Over the last several weeks, many mainstream news media outlets have claimed that hurricanes are becoming more expensive, more frequent, and more intense because of climate change.
- The Financial Times reported that “hurricane frequency is on the rise.”
- The New York Times claimed, “strong storms are becoming more common in the Atlantic Ocean.”
- The Washington Post said, “climate change is rapidly fueling super hurricanes.”
- ABC News declared, “Here’s how climate change intensifies hurricanes.”
- Both the FT and N.Y. Times showed graphs purporting to show rising hurricane frequency using data from the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
All of those claims are false.
The increasing cost of hurricane damage can be explained entirely by more people and more property in harm’s way. Consider how much more developed Miami Beach is today compared to a century ago. Once you adjust for rising wealth, there is no trend of increasing damage.
Claims that hurricanes are becoming more frequent are similarly wrong. “After adjusting for a likely under-count of hurricanes in the pre-satellite era,” writes NOAA, “there is essentially no long-term trend in hurricane counts. The evidence for an upward trend is even weaker if we look at U.S. landfalling hurricanes, which even show a slight negative trend beginning from 1900 or from the late 1800s.” What’s more, NOAA expects a 25% decline in hurricane frequency in the future.
What about intensity? Same story. Explains NOAA, “after adjusting for changes in observing capabilities (limited ship observations) in the pre-satellite era, there is no significant long-term trend (since the 1880s) in the proportion of hurricanes that become major hurricanes.“ Bottom line? “We conclude that the historical Atlantic hurricane data at this stage do not provide compelling evidence for a substantial greenhouse warming-induced century-scale increase in: frequency of tropical storms, hurricanes, or major hurricanes, or in the proportion of hurricanes that become major.”
NOAA indeed predicts a 5% increase in hurricane intensity by 2100, but no increase in intensity is today detectable. And the best-available science forecasts that the slight increase in overall hurricane intensity in the future won’t be because there are more intense hurricanes but rather because hurricanes overall will decline more than intense hurricanes (category 4 and 5). As a result, there will be a greater proportion of category 4 and 5 hurricanes than categories 1, 2, and 3.
In other words, the relative intensity of hurricanes will rise, even as the total number of hurricanes — and the total number of intense hurricanes — decline.
Why are the media spreading obviously inaccurate information, and not reporting the basic facts? Are journalists simply ignorant? Or is something else going on?