Patterico's Pontifications


Global Warming and Hurricanes

Filed under: Environment — DRJ @ 12:03 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

MIT hurricane expert and global warming proponent Kerry Emanuel wants a do-over:

“One of the most influential scientists behind the theory that global warming has intensified recent hurricane activity says he will reconsider his stand.

The hurricane expert, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this week unveiled a novel technique for predicting hurricane activity. The new work suggests that, even in a dramatically warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity may not substantially rise during the next two centuries.

The research, appearing in the March issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is all the more remarkable coming from Emanuel, a highly visible leader in his field and long an ardent proponent of a link between global warming and much stronger hurricanes.

His changing views could influence other scientists.

“The results surprised me,” Emanuel said of his work, adding that global warming may still play a role in raising the intensity of hurricanes but what that role is remains far from certain.”

Emanuel had originally concluded global warming would cause more powerful hurricanes or more active hurricane seasons, and his work may have contributed to the image of a hurricane in advertising for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth:

“Among the first to publish was Emanuel, who, just three weeks before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, published a paper in Nature that concluded a key measurement of the power dissipated by a storm during its lifetime had risen dramatically since the mid-1970s.

In the future, he argued, incredibly active hurricane years such as 2005 would become the norm rather than flukes.

This view, amplified by environmentalists and others concerned about global warming, helped establish in the public’s mind that “super” hurricanes were one of climate change’s most critical threats. A satellite image of a hurricane emanating from a smokestack featured prominently in promotions for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.”

The articles notes that, after Hurricane Katrina, scientific articles that showed hurricanes were becoming more frequent and intense were highlighted while contrary papers were not:

“After the 2005 hurricane season, a series of other papers were published that appeared to show, among other things, that the most intense hurricanes were becoming more frequent.

What has not been as broadly disseminated, say Pielke and some hurricane scientists, is that other research papers have emerged that suggest global warming has yet to leave an imprint on hurricane activity. One of them, published late last year in Nature, found that warming seas may not increase hurricane intensity.”

Emanuel’s bottom line is “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

It’s good that Emanuel is willing to revisit this issue – a true idealogue wouldn’t – but instances like this reinforce the perception that some scientists let emotion overrule facts when it comes to global warming.


15 Responses to “Global Warming and Hurricanes”

  1. Greenhouse theory claims that the upper atmosphere will warm at a faster rate than the lower atmosphere which would mean less divergence, which should mean less intense storms.

    j curtis (c84b9e)

  2. The California Public Utilities Commission voted yesterday to spend $600 million on researching how to reduce greenhouse gases.

    The money will come from electric/gas bills. Residents of the cities of Los Angeles and Sacramento, which operate their own utilities, won’t be charged.

    Bradley J. Fikes (e00f27)

  3. Well, you know how it goes Bradley.
    They need to do something now that they’ve solved all of the major problems here:
    No more crime;
    No more electrical grid bottle-necks;
    No more underfunded public pensions;
    No more infrastructure needs;
    etc, etc, etc.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  4. Bradley, they know how to do it. Build nuclear power plants. Something they refuse to do. Which is among the many reasons that Californians do not have a reliable electric generation system.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  5. Wait a minute. I thought the debate was over? That people who disagreed with any aspect of AGW were the equivalent of Holocaust deniers?

    After a Nobel Prize winner said so, right?

    Eric Blair (2708f4)

  6. Please. The only reason he’s changing his tune is because after Katrina, all the AGW folks cried out that because of Global Warming (read: because Bush is a meanie and won’t bone our economy), hurricanes would get WORSE and WORSE. They predicted DOOOOOOOOM…

    Anyone recall how many hurricanes of any significance hit the US last season?

    Yeah, neither can I. Wasn’t many, that for sure.

    So we have demonstratedly false predictions made by “people who understood global warming”. Thus, they have to change their tune.

    At some point, we really do have to start holding them to their predictions…

    Scott Jacobs (d3a6ec)

  7. “It’s good that Emanuel is willing to revisit this issue – a true idealogue wouldn’t – but instances like this reinforce the perception that some scientists let emotion overrule facts when it comes to global warming.”

