Monday, November 19, 2012
NORMAL Is Not the ''New Normal'' !
Hurricane Sandy left in its path some impressive statistics. Its central pressure was the lowest ever recorded for a storm north of North Carolina, breaking a record set by the devastating ''Long Island Express'' hurricane of 1938, not counting the six previously Big and Bad hurricanes in the 18th and 19th Century that have no scientific stats. Along the East Coast, Sandy led to more than 50 deaths, left millions without power and caused an estimated $20 billion or more in damage.
Then you had the leader of the pack of the warmist cultists, Al Gore, expressing almost with glee that Sandy represents the result of continued Global Warming. Even New York's Mayor Bloomberg got sucked into the man-made warming conspiracy with his outburst in the media saying, ''We have been hit by a storm that is not normal....it's the new normal!'' But to call Sandy a harbinger of a ''new normal,'' in which unprecedented weather events cause unprecedented destruction, would be wrong. Earth is a dangerous place, where extreme events are commonplace and disasters are to be expected. In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.
In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list, as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today, Hurricane Katrina ranks forth at $85 billion. To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall -- Carol, Hazel and Diane -- that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy. I know, I lived through them growing up as a youth in the New York City suburb of Queens.
While it's hardly mentioned by Al Gore, Tim Flannery (Australia's answer to blind ideology) or the media, the U.S. and Australia are currently in an extended and intense hurricane (cyclone) ''drought.'' The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make U.S. landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century. It also bodes well for the planet that there hasn't been any global warming in 16 years.....so it's about time Mr Gore and his ilk must swallow their rhetoric and shut up. There is reason to believe we are living in an extended period of relatively good fortune with respect to disasters. A recurrence of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake today, for example, could cause more than a $300 billion in damage and thousands of lives according to a study Roger Pielke published in 2009.
Even so, with respect to disasters we really do make our own luck. The relatively low number of casualties by Sandy is a testament to the success story that is the U.S, and Australian National Weather Service and parallel efforts of those who emphasize preparedness and emergency response. Everyone in the disaster-management community deserves thanks. But continued success isn't guaranteed. The bungled response and tragic consequences associated with Hurricane Katrina tell us what can happen when people let their guard down.
The Way I See It....there is another danger. Public discussion of disasters risks being taken over by the climate lobby and its ''watermelon'' allies, who exploit every extreme event to argue for action on energy policy. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared simplistically: ''I think at this point it is undeniable but that we have a higher frequency of these extreme weather situations and we're going to have to deal with it.''
Humans do have some affect on the climate system and it is important to take some action on energy policy -- but to connect energy policy and disasters makes little scientific or policy sense. There are no signs that human-caused climate change has increased the toll of recent disasters, as even the most recent extreme-event report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds. And even under the assumptions of the IPCC, changes to energy policies wouldn't have a discernible impact on future disasters. The only strategies that will help us effectively prepare for future disasters are those that have succeeded in the past: strategic land use, structural protection and effective forecasts, warnings and evacuations. That is the real lesson of SANDY.