Meteorologist Roy Spencer has just two problems with the ongoing climate-change narrative blaming President Trump for making hurricanes worse: First, the president can’t control hurricanes, and second, they’re not getting worse.
Even before Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday in North Carolina, Mr. Trump was being decried on the left for exacerbating storm activity, a superpower attributed to his enthusiastic support for fossil fuels and dismantling of Obama-era climate regulations.
Leading the charge was The Washington Post, which accused Mr. Trump in an editorial last week with being “complicit” in Hurricane Florence, a theme echoed Sunday by The New York Times in an editorial faulting the president for ignoring the “linkage” between hurricanes and his policy rollbacks.
“Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit,” said the Sept. 11 headline in The Post.
Swinging back were scientists like Mr. Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former NASA senior climate scientist, who denounced such claims as “obscene attempts to make political points even in the face of no evidence.”
“The fact that there has been no long-term change in global hurricane activity, and even a 50 percent decrease in U.S. landfalling major hurricanes over the last 80 years, means no one is ‘complicit’ in these storms,” said Mr. Spencer, author of “Inevitable Disaster: Why Hurricanes Can’t Be Blamed on Global Warming.”
On the contrary, the U.S. hurricane front has recently set records for inactivity. No major hurricanes, defined as Category 3 or larger, made U.S. landfall for more than 11 years ending with Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and no hurricanes entered or developed in the Gulf of Mexico for a three-year period ending in 2016, both the longest gaps in recorded history.
University of Colorado Boulder professor Roger A. Pielke Jr., who has written extensively on hurricanes, posted a graphic last week showing that U.S. landfalling hurricanes declined from 1900 to 2017.
“Most people simply don’t believe that U.S. landfalling hurricanes (overall & major) are down since 1900 (within population, but not significantly if taken as a sample),” Mr. Pielke tweeted. “I’ve found these graphs get people riled up, but it’s just data.”
Why the media alarm? “It’s because the people that are informing us in the media about global warming are people like Al Gore, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, people that don’t know anything about atmospheric science,” Mr. Spencer said on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Not since President Barack Obama claimed he could slow the rise of the oceans has a president been given so much credit for controlling the weather.
“It’s gotten to the point where we have a president that is denying the impacts of this hurricane season last year and this year, and actively making the problem worse by not addressing this root cause of worsening storms,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus told MSNBC.
At the eye of the debate is the argument that surface sea temperatures heated by a warming Earth drive hurricanes that are wetter, stronger and intensify more quickly.
“Florence is yet another poster child for the human-supercharged storms that are becoming more common and destructive as the planet warms,” geologist Jonathan T. Overpeck, dean of the environment school at University of Michigan, told the Associated Press.
Penn State atmospheric science professor Michael Mann agreed: “I think we can say that the storm is stronger, wetter and more impactful from a coastal flooding standpoint than it would been BECAUSE of human-caused warming,” he told AP in an email.
On the other side was NOAA/AOML Hurricane Research Division meteorologist Stanley Goldenberg, who argued that “we’re not seeing anything unusual” with recent hurricane activity.
“We have not seen anything to indicate we’re in an unprecedented time of more hurricanes, stronger hurricanes, if you know how to read the historical record,” said Mr. Goldenberg at a weekend panel hosted by the free-market Heartland Institute at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.
Panelists argued that hurricanes are influenced by a host of forces other than warmer sea temperatures, including wind shear.
“You have interaction with land. You have all sorts of factors that enter into it,” Mr. Goldenberg said. “We have years where the temperature in the Atlantic are exceptionally warm and yet we have very little activity because the atmospheric conditions aren’t right.”
Human-caused global warming has been blamed for creating the conditions that caused Hurricane Harvey to park over the greater Houston area after making landfall in August 2017, dumping record amounts of rain.
Hurricane Florence, now a tropical depression, flooded areas of North Carolina such as Swansboro, which received more than 30 inches of rain, before moving Monday to southern New England, where it was expected to drive “excessive rainfall” through Tuesday.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned Monday that catastrophic flooding and tornadoes still posed a threat. An estimated 32 people have died from the storm’s effects in the Carolinas and Virginia.
“It’s very likely that climate change has warmed the ocean such that the hurricane’s intense rainfall is more destructive than without global warming,” Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters told the AP.
Again, Mr. Goldenberg argued that such occurrences are not that rare. “We’ve seen this stuff before. It doesn’t shock us when a storm sits there, meanders and stalls,” he said. “We’ve seen this many, many, many times.”
Progressive groups have moved to tie the Trump administration to Hurricane Florence as the November midterm elections approach, including Indivisible, which accused Mr. Trump and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last week of making climate change worse.
“Rolling back critical lifesaving protections that reduce carbon pollution puts communities at risk from more severe hurricanes, frequent flooding, and deadly extreme heat,” Indivisible tweeted.
Jay Lehr, a hydrologist and Heartland Institute science director, accused the climate-change movement of ignoring the role of natural variability and other factors when making global-warming predictions in order to push a political agenda.
“It’s called selective data. And it goes against all science,” Mr. Lehr said. “In science, we have to look at all the data and make our conclusions based on it. They just took a warm ocean and left everything else out and they put it into an equation and get a stronger storm. It doesn’t work that way.”