Did global warming make Hurricane Harvey worse? Warmer ocean water made Harvey bigger and dump more rain according to Earth’s Future, which flies in the face of a mountain of other studies backing the “consensus” on extreme storms.
The study “directly links Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous rains to the amount of heat stored in the ocean, which was record-setting before the storm plowed into Texas last year,” The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
This isn’t the first study trying to tie Harvey to man-made warming, bucking the oft-touted scientific “consensus” on global warming. The consensus does not support claims that warming is currently affecting tropical cyclones.
Hurricane Harvey dumped over 60 inches of rain throughout parts of southeastern Texas, contributing to widespread flooding in the greater Houston area. Harvey is estimated to have done about $125 billion in damages.
Scientists found “the amount of heat stored in the ocean is directly related to how much rain a storm can unload,” WaPo reported. The study boldly claimed: “Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change.”
However, what’s conspicuously absent from WaPo’s write-up is any mention of what the weight of science says on links between global warming and hurricanes, or cyclones as their known around the world.
Luckily, information on the “consensus” on how global warming currently impacts hurricanes is readily available online by government agencies and international bodies.
On tropical cyclones, the National Climate Assessment’s (NCA) special report found that “there is still low confidence that any reported long-term (multidecadal to centennial) increases in TC activity are robust.” The NCA special report was released in fall of 2017.
“It is premature to conclude that human activities — and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming — have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity,” said NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, in a report released in 2017.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 assessment found “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.”
The IPCC also found “[n]o 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.”
Climate models suggest cyclones on a global-scale will become more intense by the end of the century, but the number of storms is expected to decrease or remain the same, according to the latest NCA report.
The study WaPo reported on is only the latest to try to buck the “consensus” on global warming and hurricanes. Three previous studies have been published, also purporting to link man-made warming to Harvey’s record-setting rains.
Models don’t do a very good job of projecting how global warming might affect storm activity in individual ocean basins. Regional storm activity depends “on the large-scale pattern of changes to atmospheric circulation and ocean surface temperature,” the NCA noted.
However, all three studies suffered from shortcomings that undercut their central claims. Two of the studies did not actually take into account the reason Harvey’s rainfall was so extreme — it stalled over land for several days.
The other study was based on rain gauge data, which again, means it didn’t actually analyze the storm itself. Study authors even admitted “[p]recipitation rates were not particularly unusual for a hurricane of this magnitude.”
But these caveats were largely ignored by reports and activists. For example, former Vice President Al Gore claimed the studies “link the climate crisis and Hurricane Harvey’s record rainfall.”
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