August 31, 2021

Hurricane Ida and Global Warming: Unsupported Claims

It didn't take long before the media "connected the dots" and made full-throated claims that Hurricane Ida was the stepchild of global warming.    

Even well-known TV weather personality Al Roker (who I very much admire) got into the act:

"We are looking at the results of climate change ... that's what created this monster storm"

But it is easy to demonstrate that real data shows that these claims are without basis, and that National Public Radio, the Seattle Times, and others are publishing stories that are contradictory to the best science and observations.



The hypothesis in all these stories is that human-caused climate change warmed the temperatures of the sea surface (e.g., the Gulf of Mexico, tropical Atlantic) and thus "supercharged" Hurricane Ida.

Now the first thing that a responsible journalist would do regarding Ida would be to determine whether the Gulf of Mexico, where Ida developed, had significantly above-normal temperatures last week.

If that was true, then a reasonable journalist would check whether the warming was the result of a long-term trend--something required if human-caused global warming was significant. 

Apparently (as demonstrated below), most journalists did not take these basic steps before they wrote the stories.    But I will do so here!

Temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico

Keep in mind the track of Hurricane Ida, as illustrated by the official NOAA track information below.  The shading shows you the locations of tropical storm and hurricane-force winds.  The storm revved up to hurricane strength south of Cuba and really started to rev up north of 25N.


To get hurricane formation, one needs sea surface temperatures of at least approximately 27 °C, and virtually the whole Gulf of Mexico was at that level, which is typical for this time of the year.  

Below are the sea surface temperatures for the seven days immediately before Ida revved up and made landfall.  Temperatures of the whole route of the storm were way above the necessary threshold.  Warm water was no problem for the development of Ida (29C and more pretty much the whole way).


Now, the million-dollar question:
  

How unusual were the Gulf sea surface temperatures during the strengthening of Hurricane Ida?   The figure below shows you the anomaly (or difference) from climatology (normal)  of the sea surface temperatures before Ida strengthened (Courtesy of Ryan Maue, previously NOAA Chief Scientist).

Wow.   The water temperatures were actually COOLER than normal where Ida started to intensify (south of Cuba).  Interestingly, this is due to the vertical mixing due to previous Hurricane Grace.   And for much the route north of Cuba, where Ida rapidly strengthened, temperatures were normal or slightly above normal (less than 1°C above normal).  Only near the coast, for the shallow waters of the Gulf shelf, did the temperatures climbed more than 1°C above normal.


The bottom line:  warmer than normal water was not the key to the development and intensification of Hurricane Ida.   The Gulf of Mexico is pretty much always warm enough to support the rapid strengthening of tropical disturbances.   

For Ida, there were some very favorable elements:  little vertical wind shear (which tears the storms apart) and a plume of very moist air that got ingested into the storm (see a map of integrated water vapor transport, IVT, below).


Sea Surface Temperature Trends

Even though the sea surface temperatures were not significantly warmer than normal for Ida, one might ask, has there been a significant upward trend in sea surface temperatures in the Gulf, one that might be indicative of a major global warming trend?

To give you some insight into this issue, here is a plot of August sea surface temperatures over the Gulf from 1983 to this year (click to expand).   Yes, there has been some warming over nearly 40 years....and yes, human-caused global warming could have been the cause.... but the warming is quite small--less than 1°C.

 I independently secured some NOAA sea surface temperature data over the Gulf of Mexico for a longer period (1948 to now) for the month of July and plotted it up below.  Not much a trend, with July 2021 being RELATIVELY COOL.  


A responsible journalist investigating the potential impact of global warming on Hurricane Ida SHOULD have examined the information noted above and would have found that the connection was very weak:  the sea surface temperatures were not very anomalous (warmer than normal) along the path of the hurricane and that there has been only a very minor upward trend in sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

And a competent journalist should have also asked:  is there much evidence of an increasing trend of hurricanes reaching U.S. shores?  Something that should have occurred if global warming was significant.

Below is a plot of the number of landfilling hurricanes that have struck the continental U.S. (Courtesy Roger Pielke Jr).  The trendline is down.


