Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Can You Do Simple Algebra?


      Contrary to James K. Glassman, we don't have reason to believe the number and intensity of hurricanes is decreasing.

At Length:

      Are we having more hurricanes?  Uhm, more than what, kemosabe?

      Over at Tech Central, James K. Glassman claims:
      Giant hurricanes are rare, but they are not new.  And they are not increasing.  To the contrary.  Just go to the website of the National Hurricane Center and check out a table that lists hurricanes by category and decade.  The peak for major hurricanes (categories 3,4,5) came in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when such storms averaged 9 per decade.  In the 1960s, there were 6 such storms; in the 1970s, 4; in the 1980s, 5; in the 1990s, 5; and for 2001-04, there were 3.  Category 4 and 5 storms were also more prevalent in the past than they are now.  As for Category 5 storms, there have been only three since the 1850s: in the decades of the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s.

      But that doesn't stop an enviro-predator like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from writing on the Huffingtonpost website: "Now we are all learning what it's like to reap the whirlwind of fossil fuel dependence which Barbour and his cronies have encouraged.  Our destructive addiction has given us a catastrophic war in the Middle East and - now -- Katrina is giving our nation a glimpse of the climate chaos we are bequeathing our children."

      Or consider Jurgen Tritten, Germany's environmental minister, in an op-ed in the Frankfurter Rundschau.  He wrote (according to a translation prepared for me): "By neglecting environmental protection, America's president shuts his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes like Katrina inflect on his country and the world's economy."

      The bright side of Katrina, concludes Tritten, is that it will force President Bush to face facts.  "When reason finally pays a visit to climate-polluter headquarters, the international community has to be prepared to hand America a worked-out proposal for the future of international climate protection."

      He goes on, "There is only one possible route of action.  Greenhouse gases have to be radically reduced, and it has to happen worldwide."  In other words, thanks to Katrina, we'll finally get Kyoto enforced.  (He might start at home, by the way.  Europe is not anywhere close to reducing CO2 to Kyoto standards.  In fact, the U.S. is doing much better than many Kyoto ratifiers.)

      Ross Gelbspan, in a particularly egregious, almost giddy piece in the Boston Globe that was reprinted in the International Herald Tribune, wrote that the hurricane was "nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service Katrina, [but] its real name was global warming."  He also finds global warming responsible for droughts in the Midwest, strong winds in Scandinavia and heavy rain in Dubai.  The reason for all this devastation, of course, is that the Bush Administration is controlled by coal and oil interests.

      OK, here's the table he mentioned, along with some additional rows added by me, the column headers duplicated at the bottom, and really weird spacing added by Blogger.  Keep scrolling down, you will find the table eventually.

Number of hurricanes by Saffir-Simpson Category to strike the mainland U.S. each decade.

DecadeSaffir-Simpson CategoryAll
Average Per Decade7.
Average Per Decade, 1851-1950 ONLY7.
Average Per Decade, "Worst" ONLY7.665.71.40.1420.97.9
Projected 2001-2010 by moi10552.5022.57.5
DecadeSaffir-Simpson CategoryAll

      Note: "Worst" is defined as the seven decades 1851-1860, 1871-1900, 1911-1920, and 1931-1950.

      Where did the rows I added come from?  Well, we have data for four out of ten years in the current decade.  Ten divided by four equals 2.5, so multiply the numbers in the 2001 through 2004 row by 2.5, and you get my 2001-2010 projection.  The 1851-1950 and "worst" period averages were created by tedious addition and division, using the data in the table.

      Looking at my projection, and comparing it to the averages for the entire period, it shows more category 1,2,3, and 4 hurricanes expected than the one hundred fifty four year average, and more hurricanes than most years in each category.  Now, these projections are soft, and the data is limited and shaky (For example, Andrew was recently reclassified as a category 5, rather than a 4).  It's quite possible that we're seeing a statistical fluctuation based on only four years data, and the trend will regress to the mean.  Still, based on the data we have, the projection is for more hurricanes than almost any decade in history.  The numbers aren't really much different than the "worst" periods, but they are as bad, and distinctly more scary than the last half of the twentieth century, or the average for 1851-1950.

      Why the sudden uptick in hurricanes (assuming it's for real), compared to 1951-2000?  Beats me.  Global warming is semi-plausible, when you remember that the temperature data showed a cooling trend from the fifties to the mid-seventies.  But global warming doesn't explain the last half of the 19th century.  In any case, the Kyoto treaty is not the answer for global warming (it will prevent prosperity, though; gotta keep the peasants in their place, which is poverty).  As Glassman notes in the article, there's a good scientific argument that the last few years are just a normal cycle.

      Still, from 1951-2000, the hurricane trends were distinctly down, in totals and intensity.  Now, they seem to have reversed (emphasis on "seem").  Whatever the reason for the apparent increase in hurricane numbers and intensity, there is a legitimate concern.  Glassman's argument is, basically, 'Regard the last half of the twentieth century as the expected norm, and ignore the recent data.'  We don't know if that's valid.  And Glassman, by looking at only some of the data, is guilty of the same kinds of distortions he rightly indicts others for.



  • What you argue is fair..to a point. And it is well written. And you might be right.

    But isn't your conclusion and real critism of Glassman predicated upon things that haven't happened yet - i.e., your projections. I agree with your math. I don't agree that you can extrapolate this stuff and have a meaningful discussion.

    Point to Glassman.

    By Blogger Silence Dogood, at 11:55 AM  

  •       My criticism of Glassman is that he's ignoring the evidence that supports the idea of hurricanes getting worse, and concentrating on the evidence of the situation getting better.

          Intellectual honesty requires that you look at all the evidence.  As I said, it's squishy, but what there is suggests a worsening hurricane situation.

          The 'Don't worry, nothing bad will happen' attitude is most of how we got into the mess in N.O. in the first place!

    The Sauds Must Be Destroyed!

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 5:36 PM  

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