First, some bad news for The New York Times, The Washington Post and Al Gore, but glad tidings for most of the rest of us: President Donald Trump didn’t actually cause Hurricane Florence, and your SUV didn’t either.
In point of fact, Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a scientist at Colorado State University, has reported that tropical western Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures where most hurricanes form were actually about a half-degree Celsius cooler — not warmer — than the 1981-2010 average.
And while the water temperature in the western Gulf of Mexico last year was about 4 degrees Celsius above average, the extent, if any, of this influence on Hurricanes Irma and Harvey is subject to debate.
Dr. Roy Spencer, a meteorologist and principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, correlated numbers of major landfall hurricanes with Gulf surface temperatures between 1870 and 2010. They occurred with equal frequency both when conditions were below and above average — the hurricanes didn’t seem to care in the least either way.
Also, just for the record — and there are lots of them available — landfall U.S. hurricanes haven’t recently become either more frequent, more violent, or more deadly.
Very fortunately, they have become less so.
A review of North Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane patterns fails to reveal any worsening trend over more than a century. In fact, the frequency of all U.S. land falling hurricanes between 1900 and 2017 has declined.
Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma actually ended a nearly 12-year-long drought of U.S. landfall category 3-5 hurricanes since Wilma in 2005, whereas 14 even stronger category 4-5 monsters occurred between 1926 and 1969.
Harvey lost its category 4 status shortly after making landfall, but nevertheless, caused catastrophic flood damage as a rain event along the southeast Texas coast.
The Houston, Texas area received 52 inches of rainfall in four days.
Nevertheless, this wasn’t particularly unique either. Tropical storm Amelia dumped 48 inches on Texas in 1978; tropical storm Claudette inundated the town of Alvin, Texas with 54 inches in 1979, emptying 43 inches in just 24 hours; and Hurricane Easy deluged Florida with 45.2 inches in 1950.
The 2005 and 1961 seasons shared records for their seven major U.S. landfall hurricanes since 1946 when the instrumented wind and pressure database was first considered to be relatively reliable.
The year 1983 set the record for the least number, with only one.
Many intense Atlantic storms formed between 1870 and 1899 — 19 during the 1887 season alone — but then became infrequent again between 1900 and 1925.
The number of destructive hurricanes ramped up between 1926 and 1960, including many major New England events.
Major hurricanes really blasted the U.S. coast from Florida and northward over a decade between 1950 and 1960. Included were: Hazel (1954), Carol (1954), Connie (1955), Ione (1966), Audrey (1957), Gracie (1959), and Donna (1960). Twenty-one Atlantic tropical storms formed in 1933, a record only most recently exceeded in 2005 which saw 28 storms.
In terms of known human tragedy, the deadliest event was the Great Hurricane of the Antilles (1780) which struck Barbados causing 22,000 fatalities. Hurricane Maria which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017 reportedly killed thousands.
The most deadly to hit the continental U.S. was the Galveston hurricane of August 29, 1900 which may have killed up to 12,000 people. The Okeechobee hurricane, also known as the San Filipe Segundo hurricane which struck Florida in 1928, caused 2,500 fatalities.
We should imagine that those casualty numbers would have been many times greater if correlated proportionately with recent resident populations. The same applies to infrastructure and private property losses owing to presently much higher coastal development densities and premium real estate valuations.
Katrina which had reached a category 5 level hurricane level in 2005 before hitting the Louisiana coast as a tropical storm resulted in about 1,800 deaths. It packed wind speeds reaching 175 miles per hour, with a 20-foot storm surge which topped levies.
We should remember that it doesn’t require strong hurricane winds to wreak terrible life-threatening havoc and costly destruction. As Harvey demonstrated a year ago, a large, slow-moving tropical storm can be tragically devastating to those in its path and vicinity.
Some major tropical storms and lower category hurricanes have also caused major havoc worth noting. "Superstorm Sandy," a 2012 hurricane which ravaged the northern east coast resulted in more than one hundred fatalities.
In reality, whereas we don’t, and can’t, change the weather — which does so all by itself —it truly is in our best interest to prepare our communities and households to mitigate against outcomes. Whether or not any one of such event becomes prognosticated by perfidious pundits and perniciously promoted by pompous politicos as the "biggest ever," "strongest ever," "deadliest ever," or "costliest ever," it may qualify as the worst ever for you.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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