How Global Warming Softened Hurricane Sandy’s Blow

October 29, 2013

(FORBES BLOGS) One year ago today Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, killing more than 100 people and causing more than $50 billion in damage.

by James Taylor

Global warming activists and their media allies will spin the anniversary as a wake-up call to impose costly economic restrictions in the name of combating global warming. In reality, we should thank global warming for making hurricanes less frequent and less severe. Indeed, Hurricane Sandy may well have been much more deadly in the absence of global warming.

As an initial matter, we must keep in mind that hurricanes are nothing new. Hurricanes slammed the U.S. coast long before people drove SUVs and enjoyed the many benefits of affordable, coal-powered electricity. Nevertheless, global warming activists attempt to connect every hurricane, tornado, drought and flood to global warming, as if these are all new climatological events ushered in by our modern economy. We can easily determine whether global warming is having a substantial impact on such extreme weather events by examining historical records. If hurricanes and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe in recent decades, this is significant evidence that global warming may be making extreme weather worse.

Damage from Hurricane Sandy

Any way you measure it, however, global warming is having no impact or a beneficial impact on hurricanes. Objective National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show hurricanes are becoming less frequent as our climate warms. Atmospheric scientist and tropical cyclone climatologist Ryan Maue presents the data for all to see on his Policlimate website. The data show quite clearly that for as long as satellites have tracked global hurricane and tropical storm activity (since 1970), hurricane and tropical storm activity has been in steady decline.

Importantly, the declining trend in hurricanes is especially strong regarding major hurricanes. Major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) struck the United States 50 percent more often during the first half of the 20th century than in the decades since. (see Past Tracks of U.S. Landfalling Major Hurricanes) As our planet warms, the strongest hurricanes are the hurricanes in most striking decline. Indeed, the United States is currently experiencing its longest period in recorded history (since records began in 1850) without a major hurricane strike. It has been 8 years since a major hurricane struck the United States, blowing away the old record of 6 years, 2 months.

The trend is also striking regarding Northeast U.S. hurricanes. Major hurricanes routinely struck the U.S. Northeast during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. (see Past Tracks of U.S. Landfalling Major Hurricanes) From 1960 through 2010, however, just one major hurricane struck the U.S. Northeast. Hurricane Sandy brought merely 80 mph, Category 1 winds at its New Jersey landfall, which pales in comparison to prior hurricanes, such as Hurricane Carol which struck Long Island as a Category 3 hurricane in 1954. When people say, “We never used to have hurricane events like this here in the Northeast,” it is only because those people either weren’t alive or don’t remember the much stronger and more frequent Northeast hurricanes before our recent global warming.

Beyond the general hurricane trends, it is quite possible global warming had a very direct, beneficial impact on Hurricane Sandy. Scientists have documented that global warming has increased upper-atmospheric wind shear, which rips apart hurricanes before they can grow to major hurricanes. Without the global warming-induced increase in wind shear, Hurricane Sandy may well have grown to a more powerful hurricane with stronger winds and more substantial storm surge.

For global warming activists, uninformed media pundits and the weak of mind, Hurricane Sandy may well provide a convenient opportunity to sell a fictitious global warming hurricane crisis. For the rest of us, we should thank global warming for its beneficial impacts on hurricanes that save countless lives with each passing year.

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