Tropical cyclones and climate change

Michael Shellenberger has a recent Forbes article on [w]hy Deaths From Hurricanes And Other Natural Disasters Are Lower Than Ever. The article is based quite strongly on the work of a friend of this blog. The basic argument being that even though natural disasters are getting more expensive, it’s because we are so much richer, not because hurricanes and floods are so much more severe.

One problem is that not everyone agrees that the increase in damage costs is solely due to us being richer. Another friend of the blog is an author of a paper showing [e]conomic losses from US hurricanes consistent with an influence from climate change. Aslak Grinsted, and colleagues, also recently published a paper where they normalised in terms of equivalent area of total destruction and showed that [t]he frequency of the very most damaging hurricanes has increased at a rate of 330% per century.

Additionally, our understanding of how tropical cyclones will respond to global warming goes back more than 30 years. It’s well understood that increasing sea surface temperatures will increase the potential maximum intensity of tropical cyclones. We’re also very confident that anthropogenically-driven global warming (AGW) is the dominant cause of sea level rise, which can then impact storm surge. To date, sea level rise may not be that large, but as Gavin Schmidt pointed out, it’s the last foot that does the most damage. We also have examples where AGW almost certainly intensified tropical cyclone precipitation.

Credit: Kossin et al. (2020)

Kossin et al. have also recently published a paper looking at tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades. As the figure on the right shows, globally there is a clear increase in the probability of a tropical cyclone exceeding major hurricane intensity (which they define as winds exceeding 100 knots). This is also consistent with the theoretical expectation that we’ll see an increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones, even if we don’t see an overall increase in the frequency of tropical cyclones.

Also, as Andrew Dessler highlights, the strongest tropical cyclones dominate the damages, and so an increase in the frequency and intensity of these extreme tropical cyclones can have an enormous impact on the future cost of natural disasters. To assume, as Shellengerger and his sources suggest, that disaster preparedness dwarfs the change in whatever your favorite hurricane metric is seems somewhat optimistic to me. What’s more, this seems to ignore that some regions may be more able to build resilience than others, and that tropical cyclones may start to impact regions that have never before – or rarely – seen such events.

Of course, the impact of AGW is not just about the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme tropical cyclones. If that’s all we were likely to face, we may well regard drastic emission reductions as an over-reaction. There’s also the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, which could make some regions almost uninhabitable, and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events, which could impact flooding and agricultural practices. There’s sea level rise, which could substantially impact many coastal regions. There are already some impacts, such as the loss of tropical coral reefs, that are probably already unavoidable.

I realise that some do use tropical cyclones as a poster-child for the impacts of AGW and do sometimes exaggerate how climate change has impacted these events, or their impacts. I don’t, though, see how suggesting that AGW has had no impact is a suitable response to this. AGW will almost certainly have impacts that we may want to avoid. We can only really do so by limiting future CO2 emissions. That some regions may be able to deal with more intense tropical cyclones isn’t, in my opinion, a particularly good counter-argument.

Why Deaths From Hurricanes And Other Natural Disasters Are Lower Than Ever – Forbes article by Michael Shellenberger.
Economic losses from US hurricanes consistent with an influence from climate change – Estrada et al. 2015.
Normalized US hurricane damage estimates using area of total destruction, 1900−2018 – Grinsted et al. 2019.
Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades – Kossin et al. 2020.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to Tropical cyclones and climate change

  1. One of the criticisms of some of the work used to infer that damage costs are entirely because we’re richer, is that the normalisation used doesn’t include how much we’ve spent making our infrastructure more resilient and what we’ve spent on things like early-warning systems. You could argue that, given this, we might expect the normalised damage costs to be decreasing with time if climate change were not impacting the extreme weather events. It’s not obvious that the null hypothesis should be that there’s no trend in the normalised damage costs.

    In this context, it might be worth reading these two posts and, in particular, the comments.

  2. Jim Hunt says:

    Maybe Eli, Stoat, RP Jr et al. would also care to consider the ultimate cost of abnormally intense Arctic cyclones:

    as well as tropical ones?

  3. I should add that I also found this comment in Shellenberger’s article slightly bizarre:

    So is it accurate for scientists, reporters, and activists to claim that climate change is making hurricanes more destructive? It’s not.

