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Normalized U.S. Earthquake Losses: 1900-2005
   in Disasters June 18, 2008

U.S. Flood Damage 1929-2003
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 16, 2008

An *Inconsistent With* Spotted, and Defended
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting | Scientific Assessments May 21, 2008

Consistent With, Again
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics May 08, 2008

Peter Webster on Predicting Tropical Cyclones
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting April 16, 2008

Kudos to Kerry Emanuel
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics April 11, 2008

Holding the Poor Hostage
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy April 11, 2008

New Paper on Normalized Hurricane Damages
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters January 17, 2008

Natural Disasters in Australia
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 02, 2008

End-of-2007 Hurricane-Global Warming Update
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters December 26, 2007

A Second Reponse from RMS
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting | Scientific Assessments December 17, 2007

A Question for the Media
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Journalism, Science & Environment | Science + Politics December 14, 2007

AGU Powerpoint with Steve McIntyre
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty December 10, 2007

RMS Response to Forecast Evaluation
   in Author: Others | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting | Scientific Assessments December 07, 2007

Precipitation and Flood Damage
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters December 06, 2007

Revisiting The 2006-2010 RMS Hurricane Damage Prediction
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting | Risk & Uncertainty | Scientific Assessments December 06, 2007

John Quiggin on Adaptation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 26, 2007

Optimal Adaptation?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 20, 2007

The Technological Fix
   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Disasters | Environment | R&D Funding | Science + Politics | Technology Policy November 15, 2007

Confronting Disaster Losses
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters November 02, 2007

The Young and the Mindless
   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Disasters | Journalism, Science & Environment | Science + Politics November 01, 2007

NFIP reauthorization moving along
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters October 18, 2007

New Changnon paper on winter storm losses
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Disasters August 20, 2007

New Publication
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Scientific Assessments August 17, 2007

Normalized US Hurricane Damages
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters June 25, 2007

Aren't new problems always old problems?
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters June 12, 2007

State of Florida Rejects RMS Cat Model Approach
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Prediction and Forecasting | Risk & Uncertainty May 11, 2007

New Landsea Paper in EOS
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 03, 2007

New GAO Report on Climate Change and Insurance
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters April 20, 2007

Chris Landsea on New Hurricane Science
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Disasters April 18, 2007

Laurens Bouwer on IPCC WG II on Disasters
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Scientific Assessments April 17, 2007

New Peer-Reviewed Publication on the Benefits of Emissions Reductions for Future Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane) Losses Around the World
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy April 12, 2007

This is Just Embarassing
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters April 11, 2007

Here We Go Again: Cherry Picking in the IPCC WGII Full Report on Disaster Losses
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters April 11, 2007

Still responding to the last disaster
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters April 06, 2007

if you want an example of selling science...
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters March 28, 2007

Who is talking national cat insurance now?
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters March 22, 2007

Spinning Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 28, 2007 has its Facts Wrong
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters February 23, 2007

Earthquake hazards policy talk tomorrow
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters February 21, 2007

Final Chapter, Hurricanes and IPCC, Book IV
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters February 14, 2007

Loose Ends -- IPCC and Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 05, 2007

Follow Up: IPCC and Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 02, 2007

Report from IPCC Negotiations
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 01, 2007

IPCC on Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics February 01, 2007

AMS Endorses WMO TC Consensus Statement
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 24, 2007

Recycled Nonsense on Disaster Losses
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 22, 2007

For the Science News subscribers
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters January 12, 2007

New Literature Review: Hurricanes and Global Warming
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 09, 2007

Robert Muir-Wood in RMS Cat Models: From the Comments
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty January 09, 2007

An Update: Faulty Catastrophe Models?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty January 08, 2007

The Steps Not Yet Taken
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy January 08, 2007

Draft Paper for Comment: Decreased Proportion of Tropical Cyclone Landfalls in the United States
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters December 28, 2006

Swiss Re on 2006 Disaster Losses
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters December 22, 2006

Misrepresenting Literature on Hurricanes and Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Scientific Assessments December 18, 2006

Follow Up to Flood Policy Presentation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty December 14, 2006

WMO Press Release on Hurricanes and Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters December 12, 2006

Disquiet on the Hurricane Front
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy December 11, 2006

Hurricane Trends, Frequency, Prediction
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters December 08, 2006

That Didn't Take Long -- Misrepresenting Hurricane Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics December 06, 2006

Collins and Lieberman fire another missile at DHS/FEMA
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters November 21, 2006

Al Gore at His Best, and Worst
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 20, 2006

Looking Away from Misrepresentations of Science in Policy Debate Related to Disasters and Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics November 15, 2006

More Climate and Disaster Nonsense
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 14, 2006

Interview With Chris Landsea
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 10, 2006

Normalized US Hurricane Damage: 1900-2005
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters November 07, 2006

Update on Hurricanes and Global Warming
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters November 02, 2006

Recap: Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 27, 2006

Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages, Part 5
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 26, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs, U.S. Hurricane Damage, Part 4
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 25, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs. US Hurricane Damage, Part 3
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 24, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs. U.S. Hurricane Damage - Part 2
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 24, 2006

What Does the Historical Relationship of Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature and U.S. Hurricane Damage Portend for the Future?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 22, 2006

Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop Report
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters October 17, 2006

A Perspective on the 2006 Hurricane Season
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters October 10, 2006

Follow Up on NOAA Hurricane Fact Sheet
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Science + Politics October 04, 2006

Caught in a Lie
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 27, 2006

Revealed! NOAA's Mystery Hurricane Report
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 27, 2006

NOAA's Mystery Hurricane Report
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 26, 2006

FEMA will remain within DHS but ...
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters September 18, 2006

The Promotion of Scientific Findings with Political Implications
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | The Honest Broker September 12, 2006

Follow-up on Ceres Report
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 08, 2006

Hurricane Damage Futures
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters August 26, 2006

Ceres is Misrepresenting Our Work
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters August 23, 2006

Judy Curry in the Comments
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Disasters August 21, 2006

Bunk on the Potomac
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters August 20, 2006

Hurricanes and Global Warming: All You Need to Know
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters August 19, 2006

Hurricanes, Catastrophe Models, and Global Warming
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty August 07, 2006

Scientific Leadership on Hurricanes and Global Warming
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters July 25, 2006

Follow up on Criticism of AGU Hurricane Assessment
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters July 21, 2006

Westword on Bill Gray
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 28, 2006

A New Paper
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 26, 2006

We Are Not Ready
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters June 17, 2006

Hurricane Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters June 13, 2006

Comments on Nature Article on Disaster Trends Workshop
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 07, 2006

Workshop Executive Summary
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 07, 2006

Lloyd's on Climate Adaptation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 06, 2006

Climate Change is a Moral Issue
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 05, 2006

Comment from Judy Curry
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 02, 2006

Like a Broken Record
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters June 02, 2006

Cherrypicking at the New York Times
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 31, 2006

Decisions Matter
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters May 23, 2006

Off by 6 Orders of Magnitude
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters May 22, 2006

Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 22, 2006

A Few Reactions to the Bonn Dialogue on the FCCC
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty May 17, 2006

More Peer-Reviewed Discussion on Hurricanes and Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 15, 2006

FEMA Disaster Database
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters May 04, 2006

Really, Really, Really Bad Reporting
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 01, 2006

Klotzbach on Trends in Global Tropical Cyclone Intensity 1986-2005
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters May 01, 2006

Al Gore’s Bad Start and What Just Ain’t So
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters April 28, 2006

Climate and Societal Factors in Future Tropical Cyclone Damages in the ABI Reports
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters April 24, 2006

Are We Seeing the End of Hurricane Insurability?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters April 14, 2006

Out on a Limb II: A Verrrry Looong Limb
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters April 12, 2006

Once Again Attributing Katrina’s Damages to Greenhouse Gases
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters March 29, 2006

The Big Knob
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters March 22, 2006

Forbidden Fruit: Justifying Energy Policy via Hurricane Mitigation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy March 15, 2006

Talk in DC Today
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters March 15, 2006

Reactions to Searching for a Signal
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters March 13, 2006

Upcoming Public Lecture in DC at The Smithsonian
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters March 01, 2006

Consensus Statement on Hurricanes and Global Warming
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters February 21, 2006

Lindell on evacuation
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters February 07, 2006

The Elephant in the Floodplain
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters January 26, 2006

Big Knob Critique Response
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 23, 2006

On Donald Kennedy in Science, Again
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 19, 2006

NEHRP fears came true
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters January 17, 2006

Does Disaster Mitigation Mask a Climate Change Signal in Disaster Losses?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 13, 2006

Does Donald Kennedy Read Science?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters January 10, 2006

Exchange in Today's Science
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters December 09, 2005

Preview of AGU Presentation -- The $500 Billion Hurricane
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters December 06, 2005

Two Perspectives on Katrina
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters November 22, 2005

Special AGU Session on Katrina
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters November 18, 2005

The Role of Social Science Research in Disaster Preparedness and Response
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters November 11, 2005

Excellent South Asia Earthquake Resource
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters October 14, 2005

Katrina as Category 1 in New Orleans?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters October 04, 2005

Meade on Disasters and Research
   in Author: Others | Disasters September 28, 2005

Op-ed in the LA Times
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 23, 2005

Column in Bridges
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters September 22, 2005

Politics and Disaster Declarations
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters September 15, 2005

Part III: Historical economic losses from floods - Where does Katrina rank?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters September 15, 2005

Some Thoughtful Perspectives
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters September 12, 2005

Kristof on Hurricanes
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Environment September 12, 2005

What kind of leadership does FEMA need?
   in Author: McNie, E. | Disasters September 09, 2005

Part II - Historical economic losses from hurricanes - Where does Katrina fit?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters September 09, 2005

   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters September 08, 2005

June 18, 2008

Normalized U.S. Earthquake Losses: 1900-2005


Kevin Vranes and I have just had a paper accepted for publication on historical earthquake losses in the United States.

Vranes, K., and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2008 (in press). Normalized earthquake damage and fatalities in the United States: 1900 - 2005, Natural Hazards Review. (PDF)

The dataset that we present in the paper will allow for a range of interesting analyses. Here is the abstract:

Damage estimates from 80 United States earthquakes since 1900 are "normalized" to 2005 dollars by adjusting for inflation, increases in wealth and changes in population. A factors accounting for mitigation at 1% and 2% loss reduction per year are also considered. The earthquake damage record is incomplete, perhaps by up to 25% of total events that cause damage, but all of the most damaging events are accounted for. For events with damage estimates, cumulative normalized losses since 1900 total $453 billion, or $235 billion and $143 billion when 1% and 2% mitigation is factored respectively. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire adjusts to $39 - $328 billion depending on assumptions and mitigation factors used, likely the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history in normalized 2005 values. Since 1900, 13 events would have caused $1B or more in losses had they occurred in 2005; five events adjust to more than $10 billion in damages. Annual average losses range from $1.3 billion to $5.7 billion with an average across datasets and calculation methods of $2.5 billion, below catastrophe model estimates and estimates of average annual losses from hurricanes. Fatalities are adjusted for population increase and mitigation, with five events causing over 100 fatalities when mitigation is not considered, four (three) events when 1% (2%) mitigation is considered. Fatalities in the 1906 San Francisco event adjusts from 3,000 to over 24,000, or 8,900 (3,300) if 1% (2%) mitigation is considered. Implications for comparisons of normalized results with catastrophe model output and with normalized damage profiles of other hazards are considered.
Posted on June 18, 2008 08:49 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Disasters

June 16, 2008

U.S. Flood Damage 1929-2003

The ongoing Midwest floods are a horrible disaster. The United States however has seen a long-term trend of decreasing flood losses as a fraction of GDP, as shown in the following graph.

Flood Damage 1929-2003.jpg


Flood damage data: Here (Note no data 1980-82)

GDP data: Here

For further reading:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., M. Downton, J. Z. B. Miller, S. A. Changnon, K. E. Kunkel, and K. Andsager, 2000: Understanding Damaging Floods in Iowa: Climate and Societal Interactions in the Skunk and Raccoon River Basins, Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, August. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and M.W. Downton, 2000. Precipitation and Damaging Floods: Trends in the United States, 1932-97. Journal of Climate, 13(20), 3625-3637. (PDF)

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228. (PDF)

Posted on June 16, 2008 03:33 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

May 21, 2008

An *Inconsistent With* Spotted, and Defended

Readers following recent threads know that I've been looking for instances where scientists make claims that some observations are "inconsistent with" the results from climate models. The reason for such a search is that it is all too easy for modelers to claim that anything and everything under the sun is "consistent with" their predictions, sometimes to avoid the perception of a loss of credibility in the political battle over climate change.

I am happy to report that claims of "inconsistent with" do exist. Here is an example from a paper just out by Knutson et al. in Nature Geoscience:

Our results using the ensemble-mean global model projections (Fig. 4) are inconsistent with the notion of large, upward trends in tropical storm and hurricane frequency over the twentieth century, driven by greenhouse warming.

The climate modelers at Real Climate apparently don't like the phrase "inconsistent with" in the context of models and try to air brush it away when they write of Knutson et al.:

. . .we know that (i) the warming [of the oceans] is likely in large part anthropogenic, and (ii) that the recent increases in TC frequency are related to that warming. It hardly seems a leap of faith to put two-and-two together and conclude that there is likely a relationship between anthropogenic warming and increased Atlantic TC activity.

Knutson et al. respond in the comments that this in fact is not how to interpret their paper, and -- kudos to them -- take strong, public issue with the weaselly words implying a connection that they don't show (emphasis added in the below, and I've copied the whole comment for the entire context):

Mike [Mann],

Statement (i), that "the warming [of the tropical Atlantic Ocean] is likely in large part anthropogenic." is reasonable, taking "anthropogenic" to mean "greenhouse gas", given the work of Santer et al (2006, PNAS), Knutson et al (2006, J. Clim.), and Gillett et al (2008, G.R.L.). To quote from Gillett et al:

…our results indicate that greenhouse gas increases are indeed likely the dominant cause of [tropical Atlantic] warming…

However, statement (ii), that "the recent increases in [Atlantic] TC (tropical cyclone) frequency are related to that warming" is vague – with "related to" allowing an interpretation that includes anything from a negative relationship, to a minor contribution, to local SST warming being the dominant dynamical control on TC frequency increase. Some might interpret "related to" to mean "are dominantly controlled by", and we think the evidence does not justify such a strong statement. In particular, the results of Knutson et al (2008) do not support such an attribution statement,if one focuses on the greenhouse gas part of the anthropogenic signal. Quoting from page 5 of the paper:

Our results using the ensemble-mean global model projections (Fig. 4) are inconsistent [emphasis added] with the notion of large, upward trends in tropical storm and hurricane frequency over the twentieth century, driven by greenhouse warming

We agree that TC activity and local Atlantic SSTs are correlated but do not view this correlation as implying causation. The alternative, consistent with our results, is that there is a causal nonlocal relationship between Atlantic TC activity and the tropical SST field. The simplest version uses the difference between Atlantic and Tropical-mean SST changes as the predictor (Swanson 2008, Non-locality of Atlantic tropical cyclone intensities, G-cubed, 9, Q04V01). This picture is also consistent with non-local control on wind shear (e.g. Latif et al 2007, G.RL.), atmospheric stability (e.g., Shen et al 2000, J. Clim.) and maximum potential intensity (e.g., Vecchi and Soden, 2007, Nature).

