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Fact, Fiction, and Friction in the Hurricane Debate

Filed under: — group @ 18 August 2006

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

Judith Curry and colleagues have an interesting (and possibly provocative) article, “Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis That Greenhouse Warming Is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity” in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). The article provides a solid review of the recent developments in the science focusing on potential climate change impacts on tropical cyclones. However, the article is more novel in its approach than the typical scientific review article. For instance, it attempts to deal with the issue of how one should test hypotheses that reflect a complex causal chain of individual hypotheses. This is of course relevant to investigations of climate change influences on tropical cyclone activity, where one is attempting to connect a phenomenon (climate change) that is global in spatial scale and multidecadal in timescale, to a phenomena that is intrinsically “mesoscale” (that is, spans at most hundreds of kilometers) in space and lasts only a few days.

More unusually, the article also takes an introspective look at the role of scientists in communicating societally-relevant science to the public, and provides a critical review of how the science dealing with climate change impacts on tropical cyclones and hurricanes has been reported in the media, and how that reporting has occasionally deepened the polarisation on the issue. In doing so, the article revisits some of the “false objectivity” problems we have talked about before (see here and here). They also assess fairly the quality of the arguments that have been made in response to the Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al (2005) papers in the hope of focussing discussion on the more valid points, rather than some of the more fallacious arguments. The article is unapologetic in advancing their particular point of view, and while we generally share it, we imagine that some readers may disagree. We hope, as we suspect the authors do as well, that it will in any case generate a productive discussion.

243 Responses to “Fact, Fiction, and Friction in the Hurricane Debate”

  1. 51
    Judith Curry says:

    Re #49, thanks for your comments. The Weather Channel has actually been “blazing the trail” with regards to TV meteorology taking on the global warming issue. Heidi Cullen has been doing an excellent job and I understand that the TWC climate programming will be considerably enhanced starting this fall. In a personal conversation, Heidi has mentioned the challenges of getting the the TWC meteorologists to accept global warming. Hopefully the TWC initiative will filter down to the other TV stations. “Letting go” of the AGW stigma will not be accomplished easily, which is why I have called on the AMS to try to help with this. Some simple things like adding a required course to the list for B.S. Meteorology Certification, inclusion of climate and AGW issues on the exams for broadcast meteorologist and certified consulting meteorologists, would go a long way towards motivating meteorologists to get educated on this issue.

  2. 52
    Judith Curry says:

    Re #48 and VADM Lautenbaucher: I have heard him make such statements twice (most recently feb 05 in a talk given at Georgia Tech, in reply to a question asked by a student) “yes the globe is warming but we do not know what is causing this.” Some citations of his views:

    2002 interview, clearly in the “denier” category:

    Widely publicized 2003 quote: ‘I do believe we need more scientific info before we commit to a process like Kyoto’

    From a 2005 hearing
    Senator McCain, who had stepped out for much of the testimony, reappeared to question Vice Admiral Lautenbacher about NOAA’s approach to climate change science. McCain opened his comments by accusing Vice Admiral Lautenbacher of remaining complacent on climate change, quoting him to have said, “we’d have to sleep 20-30 years before we’d know anything about climate change.” Citing a Government Accountability Office report from April 14, 2005, McCain charged NOAA with failing to submit a national global change research plan by November 2004 as required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. McCain also berated Lautenbacher for failing to notify the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee of any delay in progress. Shocking the audience with his sarcasm and criticism of Lautenbacher, McCain vowed to act “legislatively” to see that NOAA obeys the terms of the act that require the administration to prepare a scientific assessment at least every four years. McCain made his final criticism of NOAA’s climate change research by saying, “I want to express my deep disappointment in your complete lack of concern about future generations of Americans who are affected by climate change.” Reiterating the importance of climate change research, McCain ended the hearing by reading a statement released on June 7, 2005 by the Joint Science Academies from 11 countries that proclaims, “There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.”

    The VADM’s recent public statements by lautenbacher regrading “attribution” have been mostly avoided and carefully crafted and more circumspect than the 2002 statements. The perception is certainly out there that he is not taking a leadership role on the AGW issue, although he is certainly taking a leadership role on the global observing system. There is no clear (recent) statement from the VADM on the issue of attribution of global warming that I can find, and I believe that it is important for the undersecretary of NOAA to make a clear statement on this.

  3. 53

    #51 Thanks again Judith, your proposed solutions are sound, but unfortunately will take a great deal of time to institute. Time, I am afraid, is running out fast. When by chance a contrarian expert speaks about AGW, we cited many of those on this RC site, speaking outright lies, mixing climate science with meteorology as if they were the same, and then….. Nothing, they toe their faulshood lines, or let them stay in the internet record, they keep their tenure, Meteorological and Climate societies remain mute, in essence the faulsity is out there like a cog in an otherwise well educated dysfunctionnal institution. Raises the question as to due recourse, aside from blogs, with respect to present misinformation designed to confuse and slow down progress on action against AGW. Basic science requires a mainstay of respectability. wouldn’t those betraying that trust be put up to task? In a fierce forum of debate, like a specialized science academy shunning those who stray away from basic tenets without giving rational explanations. There is freedom of expression, and there are those who use this freedom with malice, they are still free to do so, but why are the institutes so quiet?