Major hurricanes  (category 4 and 5)...the same thing.  No increase.


What a responsible journalist would conclude

A competent journalist doing a story on the relationship of global warming and Hurricane Ida would quickly have learned that:
  • Hurricane Ida did not develop over unusually warm water.
  • That the Gulf of Mexico is always warm enough to support major hurricanes in late summer.
  • There is only a very small warming trend of the Gulf of Mexico over the past half-century
  • There is no upward trend in the number of hurricanes striking the U.S.
  • There is no upward trend in the number of major hurricanes striking the U.S.
And the clear conclusion that would have been reached:  there is little reason to expect that global warming had much to do with the rapid intensification of the hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, journalists at major media outlets from the NY Times, to the Washington Post, to the Seattle Times did not take the time to do the research needed to determine the truth.  And they published stories that seriously misinformed their readership.

Global warming is now used by incurious, politically oriented media to explain almost everything.  Don't believe me?  Check out this recent headline in the Seattle Times, based on a NY Times article.  Profoundly disappointing.



















48 comments:

  1. Not surprising. Regardless of your political leaning, all media you consume is being spun and tailored to fit and advance the narrative of that media outlet. The more shocking the claims the better the headline bait and the better to control your audience. Keep them coming back and you keep your bills paid. Simple as that. Both sides are guilty of this. The sooner people realize they are being played on both sides, the quicker we can get back to more discerning readers and articles with actual science and research being done before the "publish" button is pushed.

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    1. I'm not so sure. When I explain things like what is in this blog to others, it goes in one ear and right out the other. People are easily manipulated and react to political influences, not scientific facts. This is unfortunate, but is and has always been the way human nature works.

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    2. Some will listen, we can hope. Science (?) once held that the world was flat. That was ultimately disproved.

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    3. I vote spaceweather as the primary driver of our climate. These storms intensified shortly after a significant uptick in sunspot activity and earth-directed CMEs. Suspicious0bservers.com is an excellent source of next-level information that is untainted by mainstream interference.

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    4. Excuse me, I don't think "Science" ever held the world was flat. It's a school book exercise to recalculate how the Greeks determined the circumference of the Earth, that was technically "pre-Science."

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  2. Dr. Mass, I think one of biggest things that bothers me about the media now is when they cover a story about hurricanes, forest fires, and heat waves, they almost always attribute them to climate change. Twenty years ago, NPR, Seattle Times, Washington Post would have said "according to scientists this heat wave is can be attributed to human caused global warming." Now they don't even include "scientists" in an article, which effectively turns their news story into an opinion piece.

    Keep up the good work, Professor: we need more voices like yours.

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    1. I was going to say this as well. Even cold weather events are blamed on climate change. Every weather-related event is now attributed to climate change, which obscures its actual effects.

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  3. OK, but won't hurricanes be more destructive as sea levels rise? I am sure there are many inaccurate news articles out there, but I feel like global warming must have some affect on the impact of hurricanes...

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    1. Dan...the models suggest that by the end of the century, the strongest hurricanes will get modestly stronger. And sea level will rise around 1-1.5 ft..cliff

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    2. Professor Mass, you have in many occasions discussed that data available may not be as accurate or that it may have less than desirable data sets due to lack of more sophisticated tools, would this not make you at least on the slightest that the data available may not be providing the whole story, and that we actually do not know 100% that there is or there isn't global warming attributed to humans? Humans tend to sense and notice patterns sometimes better than computers (take the self driving car problem still not perfect) but what is true is that humans are noticing shifts in weather everywhere in the world that no one in my parents generation have ever seen.

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  4. More hurricanes? Climate change. Fewer hurricanes? Again, climate change. Although much of the "science " in the book is subject to investigation, Crichton did a good job with State of Fear in describing how ANY climate or weather event can and will be attributed to Climate Change, which as we all know, is caused by humans and their CO2 spewing cars, trucks, power plants and planes.

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    1. I've always thought that Crichton was a genius, in many ways a man ahead of his time. So many of his predictions have come true, alas he was taken much too soon. Arthur Clarke and Alvin Toffler were other far - reaching theorists who've also been proven correct in many of their prognostications.

