NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Seizing On Global Warming Proof

September 17, 1999

Proponents of the theory of global warming -- who blame it on emissions of man-made greenhouse gases -- are never slow to seize on the latest weather catastrophe as proof that their conclusions are valid. So it will probably be with Hurricane Floyd.

But students of weather trends say the U.S. has the greatest variety of extreme weather in the world, due to a confluence of geography, ocean currents and global atmospheric circulation patterns. U.S. weather catastrophes are not a recent phenomenon, but damage amounts seem greater today because of inflation, population growth and increased wealth.

  • For example, a hurricane that struck Miami in 1926 caused an estimated $105 million in damages then, but would ring up $77.5 billion -- roughly three times the cost of Hurricane Andrew -- if it followed the same track today, primarily because of huge increases in the population of Dade County.
  • Experts say that nine of the 10 most damaging U.S. hurricanes struck before 1970.
  • Colorado State University atmospheric scientist William Gray blames the recent upswing in tropical activity on a strengthening in the naturally-occurring long-term cycle known as the "Atlantic Ocean thermohaline" -- a sort of a conveyor belt which, when it accelerates, increases the number of hurricanes likely to make landfall.

The severity of U.S. weather events is not limited to hurricanes.

  • The U.S. is host to three-quarters of the world's tornadoes.
  • There is a higher concentration of lightning strikes along the Front Range of the Rockies than any other place on the planet.
  • Blizzards plague the Plains states, droughts alternate with floods on the West Coast, nor'easters regularly hit New England in the winter.

When confronted with the harshness of North America's weather, both Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson were convinced that the colonists had changed the continent's climate by clearing away its virgin forests.

Experts note that notions that the weather is behaving bizarrely because of something man has done crop up again and again in our weather history.

Source: David Laskin, "Land of the Free, Home of Bad Weather," Wall Street Journal, September 17, 1999.


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