  4. 54
    Steffen Christensen says:

    Hey, Judith. Thanks so much for the fascinating insights into the goings-on and the less seemly underbelly of the meteorological community. I always wondered why this community was so skeptical about AGW, I met Lautenbacher once where he was keynote speaker, along with the Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau at an Earth-observation seminar. After the talk, I went up and pressed him about AGW and America’s policies on it. He suggested to me that the evidence for AGW is pretty clear, but the US’s approach to Kyoto was that it was not fair in terms of economic impacts to America, especially vis-a-vis China and India. My sense was also that he is under a great deal of pressure to be careful about what he says about GCC and AGW, as wayward comments about supporting the science could well be used to endanger America’s official policies of seeking a “Made-in-America” solution to AGW. Or at least a “Made-in-America-and-sanctioned-by-China-and-India” solution. Hence the official circumspection. I wish you all the best in your efforts. Certainly, the most recent Nature editorial from 3 August 2006 was unusually forceful in going after NASA’s new mission statement for removing “to understand and protect our home planet”. The new candidate hypothesis presents itself that an assault on the data gathering side may be underway, hmmm?

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    Two of the scientist members of NASA’s science advisory committee were asked by the political managers to resign, according to the news yesterday — and three of the members did resign.

  6. 56
    Eli Rabett says:

    WRT #55, NASA Watch has more. Evidently Griffin wanted the committee ONLY to give advice about lunar exploration and the three wanted to give advice about the entire science program. Not surprising given the people involved.

  7. 57
    pat neuman says:

    In 48. it says: … Why aren’t more people stepping up? If Hansen and Piltz can do it, surely others can. If someone gets fired after the admiral made his statement 60 minutes would be all over it.

    I stepped up in a US national press release in Oct 2003 about climate and hydrologic change in the Upper Midwest and global warming:

    On Fri Aug 18 in a message to Eli at the google globalchange group I explained how NWS went about officially removing me from government service in July 2005, after I had served the public with NWS in hydrologic modeling and river prediction for more than 29 years.
    Excerpt from my post at global change:
    The fact that everyone in the state and federal offices within
    Minnesota have been silent on climate change in Minnesota
    and global warming has been a big frustration for me for a
    number of years. For example, in January of 2000 I gave a
    coordinated spring snowmelt flood outlook for the Upper
    Midwest to an inter-agency winter/spring runoff outlook
    planning group at the St. Paul Corps of Engineers, which
    was part of my job with the National Weather Service (NWS)
    North Central River Forecast Center (located Chanhassen, MN).
    There were representatives from several state and federal
    agencies in attendance, including the Corps, USGS, many
    other state and federal emergency government people from
    Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan, Iowa and
    Illinois, and individuals from the State Climatology office
    of Minnesota. I discussed observing earlier spring snowmelt
    runoff in recent decades in the Upper Midwest and ended
    my presentation with a statement made by the director of NOAA
    in 2000 that global warming was already happening and would
    have serious atmospheric and hydrologic consequences ahead.
    My comments led to the first of four suspensions issued to me
    as result of my trying to research and speak about climate and
    hydrologic change in Minnesota and global warming. NWS
    officially removed me from government service in a July 15, 2005
    memorandum from the acting deputy director of NOAA’s NWS
    Central Region office, after I had served the public with NWS
    in hydrologic modeling and river prediction for 29 years, 5 months.

    — Message 11 re: Pat Michaels may be in a lot of trouble —

    I think the answer for what’s missing is documentation. I’ve given my documentation to Christine Frank, director of the Climate Crisis Coalition group in the Twin Cities (3CTC), who may be reached at: 612-879-8937

  8. 58
    Dan Hughes says:

    RE: #46. Gavin, If you are going to not allow discussions of actual financial numbers then you can not allow mentions of ‘Big Oil’, Big Coal’, or ‘Big Fossil’, and the associated ‘enormous’ and ‘obsence’ profits.


    Requests for assistance understanding technical information is frequently ignored on RC. Maybe more feedback from RC on technical issues would help reduce the off-topic clutter.


  9. 59
    Wacki says:

    Judith Curry, thank you very much for posting here at realclimate. It really saddens my heart to watch this fraud happen. I made a web page on Lautenbacher and I referenced you. I hope you don’t mind.

    Quality scientists in this field will often assume people will trust them in a heated debate like this. This is fine when talking to people who are already on your side. However, this simply won’t cut it when you are trying to educate people who are already against you because they fear government intervention. It’s pretty important that I have a newspaper, video, or audio recording of Lautenbacher denying AGW. So if you know of a way to get a recording of one of his speeches or know of any other quotes please send the info my way.

  10. 60
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pat, you should get a good attorney working on your employment issue.
    I’m not a lawyer, but I think a competent one will tell you public complaint is not only easy to ignore, but has to be ignored legally. If you have a case, take it to court.

    Publicly posting the story over and over makes you appear disgruntled, but also makes it appear you believe they did nothing wrong legally. It’s not helping you.

    You should have a professional tell your story for you — once, where it might make a difference — in court. When you complain in public forums, the employer is precluded from responding — so your complaint is, quite literally, inconsequential.

  11. 61
    Judith Curry says:

    NOAA changes its hurricane-global warming tune (at least a little bit). I just received this info via email.

