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Hurricanes and Climate Reconsidered:

The Houston Chronicle reports that a leading scientific expert on a potential link between hurricane activity and global warming may be reconsidering his views in light of subsequent research.

The hurricane expert, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, unveiled a novel technique for predicting future hurricane activity this week. The new work suggests that, even in a dramatically warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity may not substantially rise during the next two centuries.

The research, appearing in the March issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is all the more remarkable coming from Emanuel, a highly visible leader in his field and long an ardent proponent of a link between global warming and much stronger hurricanes. . .

"The results surprised me," Emanuel said of his work, adding that global warming may still play a role in raising the intensity of hurricanes. What that role is, however, remains far from certain.

(Hat tip: Prometheus)

I will be curious to see how Chris Mooney responds to this news. I greatly enjoyed his book on climate and hurriances, Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming, but he is more convinced there is a demonstrable warming-hurricane link than I have been.

loki13 (mail):
The scientific process at work.

Hypothesis- global warming (specifically, increased ocean temperatures) leads to increased severity (intensity/number) of hurricanes.

Initial research supports the idea.
Further research does not.

And here come the crazies in the comments.
4.15.2008 9:21am
Prufrock765 (mail):

The hurricane expert, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, unveiled a novel technique for predicting future hurricane activity this week.


I predict that there will be no hurricanes this week.
Can I get a job at MIT (or, at least, at the Houston Chronicle as a copy editor)?
4.15.2008 9:22am
FantasiaWHT:
In other news, tomorrow may be warmer or colder than it was today! All thanks to global warming.
4.15.2008 9:51am
dearieme:
"The results surprised me," Emanuel said of his work, adding that the Volokh Conspiracy may still play a role in raising the intensity of hurricanes. What that role is, however, remains far from certain.
4.15.2008 10:42am
The Shadow:
I don't see a link to the article.
4.15.2008 10:50am
Tom952 (mail):
Breaking News: Rogue scientist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was drawn and quartered this morning after uttering heretical statements concerning climate change. Pope Gore praised the action as a "necessary cleansing" and expressed his hope that it will lead to the end of dissent on the subject of global warming once and for all.
4.15.2008 11:03am
FantasiaWHT:
Loki, that's a fine breakdown of the scientific process.

My problem is that the political (and even worse, sometimes, judicial) processes tend to interject themselves in between the "initial research" and "further research" stages, and claim that early hypothesis as proven fact demanding certain types of action.
4.15.2008 11:06am
Houston Lawyer:
Hurricane experts have been saying for years that the "global warming experts" don't know anything about hurricane intensity and frequency. We had a couple of years of high hurricane frequency that culminated with Katrina and Rita. All the global warming folks assued us that the end was near and that we should repent and due pennance. Then the jet stream shifted or something and we had a couple of quiet years. People should stick to what they know.
4.15.2008 11:10am
jccamp:
As scientists gain ever more accuracy and detail in tropical storm data collection, they realize that storm-and-track prediction and demonstrating any relationship to warming are more difficult, not less, because the number of known variables has increased. Further, hindsight correlation of known data to storm results seem to confirm certain models, but then using the same models as future predictors has failed, which seems to argue that there are even more variables unknown and not considered. Or, the more storm researchers learn, they more they realize how little they know. Global warming from whatever cause would logically seem to influence hurricanes, but that link is unproven and, counterintuitively, models suggest it to be untrue in recent years.
See a NOAA report
http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/G3.html
So as not to disappoint re: 'crazies", it would seem that claims of a direct link between man-made global warming and tropical storms are, well, so much hot air.
4.15.2008 11:44am
Fub:
loki13 wrote at 4.15.2008 8:21am:
And here come the crazies in the comments.
You joke now. But if we don't change our ways, civilization will be destroyed and we won't even know it. Undetectable hurricanes are even worse than invisible cooties.
4.15.2008 11:51am
Paul B:
I never knew that journalists like Chris Mooney and lawyers like Professor Adler had the necessary educational background to express useful opinions about the relationship between increased greenhouse gases, climate change, and hurricane frequency and intensity. I'll bet Professor Emanuel wishes he hadn't wasted all that time with physics and math classes.
4.15.2008 11:55am
rarango (mail):
Paul B: you raise an interesting point that I have often thought about. My position would be that something posted on a blog remains largely an opinion, some of which may be a bit more informed than others; but, in general, I don't take anything posted on a blog as absolute truth or fact. If I want to be taken seriously by my peers then I could always publish in an appropriate journal; or present a paper in a conference. So I have no problem listening to the opinions of the conspirators; in often there is much to learn. However, a blog is never a substitute for journal articles.
4.15.2008 12:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
There's an interesting book, "A Wind to Shake The World", by a reporter who was almost exactly in the middle of the Hurricane of 1938, the "Long Island Express". I have been interested in that storm because my father was a few miles inland in Connecticut when it happened and has some amazing stories.
Based on substantial damage inland, nothing as bad has happened since.
What has happened is the huge increase in building and population in the most vulnerable areas. Consider that Katrina's damage was most concentrated where, by destroying already crumbling levees, previously stored energy (water) was released.
Whether AGW, GW, or the tooth fairy are to blame for increasing hurricane activity, decreasing hurricane activity, or unchanged hurricane activity, we need to separate the physical aspects of the storm from the damage caused to our society when we're trying to figure out what, if anything, is happening.

