Where are the Hurricanes — 2013 Edition

When Sandy hit last year, the air was filled with dire predictions that this was just the start, and that global warming (which seems to have morphed into climate change, since although among the hottest on record, there has been no INcrease in global temperature in the past 16 years) was at it’s root.

So you can have it both ways — it’s hot, but it also isn’t getting warmer. [ Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 108 pp. 11790 – 11793 ’11 ] “Data for global surface temperature indicate little warming between 1998 and 2008. Furthermore, global surface temperature declined .2 C between 20005 and 2008.”

More to the point an article in Science 2 October ’09 pp. 28 – 29 (sorry I don’t have the volume number — it should be 326 if my calculations are right) noted this. The most interesting part was the response of the climate modelers, who reran their simulations 10 times for a total of 700 years, and found 17 episodes of stagnating temperature lasting a decade or more. The longest period of stagnation was 15 years, and I think we’re now at 16 years. The modelers would have had more credibility if they’d published this when their models first came out.

I’m not sure if they’ve run the models again to find periods of stasis longer than 15 years. They should.

Update 30 Aug ’13 — The hiatus in warming is quite real, and this week Nature published a paper online trying to figure out why this might be so. It has to do with La Nina. All very lovely, but this mechanism wasn’t contained in the model, so why should we trust it. Here’s the link — http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature12534.html The editorial [ Nature vol. 500 p. 501 ’13 ] says “Although a prolonged hiatus in warming does not necessarily contradict prevailing theory, this one came as a surprise” — I’ll say.

Which brings us to the current hurricane season. There haven’t been any, and none are in sight. Historically mid August to mid September is the time of greatest likelihood of hurricanes. The graph of hurricane likelihood peaks sharply here– see this link http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/tropical-atlantic-hurricanes-gulf/16915197. On 25 August we’re nearly at the top of the curve.

What we’ve had so far are a bunch of very piddling tropical storms. They are defined has having winds of from 39 to 73 miles an hour — more than that is a Hurricane. We’ve had 5 complete tropical storms — here are their durations in days — 2, 1, 3, 3, 2, and their peak winds 55, 40, 55, 50, 35, 40. Less than impressive. Not even close to hurricane force.

Fernand (tropical storm #6 was born today 25 August 5PM), and I doubt it will last long, as it’s about to make landfall in Mexico. (Update 26 August 8:30 AM — Fernand we hardly knew ye. Downgraded to a tropical depression presently — maximum winds 35 mph, barely over 12 hours after being upgraded from same. Just like a teenaged wrestler taking diuretics and dieting to make weight, the people deciding what is and what isn’t a tropical storm, will count Fernand as a tropical storm so their predictions will work out just the way they want.)

So we’ve had predictions of more frequent and more violent hurricanes, and of continued rises in global temperature — neither of which have happened (this year for hurricanes and the past 15 – 16 years for global temperature).

Let’s assume that we have no hurricanes at all this year, and a few more of the piddly tropical storms we’ve seen so far. They fit the definition, but are unimpressive. The average northeaster on the Jersey coast is worse. Also, if anyone knows, how long does the wind have to be above 38 miles an hour for something to be called a tropical storm? I can’t seem to find this anywhere.

A variety of responses are possible. The most scientific would be to re-evaluate the models, or run them for longer periods, to see just how likely such behavior actually is (e.g. could the models even predict it).

The absolute worst would be to explain the absence of the hurricanes by global warming. This would make global warming what Karl Popper called an unfalsifiable theory, something inherently not scientific. A theory that can explain everything, explains nothing. Ditto for a theory that makes an incorrect prediction, doubles back and predicts the opposite.

As Neils Bohr said “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

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