    On Aug 8 NOAA held a press briefing on the balance of this year’s hurricane season. Last year, NOAA repeatedly dismissed any possible connections between climate change and hurricanes. While still downplaying the connections, their statements, when asked direct questions, are not unreasonable.

    Here is location of files from the press release

    Here are some notes from the press conference that I just received via email:

    The hurricane/climate change issue first came up during the initial presentation by Conrad Lautenbacher (undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator). He said current conditions conducive to hurricanes are “strongly associated” with the “multi-decadal signal,” and said above normal seasons in 9 of the last 11 years are “connected” to that signal. Towards the end of his presentation he added: “Some research suggests global warming is linked to rising ocean and sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico — which may have an impact on hurricane intensity. It is important to stress that there are many factors which impact hurricanes, and NOAA supports and values a wide variety of research which will help to identify those factors and theirimpact on hurricane frequency and/or intensity.”

    In his presentation, Gerry Bell, Like Lautenbacher, associated conditions since 1995 to “multi-decadal signal along with warmer than normal sea surface temperatures.” In that presentation, he said nothing whatsoever about climate change or global warming.

    In the Q & A, the first question was about climate/hurricane connection and what appeared to be a NOAA shift relative to last year. Lautenbacher responded by saying that NOAA supports a wide range of studies. Then he turned it over to Gerry Bell. Bell said climate change was a “very, very important issue.” He then said the multi-decadal signal also was very important and was a major climate factor. He said we have “two very important — potentially — climate factors that may be occurring at the same time. And the work done so far simply doesn’t allow us to say `global warming is contributing this much, the multidecadal signal is contributing this much.’ We cannot quantify that.” He cited ongoing research that will clear this up. He acknowledged studies with contradictory conclusions. Gerry Bell said there were studies suggesting increased intensities, but other work that suggested problems with the data used to draw those conclusions. He attributed Atlantic trends to a multi-decadal cycle — but then said the “jury is still out” on whether there are global trends. He said that whether or not there are trends, global warming of course still is important.

  12. 62
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE# 35 A more recent article (mini-review?) by Landsea (et al) was published in the July 28 issue of Science (excerpt):

    Science 28 July 2006:
    Vol. 313. no. 5786, pp. 452 – 454

    Can We Detect Trends in Extreme Tropical Cyclones?
    Christopher W. Landsea1, Bruce A. Harper, Karl Hoarau, John A. Knaff

    Recent studies have found a large, sudden increase in observed tropical cyclone intensities, linked to warming sea surface temperatures that may be associated with global warming (1-3). Yet modeling and theoretical studies suggest only small anthropogenic changes to tropical cyclone intensity several decades into the future [an increase on the order of ~5% near the end of the 21st century (4, 5)]. Several comments and replies (6-10) have been published regarding the new results, but one key question remains: Are the global tropical cyclone databases sufficiently reliable to ascertain long-term trends in tropical cyclone intensity, particularly in the frequency of extreme tropical cyclones (categories 4 and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale)?…
    Trend analyses for extreme tropical cyclones are unreliable because of operational changes that have artificially resulted in more intense tropical cyclones being recorded, casting severe doubts on any such trend linkages to global warming.
    There may indeed be real trends in tropical cyclone intensity. Theoretical considerations based on sea surface temperature increases suggest an increase of ~4% in maximum sustained surface wind per degree Celsius (4, 5). But such trends are very likely to be much smaller (or even negligible) than those found in the recent studies (1-3). Indeed, Klotzbach has shown (23) that extreme tropical cyclones and overall tropical cyclone activity have globally been flat from 1986 until 2005, despite a sea surface temperature warming of 0.25°C. The large, step-like increases in the 1970s and 1980s reported in (1-3) occurred while operational improvements were ongoing. An actual increase in global extreme tropical cyclones due to warming sea surface temperatures should have continued during the past two decades.

    Efforts under way by climate researchers–including reanalyses of existing tropical cyclone databases (20, 21)–may mitigate the problems in applying the present observational tropical cyclone databases to trend analyses to answer the important question of how humankind may (or may not) be changing the frequency of extreme tropical cyclones. (subscription required for full article)

    As no one has commented on this article (at least not that I’ve seen on this thread- if I’ve missed something, I apologize), I’m curious to know what the experts here make of Landsea et al’s assessment.

  13. 63
    pat neuman says:

    re 59.


    Finding an attorney to work for an employee dealing with the federal government (NOAA’s NWS) and global warming was impossible. There were none that I could find from 2000-2005.

  14. 64
    pat neuman says:

    re 61. I should have said – finding a private attorney (not with a government agency) that would work with a federal employee dealing with the federal government (NOAA’s NWS) and global warming was impossible.

  15. 65
    Coby says:

    With regard to meteorologists, it is worth noting that notwithstanding the apparent scepticism pervasive on the TV sets, the AMS officially accepts AGW, and is listed along with the rest of relevant and reputable scientific institutions here:

    The AMS position is stated here as endorsing the joint statement of 11 national science academies.

  16. 66
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 62

    Pat, this is just a (perhaps wild) guess, but the ACLU might be concerned enough about the administration’s muzzling of scientists to take a look at this. It certainly appears that your treatment by the NWS was outrageous.

  17. 67
    Judith Curry says:

    Re 48, 57: Pat, your experience is really very sobering and disturbing.

