As the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season winds down, NOAA is fear mongering again even as Atlantic hurricane activity has dropped a whopping 80 percent from 10 years ago. That’s according to a new analysis released yesterday by Dr. Roy Spencer, a meteorologist and team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite. To blunt this historical news, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced yesterday that global warming could be to blame for an active hurricane season last year around Hawaii. Meanwhile, as the Atlantic hurricane season finishes out its eleventh year, there hasn’t been a category 3 or higher hurricane to hit landfall in over a decade.
With the upcoming UN-sponsored Paris Climate Talks in early December, NOAA’s scientists have instead released a new report saying that global warming may have played a role in the increased hurricane activity around Hawaii last year. To hammer home its point, NOAA reiterated that “tropical storm Iselle slammed into the Big Island in August 2014 and was one of three tropical disturbances that approached Hawaii last year, making it the third largest number” since recordkeeping began.
NOAA’s new report found active hurricane seasons in general around Hawaii, and said it may be the new normal over the next couple of decades. But National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Ballard says it’s still too early to make such broad statements. “I think the jury’s out for sure. Good science takes a long time to to flush through, I think there will be a lot of people that will be researching not just last season but this season,” Ballard said.
For 2015, only four hurricanes that formed in the northeastern Pacific Ocean affected coastal communities, either directly or indirectly: Carlos, Linda, Marty, and Patricia. The most recent and much-hyped hurricane, Patricia, began as a tropical storm and was fueled by a strong El Niño (a naturally recurring event where sea surface temperatures along the Pacific equatorial line become unusually warm). It quickly developed into a cat-5 storm that made landfall near Cuixmala, Jalisco in Mexico. The storm was only the second hurricane to make landfall as a cat 5 since recordkeeping began and, just as quickly, deteriorated into a remnant low.
Meanwhile, the 2015 hurricane season for the Atlantic basin, which officially ends on Nov. 20, shows a marked decrease from last year according to Dr. Spencer’s analysis. Spencer notes that people “old enough to remember the 2005 hurricane season (remember Katrina?), may recall this was going to be the ‘new normal’ for Atlantic hurricane activity due to global warming.” That’s because there were 15 named hurricanes that year. Even the National Hurricane Center (NHC) jumped on the global warming bandwagon and “expected system after system to strengthen, and it almost never happened.”
Then in 2006, Spencer notes, everything changed. According to the NHC, the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season marked the first time since 2001 in which “no hurricanes made landfall in the United States,” and the first time since 1994 “where no tropical cyclones formed during October.” In fact, only nine named tropical storms formed, of which five went on to become hurricanes, and of those, only two were category 3. The other three storms were only category 1. That pattern continues into 2015.
So far this year, the Atlantic hurricane season has seen only three hurricanes. “Tropical Storm Kate just formed [Nov. 9] near the Bahamas, but it is not expected to reach hurricane strength and should remain offshore of the U.S. mainland,” Spencer writes. He also notes there has been a slightly downward trend in Atlantic tropical cyclone activity. The current lull, he says, “matches the lull back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Spencer also points out that then-Director of the National Hurricane Center Neil Frank testified in the 1980s before congress that the current two-decade “lull in hurricane activity had made people complacent,” and that we should “expect an uptick in activity.” In the 1980s, Frank attributed the lull to natural variability, not to global cooling or global warming.
“Now it is true that global average tropical cyclone activity has increased again in the last year or so,” Spencer writes, “But it remains to be seen whether this has anything to do with warmer temperatures or a long-term trend, since there are many conditions which must be satisfied for a tropical cyclone to form and intensify…not just ocean temperatures being a fraction of a degree higher.” As for Hawaii and the 2015 hurricane season: No storms have made landfall with only a few tropical storms coming near the Island chain.
Back in May 2015, NOAA said the 2015 hurricane season would be below-normal, with only 6 to 11 storms predicted and three making landfall. While the season officially ends Nov. 20, so far we’ve seen 11 storms, with three classified as hurricanes, and only one making landfall over the southern Bahama islands. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its most recent report that, based on computer models, hurricanes would increase in number and intensity in a warming world.