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  5. C and M class solar flares recently sent Coronal Mass Ejections directly at Earth. Geomagnetic storms hit Earth Sunday into Monday.

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  6. Thank you for your incisive commentary on "climate change", I love it and share it every chance I get, I'm going to get banned from "Grist" because I keep calling them idiots.

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  7. I love your incisive commentary on "climate change" as the idiots are running around running their mouths off about it!

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  8. This red herring aside, when will you, Cliff, tell us a single weather event is the result of climate change? Looking at single events is pretty silly but for example, if we had a week similar to that record week of June next year, would that make you say it was the result of climate change? How about the year after that etc? Or how about if 10 years from now, 5 of those years had weeks like that?
    Been a big fan for better part of twenty years, Cliff. Whole family has and we miss you on kuow. But i think this focus on the circumstances behind individual events is just like when we get an Arctic blast and then people say that's proof the earth isn't warming.

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    1. Not going to happen because climate change doesn't spawn "single weather events". You are looking for something that doesn't exist. This is the fundamental misunderstanding that is so prevalent.

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  9. I dunno cliff. Maybe staying off the breathless media will help. There is too much to do to read and react to it. The scientific literature may be a better news source. You might also check out Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connections.

    We have a friend with extensive family in Dulac LA and the video from there is amazing.

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  10. "Responsible journalist" is an oxymoron. The Seattle Times does not employ journalists, they employ Democrat operatives with bylines who will always push a left-wing agenda. The Times wonders why its subscriber base is shrinking. Their biased reporting is a major cause.

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  11. Cliff, thank you so much for sticking to the facts and the science and not letting a political agenda dictate your analysis! Sadly, so much of what is out there and the Internet cannot be trusted. Keep it up!

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  12. Dr Tim Ball - Historical Climatologist
    www.generalistjournal.com
    Book: ‘The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science’
    Book: ‘Human Caused Global Warming, the Biggest Deception in History’
    https://www.technocracy.news/dr-tim-ball-on-climate-lies-wrapped-in-deception-smothered-with-delusion/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPzpPXuASY8

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  13. Dr Tim Ball - Historical Climatologist
    www.generalistjournal.com
    Book: ‘The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science’
    Book: ‘Human Caused Global Warming, the Biggest Deception in History’
    https://www.technocracy.news/dr-tim-ball-on-climate-lies-wrapped-in-deception-smothered-with-delusion/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPzpPXuASY8

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  14. A Henry Fountain article in the August 29 NY Times mentions that although surface temperatures along Ida's path in the Gulf were not unusually high, temperatures at depth were, diminishing the cooling effect of vertical mixing that usually occurs in hurricanes thus allowing unusually rapid intensification of Ida. Mr. Fountain did not attribute this phenomenon to climate change/global warming in his article.

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  15. Unfortunately, the news media as we knew them several decades ago are dead, replaced by the present agitprop masking as infotainment. Neutral, fact-based reporting doesn't attract the eyeballs of all the angry people out there, so nobody does it anymore. Whether liberal or conservative, every story you read drips with bias. Journalists and their editors consider themselves to be shapers of "correct" opinion. They don't trust citizens to arrive upon their own conclusions with facts in hand.

    A neutral news media isn't coming back until after our next civil war. I used to think that kind of talk was alarmist, but I have watched this country slowly peel apart for years, and now I wonder *when* it will happen rather than if.

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  16. I read the same data quite a bit differently, Cliff, and I’d bet Kerry Emmanuel of MIT would, too. The rapid intensification of Hurricane Ida as it approached landfall, from category 2 to 4 in less than 24 hours, is clear evidence of global warming according to his analyses. Take another look at the sea-surface temperature data in the third and fourth maps of the Gulf of Mexico. Ida followed that plume of warm — 30+ C or 86+ F — water extending SE from Louisiana. And according to the second map, it was at least 1 C warmer than normal, especially as Ida got close to landfall. Ergo lots of added energy to fuel the rapid intensification (which did NOT begin south of Cuba by the way). Something similar happened with Hurricane Michael, which rapidly intensified from category 3 to 5 in October 2018, surprising almost everyone. But Katrina for some reason weakened from category 5 to 3 as it neared land way back in 2005. Go figure.