    Scientists (particularly research scientists) aren’t trained to deal effectively in communicating with the public and certainly not in dealing with political issues in a public way. Further, most scientists don’t have any inclination to get involved in such activities; apart from the obvious time drain, they are typically not rewarded by their employers for such activities and worse yet, their scientific and personal reputations may suffer in the process. I was very much sobered by Nature’s inteview of Kerry Emanuel where he stated that as a result of all of the media attention and his interactions with decision makers, his research was 6 months behind. We have to be very careful of making sacrificial lambs of our best scientists, this is not the way to move the science forward.

    The scientists that risk the most by “stepping up” are gov’t employees and untenured university professors; they are potentially risking their jobs. While universities are much more liberal than govt and it would be pretty astonishing for a faculty member not to get tenure owing to “stepping up”, the time drain alone might be sufficient to diminish the faculty members publication list, and scientific peers tend to become somewhat suspicous of scientists that “step up” and may consider them to be light weights, have an agenda, etc. Senior (tenured) faculty members have much more freedom to engage in such activities. I must say that Georgia Tech has been enormously supportive of Peter Webster and my “outreach activities” this past year related to global warming, by trying to reduce teaching load and funding some of our travel to make sure that we aren’t receiving funds (even for travel) from any controversial groups with an obvious agenda, to make sure that we have the resources to do what we need to do, and providing media training. But people like Peter and myself are really ill prepared to work in this environment, no matter what our intentions.

    I have come to think that NGOs (think tanks, advocacy groups) have a critical role to play in this. Scientists working with the more responsible NGOs may be the optimal combination. We have also seen some senior “retired” scientists working with NGOs (notably Mike McCracken, Bob Correll) very effectively. Recently my colleague at Georgia Tech Bill Chameides “retired” after 25 years and became the chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. Bill has heavy credentials (NAS) and is an outstanding communicator (he is also a trained actor); I expect that Bill is someone who can really make a difference. And there are many other such examples.

    I am hoping that science can educate the public and policy makers in an effective way without cannibalizing the top scientists. I realize that there is a whole body of literature out there on this, and people like Roger Pielke say that all scientists should be actively involved in assessing the policy implications of their research. But if scientists spend too much time doing that, the science won’t get done. I don’t think we want to see Kerry Emanuel’s scientific research productivity cut in half! Suggestions?

  18. 68
    pat neuman says:

    re 59.

    Christine Frank is a professional. Regarding the point that I get an attorney, an excerpt from the initial draft of a case study by Christine Frank’s follows:


    … Neuman had also attempted to blow the whistle on NWS management by providing information in 2000 to the Disclosure Unit of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Within his rights to do so according to the Civil Service Reform Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, Pat alleged a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety and gross mismanagement by officials at the DOE, NOAA, NWS and NCRFC because of their refusal to acknowledge the realities of climate change. Tracy L. Biggs, an attorney for the OSC, defaulted by refusing to enter into a policy debate regarding the scientific research on global warming and what NWSâ?? response should be toward it. She stated further, â??Because of OSCâ??s narrow statutory focus, we do not believe that the issues of global warming, unresolved as they are, fall within our criteria for a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.â?? The OSC evidently had a position on global warming by having declared the issue â??unresolvedâ??.

    You can discuss this case study further by contacting Christine Frank, director of the Climate Crisis Coalition group in the Twin Cities (3CTC), who may be reached at: 612-879-8937

  19. 69
    Judith Curry says:

    Re #61 and Landsea’s Science Perspective

    Landsea has made a number of inconsistent statements (both published and to the media) during the last year.

    Landsea has stated in numerous refereed scientific publications that the North Atlantic data since 1944 are reliable. This followed a 1993 article that said that the intensities in thenorth atlantic prior to 1970 were overestimated (prior to using the dvorak technique), and he suggested a “fix” to the earlier data, which Kerry Emanuel subsequently used (and then was subsequently criticized by Landsea for using). Landsea only started criticizing the North Atlantic data subsequent to the publication of the Emanuel and Webster papers. The North Atlantic data clearly show that the last decade (since 1995) relative to the decade centered around 1950 (previous peak period) there are 50% more named storms, 50% more hurricanes, and 50% more category 4 and 5 storms. If you use Landsea’s 1993 correction for major hurricanes, the increase in cat 4,5 is even more substantial.

    With regards to their statements that the global data cannot be trusted since they don’t agree with climate model results (which suggest a smaller increase in hurricane intensity). Michaels and Landsea, in a paper submitted over a year ago (prior to Emanuel and Webster papers that was published in late 2005), they attempted to discredit the climate model simulations saying that they they were incapable of accurately predicting tropical cyclone intensity (which is mostly correct). But after the Emanuel and Webster papers were published, they are now using the inconsistency with climate models to discredit the data.

    WIth regards to the global data since 1970 used by Webster et al. (satellite era), there have been variations with time in how the data has been processed. There are anecdotal reports that some storms have been misclassified (some classified to high and some too low). However, at this point, no one has done a rigorous error or uncertainty analysis on the data, so Landsea’s statements about the trends are not supported by any rigourous analysis at this point. One thing of interest: At the meeting of the American Meteorological Society last Jan in Atlanta, coauthor Harper, after initially being skeptical of our results, made a presentation where he carefully reanalyzed the South Indian Ocean tropical storms in the Australian sector. He found that many storms were overestimated in intensity and many underestimated. That is, there was random error in estimation of intensity. Overall he found that the changes in intensity as found by webster et al. 2005 was correct. This is just one example of the inconsistencies of this group.

