August 29th, 2017

Harvey and anthropogenic climate change

AGW is the gift that keeps on giving. Its supposed effects are protean enough that almost anything can be blamed on it. Both its adherents and its critics are often tremendously fervent, and I’m not going to go into that argument right now.

But when a scientist says that any particular weather event (such as Harvey) is caused or worsened by global warning, beware. Because each weather event is a single data point that cannot be pinned on a theory such as AGW, even if AGW is true in a more general sense.

In other words, scientists know that weather and climate are different. The former gets our temporary attention (and can be exploited for political purposes), but it’s the latter that has more impact in the end.

I would be highly suspicious of any scientist who tries to talk about Harvey and relate that particular storm to climate change in general. That sort of talk is basically propaganda, but of course that doesn’t mean we’re not going to hear it even from some scientists. So of course you’re going to get this sort of article at Politico, entitled “Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like: It’s time to open our eyes and prepare for the world that’s coming”:

Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.

While Harvey’s rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn’t just a Houston problem. This is happening all over.

Sounds convincing, right? But wait a minute:

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann said Sunday that, while global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey, it surely “worsened” the effects of the storm through higher sea levels and increased atmospheric moisture.

Mann’s explanation, however, goes against the prevailing evidence of global warming’s measured impacts on storms. Many climate scientists have been careful not to tie individual weather events to manmade warming.

“I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear people blaming Harvey on global warming,” climate scientist Judith Curry wrote in a recent blog post. “How unusual was Harvey? Well, it will definitely be in the record books for ending the 12 year drought of major hurricanes striking the U.S.”

“Anyone blaming Harvey on global warming doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Curry wrote.

What’s a poor layperson to do?

This poor layperson has been very impressed by the writings of Curry, as I previously mentioned. She’s my basic go-to person on the subject, one of the very few who doesn’t seem to have an agenda but who goes wherever her devotion to facts and truth might lead her. Here’s an example of something she wrote a couple of weeks ago:

Sea level rise is the central issue for both cases. Jim Hansen states:

A reasonably stable seashore, our nation’s Founders would agree, is an asset that should not be stolen from young people.

Well, good luck with that one. Sea level has been overall rising since the last ice age, with some ups and downs. Sea level has been rising for the past 200 years. The rate of sea level rise during the period ~1925-1960 is as large as the rate of sea level rise the past few decades. Human emissions of CO2 became large after 1950; humans don’t seem to be to blame for the early 20th century sea level rise, nor for the sea level rise in the 19th and late 18th centuries. Humans are not going to stop sea level rise on the time scale of a few centuries by ceasing emissions of CO2…

We need to learn to live with continuing and possibly accelerating sea level rise. The solutions lie in land use policy and engineering/technology.

If you want to read more of Curry’s sensible approach to the question, read the whole thing and follow the links there. I also suggest regular visits to her blog.

32 Responses to “Harvey and anthropogenic climate change”

  1. Frog Says:

    “Should not be stolen from young people.” Typical Alinsky. Next Alinsky question: Who does the ‘stealing’? Who is responsible? It’s dem damn capitalists and deniers.

  2. Mr. Frank Says:

    Right after Katrina the global warming crowd warned we were in for an increase in intensity and frequency of hurricanes in the Gulf. What followed is a 12 year period of no hurricanes.

  3. Griffin Says:

    AGW is the king of all the left wing religions. It fits virtually everything they love from virtuous sermonizing to unblinking fealty to supposed ‘science’ to unyielding belief in the power of government. And then like any good religion in can never really be disproved.

    They will NEVER give up this one no matter what.

  4. eeyore Says:

    Climate change is whatever they say it is at the moment. Too little rain, too much rain. Too many hurricanes, not many hurricanes. Too much wind, not enough wind.

    This climate change is magical as whatever happens proves its own existance.

  5. Paul R Says:

    Quite the sentimentalist, that James Hansen…not a peep, though, about the $15 Trillion we just piled on them in the last 2 admins.

  6. Gringo Says:

    WaPo Aug 2016: The U.S. coast is in an unprecedented hurricane drought — why this is terrifying.

