There’s good reason to think the whole hurricane-global warming debate is a huge distraction, because of its relative lack of importance in understanding societal hurricane risk. (See Roger Pielke Jr.’s blog for the latest in many, many discussions of the data suggesting that building houses on the beach is the most important risk factor in having houses on the beach blown down by hurricanes.)
But given that we’re having the whole hurricanes and global warming debate with such vigor, a new paper in tomorrow’s Science by Chris Landsea et al. injects a new note of caution into the discussion. Landsea and colleagues discuss the shortcomings in hurricane datasets, explaining the details of how the various datasets were collected over the years, the resulting shortcomings and biases, etc. Their conclusion:
The pre-1990 tropical cyclone data for all basins are replete with large uncertainties, gaps and biases. Trend analyses for extreme tropical cyclones are unreliable due to operational changes that have artificially resulted in more intense tropical cyclones being recorded, casting severe doubts on any such trend linkages to global warming.
This is obviously not the last word on this, or the definitive answer to the question, but I think it provides support for a point I’ve tried to make previously: what’s the hurry? Why the rush to answer the question of whether there’s a global warming-hurricanes link? This is hard science. I say give ’em the time they need to sort this out.
It should not go unremarked that Landsea and company went on for years accepting that data in support of their natural cycle hypothesis. It is kind of funny how they seemed to begin seriously questioning it only around the time when others began to wonder whether the influence of global warming on tropical cyclones might be showing itself a little earlier than theory had predicted.
I’ll be interested to see the extent to which the paper addresses the SST aspect of things.
I would like to point out that the houses on the beach argument itself is a distraction. There are many economically important activities which cannot be relocated, as, for example the Gulf oil industry, the port at the mouth of the Mississippi, and more. These facilities have been built to meet a threat level which is lower than what can now be expected. The cost of upgrading can be directly attributed to global warming )of course the Canadians are happy that Hudson Bay will be open a few more days/year(.