    This seems to be based on the claim that they haven’t actually destroyed more, when normalised to account for increasing wealth. Seems rather semantic, in my opinion. We don’t regard a snake, or spider, as deadly only if it kills someone. I think most would take “hurricanes becoming more destructive” to mean that they have the potential to do more damage, all else being equal, not that they’ve necessarily done more damage despite our better level of awareness and resiliance.

  4. I guess when residents eventually abandon areas repeatedly devastated by tropical cyclones and flooding, Schellenberger & Co will downplay the impacts of climate change by pointing out that deaths have fallen to zero.

  5. All topical cyclone activity comes out of equatorial processes. Unless climate science gets a handle on understanding the genesis of these behaviors they will have a tough time isolating downstream impacts. It[s equivalent to doctors treating the coronavirus while not isolating the virus in the first place.

  6. You say with regard to AGW impacts: “We can only really do so by limiting future CO2 emissions.”

    I wonder if you can be a little more specific? When does the future arrive? How much do we need to limit CO2 emissions when the future happens?

    I think we are going to greatly reduce our CO2 emissions in the future, we might even get to net zero, but how and when that happens is rather important to managing the impact of AGW. Would you agree?

    If your suggestions are too vague, then everyone can say, sure, let’s do that and essentially make no change in their lifestyle. Well, almost no change. Many will remodel their kitchens and install energy star appliances and led lighting. When that is complete, some day in the future, those folks will have met your suggested solution by limiting their future CO2 emissions.

    I guess I am suggesting that you may need to Mann up a bit with your prescribed solutions.



  7. Nope, satellites that cost almost nothing (per capita) and communication systems which cost almost nothing (per capita) have absolutely nothing to do with any of this. Who knew, the Bangladeshi are now so much richer then they were fifty years ago (adjusted for inflation)/ Someone should tell them so.

    As JR40 appears to suggest we should all be moving towards, and building seaward of, the shoreface and then ignore all those warnings that we all get for next to nothing because we are freedom fighters or some such. /:

  8. One stop shopping on broken records (unfortunately those are broken vinyl records we have to repeatedly listen to). Self centered much?

  9. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Related to this from Mike:

    > disaster preparedness dwarfs the change in whatever your favorite hurricane metric…

    And this from you:

    > You could argue that, given this, we might expect the normalised damage costs to be decreasing with time if climate change were not impacting the extreme weather events.

    And this from you:

    > This seems to be based on the claim that they haven’t actually destroyed more, when normalised to account for increasing wealth. Seems rather semantic, in my opinion. We don’t regard a snake, or spider, as deadly only if it kills someone.


    Yah. I tried to get RPJr. to address this issue many times at his blog – with little success.

    It is of no consolation to those among an increased set of people who suffer the impact of extreme weather to know that if the value of damages to individuals were normalized by overall costs of damage, it wouldn’t show an increase.

    Also, as you point out, it does little good for poor people who suffer more damage from exteme weather to know that the overall costs equalize because rich people are not suffering more or are suffering less.

    Using normalized measures is, imo, a useful metric – but treating them as if they are somehow the only relevant metric, or a dispositive metric, or a fully comprehensive metric for evaluating damages from extreme weather, is not a sufficiently scientific approach, imo.

    (incidentally and relatedly the same goes [imo] more generally for using GDP, an aggregated metric that ignores differentiated measures of economic growth among various segments of the public, as a metric for evaluating the benefits of using fossil fuels. I also tried getting RPJr. to discuss that in his blog, with little success.)

  10. Joshua,
    I think it took me a while to realise that RPJ’s argument was based on normalising the damages to show that they’re increasing when increases in exposed wealth is taken into account. I can see some value in looking at it this way, but – as with many metrics – it can hide an awful of important details. Also, as I think Andrew Dessler points out regularly, why would one assume that the null hypothesis is “no trend”.

  11. David B Benson says:

    smallbluemike, the future begins now. Limiting CO2 emissions to zero isn’t good enough.

    See threads on BNC Discussion Forum.

  12. We’ve seen over the past quarter century that for either side in the climate conversation to hold up any particular metric as a poster child for their position inevitably results in concerted attacks on that metric, as if capturing the flag on a hill would result in the destruction of the other side’s legitimacy.

