Another Busy Hurricane Hoopla Season
This spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its annual hurricane forecast. In its report, NOAA indicated a 70% chance that the 2013 season would be "more active than usual." So far, they've been wrong.
"More active than usual" has become so common in hurricane forecasting parlance that one wonders what happened to "normal." I don't question NOAA's professionalism: their forecasts are based on a dizzying array of data points and surely represent state-of-the-art science. But the record of the past few years deserves careful scrutiny just the same.
Just like this year, 2012 was another "more than usual" forecast, and it did produce more named storms than the average of twelve. Still, no hurricane struck the U.S. So-called "Superstorm" Sandy was, in fact, not a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey. Technically, it was classified as a "post-tropical cyclone" -- in other words, a tropical storm with below-hurricane wind speeds. Most 2012 storms approached the East Coast and curved off toward Bermuda. Or they dipped into the lower Caribbean and made landfall somewhere on the Mosquito Coast.
In 2011, forecasters again predicted an "above normal" Atlantic hurricane season. For 2010, NOAA predicted an "active to extremely active" season. Two thousand nine was predicted to be "near normal," but 2008 was to be "near normal or above normal." Two thousand seven was again predicted to be "above normal." For 2006, NOAA predicted a "very active" Atlantic hurricane season with 13 to 16 named storms, perhaps 4 to 6 of them "major" hurricanes.
In other words, from 2006 to the present, every year but one was forecast to be above normal, with not a single year being below normal. Statistically, that is like flipping a coin 8 times and coming up with heads ("active" or "normal") eight times and tails ("below active") none. Try it.
During those 7 years, 2007, 2008, and 2012 were "active" hurricane seasons, but only two storms ("Ike" in 2008 and "Sandy" in 2012) caused significant damage. The remaining years from 2006 to the present turned out to be "below normal," even though the government forecasters had led us to believe that they would all be above or near normal. In fact, it is now over 2,800 days since a major hurricane has struck the U.S. -- a record going back well over 100 years. That's seven and a half years since a major hurricane made landfall on the continental U.S.
We still have nearly three months to go on this year's hurricane season, and, though nothing is looming at the moment, anything can happen. It's reasonable to keep an open mind. But that is not what climate alarmists, abetted by some of the data that comes out of forecasting centers, have done.
No matter what the evidence, the alarmists who draw on NOAA's forecasting want the public to believe that we have entered a new era of "extreme weather." For alarmists in the media, hurricane seasons are always "more active than usual," even when they're not.
And not just hurricanes. Be it hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, rain, drought, wind, or snow, the weather is always extreme because, to justify massive government intrusion into the lives of citizens, alarmists need it to be extreme. And sure enough, they always find something to confirm their dire forecasts. B ut then, there always is something going on with the weather.
On any particular day, there is always at least one spot on the earth's surface where the weather is "extreme." And that is the spot that gets reported, despite the benign conditions that exist at the other 99.9% of reporting stations on that day. With the help of some frenzied commentary and dramatic film footage, that one storm can be made to seem catastrophic.
In the parlance of rhetoricians, that is what is called synecdoche, the substitution of the "part" for the "whole," or vice-versa. It is a common rhetorical trick: a means of deception, and stock-in-trade for every climate alarmist. There's always a little bit of extreme weather, and it can be made to suggest the end of the world.
There is, of course, a political agenda beneath all this fascination with weather "extremes" -- extremes that are actually quite normal. According to alarmists, extreme weather results from climate change, which itself results from carbon emissions and other forms of man-made pollution. In order to address climate change, alarmists believe that global government must be empowered to police all human activities that influence the climate -- which is to say, all human activities. Granting such powers to climate police, be it in Washington, in Brussels, or at the United Nations or some other global agency, would make the end of individual liberty.
The climate police would then have the power to restrict where one lives, how one travels, what one does at work, what one purchases, and even the size of one's family. And they would use that power.
Make no mistake: climate alarmism is the greatest threat to human liberty since Marxism (which, of course, is still very much with us and is eager to team up with climate alarmism to attain common goals). Just as Marxism employs the pretext of social justice to suppress liberty, radical environmentalism utilizes the pretext of climate change.
What both of these totalitarian ideologies seek is to place ordinary human beings and the capitalist businesses that support them under the control of political elites with unlimited power. The "boot on the neck," as Obama's Interior Secretary Salazar had it. Not that different from George Orwell's vision of the totalitarian future.
Oh, by the way: on Thursday, NOAA revised its "above average" forecast for 2013, reducing the number of predicted storms to between six and nine. That would make 2013 a distinctly "below-average" year for hurricane activity. NOAA should be applauded for making the correction, but I wonder if that revision made the evening news.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2013).