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    1. Michael....I am afraid you are not correct. Just because the intensification occurred in the final few hours does NOT imply global warming had anything to do with it. What you don't seem to realize is that there are many aspects of the hurricane environment that control intensification, such as shear, moisture availability, pouch structure, and more. I suspect Kerry E. would agree with me on this. And the typical Gulf temperatures are more than warm enough to support rapid development...so the extra .5-1 degrees at the end are not very important. Regarding your "go figure" comment at the end, we do understand why Katrina weakened...it moved into a less favorable environment

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    2. Cliff, what is your point in continuing to discredit climate change as any source for ongoing meteorological disasters? The gotcha? Being different? Showing you’re smarter than everyone?
      If the constant focus on climate change gets people to live more responsibly, isn’t that better for all of us?
      Or are you claiming full-throatedly that there there is simply no thing as climate change and we should all live as poorly for the environment as we have been?
      Many people on this planet need a wake-up call to change those habits. That’s why events like this are often used as evidence of climate change. You can disagree about the science, but you can’t possibly disagree that these events’ impact over time in terms of making people be more environmentally conscious could be a good thing - this position of yours just confounds me, and I really respect the knowledge and history you have in this field.

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    3. Penelope...you need to read my blog more carefully. I am not trying to "discredit" climate change, but provide an accurate appraisal of its role in major events. I am trying to ensure that people know the truth and the actual science, not some hyped claims of those trying to provide inaccurate information to get them to "do the right thing"...or in your words "live more responsibly". The best way to deal with climate change is to ensure that citizens know the truth...but perhaps you disagree with that.... I hope now...cliff

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  17. Perspective, relativity and nuance seem to have been entirely lost by those anywhere left of center. We can’t be about to die from every last weather phenomenon, virus, or anything they don’t agree with and yet that seems to be what many on the left now believe.

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  18. Perspective, relativity and nuance seem to have been entirely lost by those anywhere left of center. We can’t be about to die from every last weather phenomenon, virus, or anything they don’t agree with and yet that seems to be what many on the left now believe.

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  19. I have to say, I am skeptical of your interpretation.

    1) In the sources I’ve read, it’s been Ida’s near-landfall rapid intensification that has been pointed to as bearing the most obvious fingerprints of climate change. That happens to be the place where your map *does* have significantly above-average temperatures compared to the climatology you chose.

    2) More importantly, your map compares current / a few days ago SST to *1990-2019* climatology! I.e. a base period that already includes quite a lot of warming!

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    1. Sierra...what you say is not true..the 1990-2019 period is not one that is much warmer than before...I have a plot showing that in my blog

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  20. Mike Smith blogged about this recently too. Not as eloquently...http://www.mikesmithenterprisesblog.com/2021/08/more-global-warming-stupidity.html

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  21. Cliff - This is a great critique on the lack of rigor and curiosity by media "science writers" and other supposed journalists.

    When the opportunity affords, I would be interested in your thoughts on how media coverage such as this has dulled our normal understanding of weather and promoted a "cartoon-like" understanding instead.

    Keep up the great work.

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  22. Any global increases in the dew point? That would be expected and could increase rainfall inland. Tho I expect it to be modest bump on a major storm analogous to the northwest heat in June.

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  23. Looks like Ida vacuumed up many tons of water in passing over that warm patch in the Gulf of Mexico. Ever see anything like this before, Cliff?

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  24. Looks like Ida vacuumed up many tons of water in passing over that warm patch in the Gulf of Mexico. Ever see anything like this before, Cliff?

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  25. Cliff, is there any experiments you know of being done or have been done on the basic proof of concept. I know they have used trend lines and the rise of industry coincides with warming, but seems to me a trend and models leave a lot of variables on the table. I believe in climate change, I believe it could be human caused, but a simple proof of concept experiment can help all those who don't come around. Isn't that how science worked in the past, a theory (which in my opinion climate change is, a theory) and then experiments to prove validity? That's why all these idiots of media and politicians can get away with it. There are no experiments to counter or validate claims.