    In that respect, hurricane damages are no different than polar bears.

    The point and counterpoint of normal scientific practice makes it vulnerable to partisan exploitation. Both sides have abused and been abused by non-scientists trumpeting scientific findings even as they misinterpret them.

    I’m a progressive U.S. Democrat campaigning for and contributing to the Biden campaign. But I know for a fact that many Trump supporters are good and decent (and often quite intelligent) people. That’s because I know them.

    I suspect that something similar holds true in the climate conversation.

  13. Small,
    My point is simply that there are plenty of reasons why we might want to limit our emissions, by which I mean emitting less than we other wise might. To be more specific, ideally get net emissions (or even just emissions) to zero by sometime around mid-century. Even if we could deal with the impacts of more intense, and more frequenct, extreme TCs, I don’t think this suggests that we shouldn’t still be discussing how, and when, to get emissions to zero.

  14. At DBB: Right, the future is right now. I don’t even think we should talk about future in this regard, I think we should be talking about how emission reduction we can manage today, this week. Now.

    Saying we need to reduce emissions in the future seems so weak as to be unethical and immoral to me. Trump and Exxon would probably sign on to that plan. Call me when the future arrives. I thought I saw the future arrive back in 2005 when I watched Hurricane Katrina move across a warmed Gulf of Mexico and blow up from a Cat 1 to a Cat 4 or 5, whatever it topped at.

    I looked at the sat photos of Laura and thought it looked a lot like Katrina. The future revisited? But, yeah, we should reduce CO2 emissions in the future. I think we can all bite the bullet and sign on to that no-plan plan. Sign me up.


  15. Tom,

    We’ve seen over the past quarter century that for either side in the climate conversation to hold up any particular metric as a poster child for their position inevitably results in concerted attacks on that metric, as if capturing the flag on a hill would result in the destruction of the other side’s legitimacy.

    Yes, but this is sort of what I was getting at at the end of the post. There are some who do exaggerate how much climate change has influenced these extreme events and how much this has then influenced disaster costs. However, I don’t see how under-playing the how much climate change has influenced these events is somehow a suitable counter to this. It seems rather equivalent to me.

  16. Climate theory predicts and two decades of observations indicate that hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico often are supercharged by hotter surface temperatures.

    Economic theory predicts and two decades of observations indicate that better communications technology and construction practices serve as a partial buffer to the increased intensity of storms.

    There is no Venn diagram that shows the information in those two statements having anything in common.

  17. Tom,
    I have no idea what you’re getting at. It is possible for two largely independent statements to both be true.

  18. ATTP says: “To be more specific, ideally get net emissions (or even just emissions) to zero by sometime around mid-century.”

    Thanks, you hung some meat on the bones. Why not say that (drop ideally?) we need to get net emissions to zero by mid century. Your insistence on using soft qualifiers and avoid specifics seems very odd to me. If you think we need to get to net zero by 2050, just say so. The electrons involved in this style change in your presentations will not object and it’s much more clear.

    If you think we can and will get to netzero by 2050, work that plan backwards from 2050 and set out some specifics and benchmark times and numbers.

    When you say, we need to reduce emissions in the future, it’s like Fauci advising us all not to inhale any covid aerosols. Yeah. We get that. Tell us how to make that happen please.


  19. Mike, many elements of the Green New Deal work towards bending the curve in the U.S. to zero net emissions. I did a thumbnail cost analysis of the GND here: We already know it is broadly feasible. I think my analysis shows that the parts of the GND focused on bending the emissions curve towards zero are also economically feasible as well. (I estimated the annual costs of the GND as ranging between $2.65 and $5.88 trillion USD, but 68% of those costs are for the economic, not environmental agenda the GND proposes.)

    Reversing our policy on nuclear power, instituting a carbon tax and also a sovereign wealth fund kickstarted by increased royalties from energy producers, carrots and sticks to encourage adoption of electric vehicles, rooftop solar, increased energy efficiency, etc., while eliminating support for first, coal, then petroleum and keeping gas as a ready reserve, all combine to get us close to where we need to go.

    I also try there to show it is roughly feasible by 2050. The problem is how to export the know-how to the rest of the world, except in those places already on the same path (and in many cases ahead of the US.)

