Extreme Weather Reporting

Sandy damaged the Northeast, but was not “unprecedented”

Sandy was a very damaging storm, with widespread winds and rain afflicting a large area seemingly unprepared to deal with it.  It was modest from a historical standpoint: there have been many larger hurricanes that have hit the US east coast and New England specifically, with larger storm surges, greater rain, more damage, many times more lives lost. The 1994 “Great Atlantic Hurricane” was a Category 3 at landfall (Sandy was barely a 1) and its impact was described this way (regarding the Jersey Shore):

The hurricane was infamous for the amount of damage it caused along the New Jersey coastline. The shore towns on Long Beach Island, as well as Barnegat, Atlantic City, Ocean City, and Cape May all suffered major damage. Long Beach Island and Barnegat Island both lost their causeways to the mainland in the storm effectively cutting them off from the rest of New Jersey. Additionally both islands lost hundreds of homes, in particular the Harvey Cedars section of Long Beach Island where many homes in the town were swept out to sea. In Atlantic City the hurricane’s storm surge forced water into the lobbies of many of the resorts famous hotels. The Atlantic City boardwalk suffered major damage along with the citys famous ocean piers. Both the famed Steel Pier and Heinz Pier were partially destroyed by the hurricane with only the Steel Pier getting rebuilt. Ocean City and Cape May also lost many homes in the storm with Ocean City’s boardwalk suffering significant damage. Larry Savadove devotes a whole chapter in his book Great Storms of the Jersey Shore to the hurricane and the imprint and lore it left on the Jersey Shore.

Note that there have been so many storms in this area (68 of them) that there’s a book devoted to them. But if we had the notion that Sandy was not unusual in this regard, we would lose the notion that this is “extreme” weather that “proves global warming is real!” as the progressive media breathlessly repeats.  Here’s a list of New Jersey storms.

Sandy is damaging the credibility of media and celebrities

Sandy is being hyped for all it’s worth, literally.  “The largest storm ever to hit the US!” the media cries. “The most expensive hurricane in history!” “A rare major storm hitting the East Coast.”  It is not any of those things.  It’s not a “superstorm,” it is a wide but otherwise minor just-barely hurricane, not even considered a tropical cyclone by the time it made landfall. It did lots of harm to the heavily populated and technology-dependent metropolitan areas of the northeast, but prior storms would have been more harmful yet had they happened to the same population and infrastructure.

Overall, hurricanes have been declining in recent years; there had been a seven-year gap with no major hurricanes hitting the US until this year, one of the longest gaps on record. This is to be expected; we’re on the waning side of the roughly 40-year hurricane cycle.  Many hyped-up reports were quick to note seven years ago that hurricanes were up since the 1970s. None ventured to suggest that this was true since the 1960s, though the general implication was up. If they can keep the catastrophe hype up until 2040 or so, hurricanes will increase again and they’ll be able to blame it on Global Warming.  (A few weeks ago, they were blaming the lack of storms on Global Warming.)

Counting Hurricanes and Costs

And now that we can see them by satellite, even if they never make landfall, our hurricane count (and letter/name count) is higher than decades ago. Probably the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever was in 1933, and the US was slammed many times in the 1920s (when New Orleans was flooded out) and the 1960s, dwarfing current storm patterns. Had we had the inflated infrastructure then, the dollar cost would have been much higher.

But there’s a different psychology to dollar costs now. Estimators of damages and of effects are encouraged to shoot as high as possible. The methodology keeps changing. Insurance companies can charge more premiums, governments can justify more taxes, and catastrophists of all sorts can point and say “See!  See! It cost more, so it must be the worst ever!” The $10 billion to $20 billion of damage estimated yesterday for Sandy was suddenly pumped up to “in excess of $50 billion” when they realized that they could factor in things such as the subway being out. 

By the time I typed the rest of this, the estimates being touted had gone to over $100 billion. This is a prize, for the catastrophists, and they want it badly.

And Sandy was responsible for the deaths of 72 people, they say.  (Interestingly, the deaths from traffic-related accidents blamed on Sandy was 26, during a period when traffic was sparse and the normal death toll would allegedly have been twice that, leading one pundit to ask “how many people did Sandy save?“)

Major Damage, but Not a Major Hurricane

Sandy caused lots of damage — but it was not one of the 68 “major hurricanes” that have hit the East Coast, ten major hurricanes hitting the eastern seaboard between 1954 and 1960. Why? Sandy wasn’t a major hurricane. Had it come ashore in Florida or the Gulf (or decades ago), it would have caused some brief disruption and then people would have gone on with their lives. It was barely a Category 1 when it hit (with some argument about even that), and dropped quickly to the status of a “post-tropical” storm.  Compare Sandy’s 75-miles-per-hour winds at landfall with the gusts of 180MPH that we’ve had in Florida, or 145MPH in New Jersey from past hurricanes.

The storm surge level, now “officially” 13.88 feet, has them excited.  This article discusses that issue, noting the coincidence of several factors that made Sandy a record for that spot. (The article does not mention the 30-foot storm surge from a hurricane that hit Newfoundland, much further north.)