We view the SST change in the tropical Atlantic relative to the rest of the tropics as the key to these questions. Warming in recent decades has been particularly prominent in the northern tropical Atlantic, but such a pattern is not evident in the consensus of simulations of the response to increasing greenhouse gases. So, whether changes in Atlantic SST relative to the rest of the tropics - that according to our hypothesis have resulted in the changes in hurricane activity - were primarily caused by changes in radiative forcing, or whether they were primarily caused by internal climate variability, or (most likely) whether both were involved, is obviously an important issue, but this is not addressed by our paper

Now a word of caution -- Knutson et al. 2008 is by no means the last word on hurricanes and global warming, and the issue remains highly contested, and will remain so for a long time. Of course, you heard that (accurate) assessment of the state of this particular area of climate science here a long time ago (PDF;-)

Knutson et al. is notable because it clearly identifies observations "inconsistent with" what the models report which should give us greater confidence in research focused on generating climate predictions. We should have greater confidence because if practically everything observed is claimed to be "consistent with" model predictions, then climate models are pretty useless tools for decision making.

May 08, 2008

Consistent With, Again

On NPR's Fresh Air earlier this week, Al Gore suggests that Typhoon Nargis, which may have killed 100,000 people in Myanmar, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, or does he? He said "we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming."

What could he have meant? If you ask me, I'd say that the "consistent with" chronicles continue . . .

PS. Those wanting to do something positive in the face of this tragedy might visit this site.

April 16, 2008

Peter Webster on Predicting Tropical Cyclones

Some wise words from Georgia Tech's Peter Webster on our ability to predict the future incidence of tropical cyclones (or TCs, which includes hurricanes):

Unless we can explain physically the history of the number and intensity of TCs in the recent past, then determining the number and intensity of TCs in the future will be either an extrapolation of very poor data sets or a belief in incomplete and inexact models.

April 11, 2008

Kudos to Kerry Emanuel

I have always held Kerry Emanuel in high regard, because he calls things like he sees them, but he also listens to others who might not share his views. He is, in short, a great scientist.

So it was not too surprising to see that Kerry's views have evolved on the issue of hurricanes and climate change, as science has progressed. A Houston Chronicle story reports today the following:

One of the most influential scientists behind the theory that global warming has intensified recent hurricane activity says he will reconsider his stand.

The hurricane expert, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this week unveiled a novel technique for predicting hurricane activity. The new work suggests that, even in a dramatically warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity may not substantially rise during the next two centuries.

The research, appearing in the March issue of Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is all the more remarkable coming from Emanuel, a highly visible leader in his field and long an ardent proponent of a link between global warming and much stronger hurricanes.

His changing views could influence other scientists.

"The results surprised me," Emanuel said of his work, adding that global warming may still play a role in raising the intensity of hurricanes but what that role is remains far from certain.

I emailed Kerry to ask if the story accurately reflected his views. He replied that it was a bit exaggerated, but basically OK. Those engaged in the political debate over climate change who are skeptical of a link between hurricanes and climate change might try to make some hay from this news report. But here at Prometheus we'd suggest viewing Kerry's evolving view in the much broader context, which we have shared on multiple occasions, namely:

there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

So don't get to excited about the latest paper in hurricane climatology, the field evolves slowly, and the views of of our best scientists evolve with it.

Holding the Poor Hostage

Anyone who wants to see how the misplaced opposition to adaptation actually hurts poor people need look further than thie report out today from ClimateWire:

Environmental and humanitarian activist groups plan to formally ask the World Bank to back away from plans to create a $500 million trust fund aimed at helping poor nations cope with climate change.

The letter, which representatives of several organizations confirmed Thursday is being drafted and will be signed by more than 100 organizations, comes as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund launch their 2008 spring meeting, attended by finance ministers from across the world.

Among the reasons cited for opposing adaptation funds is that the World Bank is supporting the development of a giant coal plant in India:

Groups said their overarching concern, though, is the World Bank's fossil fuel-rich energy portfolio. The bank's approval this week of $450 million for a major coal-fired power plant in India, many said, undermines its attempts to go green.

"There's a lot of concern about the World Bank taking over of the [adaptation program] because of their ongoing funding of fossil fuel projects," said Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, a nonprofit group based in Washington that advocates for clean energy and against foreign aid to the international oil industry.

"It is not a credible institution for managing these funds, especially given its poor environmental track record," added Karen Orenstein, extractive industries campaign coordinator with the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth.

"If the World Bank is truly interested in being a leader in fighting climate change, they shouldn't start out by financing a huge mega-coal project," she said.

So you read that right, lets take away money that could have positive benefits improving the lives of people in the developing world because of concerns about a fossil fuel project. This is a real-world example of how continuing efforts to place adaptation in opposition to mitigation have a material effect on people's lives.

Does anyone really think that opposing energy development and adaptation will make the climate agenda more appealing to people in India? Why can't these groups support adaptation and clean energy at the same time, rather than placing them in opposition?

January 17, 2008

New Paper on Normalized Hurricane Damages

Normalized Hurricane Damage.png

Our paper on normalized hurricane damages 1900 to 2005 has now been published. By "normalized" we mean taking damages as recorded in the year that they occurred in that year's dollars, and adjusting them to account for societal changes such as population growth, building stock, tangible wealth, and inflation. The figure above shows the results of one of the two approaches to normalization presented in our paper.

The full paper can be found at the link below and an Excel dataset can be found here.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, 9:29-42. (PDF)

A few brief comments follow.

For those who might be interested in the debate over hurricanes and global warming, there is nothing added to the debate from this paper. Here is what we say that is most relevant:

Pielke and Landsea (1998) found no trends in normalized losses, a finding subsequently replicated by Katz (2002). Recent analyses of longitudinal geophysical data find that there are no trends on hurricane frequency and intensity at U.S. landfall (see, Landsea 2005; Emanuel 2005; Landsea 2007). Because the normalization methodology is subject to assumptions, differences in which can lead to significant changes in results, there is general agreement that normalized data are in general not the best first place to look for changes in underlying geophysical variables, and such changes are best explored using the geophysical data directly (cf. Höppe and Pielke 2006). However, when climate trends or variability have sufficiently large effects on losses, they can be detected in damage data (e.g., Pielke and Landsea 1999).

The two normalized datasets reported here show no trends in either the absolute data or under a logarithmic transformation: the variance explained by a best fit linear trend line = 0.0004 and 0.0003 respectively for PL05, and 0.0014 and 0.00006 respectively for CL05. The lack of trend in twentieth century normalized hurricane losses is consistent with what one would expect to find given the lack of trends in hurricane frequency or intensity at landfall. This finding should add some confidence that, at least to a first degree, the normalization approach has successfully adjusted for changing societal conditions. Given the lack of trends in hurricanes themselves, any trend observed in the normalized losses would necessarily reflect some bias in the adjustment process, such as failing to recognize changes in adaptive capacity or misspecifying wealth. Because we do not have a resulting bias suggests that any factors not included in the normalization methods do not have a resulting net large significance.

Below is an image showing the top 50 storms for one of the normalization methods. For the details on the methods and a whole bunch of analysis, please see the paper.

Normalized Damage Top 50.png

Posted on January 17, 2008 02:54 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

January 02, 2008

Natural Disasters in Australia

Here (in PDF) is an interesting analysis by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia:

The collective evidence reviewed above suggests that social factors – dwelling numbers and values – are the predominant reasons for increasing building losses due to natural disasters in Australia. The role of anthropogenic climate change is not detectable at this time. This being the case, it seems logical approach that in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent investments be made to reduce society’s vulnerability to current and future climate and climate variability.


We are aware of few policies explicitly developed to help Australian communities adapt to future climate change (Leigh et al., 1998). One positive example is improved wind loading codes introduced in the 1980s as part of a National Building Code of Australia. These codes have been mentioned already and were introduced for all new housing construction following the destruction of Darwin by Tropical Cyclone Tracy in 1974. As a result, dramatic reductions in wind-induced losses were observed following Tropical Cyclones Winifred (1986) and Aivu (1989) (Walker, 1999) and most recently, Larry (2006) (Guy Carpenter, 2006). While these measures were introduced in response to the immediate threat from current climatic events, the benefits will hold true under any future.

An increased threat from bushfires under global climate change is often assumed. However, our analyses suggest that while the prevalence of conditions leading to bushfires is likely to increase, the impact is unlikely to be as dramatic as the combined changes of all of the other factors that have so far failed to materially affect the likelihood of bushfires losses over the last century. This is not to ignore the threat posed by global climate change, but, at least in the case of fire in Australia, the main menace will continue to be the extreme fires. The threat to the most at-risk homes on the bushland-urban interface can only be diminished by improved planning regulations that restrict where and how people build with respect to distance from the forest. Again these are political choices.

Posted on January 2, 2008 02:17 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 26, 2007

End-of-2007 Hurricane-Global Warming Update

There are a few new papers out on hurricanes (or more generally, tropical cyclones) and global warming that motivate this update.


Before sharing these new papers, let me provide a bit of background.

Regular readers will know that I began studying hurricanes during my post-doc years at NCAR, and even co-authored a book on them (PDF) with my father. I've been fortunate to get to know many of the people in the science community who study hurricanes and also to become familiar with the literature on hurricanes and climate change.

Let me also remind readers that I believe that there is little policy significance in the debate over hurricanes and global warming. Why not? Because no matter who is right, it won't do much to alter the ranking of alternative policies focused on addressing future storm impacts. This is an argument I make in this recent paper, which I'll point to for interested readers:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Future Economic Damage from Tropical Cyclones: Sensitivities to Societal and Climate Changes, Proceedings of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 365:2717-2729.(PDF)

But from a political perspective, the issue remains of considerable importance, as those advocating action on energy policies based on stemming the impacts from future cyclones place themselves far out on a thin limb. As tempting as it is to invoke the impacts of hurricanes as a justification for action on climate-related energy policies, it really should be a "no go zone."

In 2004, I along with Chris Landsea, Max Mayfield, Jim Laver, and Richard Pasch decided to prepare a short, accessible summary on the state of the debate over hurricanes and climate change, which ultimately was published as a peer-reviewed paper in 2005 in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (PDF). In that paper we concluded that the debate over hurricanes (and their impacts) and climate change would not be resolved anytime soon, and we provided three reasons for this:

First, no connection has been established between greenhouse gas emissions and the observed behavior of hurricanes (Houghton et al. 2001; Walsh 2004). Emanuel (2005) is suggestive of such a connection, but is by no means definitive. In the future, such a connection may be established [e.g., in the case of the observations of Emanuel (2005) or the projections of Knutson and Tuleya (2004)] or made in the context of other metrics of tropical cyclone intensity and duration that remain to be closely examined. Second, the peer-reviewed literature reflects that a scientific consensus exists that any future changes in hurricane intensities will likely be small in the context of observed variability (Knutson and Tuleya 2004; Henderson-Sellers et al. 1998), while the scientific problem of tropical cyclogenesis is so far from being solved that little can be said about possible changes in frequency. And third, under the assumptions of the IPCC, expected future damages to society of its projected changes in the behavior of hurricanes are dwarfed by the influence of its own projections of growing wealth and population (Pielke et al. 2000). While future research or experience may yet overturn these conclusions, the state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

If I might pat ourselves on our collective backs for a moment, these conclusions that we reached in 2005 were echoed in 2006 by a much more comprehensive assessment report prepared by the World Meteorological Organization:

A consensus of 125 of the world’s leading tropical cyclone researchers and forecasters says that no firm link can yet be drawn between human-induced climate change and variations in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones.

And then in 2007 by the IPCC. IPCC lead author Neville Nicholls characterized the report's conclusions on hurricanes and climate change as follows:

We concluded that the question of whether there was a greenhouse-cyclone link was pretty much a toss of a coin at the present state of the science, with just a slight leaning towards the likelihood of such a link.

So our 2005 paper has held up really well. Did we get some recognition from the IPCC for providing an accurate assessment of the state of the scientific debate and its relevance? Well, no. But maybe we at least could point to a citation in the relevant IPCC chapter, which of course summarized all of the peer-reviewed literature? Actually the IPCC ignored our review. It is not that they were unaware of it. The lead author for the relevant chapter (Chapter 3 of WG 1), Kevin Trenberth, said of our paper at the time it was released:

I think the role of the changing climate is greatly underestimated by Roger Pielke Jr. I think he should withdraw this article. This is a shameful article.

So, despite providing an accurate assessment of hurricanes and global warming in 2005 which was ultimately backed up by WMO and IPCC, given Kevin Trenberth's obvious bias against our views, we weren't really surprised to see our paper go uncited by the IPCC chapter that Kevin was lead author on. I did notice that Trenberth was somehow able to find room to mention his own work 95 times in that chapter, but I digress.

So our assessment of the state of the hurricane-global warming has held up really well. And in fact, I'd say that our assertion of the lack of a conclusive connection seems even stronger today. Over recent weeks I have become aware of 4 significant new papers on hurricanes and climate change that raise important questions about many aspects of the debate. I highlight these four papers not because they point toward certainty in the debate, quite the opposite: they indicate that the debate is alive and well, and uncertainty continues to reign on this subject. And unless you are paying attention to the literature, you'll probably never hear of these papers.

The first paper is one I mentioned a few weeks ago by Vecchi/Soden published in Nature . That paper suggested that identifying the signal of global warming in tropical cyclone behavior would be challenging in the context of ongoing climate variability. I wondered why that paper escaped media attention, despite being published in Nature and being a major contribution to the ongoing debate. Here are three other papers that will probably also escape media attention.

Statistician William Briggs has two new papers. One is in press with the Journal of Climate, and is titled "On the changes in number and intensity of North Atlantic tropical cyclones" (PDF). That paper concludes:

We find that to conclude that there has been an increase in the number of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic basin depends on from what date you start looking. Looking from 1900 gives strong evidence that an increase has taken place; however, data early from that period are certainly tainted by inadequate and missing observations, so the confidence we have in this evidence is greatly reduced. Starting from (the years around) 1966 does not give evidence of a linear increase, but starting from (the years around) 1975 does. These potential increases are noted after controlling for the effects of CTI, NAOI, and the AMO. These differences due to start date could be real, perhaps because of some underlying cyclicity in the data that coincidentally bottomed out around 1975 (after controlling for AMO etc.), or it may just be a good lesson that it's possible to pick and choose your starting date to argue either way: yes, there's been an increase, or no, there hasn't been.