  20. Joshua says:

    Tom –

    > But I know for a fact that many Trump supporters are good and decent (and often quite intelligent) people. That’s because I know them.

    Aside from self-referential testimony to let us know what a good guy you are, what was the point there and how is that point relevant to this particular discussion?

  21. Chubbs says:

    Familiar somewhat with New Jersey. Big increase in risk reduction spend post Hurricane Sandy. Range of public and private activities from hardening sand dunes to raising houses. In the town we frequent, beach replenishment with sand to maintain dunes has increased in frequency to once every 1 to 3 years at a cost of roughly $10 million per mile. Per Kerry Emanuel’s recent note (link below) hurricane damage costs are $15 billion per year globally. Just noodling, that’s roughly 1500 miles of annual beach replenishment NJ style. Not hard to envision a time, perhaps now even, when risk reduction costs more than the hurricanes themselves.

  22. Dave_Geologist says:

    For some bizarre reason this ended up on an old post-fact thread. Although, serendipitously, it’s quite at home there if anachronistic 🙂 .

    To address this, a homogenized data record based on satellite data was previously created for the period 1982–2009. The 28-y homogenized record exhibited increasing global TC intensity trends, but they were not statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. Based on observed trends in the thermodynamic mean state of the tropical environment during this period, however, it was argued that the 28-y period was likely close to, but shorter than, the time required for a statistically significant positive global TC intensity trend to appear. Here the homogenized global TC intensity record is extended to the 39-y period 1979–2017, and statistically significant (at the 95% confidence level) increases are identified.

    This is why climate change denial as a way to change the science for good is a mug’s game. When the trend is obvious and unidirectional and supported by the physics, but just hasn’t been observed long enough to meet 95% significance, you just have to wait because it’s only a matter of time before it does become significant.

    Climate change denial as a delaying tactic to put off the required actions for as long as possible is, of course, another matter.

  23. Susan Anderson says:

    To be honest, none of us are immune from blindness toward the massive suffering every kind of climate disaster leaves in its wake, particularly in areas like the path of Hurricane Laura, because many if not most of the people affected are poor and without resources, while the world’s attention moves on. We already forget the derecho across our midwest (Iowa, Cedar Rapids, if you want to take a look). Harvey affected refugees from Katrina. The effects of these storms last for months and years, while the world’s attention lasts days or weeks.

    Yes, I’m grouping in events that are not tropical, but it’s important to remember that they are attended by an even greater attention deficit.

    Poverty is often less visible or invisible, and it is the least able to endure the devastation of life, health, livelihood and homes. Lately there’s been more attention paid to climate injustice, which is universal. It is poor people who have to live in vulnerable areas and toxic conditions. They are the ones living with the toxic air, water and earth around fossil operations. The list goes on and on.

    That’s why Lomborg and Pielke Jr. and others can cite “the poor” as victims of climate action, when the truth is exactly the reverse. The least fortunate are on the front lines, and it’s not pretty.

  24. Susan,
    Yes, you highlight a problem with the “we can become increasingly resilient to extreme weather events” narrative. It may be true that it is possible to do so, but this doesn’t mean that everyone can afford to do so, or that all regions can easily do so. Just because there are regions/people that have the resources to deal with the impacts of extreme weather events, doesn’t really mean that they then have some right to claim that there’s then no need to worry about these events becoming more intense and frequent.

  25. quite right, Susan. This situation is actually rather simple. In general, the people most responsible for carbon emissions will be least impacted by global warming and the folks least responsible for the emissions will be the most impacted.

    This is part of the reason that I react so strongly/badly when first world residents with financial means are vague with their prescriptions for how to address the problem. When a first world person of means says we need to reduce our emissions in the future, I think, what does privilege look like? Oh yeah, that’s what privilege looks like. Come on, bite the bullet, be honest and struggle to include some equity in your prescription. That means detail. Spell it out. Poor people around the world are suffering the impacts of global warming now. The future climate change impacts that worry people of means are already creating havoc in the lives of the poor.

    Thank you, Susan, for reminding folks here how this plays out across income level. Let them with ears, hear.