    Hurricanes, large and small, have eluded U.S. shores for record lengths of time. As population and wealth along parts of the U.S. coast have exploded since the last stormy period, experts dread the potential damage and harm once the drought ends….
    Even the entire Gulf of Mexico, and its sprawling coast from Florida to Texas, have been hurricane-free for almost three full years, the longest period since record-keeping began 165 years ago (in 1851). The last hurricane to traverse the Gulf waters was Ingrid, which made landfall in Mexico as a tropical storm, in September 2013.

    Scientists have no solid explanation for the lack of hurricane landfalls. The number of storms forming in the Atlantic over the past decade or so has been close to normal, but many have remained over the ocean or hit other countries rather than the United States.

    A study published by the American Geophysical Union in 2015 said the lack of major hurricane landfalls boiled down to dumb luck rather than a particular weather pattern. “I don’t believe there is a major regime shift that’s protecting the U.S.,” said study lead author Timothy Hall from NASA.

    Having lived through hurricanes in New England- one hurricane toppled a tree on my parents’ property- and having lived through the rain-filled remnants of hurricanes in Texas (I live too far inland)- I am loathe to see patterns. Yes, there are hurricanes. So what else is new?

  7. M J R Says:

    (link to photocopy of entire article follows)

    The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers who sail the seas about Spitzbergen and the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and hitherto un-heard-of high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.
    . . .
    The oceanographic observations have, however, been even more interesting. The conditions were exceptional. In fact, so little ice has never before been noted. The expedition all but established a record, sailing as far north its 81deg 29min in ice-free water. This is the farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus.
    . . .
    [N]ote the unusually warm summer in Arctic Norway and the observations of Capt. Martin Ingebrigtsen, who has sailed the eastern Arctic for 54 years past. He says that he first noted warmer conditions in 1915, that since that time it has steadily gotten warmer, and that to-day the Arctic of that region is not recognizable as the same region of 1865 to 1917. Many old landmarks are so changed as to be unrecognizable. Where formerly great masses of ice were foun there are now often moraines, accumulations of earth and stones. At many points where glaciers formerly extended far ino the sea they have entirely disappeared.

    *OHH!* Did I mention? The article is from 1922.

    Here’s what I omitted from the header . . .

    [Under date of October 10 1922 the American consul at Bergen Norway, submitted the following report to the State Department, Washington, D.C.]

  8. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Some of the issue is the impact on humans. If, to make a metaphor, an F5 tornado goes through a bunch of Kansas cornfields…mox nix. An F2 going through a small town is a different item altogether.
    But the AGW argument is about energy in weather. Not about the course of the storm.
    Harvey isn’t the worst storm in terms of energy, but it was blocked by a large high to its northwest which stalled it. So the drama doesn’t prove anything.

  9. AesopFan Says:

    eeyore Says:
    August 29th, 2017 at 5:59 pm
    Climate change is whatever they say it is at the moment. Too little rain, too much rain. Too many hurricanes, not many hurricanes. Too much wind, not enough wind.

    This climate change is magical as whatever happens proves its own existance.
    * * *
    Gringo Says:
    August 29th, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Yes, there are hurricanes. So what else is new?
    * * *
    Anthropogenic flood disasters, though, are real.

    “Hurricane Harvey wasn’t man-made, obviously, but the scale of the destruction was, in large part, an unintended consequence of government policy.”

    (that is, federal flood insurance enabling continued re-building in flooded areas is nuts)

    Good piece here:

    “Even three days after the storm, we know little about how well Houston will survive Hurricane Harvey. As we learned in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 12 years ago tomorrow, as well as in Superstorm Sandy in New York five years ago this October, the hardest part of a storm comes after the rain stops. One terrible fact is becoming increasingly clear: despite several major storms in the past two decades, we still don’t know how to get millions of people out of the way of a storm’s path. “

  10. AesopFan Says:

    Richard Aubrey Says:
    August 29th, 2017 at 7:37 pm…
    So the drama doesn’t prove anything.
    * * *
    Applicable to so much of the news today.

  11. Mr. Frank Says:

    As Richard notes, Harvey was not remarkable. I’ve lived near the Gulf coast for over 30 years and have followed many storm tracks. The standard pattern is for a hurricane to pick up steam and hit the coast at pretty good speed and continue to the interior. The day after a hurricane things clear up quickly on the coast. A couple of high pressure areas blocked Harvey which caused the massive flooding.

