A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane cycles and human hatred.....

In newspapers like The Independent and The Guardian, certain attempts to lay 'the blame' for the present tragic Gulf Coast hurricane season on America, on Americans, and on George Bush in particular, have plumbed depths that bring little but disgrace to British and European journalism. It makes me ashamed to have to read it, and I apologise for it. I hope that the commentators and the reporters involved, not to mention some of the people (and the scientists) they quote, will also grow to know their shame.

Yet, the human exploitation of such mighty natural phenomena seems to know no bounds. To date, hurricanes Katrina and Rita have already been blamed on the Japanese paying back America for Hiroshima; sickeningly, as ever, on the Jews ('modern' left anti-Semitism is increasingly both intellectually lazy and deeply dangerous); on neo-cons; and on Mr. Bush himself. We have, truly, never been 'modern'. You may remember that the dreadful Boxing Day Asian tsunami was itself attributed to an American-Jewish conspiracy and to certain defilements of Islam, such as drinking in Aceh. It appears that human fanaticism, and hatred of other human beings, will always contrive to exploit every human tragedy for its own conceited and tawdry political ends. It is the witchcraft of every age.

What can one do? Here then, simply, is the American hurricane record for the last 200 years, which exhibits, as we know, a c.30-year cycle of enhanced activity and reduced activity [I should point out that the record is much more general before satellite evidence became available in the 1960s(1)]:

Early 1800s: many tropical cyclones and hurricanes, including a direct hit on New York City in 1821 (probably a Category 4 Hurricane);

1840s - 1860s: much reduced hurricane activity;

1870s - 1900: a return to heavy tropical cyclone and hurricane activity, including the well-recorded 1887 season, in which at least 19 'tropical storms' occurred, with, most unusually, 4 recorded later than November 1 - overall at least 11 were serious hurricanes. In 1900, Galveston, Texas, was largely destroyed and some 12,000 people killed;

1901 - 1925: a return to reduced hurricane activity;

1926 - 1960s: a return to highly-destructive hurricanes, including many well-recorded New England hurricanes. In 1933 alone, there were no fewer than 21 Atlantic tropical storms. 'Hurricane Bets(e)y' struck New Orleans in 1965 flooding the city, while Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 Hurricane with 200 mph winds, hit Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi in 1969, killing many people;

1970 - 1994: a return to reduced hurricane activity, with few above-average hurricane seasons;

1995 onwards: increased hurricane activity once more, with Katrina and Rita in 2005. Some 4 more hurricanes are predicted for 2005. We should expect high hurricane activity for the next 20 or so years.

The idea that recent hurricane patterns may be readily attributable to single-variable human-induced 'global warming' is just not tenable. History is far from bunk; it is our true key to any real understanding of what poor players we are, strutting and fretting our [mere] hour upon the stage. 'Global warming' is but the fundamentalist religion of presentism, and the witchfinder generals are out among us, yet again, in the Crucibles of Conspiracy and the Salems of Science. Watch and beware.

In this Age of Darkness, we must cling on dearly to Enlightenment values and to Gradgrindian facts. Mitigated scepticism is salvation.

*See also this excellent comment at the newly-revivified George Junior blog: 'Merchants of doom' (September 23).
(1) Hurricane records prior to 1961 fail to list many storms when no ship experienced the gale-force winds, or recognized these as a tropical cyclone. Indeed, powerful hurricanes sank ships unfortunate enough to encounter them. The logs of other ships have been lost, destroyed, or have become illegible.

Philip, thinking of all those potentially-affected by Hurricane Rita. I can but wish you the very best of luck when she strikes land tomorrow.

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