  26. An_older_code says:

    Presumably better building codes, more advanced construction techniques, better materials, better early warning systems have reduced the deaths from earthquakes – and in the process made them less frequent and less powerful

  27. Bob Loblaw says:

    Of course, the costs related to reducing the potential for damage prior to an event are pretty easily left out of a cost accounting of the damage caused by the event.

  28. I came across a few tweets that seem to be on target:

    from McKibben: “There’s 25 parts per million more CO2 in the air now than there was a decade ago: That’s more change in 10 years than over all the millennia from the invention of agriculture to the start of the Industrial Revolution.”
    from C. Figueres: “Many crises have converged upon us. Committing to carbon neutrality well before mid-century is a pathway to tackling all of them with the same resources.”

    Please up your blog game a bit and apply a bit more pressure. I think it is woeful to talk about carbon neutrality by mid century. Figueres is talking well before mid century and Mckibben is talking about the comparison of the past ten years with the rest of the industrial period.


  29. David B Benson says:

    smallbluemike — Net carbon negative, ASAP!

  30. Exactly right, David. Don’t mince the words or minimize the work or crisis that demands the work. If you are comfortable and think we can wait until mid century to get to carbon neutral, I think you almost certainly speaking from a highly privileged place and you are either ignoring or indifferent to the suffering that others endure now or will endure before it starts to impinge on your lifestyle and comfort. It really quite inexcusable.

    Btw: I have come to embrace the possibility that SMR might make sense. It is a surprise to me and a challenge to my devoutly anti-nuclear friends, but what can I do? I read about that technology and think it could make sense as part of the power mix. The point there: it is possible for folks to think things through and change their minds about things. When the mind really changes, the language and assumptions also shift.


  31. David B Benson says:

    smallbluemike, yes nuclear power plants make sense provided the cost of running such is less than that of combined cycle gas turbines. Just now natural gas is so inexpensive in the USA that running even the projected SMRs is more expensive.

    What is missing is a carbon tax.

  32. Willard says:


    It is awful hard to argue against the numbers, particularly for SFB, which I will not discuss (there is something geological going on that gives a significantly lower SLR trend for OK proper than for SF proper), because I am not into rhetoric or argumentation, in general, anymore. However, I do make exceptions, if others want to deal with the actual math correctly (e. g. never mix up storm surge proper with SLR proper as one is normally assumed th be stationary/ergodic while the other is abjectly not so) or at least kind of sort of try to act in good faith,

  34. Willard says:

    > I am not into rhetoric or argumentation, in general, anymore

    Apophasis (/əˈpɒfəsɪs/; Greek: ἀπόφασις from ἀπόφημι apophemi,[1] “to say no”)[2] is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up.[3] Accordingly, it can be seen as a rhetorical relative of irony.

  35. You need a different definition as I am not denying anything. What I am actually saying is that I can not be bothered with subjective argumentation because certain people, well, that is all that they seem to do. The actual numbers are on my side + I have formal training in such matters So stop with the cherry picking of Pittsburgh and Oakland, for example.

    But go ahead and claim a rhetorical device because that does not change the actual numbers themselves. Time is a precious thing, as in, I hardly post anywhere anymore, it is a big waste of my valuable time. That is the only thing I have ever learned from arguing with deniers.

  36. > I am not into rhetoric or argumentation, in general, anymore

    methinks he doth protest too much

  37. Willard says:

    > You need a different definition as I am not denying anything.

    Here is you denying your own pose, Everett:

    I am not into rhetoric or argumentation, in general, anymore

    If you have a point, make it.

    If you take your gloves off, own it.

    ClimateBall is simple, really.

  38. Stop taking my words out of context (However, I do make exceptions … ). You have done that twice now. Oh and the irony of your responses is rather trite and in bad form (… or at least kind of sort of try to act in good faith.).

    You clearly are not acting in good faith.

    So what is my point? I do not want to waste my rather valuable time explaining to anyone why their cherry picks have nothing to do with climate change (LULC yes, deterioration of human infrastructures yes). You pick something up on teh twitter and go, oh lookie, climate change, giving it not a smidgen of analytical thought. 😦

    You (no not you personally) all can look at anything and just say it is climate change (same goes for anything that the human mind can concoct out of thin air), someone else comes along and says no it is not due to climate change and they might know the actual root cause(s), you all then go, well you can not prove a negative, therefore you all win, even though you just made it up out of thin air or a dream or make believe. The Easter Bunny is real. Ancient Aliens are real. Bigfoot is real.

