Is Hurrican Idalia evidence for 'climate change'?
In a quick pivot, media attention is shifting from Maui to Florida as Hurricane Idalia churns its way towards the Sunshine State.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended his presidential campaigning for the moment to manage hurricane emergency operations.
The media were quick to blame the Maui wildfires on climate change. Later, having to eat crow and back off those claims as it became apparent that nature, combined with government and utility ineptness and inaction, were to blame for the tragedy.
The media should avoid making similar false attributions for Idalia.
There is no evidence that Idalia or any other hurricane this year, or historically, has been caused by or would not have formed absent climate change.
Climate change is indicated by a long-term shift in atmospheric and weather patterns for particular areas, regions, and hemispheres. Although the global average temperature, a made-up metric if ever there was one, has increased modestly over the past 150 years, there has been no trend of increasing extreme weather events, including no trend in increasing numbers or severity of tropical cyclones.
Who says so? Real world data and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s most recent report says it has low confidence it can detect any changes in long-term trends for the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones or hurricanes. The IPCC also admitted it has low confidence it can attribute any changes in hurricane activity to anthropogenic influences.
If there is one consistent trend or pattern that data show about hurricanes it is that there is no consistent trend, with hurricane frequency and severity varying from year to year and decade to decade. Over the past100 years, if anything, the data indicate there has been a modest decline in the yearly number of hurricanes and major hurricanes on average. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that over the past century, the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones have declined, with one report finding a 13 percent decrease in tropical cyclones between 1850 and 2012.
Recently, the United States experienced the fewest number of hurricane strikes in any eight-year period in recorded history (2009 through 2017). In 2016, Florida, America’s most vulnerable state for hurricanes (where Idalia is threatening), concluded an 11-year period without a landfalling hurricane, the longest such period in recorded history. And from 2013 to 2016, the Gulf of Mexico also recently benefited from its longest hurricane-free period in recorded history.
Which brings us to 2023 and Idalia. The “official” hurricane season runs from June 1 through the end of November. This year, until the past week, tropical storm numbers and accumulated energy or sustained wind speeds have been below normal. Moreover, the hurricane season typically peaks in late August through mid-September, meaning there is absolutely nothing unusual about multiple storms forming during this short time period.
Idalia forming and strengthening now is not only not outside of the norm, it fits the historic pattern perfectly.
If current weather forecasts are correct, Idalia will make landfall in Florida and cause damage as hurricanes typically do. The mainstream media should resist the urge to try and shoehorn Idalia into its increasingly shrill “climate change causes everything” narrative, because there is no evidence that Idalia is at all unusual. It is forming during the time of year when hurricane formation peaks on average, and its wind speeds are not outside the normal range.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at the Heartland Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization based in Arlington Heights, Illinois.