Briggs is presenting a second paper at the upcoming AMS meeting in which he applies the same technique to other basins, in a paper titled, "Changes in number and intensity of tropical cyclones" (PDF). That paper concludes:

We find little evidence that the mean of the distribution of individual storm intensity, measured by storm days, track length, or individual storm PDI, has changed (increased or decreased) since 1975 over all the oceans. Again, there were certain noted increases in the Indian oceans, which may be real or may be due to flaws in the data: this is evidenced by the posteriors from these oceans being very sensitive to the priors used. We did, however, find an unambiguous increase in the variance of the distribution of storm intensity over all oceans. We also found that two components of intensity, storm days and track length, have likely decreased since 1990 over most oceans. Thus, we conclude that mean intensity has not been increasing, at least since 1975, and certainly not since 1990.

A fourth paper has just been published in the journal Risk Analysis by Kenneth Bogen, Edwin Jones, and Larry Fischer, titled, "Hurricane Destructive Power Predictions Based on Historical Storm and Sea Surface Temperature Data." That paper concludes:

Results obtained clearly challenge recent hypotheses about the effect of rising SST on future hurricane destructive potential . . .In contrast to a significant post-1970 positive trend in NAO SST and previous claims that this trend is linked to increased hurricane activity (Goldenberg et al., 2001; Emanuel, 2005; Trenberth, 2005; Webster et al., 2005; Hoyos et al., 2006; Santer et al., 2006; Trenberth & Shea, 2006), this study found little evidence of APDI trend or of a substantial APDI correlation with SST.

These papers suggest that the science of hurricane and global warming is healthy and new voices are bringing new ideas and methods to the debate. This is all good news. But it should also be apparent that the issue remains highly uncertain and contested. If anything, uncertainties have increased since we published our 2005 paper.

So I am going to stand pat with our conclusions first presented in 2005 in that shameful (but accurate) article:

[T]here are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

That is where things stand on this subject at the close of 2007.

Posted on December 26, 2007 05:22 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 17, 2007

A Second Reponse from RMS

A few weeks ago I provided a midterm evaluation of the RMS 2006-2010 US hurricane damage prediction. RMS (and specifically Steve Jewson) responded and has subsequently (and graciously) sent in a further response to a question that I posed:

Does RMS stand by its spring 2006 forecast that the period 2006-2010 would see total insured losses 40% above the historical average?

The RMS response appears below, and I'll respond in the comments:

Yes, we do stand by that forecast, although I should point out that we update the forecast every year, so the 2005 forecast (for 2006-2010) is now 2 years out of date. Apart from questions of forecast accuracy, there's no particular reason for any of our users to use the 2005 forecast at this point (that would be like using a weather forecast from last week). It is, of course, important to understand the correct mathematical interpretation of the forecast. In your original post you interpreted the forecast incorrectly in a couple of ways. Over the last 2-3 years we've issued this forecast to hundreds of insurance companies, and discussed it with dozens of scientists around the world, and none of them have misinterpreted it, so I don't think our communication of the intended meaning of the forecast is unclear. However, some explanation is required and I realise that you probably haven't had the benefit of hearing one of the many presentations we've given on this subject. The two things that need clarifying are: 1) This forecast is a best estimate of the mean of a very wide distribution of possible losses. Because of this no-one should expect to be able to verify or falsify the forecast in a short period of time.

This is a typical property of forecasts in situations with high levels of uncertainty. I think it's pretty well understood by the users of the forecast.

One curious property of the loss distribution is that it is very skewed. As a result the real losses would be expected to fall below the mean in most years. This is compensated for in the average by occasional years with very high losses.

In fact the forecast that we give to the insurance industry is a completely probabilistic forecast, that estimates the entire distribution of possible losses, but it's a bit difficult to put that
kind of information into a press release, or on a blog.

2) Your conditional interpretation of the forecast is not mathematically correct. Neither RMS, nor our clients, expect the losses to increase in 2008-2010 in the way you suggest just because they were low in 2006-2007. I can't think of any reason why that would be the case. To get the (roughly) correct interpretation for 2008-2010 you have to multiply the original 5 year mean values by 0.6. That's what the users of our forecast do when they want that number.

I hope that clarifies the issues a bit.

December 14, 2007

A Question for the Media

I've generally thought that the media has done a nice job on covering the climate issue over the past 20 years. There are of course leaders and laggards, but overall, I think that the community of journalists has done a nice job on a very tough issue. However, there are times when I am less impressed. Here is one example.


Nature magazine, arguably the leading scientific journal in the world, published a paper this week by two widely-respected scholars -- Gabriel Vecchi and Brian Soden -- suggesting that global warming may have a minimal effect on hurricanes. Over two days the media -- as measured by Google News -- published a grand total of 3 news stories on this paper. Now contrast this with a paper published in July in a fairly obscure journal by two other respected scholars -- Peter Webster and Greg Holland -- suggesting that global warming has a huge effect on hurricanes. That paper resulted in 79 news stories stories over two days.

What accounts for the 26 to 1 ratio in news stories?

December 10, 2007

AGU Powerpoint with Steve McIntyre

Here is a link to a PPT file providing an overview of a paper by Steve McIntyre and I titled, "Changes in Spatial Distribution of North Atlantic Tropical Cyclones," which he will be presenting this week at the AGU meeting.

Here are our conclusions:

Spatially descriptive statistics can contribute to analysis of controversial hurricane issues.

There has been no statistically significant increase in cyclone activity in the western Atlantic basin; the entire increase in measured storm and hurricane activity has taken place in the mid-Atlantic;

Lack of trend in landfall and normalized damage reconciles perfectly with lack of trend in western quartile storm and hurricane indices

The eastward shift cannot be attributed merely to earlier detection.

The shift could be technological or climatological or some combination; there is no plausible statistical basis for saying that the shift to the mid-Atlantic is not as important or relevant as the overall increase.

If the trend only occurs in the mid-Atlantic, should policy-makers care?

Comments welcomed.

Posted on December 10, 2007 11:16 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty

December 07, 2007

RMS Response to Forecast Evaluation

Robert Muir-Woods of RMS has graciously provided for posting a response to the thoughts on forecast verification that I posted earlier this week. Here are his comments:

Scientifically it is of course not possible to draw any conclusion from the occurrence of two years without hurricane losses in the US, in particular following two years with the highest level of hurricane losses ever recorded and the highest ever number of severe hurricanes making landfall in a two year period. Even including 2006 and 2007, average annualized losses for the past five years are significantly higher than the long term historical average (and maybe you should also show this five year average on your plot?)

The basis for catastrophe loss modeling is that one can separate out the question of activity rate from the question as to the magnitude of losses that will be generated by the occurrence of hurricane events. In generating average annualized losses we need to explore the full 'virtual spectrum' of all the possible events that can occur. The question about current activity rates is a difficult one, which is why we continue to involve some of the leading hurricane climatologists, and a very wide range of forecasting methodologies, in our annual hurricane activity rate update procedure. In October 2007 an independent expert panel concluded that activity rates are forecasted to remain elevated for the next five years. While this perspective was announced and articulated by RMS, we did not originate it. Each year we undertake this exercise, we ensure that the forecasting models used to estimate activity over the next five years also reflect any additional learning from the forecasting of previous years, including the low activity experienced in 2006 and 2007. We don't 'declare success' that the activity rate estimate that has emerged from this procedure over the past three years (using different forecast models and different climatologists) has scarcely changed, but the consistency in the three 5 year projections is interesting nonetheless.

You may also be surprised to learn that our five-year forward-looking perspective on hurricane risk does not inevitably produce higher losses than all other models, which use the extrapolation of the simple long-term average to estimate future activity. This is as shown in a comparison published in a report prepared by the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology for the Florida House of Representatives (see the Table 1 on page 25 of the report, which can be downloaded from here:

Robert Muir-Wood

December 06, 2007

Precipitation and Flood Damage

I was just contacted by a reporter who is doing a story based on a news release put out by a group called Environment Colorado. The news release says that Colorado has seen a 30% increase in extreme precipitation over the past 60 years, based on a new study called "When it Rains, It Pours" (PDF).

The thing is, there has been no increase in flood damage in Colorado (from 1955-2003 in our dataset), as can be seen in the following graph.

CO Flood.png

This data has only been adjusted for inflation. Given the pace of growth and development in Colorado, one could make a strong case that flood impacts have gone down pretty sharply in per capita or per unit wealth terms. So it may very well be the case that extreme precipitation has increased, but these measures of precipitation are not well correlated with flood damage, which is what Mary Downton and I found in a 2000 study.

Just for fun I also looked at California, which was the subject of a different press release put out by Environment California, and guess what? Extreme precipitation is up 26% in California, and there is no statistically significant trend in damage, even without considering population growth and development.

CA Flood.png

So while human caused climate change may be responsible for changes in "extreme" precipitation, these measures are not well correlated with damaging floods.

Posted on December 6, 2007 08:02 AM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

Revisiting The 2006-2010 RMS Hurricane Damage Prediction

In the spring of 2006, a company called Risk Management Solutions (RMS) issued a five year forecast of hurricane activity (for 2006-2010) predicting U.S. insured losses to be 40% higher than average. RMS is an important company because their loss models are used by insurance companies to set rates charged to homeowners, by reinsurance companies to set rates they charge to insurers, by ratings agencies for evaluating risks, and others.

We are now two years into the RMS forecast period and can thus say something preliminary about their forecast based on actual hurricane damage from 2006 and 2007, which was minimal. In short, the forecast doesn't look too good. For 2006 and 2007, the following figure shows average annual insured historical losses (for 2005 and earlier) in blue (based on Pielke et al. 2008, adjusted up by 4% from 2006 to 2007 to account for changing exposure), the RMS prediction of 40% more losses above the average in pink, and the actual losses in red.

RMS Verification.png

The RMS prediction obviously did not improve upon a naive forecast of average losses in either year.

What are the chances for the 5-year forecast yet to verify?

Average U.S. insured losses according to Pielke et al. (2008) are about $5.2 billion per year. Over 5 years this is $26 billion, and 40% higher than this is $36 billion. A $36 billion dollar insured loss is about $72 billion in total damage, and $26 billion insured is about $52 billion. For the RMS forecast to do better than the naive baseline of Pielke et al. (2008) total damage in 2008-2010 will have to be higher than $62 billion ($31 billion insured). That is, losses higher than $62B are closer to the RMS forecast than to the naive baseline.

The NHC official estimate for Katrina is $81 billion. So for the 2006-2010 RMS forecast to verify will require close to another Katrina-like event to occur in the next 3 years, or several large events. This is of course possible, but I doubt that there is a hurricane expert out there willing to put forward a combination of event probability and loss magnitude that will lead to an expected $62 billion total loss over the next 3 years. Consider that a 50% chance of $124 billion in losses results in an expected $62 billion. Is there any scientific basis to expect a 50% chance of $124 billion in losses? Or perhaps a 100% chance of $62 billion in total losses? Anyone wanting to make claims of this sort, please let us know!

From Pielke et al. (2008) the annual chances of a >$10B event (i.e., $5B insured) during 1900-2005 about 25%, and the annual chances of a >$50 billion ($25 billion insured) are just under 5%. There were 7 unique three-year periods with >$62B (>$31B insured) in total losses, or about a 7% chance. So RMS prediction of 40% higher than average losses for 2006-2010 has about a 7% chance of being more accurate than a naive baseline. It could happen, of course, but I wouldn't bet on it without good odds!

So what has RMS done is the face of evidence that its first 5-year forecast was not so accurate? Well, they have declared success and issued another 5-year forecast of 40% higher losses for the period 2008-2012.

Risk Management Solutions (RMS) has confirmed its modeled hurricane activity rates for 2008 to 2012 following an elicitation with a group of the world's leading hurricane researchers. . . . The current activity rates lead to estimates of average annual insured losses that will be 40% higher than those predicted by the long-term mean of hurricane activity for the Gulf Coast, Florida, and the Southeast, and 25-30% higher for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastal regions.

For further reading:

Pielke, R. A., Jr., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M. A., and Musulin, R. (2008). "Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005." Natural Hazards Review, in press, February. (PDF, prepublication version)

November 26, 2007

John Quiggin on Adaptation

Last week I took strong issue with a view of climate adaptation put forward by Australian economist John Quiggin. After some discussion, John has graciously provided an extended and considerably more nuanced view of his thoughts on adaptation, which we are happy to highlight here. (Thanks, John!):

There is no reason to expect too little adaptation in developed countries, assuming that individuals and firms act in their own interests, and that governments follow standard policy procedures aimed at selecting policies that promote the welfare of their constituents. To the extent that these things don’t happen, international negotiations won’t help.

There is a big reason to expect excessive emissions by all countries (and the excess is much greater for the rich countries) because of the externality problem. Those making the emissions don’t bear more than a tiny fraction of the costs.

Finally, poor countries won’t have enough adaptation because they don’t have enough of anything. The best solution to this is to increase aid (and access to trade) across the board. Given sufficient resources, poor countries can their own decisions on how to allocate them.

Climate change negotiations provide a chance to put pressure on rich countries to compensate poor countries for the damage caused by climate change, or to pay them to participate in mitigation. In the former context, it may be possible to get finance for adaptation projects as part of the global negotiation process and if so, I welcome it.

Taking all of that together, this means the primary focus of international negotiations should be on emissions reductions and mitigation. But if aid for adaptation can be included in the package, that would be a good thing.

While I disagree with John, I can appreciate that his view is identical to that espoused in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and a logical consequence of its Article 2.

My own view is that Article 2 leads to a devaluing of sustainable development; specifically, it makes little sense in practice to try to separate "climate change adaptation" (where climate change is narrowly defined as those changes resulting from greenhouse gas emissions) from the more general challenge of sustainable development. I argue this point in the following paper:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2005. Misdefining "climate change": consequences for science and action, Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 8, pp. 548-561. (PDF)

I suspect that the tensions between rich world countries wanting to focus on emissions and developing countries focusing on development will be a central feature of the upcoming FCCC Bali negotiations.

Posted on November 26, 2007 06:09 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

November 20, 2007

Optimal Adaptation?

Thomas Henry Huxley once described science as "organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact." The same can be said of economics.

In a unpublished letter to Nature posted as a comment on the Nature Climate Feedback blog Australian economist John Quiggin responds to the recent Prins/Rayner piece in Nature. He explains how economics theory indicates that we really have no reason to worry about adaptation to climate change, because economics theory says so:

Prins and Rayner also assume that because adaptation is as important as mitigation, it should receive equal attention as a focus of public policy. But emissions of greenhouse gases represent a market failure. No individual or nation has a strong incentive to reduce their own emissions. Hence, mitigation requires a global policy response so that this externality is taken into account. By contrast, private parties, in deciding how to adapt to climate change, will, in the absence of policy intervention, bear the costs and receive the benefits of their decisions in most cases. There is no reason to expect too little adaptation.