  12. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “when a scientist says that any particular weather event (such as Harvey) is caused or worsened by global warning, beware” neo

    Once again Heinlein’s perspective has bearing:

    “Most “scientists” are bottle washers and button sorters. One can judge from experiment, or one can blindly accept authority.

    To the scientific mind, experimental proof is all important and theory is merely a convenience in description, to be junked when it no longer fits…

    To the academic mind, authority is everything and facts are junked when they do not fit theory laid down by authority.”

  13. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It’s been said that the hurricane of 1938 is the most energetic storm to hit the US.
    The results were horrendous. But if we correct for the fact that there was far less coastal development, not to mention inflation, and far less development for dozens of miles inland, the amount of damage today does not necessarily mean a stronger storm.

  14. parker Says:

    Drought 2 out of 10 years, floods 1 out of 10, 100F in the shade nearly every year, -20F every few years, and a tornado nearby every year. Lions, tigers, and bears oh my. AGW my ass. I blame all the concrete, air conditioners, and hot air from the watermelon billionaires.

    But hey, its CO2 as the ‘science guy’ would say.

  15. Cornhead Says:

    The Left has to politicize everything. Lots of money is riding on CAGW. That’s why California is implementing the Paris Agreement all by itself.

  16. miklos000rosza Says:

    I’ve had conversations with people who accept as a matter of religious faith with nary a flicker of doubt “global warming” or “climate change” which they one day say means heat but then when there’s rain ten it meant rain. There’s no dialectic, no “search for truth”, just a dead mind seeking to police the recycling or whatever.

    My niece, who’s never been too intelligent, majored in “Environmental Science” at Oregon State.

  17. TommyJay Says:

    I like Roy Spencer on climate too.

    But people please… you are not allowed to speak of AGW. That would imply real measureable facts and verifiable theory. The correct Newspeak term is Climate Change. Because the there has never been dramatic climate change in the last billion years, until man started burning large quantities of coal.

    I read somewhere today that some media armchair pseudo-scientist claimed that because the climate and oceans are warmer there is more humidity in the air. And because hurricanes are driven by humidity, “climate change” is giving us worsening hurricanes. Then someone who actually understands hurricanes countered that hurricane amplification depends on air moving in from a cooler drier region towards a warmer more humid region. So an overall increase in humidity everywhere doesn’t really matter to hurricanes.

  18. AesopFan Says:

    Geoffrey Britain Says:
    August 29th, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    Once again Heinlein’s perspective has bearing: …
    * * *
    I’m a long-time devotee of The Dean, but it seems like about every third post I read these days quotes from Heinlein, Kipling, and Lewis (sounds like a law firm). The fourth post quotes “Man For All Seasons.”

    On the gripping hand, maybe those old dead white guys knew a few things we should think about.

  19. Cornhead Says:

    The whole country is just sick for south Texas. So why does the Left have to turn this into a political thing that essentially blames the victim for producing and refining oil?

    CAGW is the biggest scam in the world.

    Fossil fuels made America great. Now that we are finally energy independent and can export LNG and oil, the Left tries to screw America. Or screw us with federal tax credits for Musk and Buffett.

    Trump pulling out of Paris is a huge win for America. A big reason why the Dems attack him every single day.

  20. M J R Says:

    miklos000rosza, 9:40 pm — “I’ve had conversations with people who accept as a matter of religious faith with nary a flicker of doubt ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ which they one day say means heat but then when there’s rain then it meant rain. There’s no dialectic, no ‘search for truth’, just a dead mind . . . .”

    A theory that explains everything explains nothing. Or, as someone far more accomplished than I (Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994)) has put it,

    [from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]


    [A] theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.


  21. JK Brown Says:

    Funny how none of these claims actually address the meteorological elements that were cause Harvey, a routine hurricane, to stall with one “foot” in the Gulf so that the rainfall accumulated in a small region and was the moisture was continually being renewed.

    If they want any credibility, they need to address the blocking high pressure ridges. And somehow tie those to AGW. Similarly, they liked to bring up Katrina, but not address the factor that made her such a disaster, the landfall being just east of the Mississippi delta blocking the storm surge draining to the west as the storm approached the coast.

