I listened with shock, and then dismay, last night as NBC News’ Brian Williams referred to Hurricane Sandy as “the new norm.”
Williams’ statement came less than halfway through an NBC special about the storm and was a lead-in for The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore to begin the obligatory discussion about global warming. (Williams went so far as to question whether New York is “the new Amsterdam.”)
I’ve made little secret of the fact that I’m a global warming skeptic. But regular readers of this blog also know that I’m critical of conservatives who dismiss the climate change theory outright. I’m a proponent of bringing both sides to the table to have a non-partisan, common-sensical discussion of the issue. Sadly, that seems impossible. There’s no doubt that the earth is warming. There is no doubt that we’re having more extreme weather now than in most of recorded history. It’s entirely possible that these changes are permanent, and that they’re manmade. I tend to believe, and will until someone can convince me otherwise, that these changes are cyclical and that man has nothing to do with them.
Regardless, jumping to proclaim a single weather event as the definitive result of global warming is both foolish and naive. People like Cantore certainly know better, and if people like Brian Williams don’t know better, they ought to. But they (the alarmists and their media enablers alike) are too busy pandering to let facts stand in their way.
Fact is, extreme weather events have occurred since the dawn of time. We have records of massive hurricanes slamming what is now New York City and Long Island as far back as the mid 13th Century. The New England Hurricane of 1938 killed 60 people. What about Hurricane Edna in 1954? The Long Island Hurricane of 1821? 1894’s Hurricane Five?
A single superstorm slamming the East Coast is no more evidence of global warming than prolonged cold snaps across the entire hemisphere is evidence of global cooling. To proclaim otherwise — here’s looking at you, Al Gore — is asinine.
We were told after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that this was the “new norm.” Then we went seven quiet years — some of which featured abnormally calm Atlantic Basin hurricane seasons and some of which featured average numbers of storms but those storms stayed safely away from the U.S.) and heard little talk of global warming in connection with tropical weather. Now we have a perfect storm of sorts slamming the East Coast and this is the new norm.
Never mind that there has been no evidence of the earth warming since the global temperature spike in 1998. This was a storm that killed people, caused billions of dollars in damages and inspired wall-to-wall media coverage, therefore it must be the result of global warming.
So Sandy was the second tropical storm to make near-direct landfall at New York in as many years (Irene made landfall at NYC as a tropical storm in August 2011). And yet these storms don’t even start to compare with the frequency of tropical storms that threatened New York in the mid 1950s (Connie and Diane struck in the same month in 1955, causing significant flooding though they didn’t make direct landfall on the city). And the frequency of tropical storms to make landfall near NYC in the ’00s wasn’t as great as the ’90s. What new norm?
Move a little further up the coast to New England. Category five — top of the scale — hurricanes struck in 1938 (New England Hurricane) and 1960 (Donna), with category four storms in 1944 (Great Atlantic Hurricane), 1961 (Esther), 1985 (Gloria) and 1999 (Floyd), and category three storms in 1954 (Carol and Edna), 1955 (Diane), 1966 (Alma), 1976 (Belle), 1991 (Bob) and 1996 (Bertha). Note that these were peak intensities; in most cases, the intensity at landfall was weaker. Add them up and there was, on average, a major hurricane that ultimately made landfall in New England every 3.5 years between 1938 and 1966. Since 1966, there has been an average of one every 9.2 years. Since 1999, there have been none.
What new norm?
Look back at that list again. When were hurricanes most frequent around New York and New England in the 20th Century? The 1950s. In fact, there were 10 — look ’em up — major hurricanes to strike the East Coast between North Carolina and New England between 1954 and 1960.
If you’re a regular reader here, you might remember that in my winter outlook post a few weeks ago, I pointed out that the current weather pattern is similar to the 1950s. The Atlantic is in its multi-decadal warm cycle; the Pacific is in its multi-decadal cold cycle. When that happens, as we found out in the 1950s, hurricanes tend to strike the East Coast — and New York and New England — more frequently.
That isn’t a “new norm.” It’s a new cycle. It’s the ’50s all over again. And it has jack to do with global warming.
Update: Reuters calls Sandy “one of the biggest storms ever to hit eastern United States.” This is a statement that has been pretty common in the media these past several days. If by its breadth, then, yes, it’s one of the biggest ever. If by its intensity and sheer power, it isn’t even close. This was, at its peak, a category 1 hurricane. A serious storm, a destructive storm, a deadly storm . . . nothing anyone would want to repeat. But calling it one of the biggest storms ever is a misnomer.
Update II: Let’s talk about stupid.