    Hmm, to me this re-enforces the idea that Dr. Emanuel is a scientist who is willing to change his theory when new evidence comes to light.

    His connection to global warming in the original article was more about his desire to publish in Science (presitgious journal) and the need to put one’s work in the context of some body of theory (otherwise you don’t get published anywhere).

    A true idealogue probably wouldn’t change thier minds-without a lot of persuasion- fortunately Dr. Emanuel is not one of that ilk. There are plenty of idealogues out there though who will use his desire to re-examine his theory(old news by the way), which is the action of a real scientist, to bolster their own idealogical beliefs that they are right….as always… that all global change science is a hoax.

    EdWood (8300f1)

  8. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I view this less as “revisiting the issue” than “revising the standards of proof.” Under the old formula, [more & bigger hurricanes (equal) global warming]. After the revision, [slight increases in number & intensity (do NOT equal) less global warming than previously predicted]. Remember, *everything* is cause by global warmening! Can I get an “amen”!

    porkopolitan (08c14a)

  9. EdWood,

    Are you saying that Emanuel never wanted his work to be used by global-warming extremists (on either side), and all he wanted was exposure for his work? If so, that’s a novel defense.

    In any event, in 2005, Emanuel had no doubts about and clearly believed that global warming increases hurricane length and intensity. In 2006, he vowed he would not debate again with hurricane expert Bill Gray because Emanuel found Gray’s global warming skepticism “sad.” That doesn’t sound very open-minded.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  10. DRJ, Scientists have to self promote and stay relevant just like any other profession. A pub on a current hot topic in Science or Nature would be a very nice boost for any researcher.

    I didn’t know that he had stopped talking with Gray coz Gray seemed like one of the better “lets make sure the numbers are right” people in the hurricane debate. It wouldn’t be the first time that two scientists just couldn’t see eye to eye on their numbers… and accused each other of political bias (which they have of course like anyone else) to try and further their argument in a less honest way.

    EdWood (81a0c0)

  11. We can probably all benefit from self-promotion in our careers, but there are still limits to how far one should go. I think a researcher who leans too far toward one side of a debate risks being seen as a partisan instead of a scientist. It looks like Emanuel took that risk and now he’s feeling the consequences.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  12. It isn’t necessarily that a researcher leans too far on one side of debate, it’s that they can get ahead of their facts because they want their IDEA to be right. Not necessarily because they are invested in some idealogy (although that can be the case) but because they just want to have discovered something useful or important.

    It’s my experience that even scientists who have political views hold them as (sometimes substantially) less important than getting their research right. They would rather be correct about their findings than “right” in their idealogy.

    It helps when one of the central tenets of the scientific method is that all hypotheses will inevitably change, even theories that seemed pretty solid like gravity or evolution have been refined substantially as new evidence has come to light. Researchers who believe in what they do will accept alterations to their ideas, but only if the data is good enough to convince them. It sounds like someone pulled this guy aside and said “dude… look at these numbers” and he HAD to say “wow. Yeah, Ok, I guess I’d better re-think this”.

    EdWood (ede209)

  13. The truth is Emanuel’s original work on the subject was incredibly shoddy. Chris Landsea has simply destroyed Emanuel’s use of the Best Track hurricane data, although Emanuel never seemed to notice.

    This “new” finding allows him a more graceful exit from his completely untenable position than coming out and admitting he was dead wrong and Landsea and Co. were completely right.


    Rich Horton (8018ee)

  14. A fewyears ag the wackos from GREENPEACE were wanting that hurricanes be named for varuous industries they calim were cuasing and contributing to global warming proving that only a complete idiot would have anything to do with GREENPEACE

    krazy kagu (d982eb)

  15. “I thought the debate was over? That people who disagreed with any aspect of AGW were the equivalent of Holocaust deniers?”

    Climate scientists are in disagreement as to what the effect of global warming on hurricanes. This may come as a shock to people who want easy answers.

    stef (84a199)

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