Har­vey leaves path of ma­jor health con­cerns

Storm blamed on cli­mate but some sci­en­tists say not so fast

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Be­fore Har­vey, it had been a record 12 years since a ma­jor hur­ri­cane made land­fall in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped the cli­mate change move­ment from blam­ing the Cat­e­gory 4 storm on global warm­ing.

A tor­rent of claims link­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey to cli­mate change sur­faced af­ter the storm hit Cor­pus Christi, Texas, bring­ing cat­a­strophic flood­ing and an un­prece­dented 50 inches of rain as the sys­tem stalled over the Hous­ton area.

“Har­vey is what cli­mate change looks like,” me­te­o­rol­o­gist and cli­mate ac­tivist Eric Holthaus de­clared in Politico magazine.

Cli­mate Re­al­ity Project, founded by for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, ar­gued that “cli­mate change makes hur­ri­canes more dev­as­tat­ing,” while 350.org called the storm “an un­nat­u­ral dis­as­ter” and “the prod­uct of both a hot­ter planet and this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate de­nial, racism and cal­lous­ness.”

“[W]e can’t say that Hur­ri­cane Har­vey was caused by cli­mate change. But it was cer­tainly wors­ened by it,” Michael E. Mann, Penn State pro­fes­sor of at­mo­spheric science, said in an op-ed head­lined “It’s a fact: cli­mate change made Hur­ri­cane Har­vey more deadly.”

Beg­ging to dif­fer was Ju­dith Curry, a cli­ma­tol­o­gist and re­cently re­tired Ge­or­gia Tech pro­fes­sor, who cited data show­ing Har­vey tied for 14th among strong­est U.S. hur­ri­canes since 1851 as ranked by pres­sure, along with storms from 1989 and 1954.

“Any­one blam­ing Har­vey on global warm­ing doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Ms. Curry said on her Cli­mate Etc. blog.

Roger Pielke Jr., a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado Cen­ter for Science & Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy Re­search, pointed out that there were 14 U.S. land­falls of Cat­e­gory 4 or greater hur­ri­canes — Cat­e­gory 5 is the high­est — from 1926 to 1969, but only four from 1970 to 2017.

A spe­cial­ist on ex­treme weather, Mr. Pielke said just four hur­ri­canes of any size made land­fall dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for an av­er­age of 0.5 per year, the fewest of any pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion dat­ing back to 1901.

The num­ber was small de­spite ris­ing green­house gas emis­sions in the at­mos­phere. Why? Mr. Obama was lucky, Mr. Pielke said.

“There is no rea­son to be de­bat­ing Har­vey and cli­mate change in the con­text of an un­fold­ing dis­as­ter, other than po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism and at­ten­tion seek­ing,” Mr. Pielke said in a state­ment. “It’s not a good look for sci­en­tists or jour­nal­ists who are pro­mot­ing this is­sue.”

Assess­ments by the U.N. In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change and oth­ers “are quite clear on this sub­ject and one storm doesn’t change that. A bet­ter fo­cus in the short term is on those with ex­per­tise in dis­as­ter re­sponse and re­cov­ery. The politi­cized de­bate over cli­mate change can wait,” Mr. Pielke said. Not ev­ery­one took his ad­vice. “As the in­un­da­tion of Hous­ton and other parts of the Texas Coast reached cat­a­clysmic, prob­a­bly un­prece­dented lev­els, it was clear that cli­mate change played a role in wors­en­ing the storm,” In­sid­eCli­mate News said in an ar­ti­cle.

San Fran­cisco bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer, founder of Nex­tGen Cli­mate, said on Twit­ter that hu­mans “must stop adding to the dam­age.”

What’s inconvenient for the cli­mate change move­ment is that Har­vey broke up a 142-month hur­ri­cane drought, which was the long­est pe­riod with­out a ma­jor hur­ri­cane hit­ting the con­ti­nen­tal United States since the 96 months from Septem­ber 1860 to Au­gust 1869, CNSNews re­ported.

Penn State’s Mr. Mann, a leader of the cli­mate “con­sen­sus” camp, ar­gued that ris­ing sea lev­els and sur­face tem­per­a­tures cre­ate more mois­ture in the at­mos­phere, which “cre­ates the po­ten­tial for much greater rain­falls and greater flood­ing.”

An ‘un­prece­dented’ event

“Har­vey was al­most cer­tainly more in­tense that it would have been in the ab­sence of hu­man-caused warm­ing, which means stronger winds, more wind dam­age and a larger storm surge,” Mr. Mann said in the [U.K.] Guardian.

Roy W. Spencer, prin­ci­pal re­search sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama in Huntsville, dis­agreed, say­ing he plot­ted the sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures of all ma­jor Cat­e­gory 3 strikes in Texas since 1870 and found that “ma­jor hur­ri­canes don’t re­ally care whether the Gulf is above av­er­age or be­low av­er­age in tem­per­a­ture.”

He also chal­lenged Mr. Mann’s as­ser­tion that global warm­ing may ex­plain why the storm stalled over South­east Texas, pro­duc­ing record rain­fall.

“This pat­tern, in turn, is as­so­ci­ated with a greatly ex­panded sub­trop­i­cal high­pres­sure sys­tem over much of the U.S. at the mo­ment, with the jet stream pushed well to the north,” Mr. Mann said. “This pat­tern of sub­trop­i­cal ex­pan­sion is pre­dicted in model sim­u­la­tions of hu­man­caused cli­mate change.”

Not so, said Mr. Spencer, who ex­plained: “We didn’t have a warm Au­gust in the U.S. push­ing the jet stream farther north.”

“The flood­ing dis­as­ter in Hous­ton is the chance oc­cur­rence of sev­eral fac­tors which can be ex­plained nat­u­rally, with­out hav­ing to in­voke hu­man-caused cli­mate change,” Mr. Spencer said on his Global Warm­ing blog.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice re­ported that Har­vey had pro­duced more than 50 inches of rain in Cedar Bayou, Texas, sur­pass­ing the mea­sured sin­gle-storm rain­fall record for the con­ti­nen­tal United States.

Then again, said Mr. Spencer, if the sys­tem had been mov­ing a lit­tle faster, it would have dis­persed the rain­fall over a wider area and missed the record de­spite pro­duc­ing the same amount of pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

“There is no as­pect of global warm­ing the­ory that says rain sys­tems are go­ing to be mov­ing slower, as we are see­ing in Texas,” Mr. Spencer said. “This is just the luck of the draw.”

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice fu­eled the po­lit­i­cal de­bate with a tweet: “This is un­prece­dented & all im­pacts are un­known & be­yond any­thing ex­pe­ri­enced.”

That may well turn out to be the case in terms of prop­erty dam­age and the size of the pop­u­la­tion af­fected — Hous­ton is the fourth-largest city in the na­tion with 2.3 mil­lion — but it “won’t be be­cause this was an un­prece­dented me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal event,” said Mr. Spencer.

“‘Un­prece­dented’ doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean it rep­re­sents a new nor­mal,” Mr. Spencer said. “It can just be a rare com­bi­na­tion of events.”

He noted that there were so many strong U.S. hur­ri­canes in 2005, in­clud­ing the Cat­e­gory 5 Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, that the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter ran out of names for the trop­i­cal storms. Then came the 12-year drought of ma­jor hur­ri­canes.

“Weird stuff hap­pens,” Mr. Spencer con­cluded.

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