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  26. Looking forward to the summer recap, since our area is now in meteorological autumn.

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  27. You should use tropical cyclone heat potential (TCHP) instead of sea surface temperature. The use of TCHP was how Ida was projected to rapidly intensify.

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  28. "They" are making their shift to Climate Change from COVID. Part of the plan. Get ready for the ramped up assault. There are many important environmental issues, ones that people can actually do something about. But Climate Change helps support the communist agenda. That's the only reason for the focus. Totalitarianism is the push (technocracy version), which is ultimately disdain and contempt for ordinary people.

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  29. Dr. Mass, Journalists aside, why are not other climate scientists speaking out to counter the exaggerated claims we read in media? I don't disagree with your views but it would be helpful if there were more voices added to bring facts to the public.

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  30. Cliff has been fighting the good front against what can only be called "climate cultists," and he's paid the price for his heresy.

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  31. Those last two graphs are substantially skewed by the requirement that the hurricanes make landfall in the US, which is relevant to measuring economic impacts but not climate change. If you look at all hurricanes in the north Atlantic and Caribbean basins that reached category 5 anywhere along their tracks during the past 100 years, a striking pattern emerges. In the 20 years from 2000 to 2019, there were 14 of them, compared to 22 during the 80 years before that. The worst 20-year period during those previous years was the 1920s and 1930s, when there were 8 category 5 hurricanes recorded. To put in the random errors (as any good scientist should), that’s 14+-3.7 versus the average 20-year total of 5.5+-2.2 and the worst prior total of 8+-2.8. Sure looks like climate change to me!

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  32. Michel...that is not correct. One can not go back 100 years finding cat 5 (or any other intensity) over the oceans. Not enough data. Only on landfall can you know what is going on...that is why landfalling storms are so important. Worldwide landfalling storms is the same story...no significant upward trend....

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  33. Reading an article by Nick Shay an Oceanographer there was a strong eddy with warm water extending well below the surface directly in the path that Ida took prior to landfall. Even though the heat had been skimmed off the surface by the previous storm there was an enormous amount of heat just below that Ida was able to tap into. Seems like the water temperature needs to be looked at three dimensionally to get a full understanding of what happened.

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  34. Hi Cliff,
    I'm reading an article in Scientific American discussing Ida and the role of climate change in increasing the number of rapidly intensifying tropical storms.

    Atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, Mass. ("Francis has extensive experience studying rapid alterations in the Arctic climate system—research that has involved atmospheric influences on sea ice and transfers of heat and moisture from lower latitudes that are caused by climate change"), says that yes, rapidly intensifying storms are becoming more common with climate change.

    Here is a quote from Scientic American (Aug 31, 2021): Q: Can you elaborate on the role of climate change in increasing the number of rapidly intensifying storms?
    A: "The ocean is absorbing about 90 percent of the heat that’s being trapped by the extra greenhouse gases that we’ve dumped into the atmosphere. So that is, all by itself, providing most of the ingredients needed for rapid intensification—just having that warm seawater, like a supercharged battery for storms, created by human-caused climate change. But in addition, when we do get a rapidly intensifying storm and a very strong storm, like we saw in Ida, that also creates stronger winds, so more wind damage, as we’ve certainly seen. A bigger storm surge, which, of course, is riding on top of higher sea levels, is another direct effect of climate change. The waves that are being generated by those stronger winds are also riding on top of a higher storm surge and sea-level rise. All of those factors are made even worse by climate change. And the increased amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is causing more frequent and heavier downpours—an increasing frequency of heavy precipitation events, whether it’s with a tropical storm or a thunderstorm or a nor’easter."

    In my layman's understanding, this analysis seems to contradict your conclusions. Am I missing something?

    Thanks

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    1. Beverely,
      There are a number of problems in Francis's work. But the truth is evident...there is no upward trend in the number or intensity of landfalling storms in the U.S...cliff

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