It is said that, several decades ago, the US tried to break up hurricanes by cloud seeding in the Caribbean. Since hurricanes carry huge amounts of heat energy out of the tropics, this left huge amounts of heat energy in the tropics which eventually built into superstorms invulnerable to cloud seeding. Nice story, a little too neat, but the idea of inadvertent results of disrupting a system ought to be prominent.
4.15.2008 12:14pm
AnonLawStudent:
For those interested the Chronicle article is here.

This is old news, really. If you have access to nature.com, do a search of the archives for "hurricane wind shear" (without quotes) between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2007, to get a flavor for the debate. The biggest points are that (i) based on proxy records, the 1980s appear to have been anomalously low in hurricanes, and (ii) the increased windshear caused by higher temperatures may actually reduce hurricane strength, i.e., there is a significant debate over which factor predominates.

The popular press hasn't been alone in ignoring this stuff. Nature itself never lets the published research in the back of the journal affect the content of its own editorials.
4.15.2008 12:44pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
I never knew that journalists like Chris Mooney and lawyers like Professor Adler had the necessary educational background to express useful opinions about the relationship between increased greenhouse gases, climate change, and hurricane frequency and intensity. I'll bet Professor Emanuel wishes he hadn't wasted all that time with physics and math classes.
Indeed, I don't get why the first thing Adler wants to know is what a journalist thinks. What I want to know is what other scientists think of Emmanuel's methodology. I hope he's right, since it suggests we're less screwed than we would otherwise be, even though it would play into the hands of the (now-ex-)denialists, who have neatly shifted from "the Earth isn't warming" to "the Earth is warming, but humans aren't causing it" to "humans are causing it, but we shouldn't do anything about it because it will cost too much".
4.15.2008 12:49pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
And I should admit that my last comment was unnecessarily tendentious and should have been omitted; apologies.
4.15.2008 12:55pm
Temp Guest (mail):
Unless Professor Emmanuel's latest model is highly stable when his (guestimated) parameter models are varied by small amounts, then the predictions of this model are no more or less valid than the predictions of previous models, i.e., they are not terribly useful. And, based on my limited knowledge in the field of computer simulations of non-linear dynamic systems, I feel safe in asserting that his current model is not stable in this way. Climatological modeling has a long way to go before it can be regarded as any more than a qualitative science.
4.15.2008 12:58pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Tto clarify, I still agree with the bit about being surprised Adler wants a journalist's opinion rather than actual scientists' opinions, and that I hope Emmanuel is right. The inappropriate remark was the one about "denialists", which I hereby retract.
4.15.2008 12:58pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Hurricane experts have been saying for years that the "global warming experts" don't know anything about hurricane intensity and frequency. We had a couple of years of high hurricane frequency that culminated with Katrina and Rita. All the global warming folks assued us that the end was near and that we should repent and due pennance.
Plus we know Katrina can't have been due to global warming, since it was the result of the wrath of God for the Iraq war, support for Israel, homosexuality, abortion, and not spending enough on welfare.
4.15.2008 1:08pm
x (mail):
(denialists)who have neatly shifted from "the Earth isn't warming" to "the Earth is warming, but humans aren't causing it" to "humans are causing it, but we shouldn't do anything about it because it will cost too much".

