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‘Alarmism enforcement’ on hurricanes and global warming

Posted on September 7, 2019 by curryja | 104 Comments

by Judith Curry

I used to be concerned about ‘consensus enforcement’ on the topic of climate change.  Now I am concerned about ‘alarmism enforcement.’

Ever since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, any hurricane causing catastrophic damage has been seized upon  by climate alarmists as evidence of the horrors of global warming.

As if the record-holding hurricanes from the 1920’s through the 1950’s never happened.

The catastrophic damage to the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian is no different.  The ‘official’ statement from the alarmist contingent of climate scientists appears to be this article in the Guardian, by Mann and Dessler:

Unfortunately for the alarmists, there are several factors that are getting in the way of the public promotion of the Mann/Dessler narrative:

Alabama-gate:  President Trump’s insistence on defending his erroneous statements about the forecasts for Dorian impacting Alabama.  A good article summarizing all this was coauthored by one of my former students at Georgia Tech, Brandon Miller [link].

After the Alabama National Weather Service office made a statement that Alabama was not at risk from Dorian, NOAA issued a statement defending President Trump  [link].  A WaPo article describes this latest development [link], and the subsequent outrage among scientists and NOAA employees (past and present.

This whole situation is taking the oxygen out of the room in terms of discussions regarding Dorian and global warming.  Gotta wonder if this was the strategy?

New statement from GFDL:  For about a decade (or even longer), the NOAA GFDL group has annually updated their statement on hurricanes and climate change [link].

Michael Mann is not happy with the GFDL statement, see this twitter thread: (well you can see it if you aren’t blocked)

Well kudos to Mann for actually laying out his arguments for why he doesn’t like the GFDL statement. It’s fine, even good, for a  scientist to disagree with the consensus and to have an outlier perspective (I’ve been known to do the same).  The problem is when the dissenting scientist attempts to pass off his/her own perspective to the public as ‘truth’, and as if their own perspective represented a ‘consensus’ among other experts.

New assessment from the WMO: The other factor getting in the way of the Dorian alarmism is the recent publication of two papers by a distinguished international group of scientists who serve on the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Task Team on Tropical Cyclones:

These two papers are discussed in the following section of this post.  The punchline is that these papers do not support the narrative of the Mann/Dessler piece with any kind of confidence.

GFDL scientists Tom Knutson is first author on both of the WMO papers, and also involved in preparing the GFDL statement.

The alarmist/activists are not happy:

In the old days, we had to rely on computer hackers (e.g. ClimateGate) and FOIA requests to provide insights into the back-channel thuggery of these activist climate scientists.  Now this  thuggish behavior has been normalized, and we can see it all on twitter (that is, if you aren’t blocked).

Possible unanticipated fallout from all this:  NOAA and GFDL will be discredited by the climate alarmists.

New publications from the WMO

The two new publications by Knutson et al. deserve further discussion.  Both papers have the same 11 authors. There are multiple authors from the U.S., but also China, Japan, India, Korea and Australia.  From the U.S., names you might recognize are Kerry Emanuel and Jim Kossin.  As I understand it, the whole issue of hurricanes and climate change is less politicized outside the U.S.

“The authors of this report include some former members of the expert team for the WMO 2010 assessment (Knutson et al. 2010) along with current membership of a WMO Task Team on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change. The Task Team members were invited to become members by the WMO World Weather Research Program’s Working Group on Tropical Meteorology Research.”

It is difficult to argue that the authors are anything but a very distinguished group  of hurricane scientists with expertise on the dynamics of hurricanes and climate change.

My recent post Extremes included a brief discussion of Part I:

<begin quote>

“In this assessment, we have focused on the question: Can an anthropogenic influence on TC activity be detected in past data? We explore this question from two perspectives: avoiding/reducing either Type I or Type II errors, since we presume that different audiences will have different preferences on which type of error should be avoided to a greater extent.

Using the conventional perspective of avoiding Type I error, the strongest case for a detectable change in TC activity is the observed poleward migration of the latitude of maximum intensity in  the northwest Pacific basin, with eight of 11 authors rating the observed change as low-to-medium confidence for detection (with one other author having medium and two other authors having medium-to-high confidence). A slight majority of authors (six of 11) had only low confidence that anthropogenic forcing had contributed to the poleward shift. The majority of the author team also had only low confidence that any other observed TC changes represented either detectable changes or attributable anthropogenic changes.