    I am not playing a game either. I happen to take this stuff very seriously, especially when the subject is anywhere near my wheelhouse.

  39. izen says:

    I am reminded of the phrase;-
    ” Its not entirely wrong to use litotes….”!

  40. Willard says:

    > Stop taking my words out of context

    The words I quoted stand on their own, dear Everett. so add that to your list of rhetorical tricks you used so far. But since you insist, here’s a short list:

    [T1] “It is awful hard to argue against the numbers”

    [T2] “or at least kind of sort of try to act in good faith”

    [T3] ” I have formal training in such matters”

    [T4] “So stop with the cherry picking”

    [T5] “it is a big waste of my valuable time”

    [T6] “and the irony of your responses”

    [T7] “I am not playing a game either. I happen to take this stuff very seriously”

    All in all, condescending crap that shows you have so vague an idea what rhetoric is that you can shoot yourself in the foot with it. There’s not one single thing that would pass an undergraduate class. If that’s what scientists such as your stature do online as a hobby, they better stay home.

    The guy I quoted *lives* in Pittsburgh. Living somewhere ain’t no cherry pick. What you obviously think is being suggested is in your own mind. That particular passage matters to philosophers of science I know that live near it.

    (Check the end of that Twitter thread for the punch.)

    Now, compare and contrast your pretension that science matters to you with the boisterous armwaving you did so far here. Did the science ball move forward? Not at all. All we got is a string of personal attacks wrapped up in an hypocritical stance. That sucks to no end.

    And then y’all wonder why contrarians are still a thing. They feed on that kind of attitude.

  41. Willard says:

    For those who can’t follow threads, here’s the punch line:

  42. “The guy I quoted *lives* in Pittsburgh.”

    I provided two lists (same numbers just ranked of 100 highest water levels or time), Given my actual background it took all of ~10 seconds to see why Pittsburgh is not experiencing so-called ACC/AGW/HIGW wrt river water levels.

    “Did the science ball move forward? Not at all.”

    So It was you that 1st re-posted thoughtless nonsense that is teh twitter as is shown above. You actually managed to move so-called science backwards. I could have just let it go, but such an opportunity was presented before me that I just could not resist the temptation of yanking that chain so to speak.

    Someone living somewhere is an indefensible argument.

    That is why I said what I said. And what I said was directly meant for you and you alone (for all too obvious reasons). Now we are here. 🙂 Thank you.

  43. David B Benson says:

    To be sure that I follow this conversation I have been reading about Lewis Carroll’s perpetually in print two Alice books.

    I believe that it is Everett F. Sargent’s turn to host a tea party.

  44. I-376’s ‘bathtub’ has been a complicated flooding concern for decades

    “It’s a complicated engineering challenge that dates back to the construction of the Parkway East in the 1950s. That’s when the the city asked PennDOT to put the westbound lanes that connect to the Fort Pitt Bridge and the ramp to the North Side via the Fort Duquesne Bridge in the low, narrow area below Fort Pitt Boulevard. That created the bathtub.

    Initially, the area flooded when the river reached 18 feet, the same as the wharf. In the 1980s, engineers installed a short wall and later raised it to its current height. That means the bathtub floods when the river reaches 24 feet, just below the flood level at Point State Park.”

    It is my job and that is what I do, my job. Oh and I am rhetorically and argumentatively challenged,

    The doer and the thinker, no allowance for the other

  45. Willard says:

    > I-376’s ‘bathtub’ has been a complicated flooding concern for decades […]

    That’s better, considering that the tweet thread was about infrastructure in the first place.

    So let’s recap. You picked on a secondary tidbit from a tweet to put God knows what in my mouth. Then you handwaved to some lists as if they were self-explanatory. It’s supposed to be your job (who knows besides me, you hide between a few pseudonyms) and only now you get to state something with which I would have agreed right from the start. All this with a quote fest that focuses on an aspect of the discussion that you openly denigrate when you don’t deny indulging in it?

    That’s not great. I don’t expect much from ClimateBall players who self-identify as scientists, but I expect better. “Richard Betts” better would do.