    What is needed is a reanalysis of the satellite data, applying a consistent method to determine storm intensity. This arduous effort is underway by Jim Kossin ( U. Wisconsin Madison). I understand that a paper is in the review process re data since 1983. While Kossin’s paper probably won’t be the final word on the data issue, it is probably the first important one.

  20. 70
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Thanks Judith Curry for posting your comments here on RealClimate. The behind-the-scenes perspective is very informative. Bill Chalmides is a trained actor! I’ll look for his movies in the video store ;)

    I think when we know the details of the process of getting papers published, we understand the science better. Your experience with publishing these AGW/tropical storm papers is really illuminating. I would look forward to a post on the review process.

    I see how the politics of environmental regulation has become particularly nasty and how the nastiness was brought into the scientific process. I did some regulatory work a few years ago, and I was surprised at how it has changed. I have wondered if some scientists and some publications might be reluctant to publicly speak about AGW because they don’t want to get involved in all the controversy and the politics.

    I do think it is good for the public discourse when scientists try to publicly explain the science for interested people, but I also understand why scientists would be reluctant to do it.

    I think blogs like RealClimate play an important part. I also think that the responsible NGO’s have set a good example by having their public relations departments explain the science, even with the political spin.
    For example: Environmental Defense
    Pew Trust

    Maybe the scientific community can hire professional public relations types who have a good understanding of the science to speak for them. I know that some of the major labs have spokespeople, maybe some of the other labs and universities can follow this example. It would cost money, but it would free the scientists to do more research.

  21. 71
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I continued to be amazed and distressed that the debate seems largely to be between scientists, who need 95% certainty disaster is upon us, and denialists (industry, gov, loonies, self-righteous), who need 99.99% to 101% certainty disaster is upon us.

    Let’s also hear from loonies of the precautionary environmentalist side — the ones who had quite enough evidence in 1990 that AGW was a problem and would likely lead to many problems including increased storms (heat energy could become kinetic energy, they reasoned), so let’s start turning off lights not in use & a myriad of other measures that not only save the earth but save us money.

    Another big point is that, even if someone were to conclusively prove that AGW has not yet started increasing hurricane intensity, that in no way disproves AGW (or that it may increase hurricane intensity in the future). To think otherwise would also be fallacious thinking of some sort. But I think the media uses that kind of thinking to make people believe AGW is not happening. At least that has been the upshot of media coverage — my friends think AGW has been disproved.

  22. 72


    You asked for a comment on the Landsea et al. article. My colleague Judy Curry has covered almost all of the points but there is one more that I would like to address and one that is often overlooked. In our first study (Webster et al. 2005) we found a correspondence with increase in intensity and an increase of SST. Kevin Trenberth had made the association but only for the Atlantic. We decided to check if there was a global association and found that there was. But the important issue, ignored by Landsea et al. is that the tropical cyclone data and the SST data is absolutely independent. The chances of finding similar associations between two independent data sets in each of the ocean basins is extremely small: very small indeed. Hoyos et al. (Science 2006) quantified the relationship between SST and tropical cyclone trends and showed, incidentally, that other parameters of issue (e.g., vertical shear and etc..) were associated with interannual variability and not the longer term trends. Despite the oft-used statements by Landsea et al. and Gray (CSU) that SST and hurricane characteristics are not associated with SST, beyond the existence of a basic threshold (>26.5C), it is interesting to note that the Gray group (and NOAA as well) has decreased their forecasts of the number of North Atlantic tropical storms because the SST is less warm than predicted. Yes, the tropical cyclone data sets have warts. Yes, SST data sets have warts as well, albeit somewhat smaller warts than the cyclone data. Yet, the two data sets merrily follow each other in the basins of best data (e.g., the North Atlantic) and even in the worst (perhaps the South Indian Ocean). Coincidence? Possible but unlikely. Personnally, I find this association compelling although one that is ignored by Landsea et al. and the Gray group. My guess is that it is an inconvenient association and one best ignored!

    Peter W

    (response to comment 62)

  23. 73
    Judith Curry says:

    Re # 65 and the American Meteorological Society:

    To make sure that there is no misunderstanding about the AMS. The AMS is really an excellent organization, the opinions on AGW of major segments of its membership notwithstanding. In addition to the the official statement of the AMS supporting AGW, AMS also has a Policy Program that has been very pro-active at sponsoring Congressional briefings on global warming (and other relevant) topics. Further, the Bulletin of the AMS (BAMS) is an excellent, interesting and informative publication, with many articles of relevance to the AGW issue.

  24. 74
    Judith Curry says:

    New book coming from Chris Mooney

    If you have read the book The Republican War on Science, you know who Chris Mooney is. His next book will be on the subject of hurricanes and global warming, see his blog for details

    This promises to be a very interesting book, last i heard it was scheduled to be published around the first of the year

  25. 75

    This followed a 1993 article that said that the intensities in thenorth atlantic prior to 1970 were overestimated (prior to using the dvorak technique), and he suggested a “fix” to the earlier data, which Kerry Emanuel subsequently used (and then was subsequently criticized by Landsea for using).