The “New Normal”

Despite repeated references to “the new normal” being extreme weather, the new trend is toward milder weather, fewer tornadoes, and fewer hurricanes.  (And better crop growth — even with this year’s “horrific” moderate drought, US harvests were off only ten percent from all-time records, and the world harvest was down less than 3% from last year’s record-setting levels.)

Progressives shouted about how odd it was to have a hurricane in October, in the hurricane season.  They are confused about this, and perhaps don’t realize that the hurricane season extends for another four weeks yet (to November 30).  As it is, this year has been light compared to many in the past, with 1886 being a major example. That year, seven hurricanes, four of which were major, struck the United States. At least one of those had 135MPH winds.

An oddity: In this official record, all wind speeds have been removed between 1920 and 1980.  I haven’t dug into it.

Florida Hurricanes

I lived in Florida during the major hurricanes of the previous cycle peak in the 1960s . In the space of five years, we had Cleo, Dora, Hilda, Isabell, Betsy, Inez, Donna, Alma, Camille … many of which did substantial damage to Florida. Three of them were in the top 10 of strongest hurricanes to make US landfall since recording began, which includes 488 Florida hurricanes. Hurricane Donna hit Florida with 140 MPH winds, gusting to 180MPH, and went on to hit every state all the way to Maine. Cleo and Beulah clobbered us, and occasioned the Florida “hurricane parties” where bathtubs full of drinking water (likely to be the only water available for days) became giant beer coolers.

A 1926 hurricane (the Great Miami Hurricane) was estimated to have done half again the damage of Katrina (which has the record for greatest unadjusted-dollar damage). In other words, had it hit in 2005 instead of 1926, it would have done more than $150 billion in damage. That 150MPH Florida hurricane (with a bigger storm surge than Sandy) pretty much ended the Roaring 20s for that state, and Florida preceded the US into the Great Depression. Deadly flooding continued for weeks. The Great Miami Hurricane killed hundreds of people, left tens of thousands homeless, and the wreckage it caused propelled the creation of the nationwide system of building codes we have today. And it came a quarter-century after the Galveston Hurricane, which killed many times as many people as Katrina.

Global Cooling and Extreme Weather

But the 1960s series of hurricanes (at the peak of the hurricane cycle) came in rapid succession, causing much alarm. The “global cooling” of the 1960s, which would cause the first climate change conference to be put together in San  Diego by the CIA a few years later, seemed to be creating some extreme weather effects.

The CIA report from 1974 cites a litany of the extreme weather and damaged caused by global cooling, and describes the climate conference of scientists assembled to make predictions. Of course, global cooling, like global warming, turned out to be part of the normal cycle of ups and downs. Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by scientists and politicians and media of the time, and the new industry of “Coming Ice Age” books, subsequent events showed that the guesses were wrong.

The Politics of Sandy

Now we’re trying to make Sandy, a category 1 hurricane, into a “freakish superstorm” or “megastorm” or “Frankenstorm” for political reasons. And this is very political, with even unions getting involved in the process by apparently forcing non-union emergency workers to be turned away. They were evidently not pleasant about it.

Expect that Obama’s bypassing the rules will involve additional restrictions on what sort of rebuilding can be done, to match his new executive orders and favor his union cronies as usual.  The news media are featuring polls showing how high the approval rating is for President Obama’s handling of the Sandy crisis, as he spent a couple of hours between campaign stops appearing with NJ Governor Christy.  (They haven’t yet featured a poll on President Obama’s handling of the Benghazi crisis, with new revelations daily.)

It is crucial for the progressive establishment to make you believe that this storm is “extreme” — and that this recent “extreme” phenomenon is all because of catastrophic global warming. That it is the fault of humans and requires that we submit to the progressives’ ideas of what energy and products we are to be allowed to use.

Deception and Unemployment

The core of scientists, politicians, financiers and pundits behind this idea have no problem being deceitful, and some of them even admit the need for deceit. Early climate scientist (and thus convert from “coming ice age” to ” we’re all gonna fry”) Steven Schneider tried to put it delicately:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Schnieder (who passed away in 2010) complained that this quote often omitted the last sentence, which in his mind made it perfectly legitimate (hmm, there’s a word that needs more attention). But the last sentence seem to me simply “cover” and a way of being able to claim later “I didn’t actually advocate dishonesty!”  In other words, more dishonesty.

This week, David Roberts (writing in Grist) was more blunt:

If we respond to the moral imperative to raise public awareness and alarm about climate, we have to be deceptive.

In the context of this quote, he’s complaining about being forced to do this because the media is so biased in favor of skeptics.  Really.

Update: I’ve just heard a media pundit trying to explain the rise of unemployment figures as being “because of Hurricane Sandy.”  This is false. Published earlier today by the acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Before discussing the details of this month’s report, I would note that Hurricane Sandy had no discernible effect on the employment and unemployment data for October. Household survey data collection was completed before the storm struck the East Coast, and establishment survey data collection rates were within the normal ranges nationally and for the affected areas.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle