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IPCC Launches Rear-Guard Action vs. Hurricanes As Forests Beat a Hasty Retreat from the Cold

All the Congressional staffers and all the environ-men who read this report should sit up and take note of two recent mega-studies that throw an awful lot of cold water on glib scenarios of enhancing hurricanes and burning forests. It turns out the hurricanes are weakening and the forests are freezing.

Called "A Post-IPCC Assessment," the recent collaboration of Ann Henderson-Sellers and 10 others is a study of tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons, willy-willies, and their ilk) and global climate change (IPCC, of course, refers to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The much-feared increase in these storms as the planet warms just can't seem to be found. And worse, computer models can't spin up a future that looks any different from the past.

Prominently featured is the research of co-authors Neville Nichols and Chris Landsea, who published a paper two years ago that many would like to ignore. In their study, they found a statistically significant downward trend in the frequency of intense storms in the Atlantic basin (Figure 1). In the latest paper, Nichols cites new data indicating a decrease in storms around Australia, although there is no change in the stronger storms, whose lowest pressure is lower than 29.23 inches.

Figure 1 (6004 bytes)

Figure 1. Landsea and collegues found no change in the number of weak cyclones (open bars), and a pronounced decrease in the frequency of strong ones (solid bars) in the Atlantic.

Dismissing the notion that storms are getting worse or more frequent, the authors then used computer models to conclude that the Maximum Potential Intensity (MPI) could increase by "10 or 20 percent" with doubled atmospheric carbon dioxide. But MPI applies to storms that are free of any external disturbance—rare cyclones indeed. For example, to reach MPI, a storm must have an ideal vertical structure, never encounter a west wind, be over very warm water, and not have its circulation significantly impacted by land. This last criterion is especially hard to meet when storms hit the coast!

Even so, this change in MPI, the authors say, would be impossible to detect because there is so much year-to-year and decadal variation in hurricanes. And finally, the computer models that attempt to simulate the enhanced greenhouse world contain "known omissions [that] all act to reduce these increases."

Forests freezing to death

Just about everyone knows that global warming is pushing the limits of the world's ecosystems, especially by pressuring forests to move north into the tundra, displacing jillions of cute little mosquitoes and black flies.

Everyone, it seems, except the trees of Scandinavia. The good Swedes, so environmentally conscious that they proudly toast late Uncle Sven (and we don't mean by raising a glass) to heat their homes (WCR, Vol. 3, No. 3), established field sites decades ago at the high-altitude northern forest boundary to monitor how climate change affects the trees. What Leif Kullman found was enough to make the trees wish for a little more of Uncle Sven's carbon dioxide in the air:

"The elevational tree-limits Betula pubescens [birch], Picea abies [spruce] and Pinus Sylvestris [pine], in response to the climatic amelioration [a.k.a., warming] earlier this century, now show clear symptoms of increasing climatic stress."

The cause? How about "summer cooling," "low winter soil temperatures," and "increased snow accumulation"? Just in case readers don't get the message, there are also "indications of enhanced periglacial activity." That's what happens around glaciers.

And further, Kullman thinks he's not looking at just one anomaly:

"In broader geographical perspective, alleged "all-time high" global warming of the past one or two decades has, to our knowledge, not concurred with any well-founded reports of ongoing global or regional tree-limit advance or progression."

Further, "the apparent global-scale lack" of northward movement of the forest is "remarkable in the perspective of numerous simulations predicting the opposite." Kullman concludes that neither his results "nor studies in other regions of the northern hemisphere can support any glib initiation" of global warming.

"On the contrary," he says, the forest results are "more consistent with satellite microwave soundings, showing no significant recent global temperature trend."


Henderson-Sellers, A., et al., Tropical cyclones and global climate change: A post-IPCC assessment, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 79, 19–38.

Kullman, L., Tree-limit stress and disturbance: A 25-year survey of geoecological change in the Scandes Mountains of Sweden, Geografiska Annaler, 79, 139–165.

Landsea, C.W., et al., 1996, Downward trends in the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes during the past five decades. Geophysical Research Letters, 23, 527–530.


Prove the Impossible or Pay Up!

Neither weakening hurricanes nor a benign future persuaded the "Post-IPCC" paper's one co-author from the reinsurance industry to stop soaking customers. Reinsurance giants like Munich Re insure the insurers, so when Allstate gets hit, that's who ultimately pays.

Munich Re has been super-palsy with the folks at Greenpeace, especially their director Jeremy Leggett, in pushing the concept that hurricanes will get worse because of global warming. (Note to our American readers: "Greenpeace" is an environmental organization.) Leggett spoke at an American re-insurance conference in Miami last April. There, he argued that those scientists who said hurricanes were overblown were just a weird minority of nonmainstream people who, however convincing, shouldn't be listened to. Sounds like Greenpeace and Munich Re should add 10 more names to their blackball roster—people who claim to represent the post-IPCC consensus (and, not surprisingly, are IPCC folks!). Why do we think Munich Re's G. Berz wrote the following portion of the article?

"The insurance industry in particular has experienced a rapid increase in losses from tropical cyclone disasters during the last decade. This has been caused, to a large extent, by increasing coastal populations [true], by increasing insured values in coastal areas [true] and, perhaps, by a rising sensitivity of modern societies to disruptions of infrastructure [absolutely, undoubtedly false]. However, the insurance industry is worried about the possibility of increasing frequencies and/or intensities of tropical cyclones... Until scientific predictions provide conclusive proof that these fears are unwarranted, the industry has to prepare itself for extreme catastrophic losses by means of appropriate reserves and restrictive underwriting [emphasis added]."

Which is to say, until scientists do the impossible—which is to prove the negative—we will continue to use this as an excuse to raise rates. Ignore the data, soak the customer.


Do it for the Kids, Part 2

Environmental agencies will use children to lecture us on how we don't care about their futures. (Verified again!)

Last issue, we stamped "verified" all over our 1998 prediction that the Administration would try to sell global warming policy by threatening damage to "the children."  Just two weeks in, the EPA's Carol Browner admitted this was their plan.  President Clinton himself got on board at the State of the Union address:

“The vast majority of scientists have concluded unequivocally that if we don’t reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, at some point in the next century we’ll disrupt our climate and put our children and grandchildren at risk.”

Guess Clinton doesn’t read the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society or Geografiska Annaler.