    We had culled this from his old usenet posts several weeks ago :

    I sure am glad this year is shaping up to be an off year thus far, it really is reducing my stress levels. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to last, but hurricane off years do tend to follow several ‘hard’ years, in my experience.

  26. 76
    Ron Taylor says:

    I heard an interview of Judith Curry and Bill Gray on the Diane Rheem Show on NPR a few months ago. Gray said that Curry was not qualified to conduct the study she had published and did not know what she was talking about. Rheem was aghast and basically scolded Gray, which made him furious. She had a right to expect better from a man who presents himself as a scientist.

    Please do not miss the larger picture. In every area, whether it is science, journalism, public policy development, whatever, the right wing tries to get its way through intimidation. Rather than debate the issues, they attack the personalities involved. (Does anyone really think that attacks on the “liberal press” have not changed the way news is handled? Where do you think “balance” comes from in the AGW debate?)

    So when scientists shy away from this kind of abuse, they are conceding the flow of scientific information to people who exercise control through intimidation. The process is both undemocratic and anti-intellectual. Thank God there are still those who will stand up!

  27. 77

    #67 Yep I got one, a science academy forum, similar to CSPAN, which reviews complaints of faulse, erroneous or misleading presentations, live on TV and replayed often, effectively acting like science PR antibodies attacking and killing cancerous allegations which sometimes metastases and spreads in the common minds of people. Proponents and complainants square off, with a voting audience (by internet) of likewise specialists. The results of the vote made public instantly, and especially for Journalists to review… AMS or any society can start such forums, they are not time consuming and results from peers over a debate
    can be vindicating or devastating to the scientist being challenged. Can put a little fear in irresponsible scientists with tenure.

  28. 78
    Wacki says:

    Quick question for the hurricane experts,

    I’ve been told that the water in the Gulf of Mexico has been 4 degrees Celsius hotter than average this year. However, there has been a complete lack of hurricanes in the Gulf. Instead they have had lots and lots of rain. Is there any validity to the argument that hurricanes have a sweet spot? (If it gets too hot you just get a lot of rain) Any theory as to why this year has been incredibly light on hurricanes?

  29. 79
    Real Science says:

    We would like a forum that is something more than just endless debates and personal theories, I don’t speak about your forum Wayne, I haven’t even visited it yet, I’m just talking in general here, so don’t take it personally. I’m just sick and tired of the hundreds of scientific- or so it’s supposed to be- forums that do not provide further than personal thoughts.

  30. 80
    Person of Choler says:

    There was an unusual number of big hurricanes in 2005, especially Katrina which was all over the news for a long time.
    Some of our people made a big deal out of connecting big hurricanes to global warming. This got all over the news as well. Expectations were set for another big year in 2006.
    The 2006 hurricane season has been a bust so far. The news media are of course ignoring this, but the global warming sceptics will be all over us if we don’t get some ripsnorting hurricanes soon; and we may not.
    So, somebody, please publish an article with lots of graphs that shows that the sceptics are illogical tools .

  31. 81

    Re #79 I think you are making a good point there that last year’s record hurricane season could well be followed this year by a damp squib. The reason is fairly obvious if you look at this map of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) with above average temperatues in red and below average in blue. It is produced daily by the US Navy.

    This year the above average SSTs are further north in the Grand Banks. (The cod won’t be returning there any time soon :-() In the area west of Africa where hurricanes start, the SSTs are cooler than normal. So people ought to be getting ready with their excuses, and don’t forget that both Gray and NOAA were predicting an above average hurricane season too! It is not just the weather which is chaotic, so is the climate.

  32. 82

    Re #14:

    Ike, a little late (due to a trip to Iceland), and off-topic: the energy yield from source to user from different energy sources is quite different than what you quote.

    From a thorough analyses of primary energy use needed for an LCA (life cycle analyses) for different products in Flanders/Belgium: the pre-combustion energy needed to extract and refine ores/oil/coal, is for most types around 7%. That includes nuclear energy (near 60% of electricity generation in Belgium).
    The net energy yield for different electricity generation processes is from 30% (nuclear), ~45% (STEG – combined gas/steam electricity generation) to over 90% for combined heat/power generation. The average yield of all combined power generation facilities in Europe (hydro, gas, coal, nuclear, wind,…) is over 40%.
    Power distribution has a high yield (don’t remember the exact figures, but it is over 95%). Thus where the energy reaches the user, the average energy yield for electricity based on the theoretical value of the source’s energy is over 35%.

    The 3% you quote is probably the final energy that is effectively put into visible light by light bulbs (which is around 5% of the power use for ordinary light bulbs, the rest is transformed into heat). Halogen lamps do better with ~10%, but (compact) fluorescent light does much better with over 25%…

    The only realistic comparison I have found for electric cars vs. internal combustion cars was that CO2 emissions (if not mostly hydropower, like in Norway) and overall pollution (including exploration, refining and power generation) is better for electric in (sub)urban travel and worse for long-distance travel.

  33. 83
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #76: The “big picture” is when some people obtain a position of power, they use intimidation to keep it. This is no less true for the left wing than it is for the right. If we want action to improve the environment, we will need some kind of social consensus. The kind of polarisation you push gets in the way of that. Unless you are simply using enviornmental issues to push your left-wing agenda.

