"Warming-storm link is doubtful"

September 13th, 2013
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

To the editor:

The recent Guest Commentary on the costs of climate change was partially based on a myth that needs to be refuted. The flaw was in its specific point, not the general problem. It is not controversial that surface temperatures have been rising for decades; nor is there any serious question among climate scientists that it is being driven by our own greenhouse gas emissions. If you imagine the Earth was a billiard ball, the atmosphere would be as thin as a piece of tape.

The weather has become more intense in various respects as an empirical fact: droughts, heavier rainfall, heat waves and so on. Polar ice is melting much more rapidly than was expected, and sea levels are rising faster. There have been times when there was much more carbon dioxide in the air than there is now through natural variation, much as there were also times when the oceans were a few hundred feet higher.

But what is not true is the often repeated claim that global warming is driving increases in the most severe storms. The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is very controversial, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to decrease its likelihood in their next report. There is no support for the same assertions regarding tornadoes. When these trends fail to happen, their absence makes a straw man for people with contrary ideological biases.

Robert Schnibbe
Saranac Lake

External Links

(1) "Warming-storm link is doubtful" - Letter in response to a guest commentary blaming hurricanes on global warming; Adirondack Daily Enterprise, September 13th 2013 (source)


(1) The wording in the last paragraph is insufficiently precise, and the title the letter was given by the newspaper staff is misleadingly broad. Warming has increased the power of tropical cyclones that come into existence, what is ambiguous is the effect it has on their frequency. More importantly, whether it will have caused an increase in hurricane related damages in aggregate beyond rising GDP adjustment is dubious, because the incidence of storms making landfall (and the ways they happen to actually make landfall) is a separate issue which will take decades to know empirically (i.e. enough data for the signal to separate from the noise of random fluctuation in the weather.)

(2) The issue I was taking exception with is a causal link asserting famously damaging storms such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy were caused by global warming. This does not reflect the actual scientific consensus on the issue, even though some environmentalists will believe otherwise for ideological reasons.