I suppose one could argue that this thesis is supported by the obvious fact that the world today does indeed have an optimal level of climate adaptation.
But then again, one might also take a look at Bangladesh and the effects of Cyclone Sidr over the past week to see that such an argument is not only wrong but wrongheaded, and perhaps even morally bereft. The two "private parties" in the photo to the left (courtesy of The Boston Herald) are obviously practicing "optimal adaptation" in the "absence of policy intervention."

Yeah, right.

Posted on November 20, 2007 10:32 AM View this article | Comments (10)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

November 15, 2007

The Technological Fix

On Monday we had Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus kindly give a lecture on their new book Break Through. It was great to have them stop by, and nice to have an opportunity to get answers to questions about their book. Turnout was in the 100 range, judging by the size of the room. If you haven't read the book yet, you can either buy it, camp out in Borders with a cup of joe, or check out a three minute overview given by Geoff McGhee and Andrew Revkin of the NY Times covering the "New Environmental Centrists."

I want to respond to at least one of their claims, as well as a claim that appears to be circulating in the blogo-ether as what Revkin is calling the "Centrist" position, regarding the thought that we should encourage technological fixes to our problems. The reason I want to respond to this claim is both because I think it's right; and because I think it's, well, not right.

So let's talk about technological fixes.

I'm something of a technology buff. I like gadgets. I like science. And I like what technology does for me and the world. I also like what came about as a result of the ramped up R&D funds during the nineties. Moreover, I've never been totally enthusiastic about some of the neo-luddite language that once passed as environmentalist, so I agree with Shellenberger and Nordhaus (S&N) that we should all be encouraging, funding, supporting, and promoting technologies that help our civilization and our country advance. In fact, I also agree that environmentalists should be considerably more aspirational than desperational.

S&N argue persuasively that the "politics of limits" -- which is, roughly, the idea that regulation can serve as a cure-all to the world's environmental problems -- ought to be replaced with a "politics of possibility" -- which is kind of hopeful thinking about new possible worlds. Their argument runs primarily along political strategy lines and is buttressed by many studies that show that Americans don't respond well to the pessimism and "scare tactics" of environmentalism. The book's central idea should be familiar to anyone who has read their earlier work, Death of Environmentalism. In the end, it hangs on this dichotomy of political orientations: limits versus possibility.

And in this dichotomy lies the problem. It's a false concretism, supported mainly by S&N's choices of what counts as an environmental issue. Much of their book is geared to address concerns that relate to climate change. That's fine and well, of course, because climate change is one of the major hurdles that has been motivating the environmental movement for the past ten years or so. But it is also true that environmentalists have been dealing with many more problems than climate change for quite some time now. To declare the death of environmentalism, or to suggest that the positive panacea to the chicken-little environmental frame of mind is through technological and economic fixes, and that these fixes run contrary to the politics of limits, is to undermine a critical ethical thread that runs through environmental thinking altogether.

The greatest real-world instance of this thread is the relatively wide range of environmental issues that don't fall under the category of climate change; that were, prior to Al Gore and the Prius, central environmental issues. Here I'm thinking of issues like deforestation, desertification, extinction, habitat encroachment, water depletion, and so on. Environmental issues span the gamut, and many of them deal with human activities in and around nature. These issues can never be handled by technological or economic fixes, precisely because they are not problems of technical or economic failure. Some issues, for instance, relate to the problem of urban sprawl or to overconsumption, which cannot possibly be solved by appeal to technological or economic fixes. The "over" in 'overconsumption' isn't determined by what other people don't have (though that, surely, is part of it); it's determined by how much a person is entitled to and how much a person can reasonably use. Even Locke recognizes prohibitions against spoilage. These are primarily ethical and philosophical notions.

A second problem is that many of the classic environmental issues, among which climate change is only one, are best characterized as conflicts of interest, not just between two actors, but also between one actor and the environment. I want a cherry dining set, you want a cherry dining set, and there ain't enough cherry growing fast enough to give us both what we want. Moreover, when I take that cherry for my cherry dining set, I deprive the world of that cherry tree. In this case, it's not just any cherry tree; it's that cherry tree; that cherry tree under which Harold kissed Maude, under which Abe told his truth, under which Erma held her bowl. So too for many environmental problems: I want a ski slope, so I take that mountain. I want a fountain, so I take that reservoir. I want a McMansion development, so I take that open space. Taking specific features of nature yields particularized conflicts of interest; but even more than this, particularized clashes over what is and what is not permissible. Again, permissibility is an ethical issue, only loosely and tangentially related to the so-called "politics of limits."

What I'm expressing here isn't at all pessimism about technology. Far from it. As I've said, I like and support technological innovation. I'd even root for a budget that included a lot of it. I'm hoping to point out that S&N's "politics of limits vs politics of possibility" dichotomy has many rough edges; inattention to which heralds a premature call for the death of environmentalism.

For more on this, my colleague Michael Zimmerman, Professor in the Philosophy Department and the Environmental Studies Program, as well as an outspoken advocate of an expansively multidisciplinary approach to environmental issues, Integral Ecology, has his own new blog and has further comments on S&N here:

November 02, 2007

Confronting Disaster Losses

From today's Science:

L. M. Bouwer, R. P. Crompton, E. Faust, P. Höppe, and R. A. Pielke Jr. 2007. Confronting disaster losses, Science 318, 753.

Here is an excerpt from the Supporting Online Material:

Societal change and economic development are mainly responsible for increasing losses in recent decades, as convincingly shown in analyses of long-term records of losses (S1). After adjusting for societal changes, resulting time series accurately reflect documented trends (or lack thereof) and variability consistent with the observed climatological record of weather events (S1, S5). This implies that the net result of the adjustments has to a significant degree successfully removed the signal of societal change from the loss record. . .

Within the next 20 years projected changes in the intensity and frequency of extreme events—depending on the time scale and hazard—remain uncertain. The most severe effects of human-caused climate change are expected in the second half of the century
(S6). In the immediate future, disaster losses will increase as a result of societal change and economic development, independent of climate change.

We'll provide the full text as soon as it is posted on our site. Meantime, subscribers to Science can find it here.

UPDATE: Full text here in PDF.

Posted on November 2, 2007 07:59 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

November 01, 2007

The Young and the Mindless

As virtually anybody who has flipped on the news in the past ten days knows, residents of Southern California have experienced something not unlike Dante’s fiery sixth circle of hell. Short story: Big fire, at least fourteen dead, 138 injured, a million displaced, and billions of dollars in property damage. Shorter story: pretty awful. As usual, speculations about causal origin immediately spread (like wildfire) throughout the modern mess media. Fox news reported several times, presumably non-speculatively, that the fires might have been deliberately set by Al Qaeda. Scary stuff. On the other end of the spectrum, Matt Drudge slung the mud that some high-level producer at CNN had circulated a memo that commentators should use the fires to “push” the Planet in Peril series, but that they shouldn’t do so “irresponsibly.” Here’s an illuminating series of comments from the ever-entertaining Free Republic. Today, as a matter of fact, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is holding a hearing on the intensity and frequency of forest fires as tied to global warming. Coincidence? Probably not.

Sigh. It would appear from the shenanigans that nothing is immune from politics.

It came to light yesterday that a young boy, age uncertain, in what can only be described either as a child’s act of pyro-curiosity or as a defiant act against an overly paternalistic Smokey the Bear, has claimed responsibility for -- wait for it -- playing with matches. Denying Smokey’s sage advice, the boy was being a boy; and playing with matches. As most kids with scout badges know, playing with matches can cause forest fires. So here we have our cause of the fire. Or at least we have one cause of one of the fires.

Smokey the Bear Now that we know that a careless young boy was the cause of so much heartache, we are left with the undesirable question of how to make sense of this news. There are plenty of ways to think about kids who play with matches. Discussion in many circles (probably not far from the sixth circle) has already shifted to arguments about whether the boy should get the gallows or the guillotine. That’s a point for a different but not unrelated discussion. For some reason, however, it appears that many are inclined to view this revelation as one that confirms the absurdity of whatever offensive political view was brought to bear on explanatory accounts of the event. Progressives are calling foul on terror-mongers and reactionaries are calling foul on chicken-littles.

Let’s talk about causes below the fold.

Start with a bit of cocktail party name-dropping: our homeboy Aristotle. As his Physics is one of the mainstay texts in your library -- it is in your library, isn’t it? -- you’ll probably recall that Aristotle identifies four causes: the material, the formal, the efficient, and the final cause. For those sad souls who’ve lost their copy of Aristotle in the fire, you can read philosopher Marc Cohen’s notes on the causes here. (They’re pretty good.) These causes are more or less each supposed to provide answers to the question: What causes X? You don’t really need to understand all four causes in order to get the point I’m going to make, just that they each provide plausible answers to the question “what causes X” and that they don’t necessarily run at odds with one another.

What caused the fire? Good question. Fire is kind of tricky, but let’s aim for a plausible answer. It has come to our attention that what caused the fire was a little boy who was playing with matches. That answers some questions, but it doesn’t answer all of our questions. For instance, we know that a boy caused the fire, so it appears that a human was behind the event. That’s our efficient cause. We also know that matches caused the fire, so somehow there was some material causal chain unrelated to humans. That’s our material cause. Along with this, we know that there was low-lying brush and some high branchy-trees, creating a nice little furnace for our fire. So there we have our formal cause as well. What we also know is that what caused the fire was a lot of dry branches and stuff, all of which ‘likes to burn’, which is a natural cycle of any forest. That sounds pretty reasonable too: our final cause. A quartet of causes leading to a cacophony of disaster.

If we stop at the beginning, with the efficient cause, we see that our questions quickly open up along the axis of responsibility. Was the boy really aware of what he was doing? Did he have intent? Could he have done otherwise? Was the boy trained by Al Qaeda? And so on, and so on. We could go on for quite a long time down this road. I say, spare him the gallows. It’s likely that he’s just a normal kid.

Those questions, I daresay, are a pretty divergent distraction from the much more central question that readers of this blog will likely seek an answer for. What readers here probably want to know is the underlying formal cause, the reason that Southern California went up like Bambi’s bedroom. Joseph Romm has a pretty informative essay suggesting that global warming may be partly responsible. I’m not qualified to judge Romm’s science, but I find his argument plausible. Just as with the axis of responsibility, we could go on for quite a long time down that road too. Formal causes are pretty hard to nail down.

What strikes me as important here is not which of the many different kinds of causes are responsible for the fire. We can come up with several explanations, none of which are contradictory. No, what’s important is that we recognize that we can’t just wipe other causal explanations off our list when we’ve identified a single causal explanation like, say, a child with a matchbook. Setting aside the thought that the fires could have been set by a single young boy or several young terrorists-in-training, there is the important question about what formal arrangement facilitated the event. These formal causal explanations run independently of efficient causal explanations (not to mention material causal explanations or, gads, final causal explanations). Formal causal explanations are what are at issue when people point the finger at climate change.

Though Aristotle’s taxonomy of causes is pretty outdated -- okay, very outdated -- what I like about it is that it clarifies the multidimensionality of causes, pulling us in a direction away from searching for the elusive “root cause.” All ye who embark on that search, as they say, might as well abandon hope.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program:

October 18, 2007

NFIP reauthorization moving along

In what could become the most significant change to the National Flood Insurance Program since it started in 1968, yesterday Senate Banking unanimously passed out of committee its markup of H.R. 3121, which passed the House on September 27. H.R. 3121, the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007, pushes through a small but significant number of changes to the NFIP, including some to address the biggest problem with the NFIP: that it does not (and cannot, because it is not isolated from political interference) charge actuarially-sound rates on the policies it writes.

The bill has 36 sections so I'm not going to pick it apart here, but here are a few things I latched on to (the Senate bill isn't available yet so the section numbers refer to H.R.3121.EH):

- Quite a few authorizations for studies or reports (yea, I know, I know, but it's something) on charging actuarially-sound rates, increasing policy holding, including building codes in flood management criteria (go figure); and the creation of a National Flood Insurance Advocate whose main purpose is to write reports.

- Section 4 specifically phases in actuarially-sound rates for non-primary residences and nonresidential properties. This is a great start, but of course specifically and purposefully leaves out setting actuarially-sound rates for most policy holders! It also caps the increase for buildings built before 1974 (known as "pre-FIRM" properties) at 20% and 25% for nonresidential and non-primary residences respectively.

- Section 11 raises the cap on annual policy rate increases from 10% to 15%. Again, at least it's something.

- The House bill carried Section 7, adding coverage for wind in addition to flood. This would be a major, major change. The Senate Banking-passed bill, perhaps responding to a White House veto threat over the provision, left that out with a marker (an amendment offered and withdrawn by Schumer and Martinez).

- Section 36 gives authorization for adding a neat little warning on flood maps. For any area within the 100-yr floodplain that is protected by a dam or levee the maps "may" carry the following disclaimer: "NOTE: This area is shown as being protected from at least the 1-percent-annual-chance flood hazard by levee, dike, or other structure. Overtopping or failure of any flood control structure is possible. Property owners are encouraged to evaluate their flood risk, based on full and accurate information, and to consider flood insurance coverage as appropriate." (A similar warning for the 500-yr floodplain is also included.) In the language of the legislative, the section uses "may" instead of "shall" for the warning. In other words, it authorizes but does not mandate a warning. That means it may never reach the flood maps and whether or not it does will be open to political pressure, but considering that mapmakers are geeks I can only assume that warning will appear on every map.

I haven't seen the Senate Banking-passed bill and of course we will have to wait for the bill that comes out of the full Senate and then the Conference Committee, but in general these are very positive developments. They don't go far enough in reforming the NFIP, but they are a solid start.

Posted on October 18, 2007 04:44 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

August 20, 2007

New Changnon paper on winter storm losses

Keeping in line with similar research being done here on hurricanes (Roger and colleagues) and earthquakes (me), Stanley Changnon has a new paper out on winter storm losses. The abstract:

Winter storms are a major weather problem in the USA and their losses have been rapidly increasing. A total of 202 catastrophic winter storms, each causing more than $1 million in damages, occurred during 1949–2003, and their losses totaled $35.2 billion (2003 dollars). Catastrophic winter storms occurred in most parts of the contiguous USA, but were concentrated in the eastern half of the nation where 88% of all storm losses occurred. ... The time distribution of the nation’s 202 storms during 1949–2003 had a sizable downward trend, whereas the nation’s storm losses had a major upward trend for the 55-year period. This increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of significant temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities. Increases in storm intensities were small in the northern sections of the nation, but doubled across the southern two-thirds of the nation, reflecting a climatic shift in conditions producing intense winter storms.