    Re #79: Well said.

  34. 84
    Chris Rijk says:

    This is not so much a comment on the hurricane aspect of this thread, but on the general problem of trying to explain the weather and climate to the public (or reporters).

    One of the problems is explaining the global effects of various forcings and the feedback effects. Part of that problem is explaining the “lag” between a change in a forcing and the climate reaching a steady state again.

    The thought occurs… maybe using the examples of seasons would make it easier to explain these things? For example, June 21st (sometimes 22nd) has the most sunshine (most solar forcing) of the year in the Northen Hemisphere. So, if there was no “lag” of any kind, it should be the hottest day of the year on average, right? However, instead of June 21st being the peak of summer it is the start of summer. A good example of the climate lagging behind the forcing/feedback perhaps?

    The average energy density of solar radiation just above the Earth’s atmosphere, in a plane perpendicular to the rays, is about 1367 W/m², a value called the solar constant (although it fluctuates by a few parts per thousand from day to day). The Earth receives a total amount of radiation determined by its cross section (~R2), but as the planet rotates this energy is distributed across the entire surface area (4 R2). Hence, the average incoming solar radiation (known as “insolation”) is 1/4th the solar constant or ~342 W/m². At any given location and time, the amount received at the surface depends on the state of the atmosphere and the latitude.

    I wonder how much winter/summer temperatures would vary on Earth compared to now if there were no feedback effects…

  35. 85
    Judith Curry says:

    Re the 2006 hurricane season: I have learned much from mostly lurking on the tropical listserv. We can still expect an interesting and lively hurricane season in 2006, it is slow getting started owing to the so-called saharan air layer that is persisting longer into the summer than ususal. This air layer (which includes desert dust) keeps the midtroposphere warm and dry, which limits development of the storms. Sea surface temperatures are warm and wind shear is low, so once the dry warm air in the mid troposphere disappears, we will get some storms. We are also seeing hurricane season last much later into the fall, so there is plenty of time still for a significant season.
    The hurricane season in the western north pacific has definitely been “ripsnorting” this year.

  36. 86
    Chris Mooney says:

    Re # 74,
    Thanks to Judith Curry for mentioning my next book….I think that you folks will enjoy it, but let me just add a point of clarification on timing. I’m still deep into the project; still doing interviews, still doing research. It is not done yet, and so it won’t be out by the first of next year. In fact, I would estimate summer/fall 2007 at this point. In any case, I’m confident this debate will still be around then….

  37. 87
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re #83

    I have no left wing agenda. There is simply no precendent during my nearly seventy years for how scientists have been pushed around in recent years. Scientists do not determine policy, but policy on something like climate cannot be intelligently created unless the process is informed by the best available science. The illusion that we can define our own version of reality (Inhofe) is wishful thinking and it is potentially disasterous.

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 78, Wacki, “I’ve been told that the water in the Gulf of Mexico has been 4 degrees Celsius hotter than average this year.”

    Who told you that? Why do you consider that source one you believe in?

    As Alastair points out in #81, you can look these things up, and check both the story and the reliability of the source.

    Besides the link he gives there is a historical archive here:

    And add logic — hurricanes don’t form in the Gulf of Mexico; you can look at ground tracks and the NOAA hurricane page to see where they form, and watch conditions there that Judith Curry describes in #85.

    Then you ask “is there any validity to the theory that hurricanes have a ‘sweet spot’?” — where did you get the idea, what did your source say leading you to think that’s a statement of a theory? And why do you believe what they told you?

  39. 89

    You can see past Atlanitc hurricane tracks using the links at this page

    Last year, 2005, most seem to have started on the Carribean side of the Atlantic but in 2004 many started near the Cape Verde Islands closer to Africa, just north of the cold anomally SST on the map I posted.

    Here is the latest report from the National Hurricane Centre:
    530 AM EDT MON AUG 21 2006



    Hank mentioned that there are archives of the sea surface tempertures provided by the US Navy. It is probably worth mentioning that the navy changed their climatology maps recently, so that the anomally maps today are now not compared with the same as in previous years. The new climatology maps are not as good as the old ones – see line at 60S 20E – and they are planning to change back :-) but not yet :-(

  40. 90
    Wacki says:

    “And why do you believe what they told you?”

    I didn’t believe them. It didn’t make sense to me. Computers/biology are my field not hurricanes. So given my lack of expertise it would be pretty foolish for me to dismiss something so quickly when I have an opportunity to ask a professional. If I asked few questions I wouldn’t be armed with the tools to fight skeptics. If I never asked questions I would probably be a… climate change skeptic.

    As for you link, it’s very nice but there is no way for me to average out images that seem to change dramatically by the hour. So that data is pretty much useless. And yes I have tried googling but after reading 30-40 websites I gave up.

  41. 91
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Judith Curry reports:
    Meteorologists with a B.S. degree (note many TV meteorologists do not even have this credential)

    As a non-weather earth scientist, this statement caught me by surprise. Can broadcast weathermen use the professional title “meteorologist” without having a degree in the subject? I was always under the assumption that a non-meteorology degreed weather reporter went by the title “weatherman” vs “meteorologist” for someone with at least a B.S degree in meteorology. Can someone with specific knowledge of this please clarify for me.

  42. 92
    Chris Rijk says:

    Has anyone seen anything like this for outside the Atlantic?

