The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced not only that 2017 was the third-warmest year on record for the U.S., but it’s also the costliest year in terms of billion-dollar natural disasters.
The “U.S. experienced 16 weather and climate disasters each with losses exceeding $1 billion, totaling approximately $306 billion — a new U.S. record,” NOAA reported on Monday.
But before you jump up and down yelling “global warming,” there are big problems with using natural disasters as a measure of human-caused climate change.
While NOAA experts were hesitant to link global warming to any of these, NOAA climatologist Adam Smith did say global warming is “playing an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters.”
“Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding,” Smith said.
NOAA’s report on billion-dollar disasters, like every year, is already being used by environmentalists and Democrats to sound the alarm on global warming. In their view, decarbonization of the economy is needed to change the weather.
— SenateEnergyDems (@EnergyDems) January 8, 2018
However, there are two big problems with using NOAA’s billion-dollar disaster data to make claims about global warming.
For starters, NOAA’s data only goes back to 1980 and includes billion-dollar weather events from each year. NOAA does go back and index these events for inflation, but there’s still a problem.
One is figuring out which past weather events would breach $1 billion in today’s dollars, and another is improvements in observation techniques since 1980 that may bias the count upwards. That’s not to say 2017 didn’t have severe weather, including three of the costliest hurricanes on record.
But more fundamentally, simply counting billion-dollar weather events will almost always yield higher costs.
Think of going to the grocery store every year to find out what items cost more than $25. Inflation alone will mean more objects are put in the basket every year, but it tells you nothing underlying trends in real food prices.
Second, the claim that extreme weather events around the world, including in the U.S., are increasing due to man-made climate change is out of step with the so-called “consensus” climate science documents.
For example, NOAA’s list of billion-dollar weather events included one deep freeze, one wildfire, two floods, three hurricanes and eight severe storms. The latest U.S. National Climate Assessment report has this to say about these weather events:
“The frequency of cold waves has decreased since the early 1900s, and the frequency of heat waves has increased since the mid-1960s. The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the peak period for extreme heat. The number of high temperature records set in the past two decades far exceeds the number of low temperature records.”
“Therefore, a definitive understanding of the effects of arctic amplification on midlatitude winter weather remains elusive. Other explanations have been offered for the weather patterns of recent winters, such as anomalously strong Pacific trade winds, but these have not been linked to anthropogenic forcing.”
“Nonetheless, there is medium confidence for a human-caused climate change contribution to increased forest fire activity in Alaska in recent decades with a likely further increase as the climate continues to warm.”
“[L]ow to medium confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution in the western United States based on existing studies. Recent literature does not contain a complete robust detection and attribution analysis of forest fires including estimates of natural decadal and multidecadal variability, as described in Chapter 3: Detection and Attribution, nor separate the contributions to observed trends from climate change and forest management.”
A reminder of what “medium confidence” means.
“IPCC AR5 did not attribute changes in flooding to anthropogenic influence nor report detectable changes in flooding magnitude, duration, or frequency”
“Detectable changes in some classes of flood frequency have occurred in parts of the United States and are a mix of increases and decreases. Extreme precipitation, one of the controlling factors in flood statistics, is observed to have generally increased and is projected to continue to do so across the United States in a warming atmosphere. However, formal attribution approaches have not established a significant connection of increased riverine flooding to human-induced climate change, and the timing of any emergence of a future detectable anthropogenic change in flooding is unclear.”
“While by some measures drought has decreased over much of the continental United States in association with long-term increases in precipitation, neither the precipitation increases nor inferred drought decreases have been confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing.”
“[T]here is still low confidence that any reported long-term (multidecadal to centennial) increases in TC activity are robust, after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.”
Likewise, NOAA found last year that it’s “premature to conclude that human activities … have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.”
“Tornado activity in the United States has become more variable, particularly over the 2000s, with a decrease in the number of days per year with tornadoes and an increase in the number of tornadoes on these days. Confidence in past trends for hail and severe thunderstorm winds, however, is low.”
“Although there is evidence of an increase in the number of hail days per year, the inherent uncertainty in reported hail size reduces the confidence in such a conclusion. Thunderstorm wind reports have proven to be even less reliable, because, as compared to tornadoes and hail, there is less tangible visual evidence; thus, although the United States has lately experienced several significant thunderstorm wind events (sometimes referred to as “derechos”), the lack of studies that explore long-term trends in wind events and the uncertainties in the historical data preclude any robust assessment.”
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