NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 30, 2004

Recent summer hurricanes have prompted new political rhetoric and media hype about global warming creating more violent storms in the future unless steps are taken to control carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, hurricanes vary in intensity and frequency from one year to the next, and science long ago established that they are caused by the colossal forces of nature rather than the relatively feeble activities of mere humans, says Eric Peters (Consumer's Research).

According to climate journalist Mark Lynas, a busy hurricane season may not be so unusual. Historically:

  • The mid-1920s through the 1960s were very active, whereas the 1970s through the early 1990s were quiet; yet this same period, from about 1975 onward, coincided with the steepest rise in global temperatures -- a rise that continues today.
  • Despite this rising warmth, only one major hurricane (Andrew in 1992) struck Florida between 1966 and 2003; this partly reflected a multi-decade shift in Atlantic currents and wind patterns, but the state also was just lucky; the few storms that did form struck elsewhere or veered harmlessly out to sea.
  • In the cooler period between 1926 and 1965, meanwhile, 14 major hurricanes made landfall in the Sunshine State; so based on mathematical probability alone, more storms will hit Florida in the future.

Furthermore, notes Lynas, the increasing economic damage brought by more recent hurricanes does not point to an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes. It confirms the simple fact that coastal areas are much more populated than they used to be: More people live in Florida's Dade and Broward counties today than in the entire southeastern United States in 1930.

Sources: Mark Lynas, "Hearkening to the Hurricanes," and Eric Peters, "Hot Air About Global Warming," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 26, 2004.


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