An Inconvenient Truth: Cyclones, Hurricanes, Wildfires Aren’t Getting Worse

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President Obama issued a stark warning over the weekend about the world’s future if global warming continues.

But his alarmism glosses over an inconvenient truth: storms and wildfires aren’t getting worse due to global warming.

“Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons,” Obama said in a video address ahead of Earth Day. “The world’s top climate scientists are warning us that a changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe.”

Obama’s comments, however, come on reports that the number of tropical cyclones is at a 45-year low, the U.S. hasn’t had a major hurricane make landfall in the last decade and the number of reported wildfires are well below the 10-year average.

Cyclones Not Living Up To The Hype

Hurricane expert Dr. Ryan Maue reported last week that the 5-year running sum for tropical cyclones globally hit a 45-year low. Maue wrote that in “the pentad since 2006, Northern Hemisphere and global tropical cyclone ACE has decreased dramatically to the lowest levels since the late 1970s” and “the frequency of tropical cyclones has reached a historical low.”

Maue’s observations have been backed by research by University of Colorado climate scientist Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who wrote in his blog that cyclones in “2014 had 10 total landfalls” the “second lowest (tied with 4 other years) since 1970.” Pielke added that the “past four years have seen 50 total landfalls, the lowest four-year total since 1982.”

For years, environmentalists and Democrats have argued global warming will make tropical cyclones more intense and frequent. Al Gore famously said in 2014 that “extreme weather events related to climate that are now 100 times more common than they were just 30 years ago.” Gore made his comments about a year after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and displaced thousands of people.

But Gore must not have been reading the actual science on global warming’s link to extreme weather. Aside from research by Maue and Pielke, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there’s “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century… No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”

The Hurricane Drought Continues

While cyclones hit 45-year lows, the U.S. has not seen a category 3 or greater hurricane make landfall in nearly a decade. The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma in Oct. 2005.

“That puts us at 3460 days as of today, and when hurricane season starts June 1st… it will be 3507 days, or 9 years, 7 months, 8 days” since a major hurricane hit the U.S., writes meteorologist and noted science blogger Anthony Watts.

In places like Florida, the time between intense hurricanes making landfall has doubled from three to six years, according to Pielke’s research. This is despite rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions, which climate scientists say are behind global warming in recent decades and causing weather to become more extreme.

The National Interagency Coordination Center recently reported that the “2014 Atlantic Hurricane season was the least active in twenty years with only eight named storms in the Atlantic basin.” The agency noted that no named storms made landfall in the U.S., but one tropical storm did hit Hawaii in August 2014.

“By the end of hurricane season no Type 1 or Type 2 incident management teams had been assigned to hurricane incidents,” NICC reported.

Wildfires Fail To Ignite Controversy

Another claim made by environmentalists, politicians and some scientists, is that global warming will make wildfires a lot worse. Indeed, 2014 did see wildfires burn more acres than normal in northern California and the Pacific Northwest. NICC notes in its annual report that “Northern California (152 percent) and Northwest (214 percent) were the only Geographic Areas to experience above average acres burned.”

But NICC also reported that nationally, “the 2014 fire season was below normal for number of reported wildfires” and the “number of acres burned in 2014 was 3,595,613 or 53 percent of the national 10-year average.”

Northern California and the Northwest aside, NICC reports that “[a]ll other Geographic Areas were below their annual average acres. Nine fires exceeded 40,000 acres in 2014; eleven fewer than in 2013.”

Okay, 2014 is only one year, but looking at the data the number of acres burned by wildfires have fallen dramatically since 2006 when 30,415 fires burned more than 2.2 million acres of land.

Despite claims that wildfires could become a bigger problem from global warming, forestry experts have pointed out that stewardship has a bigger impact on forest and wildfires than the climate does.

“Policy makers who halt active forest management and kill ‘green’ harvesting jobs in favor of a ‘hands-off’ approach contribute to the buildup of fuels in the forest,” Professor David B. South of Auburn University told Congress last year.

“This eventually increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” South said. “To attribute this human-caused increase in fire risk to carbon dioxide emissions is simply unscientific.”

In 1930, wildfires consumed more than 50 million acres of land, but in 2012 wildfires only burnt up 9.2 million acres. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said carbon dioxide concentrations were much lower in the 1940s (only 310 parts per million by volume), meaning global temperatures were cooler while wildfires were much more prevalent than today.

“These data suggest that extremely large megafires were 4-times more common before 1940,” South said, adding that “we cannot reasonably say that anthropogenic global warming causes extremely large wildfires.”

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