only a “policy hog” would be … certain.

    We can say that scientists should never be “certain,” but 99.999% probability is close enough for government work, as they say.

    The above reasoning resembles that by which “intelligent design” is inflicted upon students.

  8. odograph says:

    I’m a big cynic these days. I don’t think any specific measure of certainty is required in politics, just a quick check of the party’s position.