Hurricanes, Carbon Dioxide, and Fossil Fuels

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Hurricane season is here again! I’ve spent much of my life tracking hurricanes and studying the science. Severe storms have intrigued me since I was a kid. As a young man, I experienced flying into the teeth of one as a RADAR meteorologist and crewmember with the renowned U.S. Navy Hurricane Hunters. These last five years, I’ve enjoyed researching big storms even more now that technology has advanced and data has become more widely available. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Many believe that hurricanes are getting more frequent and more severe. Global warming advocates blame it on increasing air, land and, especially, ocean water temperature. They further speculate that the increasing temperature is due to increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air since it is an airborne greenhouse gas that preserves heat like a blanket. And, of course, they blame the increasing CO2 in the air on increasing fossil fuel usage, one of whose combustion byproducts is CO2.

But, this fear is unfounded. While the logic of the above paragraph may seem simple, straightforward, and sensible, it is not. Here’s a sampling of why:

  1. While warm ocean water is clearly an important component of a hurricane, it is not the only factor. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes that can get them started and keep them going. However, another very important ingredient in the recipe for a hurricane is too often forgotten or ignored — vertical wind shear. When winds are mild, as a result of, for example, La Niña conditions, vertical wind shear is low, and hurricanes form more easily. When vertical wind shear is high, resulting from conditions like El Niño, it is harder for hurricanes to form even when the ocean water is warm.
  2. Yes, it’s true that our average global temperature is increasing. But, it is increasing mildly, naturally and beneficially. The control knobs on temperature are the sun, water, gravity (aka planetary motion), and the inertia of the earth’s 24-hour spin cycle. These complex sources and forces of nature — not humans or our CO2 emissions — are the drivers of our global climate.
  3. There is nothing simple about the interactions of the sun, water, gravity and inertia. Just think about the earth as it spins and wobbles about its tilted north-south axis, and all the while orbiting the sun. As the earth spins on a 24-hour daily basis, it is dragging the water and the air along with it, generating complex air and ocean currents. These are intricate, nonlinear, even chaotic phenomena that we scientists still do not understand very well. Case and point are climate models — almost all of them — that run hot, way hot, over time. They do not match validated, reproducible temperature evidence (observations and measurements). Models have been that way for decades and are not improving much, if at all.
  4. Also, a look into the rear-view mirror of recorded temperature and carbon dioxide history clearly shows that temperature changes, both up and down, drive change in CO2, not the other way around. A simple example of this truth is leaving a carbonated beverage sitting in the sun for a while. It goes flat and rather quickly, as the carbonation (CO2) escapes to the atmosphere due to the sun’s warming power.
  5. History also shows that long-term glacial periods are interrupted every 100,000 years, or so, with interglacial warm excursions lasting roughly 12,000 to 15,000 years, prior to a continuation of glaciation. We currently live in the latter part of an interglacial warming period. So, historically, we should be warming and should expect it to continue until we dip back down into the next iteration of glaciation.
  6. Last but certainly not least is the widespread misunderstanding of the greenhouse effect and its contribution to warming. Here’s how it works. The earth warms during the daytime as it absorbs sunlight. At night, the earth cools (i.e., it re-emits absorbed energy back toward outer space). But unlike absorbed sunlight during the day, the earth cools by emitting “terrestrial” infrared energy at night. And, airborne greenhouse gases, like CO2 and water vapor, interfere with the nighttime cooling process by absorbing some of the outbound terrestrial radiation and then reemitting it as infrared energy in all directions — half to outer space and the other half toward the earth. That half of the infrared energy going back to the earth helps the earth retain its warmth that would otherwise be lost to outer space. If those greenhouse gases were not present, the earth would cool too much and be a perpetually frozen planet.

With the above in mind, let’s now circle back to hurricanes with concrete evidence that they are not getting worse in Texas or elsewhere. Warming or the greenhouse effect, or the CO2 generated by humans and fossil fuels, do not increase hurricanes.

The graphic below illustrates the number of hurricanes (frequency) recorded each year, going back to 1860.