    As a side-note, I did a bit of reading around, and it seems that so far the 2006 hurricane season is rather like the one in 2002 so far.

  43. 93
    bender says:

    Re #34 “Your failure to reply to my ‘which umbrella?’ question is noted.”

    It’s not a failure to reply. It’s a conscious choice to not reply, which I readily admit to. Note away.

    “#3. your questions/strawmen, such as they are, can be readily submitted to the paper’s authors via email, or perhaps better still, as a comment to the article itself in the peer-reviewed BAMS…assuming they are on-topic”

    My questions are not at all “strawmen”. IMO they are the issue. I asked the questions here hoping I could get a direct reply from the author, and I was disappointed. I will not be submitting my questions to the journal because this paper is relatively unimportant … except as an example. An example of what seems to be a systematic trend in documents fed to policy people – a trend toward the suppression of statistical information that would admit any uncertainty in our understanding of climate processes.

    I readily admit this is an unfounded allegation based on a small sample size. That is why I ask the author directly, in an informal arena. Questions like this would never make it to the scientific literature because they’re non-scientific in nature.

    [Response: But they are also extremely easy to check (at least for the Atlantic). Download the data from and work it out for yourself. -gavin]

  44. 94
    Harold Brooks says:

    Re: Inline response to 93:

    The data for Figure 1 are not in easyhurdat_5105.html. The HURDAT dataset is for the North Atlantic only. Figure 1 in Curry et al. is global.

    [Response: Noted and I changed the comment accordingly. The rest of the data must be around somewhere though…. – gavin]

    [Response: Update: try here: – gavin]

  45. 95
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #85 – But sun angle is an inconvenient truth. If the cyclones don’t start cranking up by about mid September, it’s going to be a real sleeper of a season. And you (as well as Lloyds) can take that to the bank!

  46. 96
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #87 – the biggest push comes from peers. And as the revolutionary Baby Boomer generation has replaced older ones, the main form of peer pressure has been to conform to norms hatched during the 60s and early 70s.

  47. 97
    Dan says:

    re: 93.
    Upon further review, I withdraw my “strawman” comment. Consider it a “conscious choice”.

    While perhaps you may wish it so, the idea that the paper is “relatively unimportant” does not appear true in light of the fact that it has already received consider interest both within the peer-reviewed scientific community via BAMS and outside the community via media interest. Regardless of one’s perspective of the issue.

    Your comment about there being “a trend toward the suppression of statistical information that would admit any uncertainty in our understanding of climate processes” in documents fed to policy people certainly applies well to Senator Inhofe and his anti-science ilk. He is convinced global warming is just a big “hoax”, foisted by the UN through the IPCC. No doubt at all in his mind whatsoever and to heck with consensus science. Apparently the people feeding him that information are not providing him hoax uncertainty estimates. And as someone poignantly posted here previously for comparison, the relative uncertainties presented to the White House Science Advisor (now working for Exxon Mobil) re: global warming are now considerably fewer than they ever were re: the existence of WMDs in Iraq.

  48. 98
    Jeff Weffer says:

    It’s August 21 and there has been only 1 Tropical Storm so far this year.

    Last year, there were already 7 Tropical Storms and 5 Hurricanes by this point in the year.

    Perhaps the NWS is right and there is no link to global warming.

  49. 99
    pat neuman says:

    re 51. Judith,

    I think you are correct in saying that The Weather Channel (TWC) has actually been “blazing the trail” with regards to TV meteorology taking on the global warming issue. BTW, I made a post at TWC blog this morning.

    I agree there is a long way to go towards motivating meteorologists to get educated on climate change and global warming. I worked side by side with meteorologists for my entire hydrologic career with NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS).

    In 2002 or 2003, I attended a climate change seminar at the UM, Minneapolis Campus with presenters: Dr. Dennis Hartmann of UW Seattle, Ben Santer of LLNL and Richard Lintzen of MIT.

    My supervisor accompanied me to the seminar. My supervisor was/is the Hydrologist In Charge (HIC) of the NWS North Central River Forecast Center(NCRFC) in Chanhassen MN, a meteorologist with no formal education in hydrology.

    Although I have formal training as a hydrologist at UW Madison (1975), many of my co-workers with NCRFC were/are meteorologists. Many HIC supervisors at river forecast centers (RFCs) are meteorologists who use supervisory levels at RFCs for stepping stones in NWS, or to escape 24 hour shift work.

    A big part of the staff duties to serve in the public interest at NWS Weather Forecast Offices (about 120 NWS WFOs in the US) is to provide education to media and the public on weather, climate and water. NWS has not been helping to educate the media and public on climate change and global warming.

    Instead NWS has been telling people, off the record, that global warming was/is not a problem, and if it was it would probably be all natural and very slow warming.

    The majority of the members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), last time I looked, are meteorologists. I think many AMS members may have went along with statements made by a few at AMS, and off the record, continued to voice their skepticism on climate change and global warming to the TV media and public – with great damage to the work of others like Santer and Hartmann, and the garden of life on earth.

  50. 100
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Perhaps the NWS is right and there is no link to global warming.

    Theory: if you overfill a tire it will burst.

    The current tire has a dime size hole in it.

    We pump and pump and pump, and it never seems to get too full.

    So, are we now free to fill tires to 3000 psi?