• Judith Curry

CFAN’s President on hurricanes and climate change

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have reignited the public debate on hurricanes and global warming. But was there anything unusual about these extreme weather events? And can we detect a human influence on these storms?

In a recent interview with the Global Warming Policy Foundation, President of Climate Forecast Applications Network Judith Curry provides an in depth analysis of what science can tell us about changes in hurricanes. A video of the interview is provided [here]

Were the 2017 hurricanes particularly unusual?

Curry says: “These aren’t particularly unusual as far as hurricanes go. They’re top-20 kind of storms, but they’re not record-breaking in any way, apart from the overall rainfall from Harvey, which was really more of a fluke from the weather situation that allowed the storm to sit in one place for a very long time. There is nothing particularly unusual about this hurricane season or about Harvey or Irma. The US had incredibly lucky run of 12 years without a major landfall during this active phase of the Atlantic hurricane cycle. So we were incredibly lucky. Our luck has now broke. But you know, it’s totally expected.”

Is there any evidence of an overall increase in tropical cyclone activity?

Curry states: “Well we only have good satellite data back to maybe 1980. We have some satellite date going back to 1970. But it’s of lesser quality. So we don’t have long global records. But in the Atlantic, we have pretty good historical records, at least for the land-falling hurricanes — not necessarily for the total number in the basins. So, for the satellite record globally, there’s no trend in the numbers or accumulated cyclone energy.

Are warmer sea surface temperatures causing hurricanes to become more intense?

Curry says: “Sea surface temperature is only one ingredient for hurricane development and intensification, and it doesn’t just seem to be absolute sea surface temperature, either. So it’s more relative sea surface temperatures and the overall dynamics of the atmosphere that are arguably the key ingredients – not just absolute sea surface temperature itself. I mean you can go back and there were really strong hurricanes in the nineteenth century for example, where surface temperatures were significantly cooler. And there were some horrendous hurricanes in the Atlantic in the early part of the twentieth century, when sea surface temperatures were noticeably cooler.”

Claims that the effects of climate change can be seen in hurricanes are premature given the high degree of natural variability in these events.

Curry concludes: “In terms of trying to figure out how to manage extreme events and reduce our vulnerability, what’s causing it is almost a secondary concern. I mean, we’re not preparing for the evens we have now, or the events we have seen in the 20th century, let alone the events we might see in the later part of the 21st century.”

Disaster resilience and preparedness are the best policies against hurricanes, regardless of the influence of carbon dioxide or climate change.

About CFAN

Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN) develops innovative forecast tools that give longer and more accurate warnings of extreme weather events, so clients can better prepare and recover. CFAN’s staff applies the latest research to a wide range of customer challenges, helping businesses and government around the world. Our advanced prediction tools provide clients with the confidence to make complex and difficult decisions about weather risks.

CFAN was founded in 2006 by Judith Curry and Peter Webster and launched under the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s VentureLab program at Georgia Tech. Its research has been assisted by grants from NOAA, NASA, and the Department of Energy.

Contact Information

Dr. Judith Curry, President (404) 803-2012

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