    You know, we’re all in it together. There *will* be people to blame climate change for all kinds of things you care about. Unless you promote more and better science, you’ll never win at ClimateBall acting like that except enemies. You know why? Because promoting science is your self-avowed goal.

    And indeed your vulgar display of rhetorical power is mostly wrong. For a guy who lulz about getting details wrong, this isn’t ironic, but sad.

  46. izen says:

    It is notable from the figures you link to of river peaks that most of the top 15 flood levels happened in or before the 1940s
    AFAIK there is little evidence that rainfall was significantly heavier 80 or more years ago.

    However the first flood control act was passed in 1936 and another in 1944. There was a further massive investment in river flood control after WW2.
    Did actions taken by the Army Corp of Engineers have any bearing on the reduction in peak river levels seen after the 1930s?

    I wonder if the government investment in such programs is factored into the cost of climate events? While the imposition of improved building codes and zoning rules has increased costs for the end buyer of property, but reduced the financial loss and impact of extreme events, the cost of reducing impacts by river flood management I suspect are not included.

  47. izen,

    I’ve certainly tried, USGS, USACE, NWS/NOAA.. An actual, say hourly, time series as exists at (USACE site for most of the Mississippi River). The Ohio river splits at Pittsburgh (e. g. Three Rivers Stadium).

    It now looks like a composite record is needed from several USGS gages all referenced to local datums (?), if there isn’t temporal overlaps or the local datums are not DGPS’ed in,.then I would be rather limited in such an effort. In that area USGS does water levels and the USACE does water quality measurements. The USACE usually has the mission statement for navigable waterways (which Pittsburgh is in all three river directions) but the USACE may contract that one out or USGS was grandfathered in, but I really don’t care who does the water level measurements themselves. I knew none of this prior to my searches over these past two days (don’t want to fool anyone about the very recent sources of my current knowledge as I had none prior to this)

    All those early peaks occurred at those levels as there was little hydraulic structural (e. g. river engineering) LULC throughout that era. One should normally exclude the earlier parts of any record due to human building interactions (or numerical hindcast with previous conditions that are actually rarely known the further back you go).

    “Did actions taken by the Army Corp of Engineers have any bearing on the reduction in peak river levels seen after the 1930s?”

    Yes of course, it is the same everywhere along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and pretty much by the BLM also. Then there is the state and local levels. There are now dozens of federal Acts aimed at flood control. River Engineering has many +’s but also some very bad -‘s, same goes for the coastal zone (I’ve been opposed to coastal development going back to my 1st year working for the USACE as a coastal/hydraulic engineer, before that I had only been to an ocean coastline once say age 23, Old Orchard Beach, ME).

    “I wonder if the government investment in such programs is factored into the cost of climate events?”

    Sea level rise was incorporated into a NAD (North Atlantic Division) study by the USACE around the 2014 time frame, I retired before then though, also Small Hands rescinded Obama’s EO wrt coastal and inland funding. The USACE pretty much goes with whatever the current administration dictates.

  48. “It’s supposed to be your job (who knows besides me, you hide between a few pseudonyms) and only now you get to state something with which I would have agreed right from the start.”

    I don’t actually have much of a publication record but “Francis E Sargent” would be my mother’s preferred name (EFS, Jr. is my birth name, Frank is my normal nick) and I think the one I most often used (Frank Sargent maybe).

    I had some rather serious problems in grade school that still haunt me to this very day, spelling (spell checkers have saved my ignorant azz countless times) but mainly writing. That is why I mostly just read stuff, a lot of stuff. I do really appreciate good writers though and can only wish to be at anywhere near their levels.

  49. Willard says:

    Thanks, Everett.

    Here are kinds of names I had in mind.

    Also, here’s where I’m coming from:

    According to a recent report from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), insured damage for floods, windstorms, ice storms and tornadoes reached $1.9 billion in 2018. Many experts say these weather events are becoming more intense and more frequent due to climate change.

    That water damage surpassed fire damage in Canada looks like a big tell to me.

    Here’s what the SR15 says about flooding:

    In summary, streamflow trends since 1950 are not statistically significant in most of the world’s largest rivers (high confidence), while flood frequency and extreme streamflow have increased in some regions (high confidence).