The interesting zeroth- or first-order conclusion is that when using damage trends as a proxy for climatic trends, no climatic trends can be seen in hurricanes while a strong one can be seen in winter storms. From the latest Pielke et al. hurricane paper: should be clear from the normalized estimates that while 2004 and 2005 were exceptional from the standpoint of the number of very damaging storms, there is no long-term trend of increasing damage over the time period covered by this analysis.

Whereas from the Changnon paper on winter storms:

Significant temporal increases in storm losses, storm sizes, and storm intensity have occurred in the United States. The national increase over time in losses, given the decrease in storm incidences, was a result of the increases over time in storm sizes and intensities. The marked temporal increases in storm sizes and storm intensities were greatest across the southern two-thirds of the nation.
Posted on August 20, 2007 02:38 PM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Disasters

August 17, 2007

New Publication

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Mistreatment of the economic impacts of extreme events in the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, in press, corrected proof.

Full text here in PDF.

June 25, 2007

Normalized US Hurricane Damages

The following paper has now been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Natural Hazards Review:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C.W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2007. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review (accepted) Accepted Version in PDF

The dataset is available here.

Posted on June 25, 2007 04:12 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

June 12, 2007

Aren't new problems always old problems?

Congress is back at trying to reform the problematic National Flood Insurance Program. What's curious is the claim that NFIP's problems are recent and related to the 2005 hurricane season. This CQ article says:

The program, which provides virtually all water-damage insurance in the country, had to borrow that amount to pay out the unprecedented number of claims generated by Hurricane Katrina and the other 2005 storms that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Lawmakers and experts say the 2005 storms revealed weaknesses in the program that must be addressed to put it back on sound financial footing.

The number of claims may have been unprecedented but the borrowing from the federal treasury to back up the insurance pool certainly was not unprecedented. And it is absurd to suggest that it took the 2005 storm year to "reveal weaknesses in the program." The literature is deep on the NFIP's problems and one of the biggest is that rate-setting isn't protected from political tinkering, so NFIP can't charge actuarially-sound premiums. So it's nice to see that Congress is trying to address NFIP's problems, but the question is will Congress protect NFIP from Congress?

Posted on June 12, 2007 04:42 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

May 11, 2007

State of Florida Rejects RMS Cat Model Approach

According to a press release from RMS, Inc. the state of Florida has rejected their risk assessment methodology based on using an expert elicitation to predict hurricane risk for the next five years. Regular readers may recall that we discussed this issue in depth not long ago. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

During the week of April 23, the Professional Team of the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology (FCHLPM) visited the RMS offices to assess the v6.0 RMS U.S. Hurricane Model. The model submitted for review incorporates our standard forward-looking estimates of medium-term hurricane activity over the next five years, which reflect the current prolonged period of increased hurricane frequency in the Atlantic basin. This model, released by RMS in May 2006, is already being used by insurance and reinsurance companies to manage the risk of losses from hurricanes in the United States.

Over the past year, RMS has been in discussions with the FCHLPM regarding use of a new method of estimating future hurricane activity over the next five years, drawing upon the expert opinion of the hurricane research community, rather than relying on a simplistic long-term historical average which does not distinguish between periods of higher and lower hurricane frequency. RMS was optimistic that the certification process would accommodate a more robust approach, so it was disappointed that the Professional Team was "unable to verify" that the company had met certain FCHLPM model standards relating to the use of long-term data for landfalling hurricanes since 1900.

As a result of the Professional Team’s decision, RMS has elected this year to submit a revised version of the model that is based on the long-term average, to satisfy the needs of the FCHLPM.

This is of course the exact same issue that we highlighted over at Climate Feedback, where I wrote, "Effective planning depends on knowing what range of possibilities to expect in the immediate and longer-term future. Use too long a record from the past and you may underestimate trends. Use too short a record and you miss out on longer time-scale variability."

In their press release, RMS complains correctly that the state of Florida is now likely to underestimate risk:

The long-term historical average significantly underestimates the level of hurricane hazard along the U.S. coast, and there is a consensus among expert hurricane researchers that we will continue to experience elevated frequency for at least the next 10 years. The current standards make it more difficult for insurers and their policy-holders to understand, manage, and reduce hurricane risk effectively.

In its complaint, RMS is absolutely correct. However, the presence of increased risk does not justify using an untested, unproven, and problematic methodology for assessing risk, even if it seems to give the "right" answer.

The state of Florida would be wise to err in the decision making on the side of recognizing that the long-term record of hurricane landfalls and impacts is likely to dramatically understate their current risk and exposure. From all accounts, the state of Florida appears to be gambling with its hurricane future rather than engaging in robust risk management. For their part, RMS, the rest of the cat model industry, and insurance and reinsurance companies should together carefully consider how best to incorporate rapidly evolving and still-uncertain science into scientifically robust and politically legitimate tools for risk management, and this cannot happen quickly enough.

May 03, 2007

New Landsea Paper in EOS

Chris Landsea has shared his just-out paper from EOS (PDF) and send the following capsule summary:

The link between the frequency of tropical cyclones [hurricanes and tropical storms] and anthropogenic global warming has become an emerging focus. However, an analysis of the data shows that improved monitoring in recent years is responsible for most, if not all, of the observed trend in increasing frequency of tropical cyclones.

Comments, criticisms, alternative perspectives welcomed!

April 20, 2007

New GAO Report on Climate Change and Insurance

At the request of Congressman Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a research arm of Congress, has just released a report on climate change and insurance (PDF). The report is excellent and well worth reading for anyone with interest in the subject. Now whether or not an excellent report makes a positive difference in policy making is another matter . . . Here are a few excerpts and my commentary:

On trends in losses:

Taken together, private and federal insurers paid more than $320 billion in claims on weather-related losses from 1980 through 2005. In constant dollars, private insurers paid the largest part of the claims during this period, $243.5 billion (about 76 percent); followed by federal crop insurance, $43.6 billion (about 14 percent); and federal flood insurance, $34.1 billion (about 11 percent). Claims varied significantly from year to year—largely due to the incidence and effects of catastrophic weather events such as hurricanes and droughts—but generally increased during this period. In particular, the years with the largest insured losses were generally associated with major hurricanes, which comprised well over one-third of all weather-related losses since 1980. The growth in population in hazard-prone areas, and resulting real estate development and increasing real estate values, have increased federal and private insurers’ exposure, and have helped to explain the increase in losses. In particular, heavily-populated areas along the Northeast, Southeast, and Texas coasts have among the highest value of insured properties in the United States and face the highest likelihood of major hurricanes. Due to these and other factors, federal insurers’ exposures have grown substantially. Since 1980, NFIP’s exposure has quadrupled, nearing $1 trillion, and program expansion has increased FCIC’s exposure nearly 26-fold to $44 billion. These escalating exposures to catastrophic weather events are leaving the federal government at increased financial risk. FCIC officials told us, for example, that if the widespread Midwest floods of 1993 were to occur today, losses would be five times greater. [p. 4]

How much would that be? The 1993 Midwest floods resulted in $1.3 billion in federal flood insurance costs (Source: PDF). Five times this amount is $6.5 billion, in 1993 dollars. Adjusting for inflation to 2005 dollars gives a total of $8.5 billion, which is about half the costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and more than four times the premiums taken in by the program annually (Source: PDF).

The conclusion? Regardless of climate change federal flood insurance is of questionable financial sustainability without an expectation of major and frequent subsidies. So perhaps greater attention to adaptation might be needed:

Federal insurance programs, on the other hand, have done little to develop the kind of information needed to understand the programs’ long-term exposure to climate change for a variety of reasons. The federal insurance programs are not oriented toward earning profits like private insurers but rather toward increasing participation among eligible parties. Consequently, neither program has had reason to develop information on their long-term exposure to the fiscal risks associated with climate change.

We acknowledge the different mandate and operating environment in which the major federal insurance programs operate, but we believe that better information about the federal government’s exposure to potential changes in weather-related risk would help the Congress identify and manage this emerging high-risk area—one which may not constitute an immediate crisis, but which does have significant implications for the nation’s growing fiscal imbalance. Accordingly, GAO is recommending that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness to analyze the potential long-term fiscal implications of climate change for the FCIC and the NFIP, respectively, and report their findings to the Congress.

Another factor not mentioned here is the bias against adaptation in climate policy. For example, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (by subscription), Senator Lieberman (mis)used the report to justify changes in energy policies, saying that it:

presents another strong argument -- this one fiscal -- for adopting an economywide, cap and trade, anti-global-warming law.

But the report offers absolutely no information on how changes in energy policies will affect disaster losses. The report certainly offers no recommendations on energy policies. In fact, to the contrary, it cites our Hohenkammer workshop which clearly explained that the most effective responses over coming decades will be adaptive in nature. And as we've discussed on occasion here, there is good reason for concern not just in the public sector about adaptive capacity -- the so-called "catastrophe models" used by private insurers may not leave them as prepared to manage risk as they might think.

Finally, there is this very interesting nugget found in the response by the USDA (Appendix 5, p. 59), which runs the federal crop insurance progam:

The increase in crop insurance indemnities over time reflects the rapid growth of the crop insurance program, not an increase in either the frequency and/or severity of catastrophic weather events. In fact, the severity of loss for the crop insurance program, as measured by the loss ratio, has been generally lower in the 1990's and 2000's than in the 1980's. Thus, if anything, the frequency and severity of catastrophic loss events for the crop insurance program appears to be decreasing.

Interesting, huh?

Posted on April 20, 2007 07:42 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

April 18, 2007

Chris Landsea on New Hurricane Science

Chris Landsea has submitted a guest post today on a recent paper on hurricanes and global warming. We share Chris' comments below, and welcome reactions and alternative perspectives.

Guest post by Chris Landsea, NOAA

Today a new paper by Gabe Vecchi and Brian Soden has been published:

Vecchi G. A., B. J. Soden (2007), Increased tropical Atlantic wind shear in model projections of global warming, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L08702, doi:10.1029/2006GL028905. (PDF)

My reading of the paper by Vecchi and Soden is that this is a very important contribution to the understanding of how global warming is affecting hurricane activity. The study thoroughly examines how the wind shear and other parameters that can alter the number and intensity of hurricanes because of manmade global warming. What they found - surprisingly - is that in the Atlantic that the wind shear should increase significantly over a large portion of where hurricanes occur - making it more difficult for hurricanes to form and grow. This was identified in all of the 18 global climate models they examined. (Perhaps it's not that surprising given that Knutson/Tuleya 2004 showed some of the same signal for the more reliable models back then. Now the signal is in ALL of the CGCMs.) Even the MPI changes in the Atlantic appear mixed, due to the smaller SST increases there (with more uniform upper trop temp changes) compared with the rest of the global tropics/subtropics.

One implication to me is that this further provides evidence that the busy period we've seen in the Atlantic hurricanes since 1995 is due to natural cycles, rather than manmade causes. We've seen a big reduction in wind shear in the last thirteen hurricane seasons, which is OPPOSITE to the signal that Vecchi and Soden have linked to manmade global warming changes. Another implication is that this paper reconfirms earlier work that suggests that global warming will cause very small changes to Atlantic hurricanes, even several decades from now.

Posted on April 18, 2007 08:16 AM View this article | Comments (10)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Disasters

April 17, 2007

Laurens Bouwer on IPCC WG II on Disasters

In the comments, Laurens Bouwer, of the Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, who served as an expert reviewer for the IPCC WGII report, provides the following perspective (Thanks Laurens!):

Thanks Roger, for this discussion. It clearly points the fact that IPCC has not done enough to make an unambiguous statement on the attribution of disaster losses in their Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers (SPM). This now leaves room for speculation based on the individual statements and graphs from underlying chapters in the report, in particular Figure TS-15, Chapters 1, 3 and 7, that all have substantial paragraphs on the topic.

As reviewer for WG2 I have repeatedly (3 times) asked to put a clear statement in the SPM that is in line with the general literature, and underlying WG2 chapters. In my view, WG2 has not succeeded in adequately quoting and discussing all relevant recent papers that have come out on this topic -- see above-mentioned chapters.

Initial drafts of the SPM had relatively nuanced statements such as:

Global economic losses from weather-related disasters have risen substantially since the 1970s. During the same period, global temperatures have risen and the magnitude of some extremes, such as the intensity of tropical cyclones, has increased. However, because of increases in exposed values ..., the contribution of these weather-related trends to increased losses is at present not known.

For unknown reasons, this statement (which seems to implicitly acknowledge Roger's and the May 2006 workshop conclusion that societal factors dominate) was dropped from the final SPM. Now the SPM has no statement on the attribution of disaster losses, and we do not know what is the 'consensus' here.

April 12, 2007

New Peer-Reviewed Publication on the Benefits of Emissions Reductions for Future Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane) Losses Around the World

I have a paper accepted for publication that projects into the future a range of possible scenarios for increasing losses related to tropical cyclones around the world.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (accepted, 2007). Future Economic Damage from Tropical Cyclones: Sensitivities to Societal and Climate Changes, Proceedings of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (PDF)

The factors that comprise the different scenarios include changes in population, per capita wealth, tropical cyclone intensity, and also damage functions as a function of intensity. [Note: Tropical cyclone frequency is not included as scientists presently do not expect frequencies to increase. However, even if frequencies do increase it is possible in the scenarios to equate the effects of frequency in terms of intensity, as discussed in the paper.] The goal of the paper is to delineate a scenarios space as a function of permutations in these variables in order to assess the robustness of mitigation and adaptation responses to future losses. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines future economic damages from tropical cyclones under a range of assumptions about societal change, climate change, and the relationship of climate change to damage in 2050. It finds in all cases that efforts to reduce vulnerability to losses, often called climate adaptation, have far greater potential effectiveness to reduce damage related to tropical cyclones than efforts to modulate the behavior of storms through greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies, typically called climate mitigation and achieved through energy policies. The paper urges caution in using economic losses of tropical cyclones as justification for action on energy policies when far more potentially effective options are available.

Nothing new here for regular Prometheus readers, but now this analysis has been formalized and has gone through peer review. Here are the paper’s conclusions:

This paper finds that under a wide range of assumptions about future growth in wealth and population, and about the effects of human-caused climate change, in every case there is far greater potential to affect future losses by focusing attention on the societal conditions that generate vulnerability to losses. Efforts to modulate tropical cyclone intensities through climate stabilization policies have extremely limited potential to reduce future losses. This conclusion is robust across assumptions, even unrealistic assumptions about the timing and magnitude of emissions reductions policies on tropical cyclone behavior. The importance of the societal factors increases with the time horizon.

This does not mean that climate stabilization policies do not make sense or that policy makers should ignore influences of human-caused climate change on tropical cyclone behavior. It does mean that efforts to justify emissions reductions based on future tropical cyclone damages are misleading at best, given that available alternatives have far greater potential to achieve reductions in damage. The most effective policies in the face of tropical cyclones have been and will continue to be adaptive in nature, and thus should play a prominent role in any comprehensive approach to climate policy.

