What Does the Peer-Reviewed Literature Say About Trends in East Coast Winter Storms?


The image above comes from a 2001 paper by Hirsch et al. (here in PDF) titled, An East Coast Winter Storm Climatology. The top curve shows all East Coast winter storms, and the bottom shows the most intense storms. for the period 1948 to 1997.

As the figure implies, they concluded in that analysis:

the frequency of ECWS show a downward tendency over the study period but at insignificant levels. One test found a decreasing trend in strong ECWS significant for an alpha = 0.10.

So there was no trend 1948 to 1997, or a slightly downward trend. This is interesting because over the latter half of that period one analysis (Willett et al. 2010) found an increase in the water content of the lower atmosphere over the US East Coast. So those who argue for a simple relationship between increasing water content of the atmosphere and storm strength, data do not support such a claim over this multi-decadal period, in this region.

In 2010 Frankoski and DeGaetano published an update to Hirsh et al. 2001, extending data through 2006. They concluded:

No significant time-dependent trends were identified for precipitation or snowfall from East Coast Winter Storms or for the percentage of precipitation or snowfall from East Coast Winter Storms.

Such research is likely why the IPCC AR5 concluded in 2013:

In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extra-tropical cyclones since 1900 is low.

What that means in climate-speak is that the detection of trends in winter storms has not been achieved. It also means that the IPCC has not attributed any trends to human influences. Detection and attribution are explained in some detail in my recent book.

You can of course find fringe views on both detection and attribution out there on the internet (carefully cherry picked).  There are also plenty of smart folks trying to do their own analyses without referencing the IPCC or the peer reviewed literature on the subject. Minority views and amateurs are legitimate and worth hearing, as they can add valuable new perspectives. But if these folks really wanted to contribute to scientific understandings they should seek to publish their alternative theories in the peer reviewed literature.

No one – least of all those who consider themselves professional journalists – should confuse these alternative perspectives for what is found in the peer-reviewed literature and the assessments of the IPCC.

For further reading, see Vose et al. 2014 and Wang et al. 2008.

Fascinating Climate Policy PhD of a Member of the European Parliament

Correction: Korhola’s term in the European Parliament ended in 2014. She is now “first alternate.”

Eija-Riitta Korhola is a rare politician. She was a long-serving member of the European Parliament from Finland as a member of the European People’s Party, the largest block in the legislature. She has also recently completed an academic dissertation for a PhD in a policy field that she specializes in – climate policy. I can’t recall ever hearing of another politician completing a PhD while in office. Rare indeed.

Korhola’s dissertation is titled, “The Rise and Fall of the Kyoto Protocol: Climate Change as a Political Process” and can be found here in PDF. It makes for fascinating reading. Below are a few excerpts from the preface.

On her early advocacy for climate policy as a politician:

I was not the only one, but without doubt,I was one of the first Finnish politicians to knowingly push the issue of climate change and its threats onto the political agenda. In 1994, I published my first effusions in Vihreä Lanka, a weekly green newspaper, to which I had contributed as a columnist for five years. In the 1999 European elections, my main topics were climate change and development issues. “It won’t pay off, these themes will not attract the public”, was the feedback, which I nonchalantly ignored with the thought of not wanting to make calculations about these kinds of issues. I was worried about the effects of climate change on nature and society. I read the warnings issued by various environmental organisations.

On her unique perspective:

I focus on the problem of climate change, because in this field,I hold, besides the status of a researcher,the position of an expert who has also gained some legislative experience. I start from the assumption that a dual role will not automatically degrade the quality of the research. At least, this dual experience could be utilised and tested as a rare opportunity: my experience of 15 years with an active role in the field of climate policy of the Union – which still perceives itself as a forerunner in combating climate change – constitutes a particular vantage point.I am thinking of the EU’s most important climate instrument, emissions trading, in particular. At its different stages, I have been serving in various key positions, and therefore, I am able to offer an insider’s view from a legislator’s point of view.

