In the wake of the disastrous Hurricane Harvey, and another powerful hurricane developing in the Atlantic, there has been a ceaseless stream of attempts to link the natural weather events to man-made climate change.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, socialist-democratic Senator from Vermont and former Democratic presidential candidate, said that he thinks “it is pretty dumb” not to ask if the extraordinary damage caused by Hurricane Harvey is tied to climate change.
Here are five charts that provide context to the trend of hurricanes leading up to the huge national disaster that is Hurricane Harvey.
1. Nine Of The Ten Deadliest Atlantic Hurricanes
Hurricane Harvey is projected to inflict $90 billion in damage to Texas and Louisiana, and at least 40 people have tragically died in the hurricane. It is important to realize that due to economic development, along with massive improvements in communications and transport, the financial amounts of damage from hurricanes are increasing, but the fatalities inflicted have drastically decreased.
An exhaustive research published at Reason Policy Studies shows deaths from extreme weather events have declined by 98% since 1900.
2. Global Tropic Cyclones at 45-Year Low
Dr. Ryan Maue, a Phd.-credentialed meteorologist and hurricane expert, shows that global tropical cyclones (includes typhoons, hurricanes, and cyclones, which only vary in terminology by location) were at a 45-year low, up to figures compiled in April 2015.
3. Global Hurricane Frequency
Dr. Maue provides data from the last four decades of hurricane research showing no discernible uptick in the frequency of global hurricanes.
4. Global and Northern Hemisphere Accumulated Cyclone Energy
5. “Atlantic Tropical Storms Lasting More Than 2 Days Have Not Increased in Number”
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration provides a longer data set on Atlantic storms extending back to 1876.
Gabriel A. Vecchi and Thomas R. Knutson of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA at Princeton, New Jersey, assesses the trend as the following:
“We find that, after adjusting for such an estimated number of missing storms, there is a small nominally positive upward trend in tropical storm occurrence from 1878-2006. But statistical tests reveal that this trend is so small, relative to the variability in the series, that it is not significantly distinguishable from zero.”
As Bill Read, the former director of the National Hurricane Center, said recently to a CNN anchor who attempted to tie Hurricane Harvey to manmade climate change:
“I'm not — I probably wouldn’t attribute what we’re looking at here. This is not an uncommon occurrence to see storms grow and intensify rapidly in the western Gulf of Mexico. That’s as long as we’ve been tracking them, that has occurred. The why for the big rain is the stationarity. That fact that the storm is going to come inland and not move; that’s ... while it has happened in some cases, to have a really big storm come and stall like this is really rare.”
There will also be some who attempt to exploit national crises like Hurricane Harvey for political gain. But when they do, the most important thing is to look at the facts.