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The increase in hurricane frequency hypothesis is overblown – Publications – AEI

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AEI The increase in hurricane frequency hypothesis is overblown In a New York Times op-ed this week “Hurricanes Are Getting Worse: Why are so many people afraid to talk about climate change?” David Leonhardt writes: The frequency of severe hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean has roughly doubled over the last two decades, and climate change appears to be the reason. Yet much of the conversation about Hurricane Dorian — including most media coverage — ignores climate change. That’s a mistake. It’s akin to talking about lung cancer and being afraid to mention smoking, or talking about traffic deaths and being afraid to talk about drunken driving. Climate change, likewise, doesn’t cause any one hurricane on its own, but it’s central to the story of the storms that are increasingly battering the

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AEI
The increase in hurricane frequency hypothesis is overblown

The increase in hurricane frequency hypothesis is overblown - Publications – AEIIn a New York Times op-ed this week “Hurricanes Are Getting Worse: Why are so many people afraid to talk about climate change?” David Leonhardt writes:

The frequency of severe hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean has roughly doubled over the last two decades, and climate change appears to be the reason. Yet much of the conversation about Hurricane Dorian — including most media coverage — ignores climate change. That’s a mistake. It’s akin to talking about lung cancer and being afraid to mention smoking, or talking about traffic deaths and being afraid to talk about drunken driving.

Climate change, likewise, doesn’t cause any one hurricane on its own, but it’s central to the story of the storms that are increasingly battering the Atlantic. Why are we pretending otherwise?

To answer Leonhardt’s question, it’s because the data really don’t support his questionable claims about hurricane frequency increasing, as James Pierson of the Manhattan Institute explains in his rebuttal “An overblown hypothesis.” Based on a thorough review of the historical hurricane data from Hurricane Research Division of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, Pierson comes to three conclusions:

Looking at the historical data, one does not find a startling increase in hurricane activity in recent decades, and only modest evidence to suggest that hurricanes in the Atlantic basin are increasing either in number or severity.

Conclusion 1: There has been a modest increase in the number of hurricanes formed per year since 2000, but these rates are not significantly higher than the long-term average and are very close to the rates experienced in the 1950s.

Conclusion 2: There has been no long-term increase in the number of named hurricanes making landfall in the United States [since the 1950s].

Conclusion 3: There has been a slight increase in the frequency of powerful hurricanes since 1990, but mostly in relation to the numbers of such storms from 1970 to 1989, a quiet period for hurricane formation. The frequency of powerful hurricanes from 2000 to 2018 (3.3 per year) mirrors the rates experienced from 1950 to 1969 (also 3.3 per year). Moreover, there is no pattern or trend in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes making landfall over the 1950-2018 period.

Bottom Line: There has been a modest increase in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes in recent decades along with a slight increase in their strength from year to year, but no increase in the number of hurricanes making landfall in the United States and no increase since 1950 in the number of the most powerful hurricanes (Category 4 and 5 storms) to hit the U.S. mainland. Moreover, any trend that we find in the frequency and strength of hurricanes in the past few decades is mostly washed out when we compare those rates to the ones experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. This suggests that the frequency and strength, though perhaps increasing of late, are but loosely related to recent measured increases in Atlantic Ocean temperatures.

MP: In regard to Conclusion 2 based on post-1950 data, there has actually been a long-term decrease in the number of named hurricanes making landfall in the United States over a longer period of going back to the 1850s based on Hurricane Research Division data here, see chart above. Importantly, the four decades with the highest number of hurricanes making landfall were were all in last half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century and not in recent decades: the 1880s (25), 1940s (23), 1910s (21) and the 1890s (22).

The increase in hurricane frequency hypothesis is overblown
Mark Perry

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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