    In the SREX, we can read:

    There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale. It is likely that there has been an anthropogenic influence on increasing extreme coastal high water due to an increase in mean sea level. The uncertainties in the historical tropical cyclone records, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking tropical cyclone metrics to climate change, and the degree of tropical cyclone variability provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences. Attribution of single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change is challenging.


    It’s probably too early to blame the Bathtub’s floodings on climate change. At the very least the numbers you linked to seem to indicate that the river’s level is more or less stable. Nevertheless, the Bathtub remains a dubious piece of infrastructure, and AGW won’t improve it.

    Take care.

  50. Joshua says:

    A lesskm for us all:

    What Money Can’t Buy sealed Sandel’s status as perhaps the most formidable critic of free-market orthodoxy in the English-speaking world. But as an age of violently polarised, partisan and poisonous politics has taken hold, it is that early encounter with Reagan that has begun to play on his mind. “It taught me a lot about the importance of the ability to listen attentively,” he says, “which matters as much as the rigours of the argument. It taught me about mutual respect and inclusion in the public square.”

  51. Joshua says:

    Also a lesson.

  52. David B Benson says:

    Tropical Storm Paulette forms, Rene will soon, two contenders for Tropical Storm S. Then Tropical Storm T…

    What does this suggest?

  53. David B Benson says:


  54. Willard,
    Thanks, Everett.

    Here are kinds of names I had in mind.

    So that would make four: Ethan Allen (I was born and raised in Vermont), EFS_Junior (my wtfuwt handle), Francis E Sargent and Everett F Sargent.

    Lately, I think that I am only using Everett F Sargent. I do not think I ever used those alternatives to hide my actual identity, just me being either lazy or sloppy or both.

    Since you appear to be above my native homeland (Vermont) I think we both may appreciate the sport of Hockey? I played the sport a lot in my youth and dearly remember Hockey Night in Canada. In Burlington, we use to get CBC and CTV as part of our cable subscription. That takes me back to the late 60’s and early 70’s.

    Perhaps the craziest thing I ever did in my youth was to take my hockey stick, skates and puck onto Lake Champlain by myself on a rather rare occasion when there was very little snow cover. Black ice cracking beneath me the entire time. Sunny and absolutely no wind to properly see any ice leads easily. I came somewhat close to skating into open water during my furthest offshore excursion (the open water was there to see the closer to it I got). I was very lucky that day.

  55. How about a post about ice sheet melt? “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which hold enough frozen water to lift oceans 65 metres, are tracking the UN’s worst-case scenarios for sea level rise, researchers said Monday, highlighting flaws in current climate change models.”
    Stefan Rahmstorf tweeting about this. It seems mainstream unless Stefan is an alarmist and is just trying to rile people up.

  56. Willard says:


  57. Yes, I found out about that a while back. Very unfortunate.

  58. Paul Ricksen says:

    Regarding Shellenberger – I would be very interested in reading the blog author’s views of Smil’s new book, which I am reading now, as well as the role that Smil has played in the conversation on global energy and climate change. Smil’s profile has risen with his latest book, and now people like Shellenberger frequently cite Smil’s pessimistic estimates about transitioning away from a fossil fuel-dominated industrial society in order to make his arguments that the transition would be too expensive/impossible to carry out (I’ve also seen right-wing think tanks also cite Smil in order to argue against regulations on carbon emissions).

  59. Steven Mosher says:

    “Jon Tennant, who died in a road accident in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia) at the age of 31 on 9th April 2020, was a gifted scientist, an influential promoter of science, and a fearless champion of open access publishing.”

    one of my favorite voices on twitter.

  60. Paul,
    I haven’t read his book, but I have generally been impressed by what I have seen presented by Smil. My impression is Smil is quite right to suggest that such a transition would challenging. I don’t, however, think that the correct interpretation is then that we should be cautious of doing so, because I think there are lots of indications that not doing so would end up being more expensive.

  61. David B Benson says:

    Paul Ricksen, I strongly encourage reading the article that I linked just above.

    In general, you may wish to follow the updates on

  62. David B Benson says:

    These 10 charts are helpful:

    One of the few who remind us of the historical responsibility of Europe and the US.

  63. Pingback: 2020: A year in review | …and Then There's Physics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.