April 11, 2007

This is Just Embarassing

The Figure below is found in the IPCC WG II report, Chapter 7, supplementary material (p. 3 here in PDF). I am shocked to see such a figure in the IPCC of all places, purporting to show something meaningful and scientifically vetted. Sorry to be harsh, but this figure is neither. [Note: The reference (Miller et al. 2006) is not listed in the report (pointers from readers would be welcomed).]


I am amazed that this figure made it past review of any sort, but especially given what the broader literature on this subject actually says. I have generally been a supporter of the IPCC, but I do have to admit that if it is this sloppy and irresponsible in an area of climate change where I have expertise, why should I have confidence in the areas where I am not an expert?

Addendum, a few of the many problems with this figure:

1. Global average temperatures do not cause disaster losses, extreme events cause disasters, mostly floods and tropical cyclones.

2. if you can't attribute disaster losses regionally to changes in extremes, then you can't do it globally with a metric only loosely (at best) related to extremes.

2. A 9-year smoothing in a 35 year record?

3. The IPCC has said that 30 years is not sufficient for such an attribution analysis, a 35 year record with 4 degrees of freedom probably isn't either.

4. The Muir-Wood global dataset (if that is what is used) has huge error bars not noted here. Any global analysis should be matched with a regional summation.

5. The Muir-Wood dataset, without error bars, leads to opposite conclusions using a longer record to 1950. Why didn't they show that? I wonder . . .

6. Studies of floods and hurricanes at the regional level, around the world, do not support a relationship of average global atmospheric temperature and disaster losses.

7. A consensus conference with experts around the world came to very different conclusions. What happened to the importance of consensus?

A more comprehensive synthesis can be found here:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2006. Seventh Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture: Disasters, Death, and Destruction: Making Sense of Recent Calamities, Oceanography, Special Issue: The Oceans and Human Health, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 138-147. (PDF)

Posted on April 11, 2007 11:48 AM View this article | Comments (17)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

Here We Go Again: Cherry Picking in the IPCC WGII Full Report on Disaster Losses

The IPCC WGII full report is available (hat tip: ClimateScienceWatch). I have had a look at what they say about disaster losses, and unfortunately, the IPCC WG II commits the exact same cherry picking error as did the Stern report.

Here is what IPCC says about catastrophe losses (Chapter 1, pp. 50-51):

Global losses reveal rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s. One study has found that while the dominant signal remains that of the significant increases in the values of exposure at risk, once losses are normalised for exposure, there still remains an underlying rising trend.

The one study? Muir-Wood et al. 2006 that was prepared as the basis for our workshop last year with Munich re on Disaster Losses and Climate Change. Here is what we said when the Stern Report cherry picked this same information:

The source is a paper prepared by Robert Muir-Wood and colleagues as input to our workshop last May on disasters and climate change. Muir-Wood et al. do report the 2% trend since 1970. What Stern Report does not say is that Muir-Wood et al. find no trend 1950-2005 and Muir-Wood et al. acknowledge that their work shows a very strong influence of 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in the United States. Muir-Wood et al. are therefore very cautious and responsible about their analysis. Presumably this is one reason why at the workshop Robert Muir-Wood signed on to our consensus statements, which said the following:
Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions . . . In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

The Stern Report’s selective fishing out of a convenient statement from one of the background papers prepared for our workshop is a classic example of cherry picking a result from a diversity of perspectives, rather than focusing on the consensus of the entire spectrum of experts that participated in our meeting. The Stern Report even cherry picks from within the Muir-Wood et al. paper.

The full discussion by the IPCC WG II has a bit more nuance, but it is clear that they are reaching for whatever they can to support a conclusion that simply is not backed up in the broader literature. Can anyone point to any other area in the IPCC where one non-peer-reviewed study is used to overturn the robust conclusions of an entire literature? Here is the full discussion:

Economic losses attributed to natural disasters have increased from US$75.5 billion in the 1960s to US$659.9 billion in the 1990s (a compound annual growth rate of 8%) (United Nations Development Programme 2004). Private sector data on insurance costs also shows rising insured losses over a similar period (Munich Re Group 2005; Swiss Reinsurance Company 2005). The dominant signal is of significant increase in the values of exposure (Pielke and Hoppe 2006).

However, as has been widely acknowledged, failing to adjust for time-variant economic factors yields loss amounts that are not directly comparable and a pronounced upward trend through time for purely economic reasons. A previous normalization of losses, undertaken for United States hurricanes by Pielke and Landsea (1998) and US floods (Pielke et al., 2002) included normalizing the economic losses for changes in wealth and population to express losses in constant dollars. These previous national US assessments, as well as those for normalized Cuban hurricane losses (Pielke et al., 2003), did not show any significant upward trend in losses over time, but this was before the remarkable hurricane losses of 2004 and 2005.

A ‘global’ catalogue of catastrophe losses was constructed (Muir Wood et al., 2006) normalized to account for changes that have resulted from variations in wealth and the numbers and values of properties located in the path of the catastrophes, using the method of Pielke and Landsea (1999). The global survey was considered largely comprehensive from 1970–2005 for countries and regions (Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, South Korea, US, Caribbean, Central America, China, India and the Philippines) that had centralized catastrophe loss information and included a broad range of peril types: tropical cyclone, extratropical cyclone, thunderstorm, hailstorm, wildfire and flood, and that spanned high and low latitude areas.

Once the data were normalized a small statistically significant trend was found for an increase in annual catastrophe loss since 1970 of 2% per year (see Fig. SM1.1). However, for a number of regions, such as Australia and India, normalized losses show a statistically significant reduction since 1970. The significance of the upward trend is influenced by the losses in the US and Caribbean in 2004 and 2005 and arguably biased by the relative wealth of the US, in particular relative to India.

More on the figure that they reference in the next post . . .

Posted on April 11, 2007 10:51 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

April 06, 2007

Still responding to the last disaster

Eric Berger, the Houston Chron's SciGuy has a Q&A up with David Paulison, the current FEMA chief. There are some interesting things in there:

Q. At some point do you advise someone in the federal government that programs like federal flood insurance should be revisited?

A. We need to re-look at the whole flood insurance program itself. How we provide flood insurance, what we're going to charge for it, what requirement we're going to have to get flood insurance. I don't have all the answers for that right now, I can tell you that.

From what I've seen, the main problem is that NFIP is not allowed to be a true insurance market because political interference from Congress will not allow NFIP to charge actuarially-sound rates. Maybe Mr. Paulison is just being demure in not wanting to poke at Congress in describing the true problem here, but if he's not going to do it who is?

What really catches my eye in the interview, though, is the last question and answer:

Q. Is there a particular disaster scenario that keeps you up at night?

A. What keeps me up at night is a category-4 or 5 coming into this area (New Orleans.) It really does. We could talk about the terrorist issues, with the nuclear bombs, or pandemic flu, but we know we're going to have hurricanes. We've got so many people in travel trailers, so many people in mobile homes, an area that the infrastructure is so fragile. For another category-4 or 5 storm to come in here would be devastating for this entire country. That keeps you awake at night.

There it is. You need no other evidence that FEMA is still fighting the last war. I sincerely hope that FEMA is being a lot more forward thinking than just worrying about another hurricane hit on New Orleans. Just to bring up one example, the next earthquake in LA or SF that rivals the shaking of the 1906 San Francisco quake is projected to do $200 billion in damage, roughly double what Katrina brought to New Orleans.

Posted on April 6, 2007 02:24 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

March 28, 2007

if you want an example of selling science...

...see this post by Eric Berger. Eric details AccuWeather's chief hurricane forecaster making ... well, you can see for yourself what he's doing. Real solid work.

Posted on March 28, 2007 12:22 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

March 22, 2007

Who is talking national cat insurance now?

The Florida Senators, of course. The Palm Beach Post has a story up about a new bill package from Sens. Nelson and Martinez. The bills aren't up yet in the Congressional tracking system so all we have is the PBP article, but there are some tantalizing clues in there:

But Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, said their main legislative vehicle would be a bill Nelson filed in January that would create an advisory commission to recommend a federal catastrophic insurance program.


Among the bills introduced Tuesday is a proposal to create a national catastrophic insurance fund financed through insurance premiums.

Such a fund would operate as a national reinsurance program to backstop commercial reinsurance plans and state catastrophic insurance funds in the event of a major disaster.

This is a good start, but I hope they are planning on dealing with the underinsurance and adjustment problems in the other bills. The thinking might be that with federal backstop reinsurance, premiums offered by the direct insurers can be lower and the options greater, thus leading to higher rates of policyholding, but it's not clear. If that's not the thinking that I'm wondering what they are going for here, because I didn't see much problem with the reinsurance world absorbing Katrina's payouts.

The other measures include a Martinez bill, with Nelson co-sponsoring, to give a 25 percent tax credit to property owners for home improvements designed to help a the home withstand the impact of a natural disaster.

Nice to see somebody thinking about how to get individual homeowners to voluntarily undertake resilience upgrades. A point I've been making about the quake policy outlook is that it's focused far too heavily on basic and applied research and not on implementation strategies. And by implementation, I'm talking about issues just like this – how to get homeowners, business owners and municipalities to build resilience into their infrastructure based on the hazards knowledge we've already developed.

Martinez also offered a bill to streamline insurance regulation and a plan to create a 10-year, $4.3 billion national hurricane research initiative through the National Science Foundation.

That sounds good, but maybe not so good in the context of the $7B Pres. Bush asked for avian flu and the $8B the Senate authorized for it in 2005? (It was in the Senate-passed H.R. 3010 in the 109th session but the $8B didn't survive conference with the House.) Avian flu? Hurricanes? Hmmm.... You're going to argue that we can do both. I'm arguing that the message sent is that avian flu is a bigger direct and potential threat than hurricanes. Is it?

Posted on March 22, 2007 01:48 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

February 28, 2007

Spinning Science

We have had a lot of discussion here about the process of producing press releases. Last month, I participated in a congressional hearing in which several scientists argued strongly that official press releases should be faithful to the science being reported. A press release put out by the University of Wisconsin today is a case of a press release completely misrepresenting the science in the paper that it is presenting. I am going to speculate that because the press release errs on the side of emphasizing a global warming connection where there is in fact none indicated in the paper that there will be little concern expressed by the scientific community about its inaccuracies.

UPDATE: NSF issues its own release "New Information Links Atlantic Ocean Warming to Stronger Hurricanes" compounding the misrepresentation. The NSF release (like the UW version) contradicts its own headline:

The Atlantic is also unique in that the physical variables that converge to form hurricanes--including wind speeds, wind directions and temperatures--mysteriously feed off each other to make conditions ripe for a storm. But scientists don't understand why, Kossin adds.

The press release is titled: "New evidence that global warming fuels stronger Atlantic hurricanes." The first paragraph of the release says:

Atmospheric scientists have uncovered fresh evidence to support the hotly debated theory that global warming has contributed to the emergence of stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

The paper, by Jim Kossin and colleagues appears in today's Geophysical Research Letters and actually says nothing like this (paper here in PDF). It does say the following:

**Over the past 23 years there are no global trends in tropical cyclone activity in any basin except the Atlantic. This is an important finding because it contradicts the findings presented in 2005 by Webster et al. that there have been global trends. Kossin et al. call into question a straightforward relationship of SST and tropical cyclone activity. This is news.

**The paper does find the Atlantic to be more active over the past 23 years. No one in the world has ever questioned whether or not the Atlantic has been more active over the past 3 decades. Any assertion that the Atlantic has become more active is hardly "fresh evidence." This is not news.

*The paper does not engage in attribution, and openly admits that a 23-year record is too short for attribution studies (i.e., that indicate causes of trends).

Here is what Kossin et al. say in their conclusion:

Efforts are presently underway to maximize the length of our new homogeneous data record but at most we can add another 6–7 years, and whether meaningful trends can be measured or inferred in a 30-year data record remains very much an open question. Given these limitations of the data, the question of whether hurricane intensity is globally trending upwards in a warming climate will likely remain a point of debate in the foreseeable future. Still, the very real and dangerous increases in recent Atlantic hurricane activity will no doubt continue to provide a heightened sense of purpose to research addressing how hurricane behavior might change in our changing climate, and further efforts toward improvement of archival data quality are expected to continue in parallel with efforts to better reconcile the physical processes involved. If our 23-year record is in fact representative of the longer record, then we need to better understand why hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin is varying in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the world despite similar upward trends of SST in each basin.

The University of Wisconsin press release is either a cheap publicity grab or a deliberate attempt to spin the paper's results 180 degrees from what it actually says.

February 23, 2007 has its Facts Wrong

There is a webpage called that is grossly misrepresenting my views on hurricanes and climate change, which is bizarre given my strong endorsement of the recent IPCC report. Anyone wanting to get "facts" on the IPCC should look elsewhere than, like to the actual IPCC. Here I set the record straight and request that correct their mistakes.

It is always nice to know who is misrepresenting one’s views and it this case the group’s origins are a bit hard to discern, but it is connected to Fenton Communications, which coincidentally is also associated with RealClimate. receives funding from the United Nations Foundation.

Anyway, misrepresents my views on the recent IPCC report on the subject of hurricanes and climate change. As anyone who reads Prometheus knows, I was quite complementary of the IPCC’s judgment on this issue. Nonetheless, sees fit to cite my views as representing a "myth":

Myth: The report shows that the overall number of hurricanes is expected to decline, undercutting the argument that global warming produces extreme weather events.
"So there might be a human contribution [to increased hurricanes] ... but the human contribution itself has not been quantitatively assessed, yet the experts, using their judgment, expect it to be there. In plain English this is what is called a ‘hypothesis’ and not a ‘conclusion.’ And it is a fair representation of the issue." –Roger Pielke Jr. climate scientist, University of Colorado, Blog post, February 2, 2007.

First, the report indicates that there is little confidence in estimates of how the number of hurricanes will change—up or down.

Second, the really important issue is not frequency, but intensity and damage potential. Hurricanes and other tropical cyclones draw their energy from warm ocean waters, which typically, under the right conditions, lead to increases in the size and intensity of hurricanes. The warmer ocean waters that result from global warming thus provide an environment suitable to the generation of larger hurricanes.

And larger hurricanes are characterized by all the elements that increase potential destructiveness: higher wind speed, greater intensity of rainfall and higher storm surges in advance of landfall.

In response, first a minor point -- they call me a "climate scientist" which is only accurate if one includes climate impacts under that designation, which is typically not done. I don’t characterize myself as such. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) certainly does not.

Second, the quote from me that they suggest represents a "myth" comes from this blog post. The part that they ellipsis out is the following parenthetical:

(and presumably this is just to the observed upwards trends observed in some basins, and not to downward trends observed in others, but this is unclear)

At no point (in the post that they reference or anywhere else) do I suggest that there will be less hurricanes, nor do I suggest that such a decline undercuts the argument for an increase in extreme events in the future. Where they get this impression I have no idea. This is simply a gross misrepresentation. In fact, my writings say much the opposite, such as the following (PDF):

For future decades the IPCC (2001) expects increases in the occurrence and/or intensity of some extreme events as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Peer-reviewed papers I have co-authored (here in PDF and here in PDF) that survey the literature on tropical cyclone science, impacts, and policy are actually 100% consistent with the IPCC SPM.

