Tag Archives: Katrina

Remembering Katrina and climate change politics

Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the city,  was just convicted of corruption.  Twenty counts.  All related to Katrina reconstruction contracts.  I must admit, I wasn’t surprised.

Katrina is a classic example of people not preparing for a likely event simply because it is infrequent.  Politics is all about immediate problems.  Politicians do not do well preparing for events that only come along every 100 years or so.   A relatively large hurricane struck a city adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.  A city with sections below sea level.   It has happened before and it will happen again.  Someday.

Katrina and Al Gore are inexorably linked in my mind, because of Mr. Gore’s film.   An Inconvenient Truth linked human tragedy with climate change.  Lots and lots of newsreel footage of Katrina suffering, with Mr. Gore narrating.   George Bush and global warming shared the blame, according to Mr. Gore.

Mr. Gore’s approach begins with little bit of science.  He then provides lots of anecdotal information.  He then uses that information to support his gloom and doom climate change thesis.  The science may or may not have anything to do with the subject at hand, but it seems like the two are linked together.   The process works well.

The Katrina section of the film opened with a graph.  The graph displayed the changes in worldwide ocean temperatures.  The graph showed a rise in recent years.   That graph was the only specific data provided.

Tropical systems need warm water to form.  Mr Gore asserted that because  the oceans are warmer,  there would be more storm systems.  Videos of suffering in New Orleans; pictures of suffering in Asia. Many  tropical systems were featured.  The storms themselves were all the proof Mr. Gore needed.

Multiple problems immediately come to mind.

  • Global average ocean temperature is a bad proxy.  Most warming since the end of the Little Ice some 250 years ago  has occurred in temperate and Arctic locations.  The Tropics have been remarkably stable.
  • The IPCC 2007 Synopses Report, released a year after An Inconvenient Truth,  called tropical cyclone data  inconclusive.  Mr. Gore’s favorite UN agency contradicted him in their most recent report.
  • Mr. Gore’s ocean temperature chart went back to the 1940’s.   Ocean data before the 1980’s must have been a wild guess because before that date very little data existed.

But Mr. Gore’s central problem is this; statistical data does not support his premise.   Tropical systems have not been becoming more frequent.   In the years since his film was released, worldwide activity has decreased by a small amount.   Globally, tropical systems have been surprisingly stable for at least 40 years.

How do I know this?

Scientists use ACE (The Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy) to track worldwide total tropical cyclone activity.  This data takes into consideration both the strength and the number of cyclones all over the world.  It’s a mathematical way of calculating the yearly impact tropical systems have on our environment.  24 month running sums are plotted.

Here it is:


Forty years of data, no trend.  Unfortunately the real world and the world of global climate politics are completely different places.   In 2005, when Katrina was devastating New Orleans, man caused global climate change was supposedly causing bigger and nastier storms including Katrina.

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines late last year.  Global climate change was an oft stated source of the devastation.  Haiyan was a big storm, but not unprecedented and not unexpected.  6 to 9 typhoons strike the Philippines in a typical  season.

A typhoon struck the Philippines in September of 1881. It is estimated that 20,000 people in the Philippines died and thousands more died in Viet Nam. It was the most devastating tropical storm in recorded history. More tropical cyclones strike the Philippines than any other populated place on earth.

Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, blamed drought in California on man caused climate activity.   A recent study disagrees:

Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years

Katrina was a category 3 storm when it hit New Orleans, Haiyan was a big storm, but others have been bigger and the drought in the West has happened before.   The Mayan culture disappeared some 600 years ago, presumably due to over population and a change in the climate.

Maybe, just maybe, Nature is simply being Nature.   Some climate change might simply be a Natural Event.

What’s a Humberto

Humberto is the first hurricane of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.  It formed off the coast of Africa yesterday.  CNN filed a report.  If Humberto had formed a few hours later it would have set a record as the latest first hurricane in Atlantic Hurricane reported history, whatever that means. After all a mere 100 years ago we didn’t even name storms.


The Atlantic season runs from June through November each year and peaks on September 10th.  In a normal year we would have had 3 named hurricanes by now.  Humberto formed off the coast of Africa.  Had it formed 50 years ago we might have missed it.  It is a relatively small storm that will likely not last very long and will probably never threaten land.   It might not have been counted at all just 50 years ago.

2005 was a really bad year for hurricanes, particularly if you lived in Florida or in New Orleans and points East when Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast.   Al Gore used the Katrina event as proof of global warming gloom and doom in his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth.  He went on and on and on.   Every year since Al published his docudrama, hurricanes have been less severe than 2005.   We have now had seven and one half years of relatively mild hurricanes since the record setting season of 2005.

Why is it that bad hurricane years are equated to proof that global warming is serious and imminent while mild seasons prove nothing?     Hmmm.  One bad season, seven going on eight good ones. Maybe Mr. Gore was wrong?   Time will tell.

Cover Art Tells a Story — But Is it True

I’m a fan of irony.  I was in a video store recently, when I wondered by the documentary section…and there it was, Al Gore’s DVD cover, dripping with irony.

