NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2005

The science backing a link between global warming and devastating storms is preliminary, skimpy and contradicted by many hurricane experts, says USA Today. Even the researchers who suggest there may be a link caution against leaping to conclusions without more study.

Hurricanes form and intensify over warm ocean water, and temperatures have risen slightly in recent years, so it is understandable why there is so much speculation that global warming is causing the increased number and ferocity of storms. But there is far more reason to be skeptical, says USA Today:

  • Science does not support a link between global warming and recent activity, notes Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center; Katrina and Rita are part of a natural cycle that could last 15 to 20 more years.
  • The increase in number and intensity of storms since 1995 is hardly unprecedented, says leading hurricane expert William Gray (Colorado State University); two major hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast only six weeks apart in 1915, mimicking the double whammy of Katrina and Rita.
  • If global warming were to blame for recent storms, there should have been more typhoons in the Pacific and Indian oceans since 1995, Gray says; instead, there has been a slight decrease -- at the same time China and India have increased their industrial output and emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The impact of hurricanes might seem more severe because of the intensity of news coverage and because more people are living in hurricane alley, meaning more property damage and more loss of life.

It is worth researching whether global warming affects the frequency and intensity of storms, but there is certainly no proof at the moment. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions without wrecking economic growth is an important challenge. Blaming Katrina and Rita on global warming just adds to the hot air surrounding the issue, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Global Warming Activists Turn Storms into Spin," USA Today, September 26, 2005.

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