And of the blog post of mine that they cite summarizing the IPCC SPM, here is what one of the scientists on the U.S. delegation had to say:

Thank you for your thoughtful and balanced assessment of what the IPCC SPM says. You have got it right. Your careful analysis on what the report says and how it compares to the WMO consensus statement is most appreciated.

Then start talking about the size of hurricanes, a discussion which is nowhere to be found in the IPCC SPM. In short, have got their facts wrong and are spinning some "myths" of their own.

Posted on February 23, 2007 09:00 AM View this article | Comments (12)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

February 21, 2007

Earthquake hazards policy talk tomorrow

Anybody ready for some non-climate stuff?

For those of you around here I'm giving a talk on my earthquake mitigation policy work tomorrow here at the Center (noon). I'll be covering the earthquake damages data and what it says about mitigation success (out of a paper that is still – ahem – "under review" after – ahem – eight months – at a certain natural hazards journal). I'll also be covering details of the NEHRP program, why Congress has been schizophrenic on the issue, when we can expect the next Big One and how much it's going to cost, what our damages look like compared to the rest of the world, and the winning PowerBall numbers for this Saturday's draw. Whew!

After the talk I'll post my PPT and an accompanying white paper (because it's hard to get the full message from a PPT, isn't it?).

For what it's worth, yes, I am dabbling pretty hard here. In addition to the quake stuff I've got a pre-print/submission coming soon on abandoned mine policy and a talk on that in the late spring, and an upcoming set of papers on the NYC water supply and policy implications (details to be blogged about over the next couple of months), and the background climate policy stuff that's always there.

Posted on February 21, 2007 09:06 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

February 14, 2007

Final Chapter, Hurricanes and IPCC, Book IV

Two years ago NOAA's Chris Landsea resigned from participating in the IPCC citing concerns that the chapter on hurricanes had been politicized, specifically citing the role that Kevin Trenberth, IPCC convening lead author for the chapter that covered hurricanes, had playing in an October, 2004 media event hyping a hurricane-global warming connection.

With this post we'd like to follow up and in the process close the book on this particular dispute -- at least for us here at Prometheus. The "hurricane wars" are probably far from over, but we should acknowledge that both Chris Landsea and Kevin Trenberth both come out of this situation looking pretty good. Both can and should feel vindicated. Read on if you are interested in a few final details from the last chapter in this story.

The first signs that there might be a happy ending to this saga were evident in June, 2005 when Kevin Trenberth authored a commentary in Science in which he wrote:

[T]here is no sound theoretical basis for drawing any conclusions about how anthropogenic change affects hurricane numbers or tracks, and thus how many hit land.

This led me to conclude at the time:

Landsea and Trenberth are scientifically on the same page, and the perspectives now being espoused by Trenberth [in Science] are (in my interpretation) entirely consistent with what Landsea argued at the time he stepped down from the IPCC.

So it shouldn't have been too surprising when the IPCC accurately reported the state of scientific understandings of tropical cyclones and climate change in its recent summary for policy makers, despite some last-minute concerns. (Of course, the WMO Consensus Statement was probably the most significant factor shaping the IPCC's final judgments.) When the full IPCC WG I report comes out, I have no doubts there will be some room for quibbling about the details on this subject, but the big picture presented in the SPM appears to me to be just about right.

Yesterday in an online Q&A with the public organized by the Washington Post Kevin Trenberth addressed an explicit question about this issue:

Washington, D.C.: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chris Landsea resigned a year ago from the IPCC and leveled charges that the IPCC, and you in particular, had a overly-politicized view of global warming trends. (link to here: Specifically, I believe that Landsea objected to the fact that some on the IPCC would "utilize the media to push an unsupported agenda that recent hurricane activity has been due to global warming." I assume that you disagree with Mr. Landsea. Do you believe that recent hurricane patterns have been negatively affected by global warming?

Kevin Trenberth: This is what the IPCC says in the Policy Makers Summary: "There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater. Multi-decadal variability and the quality of the tropical cyclone records prior to routine satellite observations in about 1970 complicate the detection of long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity. There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones. " This was agreed to by the US Govt and crafted by the lead authors present (including me). Landsea's comments were not correct.

Dr. Trenberth stuck to what the IPCC concluded and did not take the bait offered by this questioner. He was also taking the high ground in claiming that the IPCC SPM accurately reflected the current state of the science. But Chris Landsea should feel good as well because there can be no doubt that his actions helped to ensure that the IPCC got things right in the end.

Kudos to both, but it's time to move on.

Posted on February 14, 2007 03:56 PM View this article | Comments (7)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

February 05, 2007

Loose Ends -- IPCC and Hurricanes

Just a few loose ends that may be of interest to those following this issue:

1. The International Institute for Sustainable Development continues their invaluable tradition of providing a window into the negotiations with first-hand reports. Here is what their report says about the negotiations over hurricanes in the IPCC:

Regarding tropical cyclones, the US drew attention to a consensus statement produced at a recent WMO cyclone workshop about the difficulties of detecting cyclone trends, and cautioned that using the terms "global" and "trend" to describe an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones could open the IPCC to criticism. The Netherlands and the Philippines agreed that the proposed language, "satellite records suggest a global trend toward more intense tropical cyclones since about 1970, correlated with observed warming of tropical sea surfaces temperatures," was too strong. Germany and Kenya disagreed, deferring to the judgment of the Coordinating Lead Authors in assessing the scientific literature. The Coordinating Lead Authors clarified that the WMO workshop participants were hurricane scientists and not climate scientists, and that this statement, released six months after the WGI AR4 underlying report was submitted, was not peer-reviewed or open to comment. The issue was referred to a contact group, where participants discussed variability in the data and shortcomings in the modeling approaches, highlighted the importance of reflecting the main conclusions of the underlying chapter, and noted recent studies in support of both sides. As there was common ground on the robustness of evidence within the North Atlantic, the agreed text focused on the “observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic” and included a more detailed discussion of the factors that complicate identification of long-term patterns. A row in the table on extreme weather events (Table SPM-1) on "intense tropical cyclone activity increases" was modified to reflect the text agreed in the contact group, adding "in some regions." [emphasis added]

Of all groups I would think the IPCC Coordinating lead Authors could do better than offer a critique suggesting that the relevant experts were not "climate scientists." (Close readers will recall that we've seen that argument made here at times.) In any case, the team that wrote the WMO statement was populated by many leading researchers who by any definition are indeed "climate scientists," including luminaries like Tom Knutson and Kerry Emanuel.

2. Randy Dole, a member of the U.S. delegation to the IPCC sent in this nice comment referencing my interpretation of the SPM statements on tropical cyclones:

Thank you for your thoughtful and balanced assessment of what the IPCC SPM says. You have got it right. Your careful analysis on what the report says and how it compares to the WMO consensus statement is most appreciated.

Thanks Randy!

February 02, 2007

Follow Up: IPCC and Hurricanes

The IPCC report is out (PDF) and here is what it says about hurricanes (tropical cyclones). Kudos to the scientists involved. Despite the pressures, on tropical cyclones they figured out a way to maintain consistency with the actual balance of opinion(s) in the community of relevant experts.

Here is the discussion of observed changes:

There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater. Multi-decadal variability and the quality of the tropical cyclone records prior to routine satellite observations in about 1970 complicate the detection of long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity. There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones.

Interestingly, in a table that discusses attribution of trends to anthropogenic causes it reports that there are some trends observed in some regions in tropical cyclone behavior, writing that these trends "more likely than not" represent the "likelihood of a human contribution to observed trend." But then this statement is footnoted with the following qualification:

Magnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed. Attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgement rather than formal attribution studies.

So there might be a human contribution (and presumably this is just to the observed upwards trends observed in some basins, and not to downward trends observed in others, but this is unclear) but the human contribution itself has not been quantitatively assessed, yet the experts, using their judgment, expect it to be there. In plain English this is what is called a "hypothesis" and not a "conclusion." And it is a fair representation of the issue.

The projections for the future are as frequently represented in the literature:

Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period.

This comment on the process was offered by Australia's Neville Nicholls, who was one of the authors responsible for drafting the language on tropical cyclones:

"I was disappointed that after more than two years carefully analysing the literature on possible links between tropical cyclones and global warming that even before the report was approved it was being misreported and misrepresented. We concluded that the question of whether there was a greenhouse-cyclone link was pretty much a toss of a coin at the present state of the science, with just a slight leaning towards the likelihood of such a link. But the premature reports suggested that we were asserting the existence of much stronger evidence. I hope that when people read the real report they will see that it is a careful and balanced assessment of all the evidence."

The open atmosphere of negotiations in the IPCC is probably something that should be revised. How anyone can deny that political factors were everpresent in the negotiations isn't paying attention.

February 01, 2007

Report from IPCC Negotiations

From NOAA's Randy Dole in Paris, lifted from the comments:

Roger and all,

I generally stay out of blogs, but as a member of the US delegation here I would strongly counsel against premature judgment. Once the final document is out, I hope that you and others will fairly compare what the final report says with the WMO consensus statement. I suspect that an objective analyst who carefully reads both the IPCC and WMO documents - that is, does not cherry pick - will find far more common ground than might now be anticipated.

The two reports are not identical of course, nor should they be, but in the end the careful reader will see far more areas of agreement than current reports might suggest. For those who are relying on press reports or any earlier drafts of the IPCC SPM, you will simply be misled.

In short, wait for the report, look carefully at what it says, and then evaluate and critique. This would be the fair process.

See you back in Boulder,

Randy Dole

P.S.: A little after midnight here in Paris, still at UNESCO, but the final draft has been approved. Just waiting for one final review to ensure all agreed upon changes have been made.

IPCC on Hurricanes

The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers is not out yet, but if this report in the Washington Post is in fact true, then we are in store for some controversy:

Global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those in the Atlantic such as Katrina, an authoritative panel on climate change has concluded for the first time, participants in the deliberations said Thursday.

This will be controversial for several reasons. First, the WMO consensus was written by a range of scientists, including Kerry Emanuel and Greg Holland, who have argued that there is a strong global warming signal, but who have also accepted that their colleagues have valid arguments as well. Second, the IPCC cannot consider recent studies since it has a publication deadline (exactly what that is I don’t know but it was spring-ish 2006). Thus, the IPCC is a bit like a time machine telling us what the literature said about a year ago. The WMO statement incorporates more recent literature. However the IPCC is being presented as new. Third, the IPCC’s lead man on hurricanes and climate change is a fervent partisan in the debate itself. Whether his views are correct or not, it does not help the legitimacy of the process to see a carefully constructed consensus statement among 120 scientists with diverse views overturned by a very (very) narrow set of participants that may be only a few people.

This issue no doubt will become even more politicized than before, with partisans on both sides rejoicing or attacking. For my part, the IPCC overturns the WMO statement with some considerable risk to its own credibility. Of course, we’ll have to wait until May to actually find out the basis for this rejection.

January 24, 2007

AMS Endorses WMO TC Consensus Statement

Full text from action by the American Meteorological Society on the recent consensus statement (PDF) by the World Meteorological Organization on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change:

The American Meteorological Society endorses the "Statement on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change" by the participants of the World Meteorological Organization’s 6th International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones (IWTC-VI), released on 11 December 2006.

(Adopted by AMS Council on 14 January 2007)
Bull. Amer. Met. Soc., 87

Posted on January 24, 2007 04:35 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

January 22, 2007

Recycled Nonsense on Disaster Losses

If you want an example of the sort of scientific exaggeration that should concern both scientists and advocates involved in the climate debate (but typically goes uncorrected), next week's Newsweek magazine has an article on the growing tab of disaster losses, which it attributes to global warming.

Around the country, [insurance] companies have been racking up record property losses from freakish weather, such as the ice storms last week that paralyzed much of the Great Plains and froze California's citrus crops. In recent years, wildfires in the Northwest, drought and hail in the Midwest, windstorms, lightning strikes on power grids, soil subsidence and other calamities of nature have led to cumulative property losses that exceed those caused by hurricanes. "There's a shift going on to more frequent, extreme weather events," says Evan Mills, an environmental scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's as much an issue in the heartland as on the coast."

Global warming is the culprit, claim many—including several insurers who are canceling policies. While scientists cannot determine whether a single weather event is caused by a natural cycle, or is evidence of more permanent, malignant climate change, the pattern of mounting losses is clear. According to Mills, weather-related catastrophe losses have increased from about $1 billion a year in the 1970s to an average of $17 billion a year over the past decade. In 2005, the year of Katrina, that figure reached $71 billion.

We have interacted with Evan Mills before, and despite having his work throughly debunked and the existence of an expert workshop report on the topic cosponsored by Munich Re, he continues to fundamentally misrepresent the state of the science to suggest that comparing disaster losses unadjusted for societal change from the 1970s to the present says something about global warming. It does not. Here are relevant conclusions from our 2006 workshop:

Analyses of long-term records of disaster losses indicate that societal change and economic development are the principal factors responsible for the documented increasing losses to date.

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions.

In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

Posted on January 22, 2007 04:32 PM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

January 12, 2007

For the Science News subscribers

Sid Perkins of Science News did a nice little write up of the poster I presented at AGU. Unfortunately it's moneywalled, but if you get the paper copy or have e-access it's on page 14 of the Jan 6, 2007 issue.

The poster and SN write-up cover what is in a paper I currently have under review at Natural Hazards Review on earthquake damages. As I teaser I'll tell you this: it looks like quakes do about $2.5B in annual average damages in the U.S., which is far less (by about a third) than the catastrophe models (HAZUS) estimate.

Posted on January 12, 2007 03:17 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

January 09, 2007

New Literature Review: Hurricanes and Global Warming

J. Marshall Shephard, a professor at the University of Georgia, and Tom Knutson, NOAA GFDL, have just published a review paper titled "The Current Debate on the Linkage Between Global Warming and Hurricanes" with the journal Geography Compass, which publishes review articles. The full text of the paper can be found here in html and it is also available from that page in PDF.

The paper reinforces the conclusions of the recent consensus statement of the World Meteorological Organization (note that T. Knutson was a lead author of the WMO statement), concluding:

Significantly more research – from observations, theory, and modeling – is needed to resolve the current debate around global warming and hurricanes.
Posted on January 9, 2007 03:19 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

Robert Muir-Wood in RMS Cat Models: From the Comments

[We think that Robert Muir-Wood's comments on the Tampa Tribune article that we discussed yesterday deserve to be highlighted. Robert thanks much for participating and adding this context from RMS. -Ed.