Regarding storm surge, our expectation is that a widespread worsening of total inundation levels during storms is occurring due to the global mean sea level rise associated with anthropogenic warming, assuming all other factors equal, although we note that no TC climate change signal has been convincingly detected in sea level extremes data. To date, there is not convincing evidence of a detectable anthropogenic influence on hurricane precipitation rates, in contrast to the case for extreme precipitation in general, where some anthropogenic influence has been detected.

The relatively low confidence in TC change detection results from several factors, including: observational limitations, the smallness of the expected human-caused change (signal) relative to the expected natural variability (noise), or the lack of confident estimates of the expected signal and noise levels.”

<end quote>

The Knutson et al. paper is distinguished by clearly explaining the evidence and and arguments that the individual scientists are considering, and discussing the nature and reasons for disagreement among the scientists.

Overall, I give this paper an A for accurately portraying the current state of knowledge and level of (dis)agreement among experts on the topic of hurricanes and climate change.

Part I lays out the role of physically-based speculation (in context of avoiding Type II errors of underestimation).  I agree that this is an important thing for scientists to do (I laid out my arguments in my recent Worst case blog post).  Such speculation can stimulate further research.  The problem is when a scientist attempts to pass off their speculations to the public as being ‘fact’ or having support of a ‘consensus.’

Compare the WMO papers with statements made by Mann and Dessler in the Dorian article.  No wonder they are upset. By the way, I don’t think any atmospheric or climate scientists would regard either Mann or Dessler as experts on hurricanes.

Apparently ‘consensus’ surrounding hurricanes and climate change has become the enemy of the activist scientist ‘alarmism enforcers.’

The bottom line is that there is much about hurricanes and climate change that we flat out don’t know, with any significant level of confidence.

JC’s Special Report on Hurricanes and Climate Change

I suppose it deserves its own blog post, but around the time of my recent Congressional Testimony, I made available my Special Report on Hurricanes and Climate Change, which followed a series of blog posts on the same topic.  I recently updated the Report to include the 2 WMO papers plus a few others.

From the twitter thread (summary) I prepared for this Report:

Every damaging hurricane is now greeted with alarm about manmade global warming. If you are concerned and/or confused, my new Report can help you understand the evidence.

My Report is not inconsistent with any of the recent assessment reports on hurricanes and climate change.  

This Report is distinguished from recent assessments of hurricanes and climate change by the following:

  • a focus on hurricane aspects that contribute to landfall impacts
  • an emphasis on geologic evidence and interpretation of natural variability
  • an approach to ‘detection and attribution’ that does not rely on global climate models
  • a perspective on future projections that that accounts for uncertainties in climate models and also includes natural climate variability
  • a longer format that allows for more in depth explanation suitable for a non-expert audience.

1. There is low confidence in any detection of a change in hurricanes caused by global warming, owing to observational limitations, natural variability, and uncertainty in the size and nature of the expected signal.

2. Any recent signal of increased hurricane activity has not risen above the background variability of natural climate variations.

3. The primary driver for increased economic losses from landfalling hurricanes is the massive population buildup along coastlines.

4. There is low confidence in projections of future changes to hurricane activity. Projected change in hurricane activity is expected to be small relative to the magnitude of natural variability in hurricane activity.

However there are several elements of this Report that present a different and broader perspective from what has been covered in the WMO papers.  In any event, I have made every effort to present my views in context of a range of other perspectives, and highlight areas of disagreement and uncertain knowledge.

This Report is in the nature of a Working Paper; I look forward to your feedback and will revise in the future as warranted.

JC message to the ‘alarmism enforcers’

Well there’s probably a better chance of President Trump listening to me than there is of the climate scientists who are alarmism enforcers listening to me, but here goes anyways.

Your behavior is violating the norms of science, and in my opinion is unethical:

  • failure to acknowledge uncertainty and low levels of confidence in much of the research surrounding hurricanes and climate change.
  • cherry picking research that supports your personal narrative of alarm, without acknowledging disagreement among scientists and other research and assessment reports that do not support your  narrative of alarm.
  • misleading the public and policy makers as a result of the above two practices
  • and last but not least, bullying other respected scientists who have different perspectives on evaluating the evidence.

The above is what happens when scientists become political activists. I hope I am not seeing signs of GFDL’s Tom Knutson becoming the latest bullying victim of these activist scientists.

Scientists are gonna do what scientists are gonna do.  Short of plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification, it seems no one cares what they do.  What astonishes me is that there is no pushback from their universities and professional societies on this unethical behavior.  Instead these activists are actually rewarded by the universities and professional societies.

The damage that these activist scientists are doing to climate science and the public debate on climate change is incalculable.