Things changed:

When I entered politics, I wondered why climate change was not discussed at all. The time then came when I began to wonder, if it was possible to talk about anything without being forced to mention climate change.

Her view on EU climate policy:

In my study I agree with those who regard the UN’s strategy – and the EU’s follow-up strategy – not only as ineffective but also harmful. The reason can be found in both the wickedness of the problem–i.e.the fact that it is hard to intervene in it in the first place – and that the selected problem-solving model has failed, as the problem’s wicked nature has not been recognised. The attempt to resolve it has been based on an assumption that it is a one-dimensional,tame problem. However, as the saying goes, a wicked problem requires wicked solutions. The matter has been worsened by a lack of knowledge and expertise. Because I was present, I can testify that, for instance, when the Members of the European Parliament(at that time altogether 632 MEPs) voted on issue of emissions trading, I could easily count the number of those who knew something about the matter with the fingers of my two hands.

Like many people who have critiqued climate policy, she finds that critique is not welcomed:

Unfortunately, the political atmosphere is ideological to such an extent that criticism towards the chosen means is very often interpreted as climate scepticism.

She has some hard words for European environmental groups:

Another conclusion of mine is as scathing as my previous reference to the 20-year delusion [of UN climate policy]. It concerns the environmental movement. I suggest that the movement has, above all, failed in its strategy to combat climate change, but also quite often in its other environmental policies. Again, good intentions do not guarantee a wise strategy. The environmental movement regards economic growth as an enemy of the environment although practice has proven that in precisely those quarters of the world where economic well-being prevails and basic needs are satisfied, people are more interested in taking care of their environment. Poverty, in its turn, is the biggest environmental threat,although it has been romanticised in environmentalist rhetoric.

She includes one of her blog posts in which she offers a view that policy making should be robust to scientific debates:

I have come to think that a good politician should rather be a ”climate agnostic”. In principle, it does not matter, what conclusion science comes to: if the legislation we make is good enough, one does not have to take sides; except the side of consideration and quality. Climate policy should be so robust, sturdy and of such good quality that it does not struggle with the uncertainty factors and differences of opinion within science.

This is a similar view to that which I express in The Climate Fix.

There is much, much more in the dissertation. For those wanting the bottom line, jump to pp. 291-296 for a concise summary of conclusions.

If you are interested in an insider’s perspective on European climate policy or just interested in how a real-world, elected decision maker grapples with the complexity of climate policy, the entire dissertation is well worth reading.

Global Tropical Cyclone Landfalls, 1970-2014


Above is an update on the data first presented in Weinkle et al. 2013, courtesy of Ryan Maue (@ryanmaue). The graph shows the number of landfalling tropical cyclones worldwide for 1970 through 2014. The data is broken down into weak (S/S category 1 and 2) and strong (S/S categories 3+) storms. For the definition of a landfall and other methodological details, please see the paper.

Some interesting points:

  • 2014 had 10 total landfalls. This is second lowest (tied with 4 other years) since 1970. The lowest was 1978 with 7.
  • The past four years have seen 50 total landfalls, the lowest four-year total since 1982. 1978-1981 had the lowest, with 41.
  • The annual averages over 1970-2015 are: 15.3 total, 10.5 Cat 1&2, 4.7 Cat 3+.

If you are interested in more data on global tropical cyclone activity, please visit Ryan Maue’s Global Tropical Cyclone Activity page. From that page, below are trends in all tropical cyclones of hurricane strength, not just those that make landfall.


The US and Florida Intense Hurricane Drought, Continued


Above are some graphs for those of you interested in the remarkable, ongoing drought in intense hurricane landfalls in the US, which is stretching close to 10 years. The top graph shows the days in between intense (category 3+) landfalls in the US since 1900. The bottom graph shows the same information, but only for Florida landfalls.

You can see that for the US, the current “intense hurricane drought” is unprecedented in at least a century. For Florida, there have been other long stretches between intense hurricane landfalls. Over the past century the average time between intense landfalls in Florida has just about doubled, from about 3 years to 6 years.

Data, sources, discussion: Pielke (2014)