Sunday, May 26, 2019

Kansas City Star's Tornado Article Illustrates What is Wrong With the Media

This story is the lead in both the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle this morning. It was written by the Star.
I am quoted in the lead story in the Kansas City Star this morning which pertains to the Star’s position that global warming is causing the current spate of tornadoes throughout the Great Plains. 

Unfortunately, this article is an example of why people distrust the media. The newspaper had determined what the article was going to say and then looked for scientists to fill in the blanks. 

In fact, for the first time in my career, I was reluctant to speak to a reporter because I expected they would try to tie tornadoes to global warming very early in the conversation. I spoke with the Star’s Laura Bauer for 1-hour 15-minutes in two conversations Friday. Throughout, she kept attempting to twist my answers into something that would validate her pre-determined hypothesis that global warming is causing the current spate of tornadoes. I not only held fast, I sent her factual information that demonstrates that global warming is not making tornadoes worse – and, as I predicted to friends in the interim, none of that made it into the article.

Here are my specific issues with the article:
·      I was extremely clear that there had been a paucity of tornadoes in Kansas and Missouri running up to 2019. The Kansas and Missouri part didn’t make it into the article. 
·     Instead, they ran a graph of national, total tornadoes. The problem with that is that Doppler radar and storm chasing (thanks to Twister) is well known among meteorologists to have greatly increased tornado reports since about 1995. Instead, one has to look at the frequency of strong tornadoes for which the record is very solid. I sent her the graph below which shows strong tornadoes -- the type that kill people -- are becoming rarer. They didn’t use it because it refutes their hypothesis. 

·     As to global warming causing causing tornado alley to migrate, I told her to check the Star’s own archives for articles in about 1969 or 1970 about Ted Fujita’s hypothesis that tornado alley migrates. His research went back to 1919 and was based on fatal tornadoes. There is nothing new about tornado alley shifting back and forth between the Great Plains and Southeast. As far as we know, tornado alley has always shifted. 
·     Worst of all is the nonsense that tornado alley is shifting east because western Kansas is getting drier and the possibility of long term drought. The paper cited by the Star making that claim never examined actual precipitation records. It is based entirely on climate models. I have examined the actual data and western Kansas is getting wetter, not drier. Others, including Kansas State University, who have looked at the actual data have come to the same conclusion

Kansas State University paper demonstrating Kansas, especially western Kansas,
is getting wetter, not drier. 

Let me be clear: If the factual, contrary information I presented to Laura had made it into the article along with the information from others purporting to tie more tornadoes and more drought to global warming, I'd have no problem with the article. The reader could make up his or her mind. 

Normally, I would give the reporter the benefit of the doubt. But, Laura’s clear aim was to tie global warming to increased tornadoes. 

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