September 21, 2012

Agriculture: Tropical Cyclones are Welcome Visitors

When talk turns to tropical cyclones—hurricanes and their weaker siblings—the topic usually becomes winds, waves, and destruction. Or an exchange of war stories, like vacations cancelled, or harrowing tales from the beachfront lines. In some circles, anthropogenic climate change may enter the conversation.

But rarely does the discussion turn to the benefits of tropical cyclones.

For example, tropical cyclones often deliver widespread drought-busting rainfall during the crucial late-summer period when field crops are maturing. Across the Southeastern U.S., where most fields are non-irrigated, crops such as corn, soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, and hay benefit from tropical cyclone precipitation. From east Texas along the coast to Maryland, non-irrigated crops, like those above, combine to bring in a good ten billion dollars per year. While this economic activity is not all ascribable to tropical cyclone precipitation, neither is such precipitation inconsequential. (more…)




March 16, 2012

Atlantic Hurricanes: The Long and the Short of It

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Last May, we reviewed a paper on Atlantic basin tropical cyclone trends by Gabriele Villarini and colleagues that focused on a breed of storms called they called “shorties”—small tropical storms that lasted less than two days. The authors concluded that while the number of identified “shorties” has been increasing with time, the increase was primarily the result of changing (improving) observational practices not a changing climate. Now, we review a new paper that looks at the other end of the spectrum of Atlantic tropical cycles—“biggies” (our term)—intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. In a new paper, Andrew Hagen (University of Miami) and Chris Landsea (National Hurricane Center) conclude that changing observational practices have resulted in more Cat 4&5 hurricanes being identified in recent decades compared to past ones. Again, the increase is not due to a changing climate but changing detection technologies.

Whether talking about the total number of tropical cyclones (which is increasing because of detection technology) or their intensity (which is increasing because of detection technology) only a person unaware of this important research would say that there has been a climate-related trend.

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November 16, 2011

Atlantic Hurricanes: Fewer, Worse…Less Menacing?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Judging by the number of posts to date in each of our “Categories” (listed in the right-hand sidebar), it seems that, as far as individual categories go, we’ve treated you to more articles on “Hurricanes” than on anything else besides “Climate Politics”—and that’s saying a lot! And while we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the observational record of hurricanes and what it reveals (namely how weak the relationship is between global warming and hurricane characteristics), as well as projections as to what the future may hold in store for hurricane frequency (declines) and intensity (slight increases), we’ve haven’t really talked much about potential changes to the preferred hurricane tracks that may evolve under “global warming.” So, here, we’ll set out to change that.

To do so, we’ll highlight a couple of new articles by scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (a less-visible part of the National Hurricane Center where an awful lot of hurricane research takes place) that suggests that global warming may alter the environment in the Atlantic Ocean basin in such a way as to steer hurricanes away from the U.S. coastline. So while they may get stronger, they would become less of a threat to our coastal communities.

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October 17, 2011

No Change in Storminess

As we enter the winter season, we all realize that if a large snow storm forms anywhere on the planet, someone will immediately appear and claim we are witnessing the effect of global warming. However, winter storms (aka extratropical cyclones) are tough to sell to the public given the images of cold, snow, wind, and misery at the low end of the temperature scale. So if winter storms are a hard sell, hurricanes (aka tropical cyclones) are nothing short of ideal – warm water, heavy rain, wind, and misery in already warm parts of the world.

But, it turns out that in either case, new research reported in the scientific literature finds little in the way of changes that are unusual in today’s climate of “global warming.”

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August 19, 2011

Western Pacific Hurricanes Declining?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

As we move further into hurricane season, we remind you that hardly a week goes by without another article appearing in a major journal on the topic of climate change and hurricane activity. We have covered many of these articles in the past, but another three articles appeared recently in the scientific literature that we found especially interesting.

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July 8, 2011

SEX! SEX! SEX!*

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

[* This title recycles an item from World Climate Report from November, 1995 (yes, we have been at this for a while). To wit:

“In an article intended to raise public consciousness about the threat of global warming, environmental writer Bill McKibben mentioned reports that, in northern Russia, “venomous snakes had appeared for the first time…” Well, venomous snakes will certainly get people’s attention. (This is reminiscent of the old college poster ploy—SEX SEX SEX! Now that I have your attention, my Western Civ textbook is for sale.)

Much to our dismay, McKibben never did expand on the global warming/snake connection…”]

Back in the end of May, we ran a piece titled “No Long-term Trend in Atlantic Hurricane Numbers” that described the results of research conducted by a team of researchers made up of Gabriele Villarini, Gabriel Vecchi, Thomas Knutson, and James Smith. The Villarini gang examined the observed Atlantic hurricane record and determined that the apparent upward trend in the annual number of hurricanes observed between 1878 and 2008 was being driven by an increase over time in the number of “shorties”—that is, hurricanes which lasted two or fewer days in duration. And, they determined that the increasing number of shorties was an artifact of the changing observational systems that had been in place over the years, rather than an actual secular change in the true number of events. In other words, after accounting for changes in observing practices and technologies, there was no long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers (a result that is hard to blame global warming).

