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The hurricane that struck Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.
That's how The Boston Globe puts it in a fresh article, by Ross Gelbspan. The article already got skeptics' attention - last night Foxnews' Brit Hume interviewed Cato's Patrick Michaels. (Transcript here.) The discussion was about this sentence.
Although Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced off southern Florida, it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the high sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Michaels listed following reasons to doubt this assessment.

First off, all major hurricanes start as minor hurricanes.
This cheap short completely misses the point. Katrina was already a substantial, though "relatively small" hurricane in Florida, causing notable damage. But it became much stronger above the Caribbean - for some reason. Gelbspan's reason sound very convincingly.

Secondly, Ross Gelbspan put forward a very testable scientific hypothesis,   [saying] that as sea surface temperature goes up, hurricanes will become more extreme. Well, you can take a look at data for the Atlantic basin for the last 50 years, and you'll find that only 10% of variation in hurricane strength and frequency from year to year is related to see surface temperature. In other words, 90% of the changes in hurricanes, week years, strong years, not very many years, with a lot, 90% of that variation is due to factors other than sea surface temperature.
I suspect the following twist in this "favorite" statistics. Fluctuations in sea surface temperature before late 1990's were much smaller than the change in the last 5-10 years. The 10% correlation is dominated the marginal fluctuations of the longer earlier data. But if you are interested in correlation with significant temperature increase, it is the short data tail of the last years that is most interesting. The correlation may increase with larger fluctuations, since other factors may indeed be stronger while temperature variations are small.

[There] is another way to test this pretty grossly. World surface temperatures have gone up over the last few decades - not as much as a lot of computer models forecast, but it's gone up. So ask yourself the question, has the number of hurricanes, meaning tropical cyclons, around the world gone up? In other words, does the global warming increase global hurricanes? And you will find that there is no statistically significant change whatsoever in the number of global tropical cyclons.
Sorry, is he talking about computer forecasts for the last decades?! He is clearly confusing some things. Intentionally, it seems.

The global frequency of "tropical cyclons" is indeed remarkably constant. But what about strength of those cycles? Or frequency of "killer hurricanes"? Dr. Michaels does not talk about that here.

[When] you do science, and you make hypothesis, you got to test global temperatures against global hurricanes, not against Atlantic hurricanes. Yes, Atlantic hurricane frequency has increased since the late 1990's. But the fact of the matter is that is was quite low for several decades, ending about 1995-1998 or so. We were below the long term mean, we now come up to run above the long term mean. When you add several years of below, and several years of above - you know what you get Brit - average!
No. For investigating relation between sea temperature and hurricane strength, it is very sensible to compare Atlantic temperatures with Atlantic hurricanes, or Pacific temperatures with typhoons in South-East Asia, etc.

The suggested averaging makes no sense for the correlation problem. Aside from that, the early data for long term cycles is not lengthy enough - you can barely distinguish 1 or 2 full cycles. Concerned conclusions are drawn from much stronger data.

What are other possible factors that may affect hurricanes?

Weather or not there is el Nino, for example. [...] A lot of scientists, not necessarily me, think that el Nino frequency would go up if there was global warming. Well, el Nino is poison to hurricanes. It induces Westerly winds over the Atlantic ocean, and Westerly winds kill hurricanes. That's one of the reasons why sea surface temperature is not that big explanatorily variable.
Science is good in separating several possible reasons. There is nothing that forbids to isolate el Nino data, or to consider only statistics which are unaffected by el Nino. Then we may get more "pure" correlations. Has this been done?

There is the temperature fluctuation in the Atlantic that is well known [as the North Atlantic Oscillation]. That is in a phase that seems to be promoting hurricanes. But you know, these numbers, [only] 10% of variation in the Atlantic current strength and frequency is related to the sea surface temperature, that tells you something. Even if you gonna warm up the planet - and we are, and I wish I could say we can stop it, but we can't - what's gonna happen is that the signal of increased hurricanes will take forever to emerge from those very noisy year to year fluctuations if the sea surface temperature only explains 10%, and by then we might not even be burning fossil fuel.
He argues against importance of sea temperatures, and then brings up the North Atlantic Oscillation. Strange...

As I suspected above, the 10% correlation does not deserve to be extrapolated. And when we do warm up the planet, we have only upward graphs instead of "wild fluctuations".  

Why the confidence that we cannot do anything? Is it because we cannot win over the fossil companies?

It is always telling what the rightist pundits do not discuss when their criticize someone. The tickling in the Boston Globe article must be the following:

Unfortunately, few people in America know the real name of Hurricane Katrina because the coal and oil industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in doubt about the issue.

The reason is simple: To allow the climate to stabilize requires humanity to cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent. That, of course, threatens the survival of one of the largest commercial enterprises in history.

In 1995, public utility hearings in Minnesota found that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists who were public dissenters on global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, big oil and big coal scored their biggest electoral victory yet when George W. Bush was elected president - and subsequently took suggestions from the industry for his climate and energy policies.

As the pace of climate change accelerates, many researchers fear we have already entered a period of irreversible runaway climate change.

Against this background, the ignorance of the American public about global warming stands out as an indictment of the U.S. news media.

When the American press has bothered to cover global warming, it has focused almost exclusively on its political and diplomatic aspects and not on what the warming is doing to agriculture, water supplies, plant and animal life, public health and weather.

For years, the fossil fuel industry has lobbied the news media to accord the same weight to a handful of global warming skeptics that it accords the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries reporting to the United Nations.

Today, with the science having become even more robust - and the impacts as visible as the megastorm that covered much of the Gulf of Mexico - the press bears a share of the guilt for our self-induced destruction with the oil and coal industries.

Originally posted to ray z on Wed Aug 31, 2005 at 03:35 AM PDT.

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