Reality Check: Are hurricanes getting worse?

Posted: December 30, 2017 by oldbrew in Analysis, Natural Variation, weather
Tags: ,

Track of Hurricane Harvey [image credit: Overlord / Wikipedia]

Looks like a fairly sober BBC analysis from weather forecaster Chris Fawkes, avoiding some of the more extravagant climate claims the BBC is sometimes guilty of.

The past year has been a busy one for hurricanes.

There were 17 named storms in 2017, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher) – an above average year in each respect.

The 10 hurricanes formed consecutively, without weaker tropical storms interrupting the sequence.

The only other time this has been recorded was in 1893.

Are these storms getting worse? And does climate change have anything to do with it?

A year of records
This Atlantic hurricane season has been particularly bad.

There was Harvey, which pummelled the United States in August.

It brought the largest amount of rain on record from any tropical system – 1,539mm.

It caused the sort of flooding you’d expect to see once every 500 years, causing $200bn of damage to Houston, Texas.

Ironically, this was the third such “one every 500 years” flood Houston had suffered in three years.

September brought Irma, which devastated Caribbean communities. It was the joint second strongest Atlantic hurricane ever, with sustained winds of 185mph.

Those winds were sustained for 37 hours – longer than any tropical system on record, anywhere in the world.

Next came Hurricane Maria – another category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 175mph – which destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid.

Finally, Hurricane Ophelia span past Portugal and Spain – the farthest east any major Atlantic hurricane has ever gone.

Despite this, 2017 wasn’t the worst year in some key respects.

It didn’t produce the strongest storm – that was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with sustained winds of 190mph.

Nor did it have the greatest number of storms – that was 2005, which saw an incredible 28 named storms, including seven major hurricanes. One of them was the infamous Hurricane Katrina.

But 2017 was probably the costliest. Estimates for the cost of the hurricane season vary and continue to be revised, ranging up to $385bn.

By comparison, 2005 racked up $144bn in damage according to the National Hurricane Center – about $180bn today, adjusted for inflation.

It has certainly been a bad year. But over time, are hurricanes getting worse?

Continued here.

  1. craigm350 says:

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    Not so sure about a sober analysis OB, forgetting the paucity of records going back meaning we are comparing Apple’s to bricks is a pretty glaring omission. Then there is this in the article;
    Rainfall during hurricanes can be devastating. Hurricane Harvey would have brought severe flooding to Houston regardless of climate change.

    But it is reasonable to assume that Harvey brought more rain than it would have done 100 years ago.

    Global air temperatures have also increased by about 1C in the past 100 years, and warmer air holds more water.

    So why did we have such powerful hurricane seasons in the past with much lower CO2 and sea temperatures? Did CO2 cause the 11 year landfall drought or the current lack of activity in the Southern Hemisphere?

    It’s more reasonable to assume climate change played no part in Harvey than believing the mystical powers of the CO2 fairy (h/t Joe Bastardi who warned long in advance about the dangerous pattern).

    Interestingly though and seldom discussed is that the the hurricanes coincided with a notable ramp in solar activity;

  2. oldbrew says:

    Well, sober by BBC standards at least 😉

    If hurricanes are related to solar activity that should be checkable for at least a few decades back. The Atlantic hurricane season usually peaks in September.
    – – –
    BBC: But it is reasonable to assume that Harvey brought more rain than it would have done 100 years ago.

    It’s possible but it’s only an assumption. The flood damage was severe because Harvey stalled in one place (Houston), which is not normal for hurricanes. See track in top image above.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Date: 31/12/17 Paul Dorian, Vencore, Inc.

    While the Atlantic Basin experienced a very active tropical season in 2017, global activity was actually below-normal for the year by one type of measurement thanks to quiet seasons in the northern Pacific Ocean and throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

    The global “accumulated cyclone energy” as we close out the year is 78% of normal year-to-date and there are currently no named tropical storms around the world.

  4. Linnea says:

    Big problem is lack of good hurricane data from 1850’s to early 20th Century when hurricane data relied on ship reports. Problem is not many ships were in the hurricane origin areas of the Atlantic in those days. Also the coldest year and warmest years on record show almost identical hurricane numbers including serious hurricanes. There’s only one serious hurricane difference.

  5. Colin says:

    I always find the claim that increased air temperature leads to increased moisture content leads to increased rainfall dubious. If the air can hold more water in its gas phase you could equally argue that it need hold less as liquid, in other words, rain. For sure there is more potential for high rainfall in warm air, but you need to cool this air first. In any case the additional vapour capacity of air from an 0.5°C increase is pretty trivial compared to the rainfall Houston experienced during Harvey.
    Could we attribute some of the impact of Harvey to higher air temperature? Yes. Could we do this on a worldwide scale to other extreme rainfall events? I don’t think so. Worldwide, rainfall surely correlates broadly to surface sea temperatures; in other words how quickly can you boil the oceans, what evaporates must at some point condense. And SST’s have not increased particularly.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Colin – one of the arguments is that higher SSTs will be first reflected in more sea ice melt at the poles.

    The problem for warmists is that their most dire Arctic predictions have failed, especially in the last 10 years when sea ice has made a partial recovery from its low point around 2007, despite (as they would see it) rising CO2 levels

  7. oldbrew says:

    Paul Homewood writes: ‘I have filed a complaint against the BBC for their fake claims about hurricanes the other day.’

    I’d agree there are some speculative opinions in the report, but there weren’t any direct claims that warming was man-made. Maybe it’s just assumed these days :/

    Fawkes shows one hurricane stats chart with the comment: ‘As you can see from the following chart, there’s no clear upward trend.’

    By all means keep the BBC, Met Office etc. on their toes but this report isn’t as biased as some of their climate stuff.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Seismic sensors record hurricane intensity, study finds
    January 9, 2018

    The earth is a noisy place. Seismometers, which measure ground movements to detect earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and manmade explosives, are constantly recording smaller vibrations caused by ocean waves, rushing rivers, and industrial activity.

    “We call this ‘ambient seismic noise’ because for people interested in earthquakes, it’s not very useful,” says geoscientist Lucia Gualtieri. “But it’s not random noise.”

    In a new study, Gualtieri and her colleagues have found that those seemingly trivial blips can actually encode the power of hurricanes moving over ocean waters. The findings may make it possible to estimate the strength of past hurricanes, to reveal how climate change is influencing the severity and frequency of these storms.

    Read more at: