"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, September 02, 2005

Global Warming and Tropical Storms

In today's edition of Tech Central Station, Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama and one of the world's top climatologists, considers the arguments that global warming is causing more frequent and intense tropical storms:

There is some recent research that suggests that of all Atlantic and West Pacific tropical cyclones measured since the 1970's, a warming trend in sea surface temperatures has been accompanied by stronger and longer-lived storms. In fact, the increase in the total power generated by the storms that the study computed was actually much larger than could be accounted for by theory, suggesting changes in wind shear or other processes are operating in addition to just increased temperatures. (Unpublished results by the same researcher suggests, however, that this trend was not apparent in land falling hurricanes since the 1970's).

Given the recent work, how should we view the role of global warming? First, we know that category 4, and even category 5, storms have always occurred, and will continue to occur, with or without the help of humans, as the above examples demonstrate. Therefore, if we are prepared for what nature can throw at us, we will be prepared for the possible small increase in hurricane activity that some studies have suggested could occur with man-made global warming. To suggest that Katrina was caused by mankind is not only grossly misleading, it also obscures the real issues that need to be addressed, even in the absence of global warming. From a practical point of view, there is little that we can do in the near term to avert much if any future warming anyway, no matter what you believe that warming will be, including participating in the Kyoto Protocol. So why even bring it up (other than through political, philosophical, or financial motivation)?

10 comments:

James Elliott said...

I don't believe anyone except the fringiest of the fringe have claimed that Katrina was man's fault. I believe what has been said is that there is a possibility that man's actions (global warming) have contributed in a negative way to natural weather patterns. It's a multivariate view. No one is suggesting that taking a tack to relieve emissions and global warming will prevent such natural disasters.

The multivariate systems view also suggests that perhaps developing over all that valuabe wetland to build condos and malls (after all, every two miles of wetlands reduces flooding by half a foot) and cutting money from levee and pump refurbishment perhaps wasn't the brightest idea, either. Little things can add up to big things. Even if we eliminate all emissions tomorrow, we will be dealing with today's emissions for another fifty years.

Nothing exists in isolation, least of all weather patterns. You can't take a univariate view and say "See, it's wrong" when there are demonstrable other factors involved.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

I think the point is that the words "global warming" have been overused in conjunction with "tropical storm" in regards to its relative (or even possible at this point) contribution.

As you say, JE, it is a multivariate system, and to continue to use "global warming" in conjunction with "tropical storm" is giving a false impression.

Furthermore, it is giving science a bad name.

James Elliott said...

But is it? The above article doesn't prove anything. We should be open to either possibility. In a system so incredibly complex, no one can say for certainty what is happening. For example, while he is looking at storm INTENSITY (a mean that will always have spikes and dips), he makes no mention of storm FREQUENCY, which is up drastically. Indeed, focusing on hurricanes and tropical storms is only one aspect of the problem. What about typhoons, as just one example? 600,000 people displaced in China by Typhoon Talim yesterday.

The thrust of the article, indeed, takes a short-term approach: We can't do anything about warming for at least fifty years, so why do anything? That's rank idiocy.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

"In a system so incredibly complex, no one can say for certainty what is happening."


Like evolution? :)


The apparent increase in storm frequency can be attributable to better (and more spatially diverse) monitoring systems.

BTW ... you show your ignorange about science by claiming that typhoons are somehow different than hurricanes. Here's a hint: they are just different names for the same phenomenon!

You ought to at least brush up a bit before blogging about something you know little about.

James Elliott said...

Do they put something in the water that turns you into an asshole here, or what? You're being a complete dick in your responses. What in my response indicated a need for you to be a complete jerk?

You could have said "hey, you're wrong, typhoon and hurricane is the same thing" and I would have said "hey, you're right" and left it there.

Do you honestly think that better monitoring systems accounts for an increase from four prior-to-September named tropical storms a year to twelve? Are you that dumb, or that zealous?

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Look ... JE ... I am using the same tone that I gathered from you and your posts. I apologize if I went to far; sarcasm works best when the both parties KNOW that it is sarcasm. I'll tone it down.


Better monitoring systems make it more likely that a storm will be "seen".

It used to be that nobody cared about (or witnessed) a storm that did not hit land (or perhaps a ship). Being able to monitor the ocean via satellites has allowed for storms (that would have escaped notice before) to be seen in the open ocean.

Oh ... and I should have said "could be attributable" and not "can be attributable". I should've had Judge Roberts edit my post.

... and I owe you a beer for being a jerk I guess ...

James Elliott said...

Well, if you thought I was being a jerk, too, then I'd owe you one as well. Look on the bright side: With grad school up and running next week, I'll be around a lot less.

Tlaloc said...

I have no problem with what the author says until the last quoted part:

" From a practical point of view, there is little that we can do in the near term to avert much if any future warming anyway, no matter what you believe that warming will be, including participating in the Kyoto Protocol. So why even bring it up (other than through political, philosophical, or financial motivation)?"

While he's right that nothing will creata an immediate halt to global warming he then goes on to make a hugely inane leap of logic: that nothing therefore should be done. Of course even a child can see the flaw in his logic. While no action may stop the warming immediately it CAN slow and EVENTUALLY stop the warming down the road.

His statement in other words is like saying you shouldn't apply brakes when you see a yellow light because no amount of braking will stop the car instantly.

Frankly that kind of boneheaded statement makes me very miuch doubt sparky here is one of the foremost climatologists.

SGibson said...

For example, while he is looking at storm INTENSITY (a mean that will always have spikes and dips), he makes no mention of storm FREQUENCY, which is up drastically.

Data at the National Hurricane Center does not seem to support your claim that storm frequency is "up drastically". Instead, it appears that storm frequency is declining.

Check out http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastdec.shtml

Tlaloc said...

"Data at the National Hurricane Center does not seem to support your claim that storm frequency is "up drastically". Instead, it appears that storm frequency is declining."

Look again. While it may be declining in the sense of not at the highest level listed it certainly looks to be increasing from previous decades. Notice that the 90s had 5 major storms (cat 3,4, and 5) in ten years. We've had 3 in just the last FOUR years. If this level continues we'd have had 7-8 by the end of this decade which is just below the highest number listed (10 is the highest several others tie at 8).

This is using the source you gave above.