Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unfortunate Story About Tornadoes and 'Global Warming'

Today's Wichita Eagle has another de rigueur story on global warming and, this being spring in Kansas, tries to tie it to tornadoes. So, let's look at the story paragraph by paragraph and see what is correct and what is not. I'm putting the story in bold print. 
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — With the planet heating up, many scientists seem fairly certain some weather elements like hurricanes and droughts will worsen. 
The first error is in the first sentence. The graph below is world temperatures since 1990. They peaked in 1998 and have been flat since. The earth is not "heating up."

There is zero evidence hurricanes are worsening. The following is from Dr. Ryan Maue:

This index combines both worldwide number and intensity of hurricanes. There is no upward trend. You can click to enlarge the graph.
So, we have two scientific errors in the first sentence. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any better as the story progresses. 
But tornadoes have them stumped.
These unpredictable, sometimes deadly storms plague the United States more than any other country. 
Calling tornadoes "unpredictable" is at least twenty years out of date. This blog has covered this recurring media error on numerous occasions (check here and here for just two examples). In the fatal 2011 tornadoes that Borenstein mentions below, more than 99% were covered by both a tornado watch and a tornado warning before the fatality occurred! Unpredictable? Hardly.  
Here in tornado alley, Oklahoma City has been hit with at least 147 tornadoes since 1890.
But as the traditional tornado season nears, scientists have been pondering a simple question: Will there be more or fewer twisters as global warming increases?
There is no easy answer. Lately, tornado activity in America has been Jekyll-and-Hyde weird, and scientists are unsure if climate change has played a role in recent erratic patterns.
The above paragraph is just nonsense. Tornadoes are always highly variable in time and location. 
In 2011, the United States saw its second-deadliest tornado season in history: Nearly 1,700 tornadoes killed 553 people. The Joplin, Mo., twister was the single deadliest in American history, killing 158 people and causing $2.8 billion in damage.

Addition (hat tip, Elaine Spencer): Joplin wasn't even close to being the worst in U.S. history; there have been many tornadoes worse than Joplin in terms of fatalities. The worst single tornado that we know of was the Tri-State tornado of March 18, 1925, that killed 695. Total fatalities that day were at least 747. Of course, that exceeded the entire year of 2011 by a large margin. 

The following year, 2012, started even earlier and even busier. Through April there were twice as many tornadoes as normal. Then the twisters suddenly disappeared. Tornado activity from May to August of that year was the lowest in 60 years of record-keeping, said Harold Brooks, a top researcher at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla.
Here is a graph of tornadoes of F-3 or stronger intensity by Greg and Harold's employer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, going back to 1954.
I have highlighted the supposedly unusual drop in tornadoes from 2011 to 2012 in red. If you look at 1974-75 and 1964-65 you see similar drops (orange and green respectively). 
Now, look at world temperatures since 1950. I have highlighted the temperatures in the same color scheme as above. The two early drops occurred with much cooler temperatures.  
There is no relationship between world temperatures and having a year with a high number of tornadoes followed by a very low year. 
Meanwhile, Canada saw an unusual number of tornadoes in 2012; Saskatchewan had three times the normal number.
That year, the jet stream moved north and "essentially shut down" tornadoes in the American Midwest said Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist at the federal storm center. A tremendous drought meant far fewer storms, which not only shut off the spigot on rain but on storm cells that spawned tornadoes.
The cause of the 2011-12 drought was the same as every other central U.S. drought. A high pressure system that blocked storms. Yes, Saskatchewan had a high number of tornadoes because the low pressure centers were forced to go up (north) around the high pressure system into central Canada. 
For much of America, tornadoes are seasonal. Typically, there are more during spring, and the numbers dwindle in the worst heat of the summer. Last year "essentially was an extended period of summertime conditions over the U.S.," Carbin said. "The real question is: What is spring now? Is it February?"
This is a fair point. There is little question that, for the last decade or so, spring seems to start earlier and fall seems to end later. But, is this a bad thing? It results in a longer growing season and more food for a hungry world. 
"Summer may be happening earlier and may be muscling out what we consider a transition between summer and winter," he said.
The last two seasons aren't alone in illustrating extremes in tornado activity.
Tornado record-keepers tally things like the most and least tornadoes in a month. Records for that category have been set 24 times over the past 60 years. Ten of those records have been set in the past decade — six for the fewest tornadoes and four for the most, Brooks said. Also, the three earliest starts of tornado season and the four latest have all occurred since 1997, he said.
So? Sixty years is a very short period of time in climatological terms.

It isn't just my opinion that global warming has had no effect on tornadoes. This is from United Nations' the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the people that won the Nobel Prize along with Al Gore):
It says, There is low confidence in projections of small-scale phenomena such as tornadoes because competing physical processes may affect future trends and because climate models do not simulate such phenomena. When the IPCC can't find evidence of something worsening with 'global warming' you know there is no trend.

It seems, more and more, with global warming having stalled, its proponents have to reach more and more to try to justify their "sky is falling" view of the world. As with the story below putting penguins in the Arctic, it would be nice if they could get their most basic facts correct.


  1. "In 2011, the United States saw its second-deadliest tornado season in history: Nearly 1,700 tornadoes killed 553 people."

    Not sure that's correct; 1925 was probably THE deadliest as far as we know but weren't 1936, and maybe even 1953 and 1932, worse than 2011?

    "The Joplin, Mo., twister was the single deadliest in American history, killing 158 people and causing $2.8 billion in damage."

    Glaring factual error here! The Tri-State Tornado of 1925 was and still is No. 1 in that respect; Joplin is No. 7 in terms of fatalities according to SPC. How hot was it back in the late 19th/early 20th century when all those far deadlier tornadoes occurred?


  2. Excellent point, Elaine. I will add that to my commentary.

  3. Great to see you are out there to correct media lies. I remember your presentation at WSU and refer to it whenever I summon the time and energy to correct Global hoax nuts. Nothing spoils thier day like facts. Keep up you work.

  4. It's good to have a free press, innit ? Publish and be damned. A twister on the prairies and a twister in the press !


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