How to Prevent a Hurricane...No, Really

Hurricanes, similar to tornados, volcanos, and earthquakes, are natural disasters which have plagued the planet long before humans drove gas guzzling SUVs or used air conditioning. The earliest recorded hurricane in Florida occurred in 1523. Note the word “recorded”, as 16th-century Florida was a bit less populated compared to today with accurate weather recording still centuries in the future.

Flash forward to 1900 when Floridians were more adept at recording their weather. By that time there had been 159 Florida hurricanes with 6500 fatalities. In 1900, William McKinley was president and not using his bully pulpit to fight climate change as is our current president. Did President McKinley ever utter these words? “No challenge poses a greater threat to our children, our planet, and future generations than climate change.”

As the 11-year-long Florida hurricane drought comes to an end, it seems newsworthy to ask why no hurricane has made landfall in Florida for over a decade. Until this week. What happened to the dire predictions of Al Gore and other global warming alarmists? Ten years ago we were facing a “true planetary emergency” requiring “drastic measures” to avoid a “point of no return.” Why aren’t intrepid reports asking the climate doomsday gang to explain themselves?

Instead, as predictable as sunrise and sunset -- but not hurricanes -- one such reporter, NBC’s Ron Allen has conveniently forgotten the last decade as if it never happened, resurrecting the global warming bogeyman in the face of Hurricane Matthew. Allen attempts to tie the current hurricane into the UN Climate Accord by saying that the hurricane threat is what, “this whole climate agreement signed by 190 nations and now ratified by 60 or so is designed to stop."

Wow! So easy! Countries agreeing to a UN proposal can stop a hurricane. If I was living along the Florida coast, I would have wanted this agreement signed decades ago, avoiding hurricanes Camille, Katrina, and Andrew, and the death and destruction they brought.

If only it was that simple. Hurricanes, like weather and climate, are predicted based on computer models. How accurate are the models? Look at the models of Hurricane Matthew’s path. Some tracks have the hurricane heading harmlessly out into the Atlantic. Others have it crossing the state heading into the Gulf of Mexico. Most have it heading up the U.S. coast in some fashion, possibly making landfall anywhere between Florida and the Carolinas. Each of the myriad lines is generated by a computer model.

As it turned out, Hurricane Matthew was a category 3 storm which hugged the Florida coast as it moved north. One of the multiple track lines predicted the actual hurricane course, the rest did not.

These models all have access to the same data, the variation being how they use and weight all of the available information. Is there a consensus? Obviously not as the forecast is a “spaghetti plot”. These models are also only predicting events a few days ahead, not years, decades, or centuries into the future as the climate change models attempt to do.

Yet there is “scientific consensus” regarding global warming. President Obama declares, “Climate debate is over, science is settled.” So why isn’t the hurricane track settled rather than skewing all over the map? Why haven’t the dire storm predictions panned out over the past decade?

Scientific models are designed to take existing data and make predictions about the future. This applies to predicting hurricanes in the short term or global climate in the long term. Similar models are also used to predict the activities of the stock market or presidential elections. All are easy to test. One can use historic data in the model and test the predictions against what actually occurred. Or else make predictions going forward and see how they pan out.

This is the scientific method. Develop a hypothesis, test it out, modify it based on its accuracy until it is forecasting with a high degree of reliability.  Predicting big hurricanes for the past ten years, and finally being vindicated after a decade of failure is hardly good science. Much like predicting a particular sports team to win the championship. Predict for long enough and eventually your team will win (except perhaps the Cubs and Lions).

The danger of relying on junk science, as is President Obama and the NBC reporter, is that there is a cost to being wrong. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has not been right about much lately, is spot on regarding UN climate deal, "The Paris climate deal would be disastrous for the American economy." Why would we want to gamble hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on a wild guess? The only “settled science” is that America currently has a $20 trillion national debt which shows no sign of slowing or stopping.

The presidential candidates have also weighed in on the climate deal. “Republican Donald Trump opposes the accord and Democrat Hillary Clinton strongly supports it.” Prudent spending versus wealth distribution. Good to keep in mind as we contemplate the next four years.

If Mrs. Clinton believes so strongly in global warming, perhaps her Clinton Foundation should spend more on charitable grants than it does on its high carbon footprint travel expenses. Another good question for an NBC reporter to ask Mrs. Clinton.

Perhaps President Obama can explain exactly how this climate accord will prevent hurricanes. Or other major weather events. If we were to apply the scientific method here we could sign the accord and have a one-year trial. If hurricanes, cyclones, tornados, blizzards, severe thunderstorms, and similar weather events all stop for the year, maybe the accord actually works. More likely however, the storms will continue. In which case the climate accord should be shredded and used to heat Al Gore’s mega mansion.

Or better yet, accept that hurricanes are as much a part of the planet as are earthquakes and volcanos, and only a fool thinks a few handshakes and signatures will change that. Instead focus on the real challenges facing the world rather than chasing storms and windmills.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver-based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

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