Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene in the Rearview

The storm is moving away, fortunately leaving less carnage than predicted, so now it's time for the eggs to be thrown. The major media shied away from tying Irene to global warming but that didn't stop the Daily Beast from posting a piece by environmentalist Bill McKibben on Thursday night doing just that; some of his broadsides are worth discussing:
As she roars up the Eastern Seaboard, everyone is doing what they should—boarding windows, preparing rescue plans, stocking up on batteries. But a lot of people are also wondering: what’s a “tropical” storm doing heading for the snow belt?
Swing and a miss in the first paragraph. He clearly used 'snow belt' to paint a picture of how rare "tropical" storms should be in this part of the country even though it never snows in New York in August and tropical storms are actually quite frequent in the Atlantic waters offshore.
Category 3 Storms have rarely hit Long Island since the 1800s; one was the great unnamed storm of 1938, which sent 15-foot storm waters surging through what are now multimillion-dollar seaside homes. Normally, says Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, it’s “difficult for a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane crossing north of North Carolina to maintain that intensity, because wind shear rapidly increases and ocean temperatures plunge below the 26°C (79°F) level that can support a hurricane.” The high-altitude wind shear may help knock the storm down a little this year, but the ocean temperatures won’t. They’re bizarrely high—only last year did we ever record hotter water.
And wow, a Cat 3 didn't hit this time, either, despite the ominously warm surface water just offshore. In reality the storm was a category 1 when it reached North Carolina and a strong tropical storm when it made landfall in New York City. His piece was written as if a Cat 3 storm was a certainty, proving the world-changing strength of global warming. Strike two.
Remember—this year has already seen more billion-dollar weather-related disasters than any year in U.S. history. Last year was the warmest ever recorded on planet Earth. Arctic sea ice is near all-time record lows. Record floods from Pakistan to Queensland to the Mississippi basin; record drought from the steppes of Russia to the plains of Texas. Just about the only trauma we haven’t had are hurricanes plowing into the U.S., but that’s just luck—last year was a big storm year, but they all veered out to sea. This year we’re already on letter I—which in a normal year we don’t get to until well into October. Every kind of natural system is amped up, holding more power—about ¾ of a watt extra energy per square meter of the Earth’s surface, thanks to the carbon we’ve poured into the atmosphere. This is what climate change looks like in its early stages.
That's sort of a pop fly single to left. Nobody can deny there has been an almost Biblical level of tornadoes, drought, floods and snow-storms in since October of 2010 but the question is whether they are directly related to higher global temperatures as opposed to say prophesy from The Revelation or the end of the Mayan calendar.

Nobody of science should doubt that world temps are higher now than in the late 1800s, the question is whether this trend was created solely by mankind or if mankind only chipped in a bit on a natural upswing coming off the Little Ice Age. The guilt-ridden enviro-lefties always assume humans are completely to blame then proceed to attack that strawman by suggesting the only correction to the problem is an autocratic world government willing to force enviro-conservatism on the rubes who don't know better. Like Tea Partiers. After all, it's a crisis.

But their gloom and doom predictions on hurricane strength don't always compute. Both the Environmental Defense Fund and Al Gore's websites STILL contain an as-yet proven theory that hurricanes will be stronger on a warmer planet despite that science not yet being 'settled'. McGibben points to the massive amount of rainfall with Irene, which is true, but check out Tropical Storm Jose, currently making it's way harmlessly north past Bermuda as of this writing. On startup it had a neat little circulation but appeared skeleton-like with cloud bands and very little rainfall. Storms like Jose were hard to find in the old days before satellites but now they contribute to the annual storm count, which later translates into a proof of global warming because there are more storms.

McKibben's warming theory about Irene's rainfall can also be challenged by the curious little tropical storm named Don that hit the Texas coast near Brownsville in July then defied prediction by fizzling out within 6 hours of landfall. If higher temperatures allow storms to contain more rainfall (warm air can hold more moisture) then does it also cause them to fall apart quicker when their circulations get disrupted by land masses, the rain being absorbed back into the atmosphere through evaporation? It's far from settled, as yet just another example of how scientists don't completely understand the feedback mechanisms.

At any rate, McKibben eventually gets into the meat of his piece--politics. He tears into the Obama administration for not being liberal enough in citing their tepid environmental report on a pipeline project designed to tap tar sands in Alberta and transport oil south into the US, quoting climate doyen James Hansen:
Those tar sands are the second-biggest pool of carbon on the continent; if we tap into them in a big way, says the federal government’s premier climate scientist James Hansen, it’s “essentially game over for the climate.”
In other words, it's game over if we switch some of our sources of oil from Saudi Arabia to Alberta regardless of whether we use the same amount of energy or not. Rather illuminating because it shows what the enviros really want: world governments stepping in and crushing free-market capitalism due to the emergency. And here we were told that getting off Arabian oil would quell the war machine.

In the end Irene will be a bona fide disaster, already costing billions in lost revenue and likely costing billions to clean up. But it certainly wasn't the historic 100 year storm of our lifetimes as characterized by Obama, Christie and Bloomberg. In retrospect it will be an interesting study in human behavior as politicians felt compelled to run around like headless chickens to make sure they weren't "Katrina-ed" by the press if the worst occurred, while the media ran around like headless chicken-littles trying to create stormageddon to boost excitement and ratings (although not everybody obeyed).

And forecasters, wary of how the media would treat them should they not forecast a worse case and one occurred in a major population area, basically introduced a worse case while knowing (as McKibben pointed out) that climatology doesn't favor one. So everyone has now gone into explain, blame, slash or pretend mode until the next one comes. And it could really be bad!

A NEW MEME 8/29/11

Here's Norah O'Donnell reporting live on president Obama's good response to Irene, including something that's been showing up on several lefty message boards--the notion that Bush did not declare a federal disaster area for Louisiana or Mississippi BEFORE the storm hit as Obama did with the east coast. She made a point to note how Obama's early declaration stood in start contrast.

Just one problem. Bush issued a pre-Katrina state of emergency declaration on Saturday before the storm hit:
The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in d in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing.
So no, Bush didn't declare a federal disaster area before Katrina but he did declare a state of emergency, which was also declared at state level a day prior. For some reason that distinction wasn't worth noting to CBS.


Debbie said...

I found it interesting that States were declaring 'states of emergency' even before the hurricane, er'a' tropical storm, hit. Wouldn't want to miss out on those Federal dollars, there are so many piled up just waiting to be requested.

Right Truth

A.C. McCloud said...

Eric Cantor was quick to say they would be taking money out of other areas to feed FEMA on this. Otherwise Christie would have to explain why he would take federal help now and reject it in a stimulus program. In other words, everything is politics, always.