  22. n.n Says:

    Yeah, climate change, which follows prevailing moods.

    Cyclones are a recurring first-order forcing that exposes catastrophic anthropogenic risk management. As happened in New York City, New Orleans, Berkeley, etc.

  23. Tesh Says:

    It’s *Michael Mann*, why wouldn’t he try to tie in “climate change”? I guess they cited him because they didn’t have anyone more believable?

  24. FOAF Says:

    “Having lived through hurricanes in New England- one hurricane toppled a tree on my parents’ property”

    Me too! I remember when I was about 4-5 years old living in Hartford, CT, my father trying to tie a tree to a fence in the backyard to keep it from falling down. He partly succeeded but the tree was at a 45 degree angle forever after.

    Hartford, which you don’t usually think of as “hurricane country” had severe hurricanes and flooding in the 1930s and again in the 1950s. The idea that a single severe weather event represents “climate change” is of course ridiculous. Especially considering as has been pointed out that we have had remarkably few hurricanes in recent years.

  25. Tom G Says:

    There will continue to be slowly rising sea levels, as the world leaves the last Ice Age, in this case the Little Ice Age of medieval times.

    There will be floods & droughts, and storms, including peak storms. With water as the primary problem — too much, or too little.

    The USA needs to do more to control and plan for peaks of water flooding, and peaks of water drought. Instead of the Paris Accord / gov’t money for useless research, most Better Climate money should be spent on flood & drought reduction. Including low cost relocation insurance, but NOT rebuilding in the same area.

  26. DNW Says:

    So the great Galveston hurricane of 1900 was caused by …

  27. Gringo Says:

    Fossil fuels made America great. Now that we are finally energy independent and can export LNG and oil…

    The US is still a net oil importer.
    4-Week Average U.S. Net Imports of Crude Oil and Petroleum Products (Thousand Barrels per Day).
    Aug 20, 2010 10,425
    Aug 18, 2017 5,109

    In seven years, net oil imports have fallen by ~ 5 million BOPD and ~ 50%. But we are still a net petroleum importer.

    In 2016, over half our petroleum imports came from Canada, Mexico, or Colombia, which thus far are reliable suppliers. Venezuela accounted for 8% of our petroleum imports in 2016.

    Since 2004, our oil imports from Venezuela have steadily fallen to where they are currently a little more than 50% of what they were in 2004. Ironically, in 2004, Venezuela predicted that oil production would rise from 3.8 million BPOD to 5 million BOPD by 2009. About 2.7 million BOPD in 2016- and declining.

  28. Cornhead Says:


    The oil market is a world market and depending on need and refining capability, different types of oil are imported and exported. Canadian tar sands oil is different than light sweet crude.

    The big thing is that we can no export LNG. We have way too much and nat gas prices are very low. Europe, on the other hand, has very high nat gas prices because they get lots of supply from Russia.

  29. Cornhead Says:

    WaPo weather guy on CNN said Harvey was caused by AGW. CNN news reader didn’t ask about Galveston storm of 1900.

  30. Frog Says:

    All the weather toads have failed to even mention Beaumont/Port Arthur TX until today, though every rainfall map since onset has shown them in fierce rain. Until today, while they remain pounded and the rain has shifted from Houston. Probably because only 200K people live there, mostly Texans and not the multiculti polloi of Houston’s 3mill-plus population, which includes the largest Nigerian population outside of Lagos.

  31. GRA Says:

    @ Frog: MSM did the same thing with NYC when the city experienced Hurricane Sandy. They mostly focused on Manhattan, but little of Rockaway, Queens.

  32. Richard Aubrey Says:

    WRT Sandy.
    One report showed the, in effect, hydraulics of the thing.
    Sandy moved due north, while the east coast trends northeast. So the water piled up against the coast as it went.
    Then look at the geography of NY harbor, the geography of the rivers, of the west end of Long Island Sound.
    The open ends functioned as funnels, taking in large amounts of water and pushing it into smaller and smaller basins.
    To the extent this increased the damage, it reduces the need to posit massive energy as the entire culprit.
    As I say, AGW only affects, if it does at all, raw energy. It has nothing to do with aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

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