Sort of like the way "alarmists" have shifted from 'anthropogenic global warming' to 'global warming' to 'climate change' to 'climate crisis'?
4.15.2008 2:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I have seen some "denialists" admit we're coming out of The Little Ice Age. Nothing more.
It is true that Bjorn Bjork has made the case that preparing for the results of global warming will be infinitely less expensive than trying and likely failing to prevent it.
Problem with that approach is the state doesn't get to order around its subjects' lives, presuming those subjects don't live on Martha's Vineyard or at Hyannis or someplace.
4.15.2008 3:05pm
Stu (mail):
OK, so there WON'T be a change in the number and intensity of hurricanes for another 200 years due to global warming - a leading scientist used a different model and changed his mind about it. It must be true, then, . . . or maybe not.

But DEFINITELY we'll be resorting to cannibalism because Ted Turner says so. After all, they predicted snow flurries for yesterday in Detroit and lo and behold - there were snow flurries!

So now they have it down pat and can predict the next century's weather.

Or maybe we'll all be vegetarians and blame global warming on cow manure.
4.15.2008 3:10pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Stu. If we're all vegging it, the cows would be competition. They're...um...toast. Something.
4.15.2008 3:29pm
Fred the Fourth (mail):
Anon Law Student wrote:
"Nature itself never lets the published research in the back of the journal affect the content of its own editorials."
... and I naturally misread this to be a clever reminder about the reality of nature (the mother, not the journal).

Reminds me of somebody-or-other's Law of Biological Experimentation: "In any given set of controlled conditions, the experimental animal will do as it damn well pleases."
4.15.2008 6:15pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Sort of like the way "alarmists" have shifted from 'anthropogenic global warming' to 'global warming' to 'climate change' to 'climate crisis'?


Um, it was NOT "alarmists", but a deliberate PR campaign by Republicans
on behalf of fossil fuel interests, spearheaded by Frank Luntz, that did that.
4.16.2008 12:33am
TokyoTom (mail):
By the way, Emanuel's article is here.

Emanuel stays with his position that in a warming world we are likely to see more intense hurricanes (and power dissipation), and basically concludes that the results of his efforts to forecast hurricanes out 200 years - indicating an increase in power dissipation 180 years from now (in a much warmer world) not much larger than what we have already seen over the past 27 years - show that the regional hurricane models are still grossly inadequate:
It is noteworthy that simulated global tropical cyclone power dissipation increases by more than 60% in simulations driven by NCAR--NCEP reanalysis over the period of 1980--2006, consistent with deductions from best-track data, while global power dissipation increases somewhat more than that over the next 200 yr in simulations driven by climate models undergoing global warming. This suggests either that the greater part of the large global increase in power dissipation over the past 27 yr cannot be ascribed to global warming, or that there is some systematic deficiency in our technique or in global models that leads to the underprediction of the response of tropical cyclones to global warming.
I'm not sure wha't particularly exciting about that, for a skeptic or scientist of any stripe.
4.16.2008 1:40am