The cover says it all.  Smokestacks galore billowing smoke ….and then the smoke morphs into a hurricane.  An Inconvenient Truth, catchy title.

Carbon dioxide, the villain in Mr. Gore’s film is nearly odorless and colorless.  Factories billowing smoke on the cover and throughout the film are mostly billowing water vapor and/or air pollution depending on the source.  Some carbon dioxide is present, but since it is colorless it is not visible. All throughout the film carbon dioxide and air pollution are equated to each other, a factual error, emphasized by the cover.

The film is full of dirty polluting factories.  Factories can pollute…but if the pollution is visible, it is the more traditional air pollution we all love to hate.  Carbon dioxide is a green house gas, visible air pollution usually is not a green house gas. Most visible air pollution cools the planet.

Visible air pollution by definition is not colorless.  The visible haze block some light. This causes more of the suns energy to be reflected back to space without ever reaching the earth’s surface.  Just about everybody …including Mr. Gore’s friends at the IPCC, acknowledge that this form of pollution is a cooling event.

Air pollution looks bad….and marketing is all about appearance.  Never let facts get in the way of a good story.  All throughout the film, we see polluting factories and then the subject of carbon dioxide appears…it is a classic bait and switch..they really are two very different subjects.

I spent another post discussing the Katrina Hurricane.  It was a monumental mess.  Many politicians made mistakes.  Poor human behavior deserves credit for the mess that was New Orleans in 2005.  A category 3 storm adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.  Sounds like normal weather to me if we can classify the last 100 years or so as normal.  Mother Nature  being Mother Nature.

In its 2007 Synopses, the IPCC said that there was not enough evidence to draw conclusions about global warming and hurricanes.    And they like to draw conclusions.

The inconvenient truth about science is this, truths are rare indeed.  Science is a process and in that process the facts of the day change with knowledge.  The title of  the film is catchy and successful, but is it truthful?

Remember, we are talking about long range world wide weather forecasting  combined with assumptions about energy use.  These predictions go 100 years into the future.  How well would you have done in 1890, predicting energy use for the year 2000.


When the UN wrote their first climate report in 1990, they were beginning a process that predicted the climate in 2100, two years later.  Who knows what our energy mix will be a hundred years from now.   Not you, not me and  not Al Gore.  Nobody knows!

I’m sorry….truth is just the wrong word.

The business of climate science is one giant scientific wild ass guess.  Mr. Gore appears to think anybody that doubts is being fooled or foolish.  Maybe, but I’d take the other side of that bet, anytime.  With so many variables, and so many unknowns, success is far from assured.  Doubt is the smart play!

In the film Al Gore uses a quotation from Mark Twain to discredit his opponents.

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know; it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”

The title of the piece, firmly puts Mr. Gore in the we know for sure camp.   Maybe it just ain’t so.

Hurricane Prediction Time, Remembering Katrina

Last week the experts in Colorado predicted a relatively mild  2012 Atlantic hurricane season .  Years ago I was interested in the predictions because I had a relative that lived in Fort Myers; now I give some credit for my interest to Al Gore.

Yup.  Al Gore.  It all started in 2006 when I saw his film An Inconvenient Truth.  I actually found his film conveniently untruthful in many ways.  The film converted me from a mild global warming believer into a confirmed skeptic.

In the film, Mr. Gore blamed the Katrina event, and tropical cyclones all over the world on man caused global warming.  His argument was based on the notion that the oceans are warmer so hurricanes are much worse since they form over oceans.

Unfortunately for Mr. Gore, his favorite UN agency, the IPCC disagrees.  They state in their 2007 Synopses Report that most of the recent warming has occurred over land in northern climates.  They also say there is no clear evidence that hurricanes have been impacted by anthropogenic global warming.  The do say it might happen in the future.

Hurricanes are tropical systems, they need warm water.  The tropics have not  warmed significantly in the last 50 years.  The warming of the oceans has been primarily in the the North Pacific, the North Atlantic and the Arctic.  Hurricanes don’t form there.

Maybe I should cut Mr. Gore some slack, his film was released in 2006, and the IPCC Synopses Report was not released until 2007…but naaaa, Al should have known better.   I am never a fan of mixing politics and science…and Hurricane Katrina got the Al Gore science/political misinformation treatment in spades.

Many people are particularly upset by Mr. Gore’s politicizing of science with his extensive use of the Katrina event.  FEMA did a poor job, as did the mayor of New Orleans and the governor.  The Corps of Engineers and the civilian boards in New Orleans also made many judgment errors.

It was a case of many people not preparing for an event that everyone knew would come some day, an event that was not particularly extraordinary in a weather sense. Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane when it hit New Orleans.  It really is a story of failed human behavior. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves if it is wise to live below sea level adjacent to very warm water in hurricane country.

I know a good or a bad hurricane season doesn’t prove anything about global warming.  It is but a single data point ….and we need lots of data over a long period of time to really understand….but every year we don’t have a bad hurricane season,  Mr. Gore looks silly…and I like that.

PS.   We have had 6 relatively mild Atlantic Hurricane seasons in a row since Mr. Gore released his film.