That finding was just another in a long string of similar papers that had been published in the scientific literature in recent years and covered here at World Climate Report on the topic of global warming and tropical cyclones.

Now, yet another paper has come to our attention that concludes that there has been no long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers. Since readers may simply skip over our summary of this new paper, with a “yeah, yeah, I know that already” if we titled our piece something like “No Long-term Trend in Atlantic Hurricane Numbers—Even More Evidence”, we decided to spiced up the title a bit to try to grab your attention. If you’ve read this far, it must have worked, and we should apologize for the content to come—there is nothing sexy involved, just more evidence, as you may have guessed by now, that there has not been a long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers. Sorry.

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May 26, 2011

No Long-term Trend in Atlantic Hurricane Numbers

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Long-debated has been whether or not there is a long-term trend in the number of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.

The answer to this seemingly straightforward question turns out to be complicated because there have been changes in the observing practices over time—including changes in the spatial coverage of observing systems as well as the technologies employed. Therefore, teasing out the real climate signal from the noise induced by the changing nature of the observations has proved challenging and lends itself to a variety of methodologies producing a variety of results.

Of top of this less than perfect solution is the desire (for some at least) to want to try to involve anthropogenic global warming, hoping to find that anthropogenic climate change is leading to more tropical storms and hurricanes. But thus far, the evidence for this is scant, to say the least.

And now, it just got scanter. (We know the word is “scantier” but the one we concocted rhymes with our pugilistic friend in climate hyperbole, Ben Santer).

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October 14, 2010

No Trend in Global Hurricane Activity

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

How much evidence will it take to quiet the claim that hurricanes are increasing in frequency due to global warming?

Global Warming crusaders are particularly fond of promoting the idea that we are having a profound impact on hurricane activity—they seem to never let an event go unclaimed. At World Climate Report (WCR), we have reviewed dozens of papers from the leading scientific journals presenting scant evidence to support a strong link between global warming and hurricane activity, and we hope you never get bored with these essays.

The literature never sleeps, and yet another major article has appeared recently in a leading journal with results well-suited for our never-ending review of this subject.

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March 30, 2010

Southern Hemisphere Hurricanes – Not Changing?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Have you heard of all the hurricane activity going on right now in the Southern Hemisphere? We are moving into the hurricane season for the Southern Hemisphere, and if you haven’t heard much about it, the reason is that right now there is zero hurricane activity anywhere on the planet. Of course, there will be a hurricane in the Southern Hemisphere in the coming weeks, and some reporter will immediately invoke global warming – this is our guaranteed prediction!

The latest research on trends in hurricanes in the Southern Hemisphere comes from a team of seven scientists from Australia’s National Climate Centre and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research. Kuleshov et al. begin with the usual proclamation that “Trends in tropical cyclone (TC) occurrences and intensity, and possible physical mechanisms for change, have been discussed widely in recent years.” That is an understatement – we at World Climate Report have posted no end of essays on the topic based on articles on the subject that seem to appear in the literature over and over. Kuleshov et al. review key articles suggesting a substantial increase in intense TC’s for the globe, the North Atlantic, and the northwest Pacific. However, they state “Other authors have rejected these findings, mainly on the basis of the argument that changes have been so great in observation technologies and analysis techniques that the reported changes are artificial, and not due to any actual trends.”

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January 27, 2010

Upward Trend in Hurricane Damage in China?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

A recent article has appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society regarding trends in tropical cyclone damages in China. The article was generated by three Chinese scientists from the China Meteorological Administration’s National Climate Center and Nanjing University’s Laboratory of Meteorological Disaster. The authors note that “This research was supported by Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China through the National Science and Technology Support Project and the National Natural Scientific Foundation of China.”

Let’s start with a key figure (Figure 1) in which Zhang et al. reveal an upward trend in damage from tropical cyclones (a.k.a., hurricanes, typhoons) over the 1983 to 2006. They note that “In addition to the heavy economic losses in individual years, the time series shown” “contains an upward trend over the past 24 yr, which is statistically significant at the 95% level. On average, the losses caused by landfalling tropical cyclones in China mainland increased by 1.19 billion yuans each year.” We could see this result spun several different ways. On one hand, we could write about how poor China is being ravaged by hurricanes fueled-up thanks to global warming. On the other hand, we could say, see, China is now the world leader in greenhouse gas emissions, and they are suffering the consequences. As we are about to see, there is a lot more to this story about increasing damages in China.


Figure 1. Estimated direct economic losses caused by landfalling tropical cyclones in billion yuans (thin, inflation adjusted to 2006) and the corresponding 5-yr running mean (thick) (from Zhang et al., 2009).

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