The blue zigzag line is the annual number of hurricanes (>74 miles per hour winds) recorded in the North American region, which includes the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Northeastern Pacific region, extending out to the Hawaiian Islands. The green zigzag line is the annual number of hurricanes recorded worldwide. It includes the North American number and the remaining South Atlantic, South Pacific, Northwestern Pacific, North Indian Ocean, and South Indian Ocean basins.

Until 1945, only the U.S. tracked and recorded hurricane activity, most of which were hurricanes that actually made landfall. The major upswing in global hurricane/cyclone tracking is a combination of other countries starting to officially track, record and publish storm activity. Technologies that track and record hurricanes have matured since the 1980s. Satellites are the major advancement along with long-range and pulsed Doppler RADAR.

An even better and more recent metric of hurricane activity and intensity is illustrated below. It is Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE), which is a measure of the kinetic energy (windspeed) of tropical hurricanes and cyclones in units of knots2 times 10,000 (104).

This ACE metric has only been available since 1990 when advanced technology enabled more reliable measurements of storm wind speed. It enhances the frequency metric and also depicts that there is no upward trend in hurricane intensity.

In other words, 1) hurricanes are not getting worse either globally or in the USA over the long haul, and 2) any perceived upswing in hurricanes is mostly due to technology advancements, namely satellite tracking and wind speed monitoring of storm activity on a global scale.

Here is one other NASA piece of evidence that clearly illustrates the airborne fertilizer benefits of increasing CO2 in our air. It shows that our planet has been steadily “greening” over the past 35 years. This means steadily increasing crop yields, hence more food for our ever-growing population.

“From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands have shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” according to a new study, published in the journal “Nature Climate Change” on April 25, 2016.

“An international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries led the effort, which involved using satellite data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometer instruments to help determine the leaf area index, or amount of leaf cover, over the planet’s vegetated regions. The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.” Translation: CO2 is a good gas.

To conclude, there is abundant and reliable evidence that hurricanes in the USA are not increasing or intensifying. The myth that hurricanes are increasing due to humans and our fossil fuel fascination is just that — a myth. Hurricane behavior remains steady over the long haul.

We need more carbon dioxide, not less, to help feed our ever-growing population. Any foolish, multi-trillion-dollar attempt to tax or sequester carbon dioxide out of existence should fail. Instead, we should devote our precious environmental funds toward things we do have some control over — like real pollutants such as ozone, dust, smoke and more.

There’s a lot at stake here. But because we can all agree that we want clean air, land and water, it’s time to start having civil conversations about our climate. My book, “A Tale of Two Climates—One Real, One Imaginary,” arms you with the facts you need to be part of these important conversations.

Be informed. It looks like we are in for another active hurricane season in 2021. I want all of us, especially impressionable children, to know that we do not have to fear climate change. Study it. Respect it. Adapt to it. And most important of all — enjoy our amazing, normal and ever-changing climate.

Sources of information used in this article, and more:

Klotzbach, P., et al. 2021. Tropical Meteorology Project. Colorado State University Tropical Weather & Climate Research. 2021. http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu/Realtime/

Knapp, K. R., et al. 2010. The International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS): Unifying tropical cyclone best track data. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 91, 363-376.

Pekny, B. 2020. A Tale of Two Climates—One Real, One Imaginary. Two Climates Publishing. www.twoclimates.org.

www.co2coalition.org.

www.wattsupwiththat.com.

www.climaterealism.com.

About the Author: Bill Pekny’s experience in meteorology and atmospheric physics includes hurricane modification experiments with the renowned U.S. Navy Hurricane Hunters, LASER RADAR development, testing new products in various atmospheric environments, global climate research, and more. His career in science spans over fifty years in the U.S. Armed Forces and the aerospace industry.

He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from DePaul University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has completed additional advanced meteorology coursework at Florida State University and the University of Utah. He also served as a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Ginzton Laboratory of Applied Physics.

Bill’s first book — ”A Tale of Two Climates—One Real, One Imaginary” — is available at:

www.amazon.com, hardcover book and eBook format, or email Bill at:

[email protected], for a signed hardcover book.

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