Robert Muir-Wood

It might be useful to provide some more measured background to this story than is to be found in the Tampa Tribune.

The idea for holding an expert elicitation on hurricane activities emerged at RMS during the summer of 2005. Expert elicitations are commonplace in the earthquake community, but, this was the first time (we believe) one had been attempted among climatologists. All those invited to the Oct 2005 meeting were told in the invitation that the purpose of the meeting was 'to predict the activity rate of hurricanes, relevant to impact and loss modeling .. over the next 3-5 years'. Four scientists agreed to attend; Jim Elsner, Mark Saunders, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Knutson. Through the meeting, and in email exchanges in the days thereafter, a consensus was achieved around expected rates of Cat1-5 and Cat3-5 storms in the Atlantic Basin and at US landfall for the period 2006-2010. This consensus does not mean that everyone walks out of the meeting having agreed an identical answer but that everyone's view has been equally weighted in arriving at an expected activity rate.

RMS then took these findings and prepared to implement them in the RMS Hurricane Cat model. In the model Atlantic hurricanes are split into five separate populations according to the area of formation and track. The research to determine which track types were expected to show predominant increases was undertaken by Manuel Lonfat and based on his findings the 'increment of activity' was distributed among the track types to preserve the overall activity rate budget at landfall. There are alternative perspectives on regionalization (as emphasized by Jim Elsner), but as such a high proportion of intense hurricanes affect Florida, the Gulf and the Southeast, for the same increase in activity rates, modeled loss results in these regions are relatively insensitive to reasonable alternative regionalizations.

At the end of this process (in March 2006) a press release was issued along with a white paper describing all the work that had been undertaken - both after being checked with the four experts. Ultimately the results of the implementation of the increase in activity rates were the responsibility of RMS and we did not look to get the experts to endorse the outcome around changes in modeled losses. A scientific paper describing the whole procedure is now in process of being published in a peer reviewed journal.

In October 2006 the expert elicitation was repeated to cover the period 2007-2011. All four original experts were invited and only Jim Elsner declined, citing that he was ‘under contract’ with another modeling organisation. At the second expert elicitation there were seven climatologists, who were presented with results from twenty statistical/climatological forecast models, each being assigned 100c of probability to be assigned among the different models. The results from this exercise (in terms of expected levels of Cat1-5 and Cat 3-5 landfalling activities) were within 1-2% of the mean expected activity rates of the first expert elicitation. Again all the models, their results and the outcome of the elicitation will be published in scientific journals.

The political response to the ‘insurance crisis’ currently underway in Florida is looking for someone to blame. Cat modelers are simply the messengers relaying news concerning the significance of a period of significantly higher hurricane activity that has persisted in 9 out of the last 12 years and that climatologists, as polled at the most recent expert elicitation, expect to continue for a decade or more longer. There is a need to get journalists and politicians in Florida to focus more attention on the reasons for the increase in hurricane activity and, in particular, the role of climate change.

January 08, 2007

An Update: Faulty Catastrophe Models?

Last April we discussed at length the profound significance to hurricane risk estimation of changes made by a leading company, Risk Management Solutions or RMS, to the implementation of catastrophe models used by insurance, reinsurance, among others in the risk management business. A news story from yesterday’s Tampa Tribune provides a perspective that underscores our original analysis.

Last April we wrote:

It does not seem to me that RMS recognizes how profoundly revolutionary this perspective is, or its potential consequences for their own business. What they are say is that the historical climatology of hurricane activity is no longer a valid basis for estimating future risks. This means that the catastrophe models that they provide are untethered from experience. Imagine if you are playing a game of poker, and the dealer tells you that the composition of the deck has been completely changed – now you don’t know whether there are 4 aces in the deck or 20. It would make gambling based on probabilities a pretty dodgy exercise. If RMS is correct, then it has planted the seed that has potential to completely transform its business and the modern insurance and reinsurance industries.

Yesterday’s Tampa Tribune has an article on the changes to the RMS model, which includes comments from scientists consulted by RMS who suggest that the changes to the model are scientifically unsupportable. Here is an excerpt from the news story:

The leading computer model used by the insurance industry to justify huge rate increases in coastal areas nationwide relies on faulty science, says an expert credited with helping develop it.

"I think it points to a problem with the way these modeling groups are operating," said Jim Elsner, a professor of geography at Florida State University.

Elsner was one of four experts on a panel assembled in late 2005 to provide input for the computer model by Risk Management Solutions of Newark, Calif.

He said the results, details of which were brought to his attention by the Tribune, contain assumptions that are "actually unscientific."

The flaws identified by Elsner and another panelist have nationwide implications. The expert input was used to justify loss estimates that have prompted major insurance companies to request homeowners rate increases of up to 40 percent.

The problem: RMS took a consensus of experts that there will be more storms across the Atlantic, then added its own projections about which U.S. regions would be most affected.

In an interview Saturday, Gov. Charlie Crist called RMS's actions "apparent misrepresentations" that are stunning and appalling, but in a way, part of a pattern.

"It almost doesn't shock me because this industry has been taking remarkable advantage of our people," Crist said. "Big insurance is about to face a new day in Florida."

The article reveals that the changes made by RMS apparently did not reflect what they were told by a panel of scientists that they convened to provide an informal expert elicitation:

In March, RMS surprised the insurance industry with a dramatic change in the benchmark catastrophe software model it sells access to. Instead of using historical models based on more than 100 years of storm data, RMS announced a "medium-term" five-year model for 2006 through 2010.

The models contain specific data on tens of millions of homes, allowing insurers to estimate risk based on computer simulations of possible storms.

Based on the new model, RMS said hurricane losses would increase by 40 percent over the Gulf Coast and 25 percent to 30 percent in the other regions.

Consumer advocates tried to raise alarms at the time, with little success.

Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner now with the Consumer Federation of America, said the primary reason for the change to the five-year model appeared to be pressure from the insurance industry.

Thomas R. Knutson, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Princeton, N.J., and another RMS expert panelist, said the five-year timeline didn't come from the experts.

"I think that question was driven more by the needs of the insurance industry as opposed to the science," he said.

In March, RMS said the five-year model was developed in cooperation with the expert panel that included Elsner and Knutson, and that based on their perspective: "Increases in hurricane frequency should be expected along the entire U.S. coast, but will be highest in the Gulf, Florida, and the Southeast, while lower in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast."

"I didn't make any such statement of that type," Knutson said Friday.
Elsner said he warned RMS about flaws in the model. "I said that's not a good way of doing it," he recalled, and said RMS exaggerated the basic science "well beyond what we expected."

Though RMS said in March that the expert panel "agreed unanimously that a forward-looking view of risk should reflect a higher probability of landfalling hurricanes," Elsner said there was no consensus.

It doesn’t sound like we’ve heard the end of this issue:

Other experts in the catastrophe-modeling business have questions, too.

Long-term historical data are still the most credible, given the sparse data available for projecting the next five years, Karen Clark, chief executive officer of AIR Worldwide, said in a speech in the summer. Her company is an RMS competitor. Clark encouraged insurance companies not to replace the long-term model with the short-term one. Still, AIR has launched its own version of a five-year program for customers.

The details of how RMS arrives at its projections are considered a trade secret.

"We have never been able to get what they call the information out of the black box to review their models," said Bob Lotane, a spokesman for Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation. He said a public modeling system the state is working on should provide a way to verify the RMS projections.

Crist said information from RMS might be subpoenaed.

As we concluded last April,

From the perspective of the basic functioning of the insurance and reinsurance industries, the change in approach by RMS is an admission that the future is far more uncertain than has been the norm for this community. Such uncertainty may call into question the very basis of hurricane insurance and reinsurance which lies in an ability to quantify and anticipate risks. If the industry can’t anticipate risks, or simply come to a consensus on how to calculate risks (even if inaccurate), then this removes one of the key characteristics of successful insurance. Debate on this issue has only just begun.

The Steps Not Yet Taken

Dan Sarewitz and I have a new chapter in press on climate policy:

Sarewitz, D. and R. Pielke, Jr., (2007, forthcoming), The Steps Not Yet Taken, Controversies in Science and Technology, Volume 2, edited by Daniel Lee Kleinman, Karen Cloud-Hansen, Christina Matta, and Jo Handelsman (publisher TBA). (prepublication version here in PDF)

Here is how we start off the chapter:

The climate system of the planet earth, and the energy system built by those who inhabit the earth, are today seen as the integrated elements of a single problem: global warming. In turn, scientific inquiry, public concern, and policy prescription have given rise to an international regime for controlling the behavior of the climate through management of the global energy system. In this chapter we explain why this regime, and in particular its codification through the Kyoto Protocol, is a failure. Our central point is simple: protecting people and the environment from the impacts of climate is a different problem from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. The policies that have resulted from combining these two problems are, as a consequence, failing to meaningfully address either problem. Policies to reduce global warming must be pursued independently of policies to reduce climate impacts.

First we explain why the Kyoto Protocol is not achieving its environmentally modest goals, a failure that has no connection to the refusal of the United States to sign onto the treaty, but rather reflects the complexity of energy systems and their management. We then consider the impacts of climate on society through the lens of Hurricane Katrina. Such impacts are unrelated to global warming, and cannot be addressed by emissions reductions. Instead, they require policies specifically focused on reduction of socioeconomic vulnerability to climate.

But emissions reductions are a key societal goal, and next we discuss the role of technological innovation in pursuing that goal. Current policies, embodied in Kyoto, are inappropriate and insufficient for making the necessary progress. A cornerstone of our argument is that much of the failure to date of climate change policy originates in a misunderstanding of the appropriate roles of science and technology in social and political change. Proponents of action on global warming have treated scientific evidence as the central catalyst for motivating necessary change, while technological advance has been viewed as a second-order consequence of such change. We argue that this reasoning is backwards, and that technological innovation is a much more effective scaffolding upon which to address energy policies than scientific knowledge.

The Kyoto Protocol is not effectively addressing the climate impacts problem or the energy technology problem. Although Kyoto is often portrayed as only a first step toward establishing an effective international climate change regime, we conclude that it is a step in the wrong direction.

You can read a prepublication version of the whole chapter here in PDF. Comment welcomed!

December 28, 2006

Draft Paper for Comment: Decreased Proportion of Tropical Cyclone Landfalls in the United States

Below you will find a short, draft paper on the decreasing proportion of U.S. hurricane landfalls to total North Atlantic hurricanes from 1851-2006 that I will soon submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I am not worried about pre-publication on the web and the policies of the big journals as Nature has already declined to send it out for review, suggesting that the specialty journals are a more appropriate venue. I have shared earlier versions of the paper with a range of different scientists inside (and outside of) the tropical cyclone research community, and I thank those who have so far responded for their helpful suggestions. I welcome any comments readers here may have as well.

Decreased Proportions of Tropical Cyclone Landfalls in the United States: Data Artifact, Blind Luck, Natural Variability, and/or Global Warming?

Roger A. Pielke, Jr.
28 December 2006


This short note is motivated by several recent studies that examine Atlantic tropical cyclone statistics over the past century and a half finding a significant upward trend (Holland and Webster, 2007; Mann and Emanuel, 2006). Both studies attribute an observed increase in North Atlantic (NATL) tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic causes. This paper uses a simple approach to examine trends in U.S. hurricane landfalls 1851-2006. The annual number of U.S. hurricane landfalls has remained remarkably constant over this period exhibiting no trend. However, out of the total NATL storm activity, the proportion of landfalling storms making landfall in the United States has exhibited a marked decrease. These trends raise important but heretofore largely unexamined research questions about tropical cyclone landfall theory, data, and analyses.

North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Data

Two datasets in this analysis are kept by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The first dataset includes all tropical cyclones of at least tropical storm strength (i.e., maximum winds >17 meters/second) in the NATL 1851-2006 (1). The second dataset includes all such storms that affected the U.S. coastline at hurricane strength (i.e., maximum winds of >33 meters/second) (2). It is widely accepted that the number of landfalling storms is among the most accurate metrics available for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic (Landsea 2005, Emanuel 2005).

Issues about data quality are at the center of a vigorous and scientifically productive debate within the tropical cyclone research community (e.g., Landsea et al. 2006, Kossin et al. in press). This paper proceeds under the same assumptions on data quality used by Holland and Webster (2007),

Before 1945 the overall statistic of total tropical cyclones numbers contains useful information . . . In summary, we consider that the veracity of the NATL tropical storm data base is sufficient to enable the broad brush analysis that we undertake in this study. Prior to 1945 we concentrate on the total number of tropical cyclones, irrespective of intensity.

And also Mann and Emanuel (2006),

A reasonably reliable record of annual North Atlantic tropical cyclone counts is thus available back into the late nineteenth century.

The point here is not that these conclusions about data quality are necessarily correct, but to argue that if one accepts the analyses in these studies predicated on the fidelity of long-term counts of NATL tropical cyclones, then it follows logically that one also has to accept the analysis presented here using the exact same data.


Figure 1 shows the total number of United States hurricane landfalls 1851-2006.


There is no trend in the data. This finding is generally accepted, and is supported by the lack of trend in normalized U.S. hurricane damage over the past century (Pielke, et al. under review). Figure 2 shows the percentage of total storms that affected the United States as hurricanes from 1851-2006 (3).


There is a decrease in the proportion of storms striking the United States from any starting point prior to about 1970. This decrease increases in statistical significance as the record is extended further into the past. A linear trend line is presented on the graph for both the raw data and the 9-year moving average (4). Apparent in Figure 2 starting in 1944, which is considered to be the most accurate data period in the Atlantic (Neumann et al. 1999, Landsea et al. 1999), is a decrease in the proportion of storms striking the coast over this time period as well (statistics discussed below). Holland and Webster (2007) identify three climatic regimes, 1905-1930, 1931-1994, and 1995-2005. The proportion of landfalling storms for each of the three eras indicates a steady decline, respectively at 31.8%, 17.0%, and 14.6%.

Figure 3 shows for 1950-2006 the relationship of the percentage of landfalling storms and NATL August-September-October (ASO) sea surface temperatures (5).


On this time scale at least there is no significant relationship, though perhaps a more comprehensive statistical analysis that goes beyond the present focus may yet reveal a relationship (cf. Jagger et al. 2007).


The data presented here suggests some interesting possibilities which cannot be resolved based on the data presented here.

First, it is possible that the decreasing trend in U.S. landfalls as a percentage of total storms is a statistical artifact resulting from an undercount of historical storms. The number of landfalling storms is certainly known with much higher certainty than the total number of storms. Thus, an undercount of the total number of storms would artificially increase landfalling storms as a percentage of total storms. This first interpretation is consistent with a view that the NATL record is most accurate since 1970, and that inaccuracies exist prior to that time. This view on data quality would also be inconsistent with those who argue that the NATL record is complete since 1944 (cf. Landsea et al. 1999). If the decreasing trend is an artifact of the datasets, then it would obviously call into question any analysis of trends based on the total number of storms over thuis time period.

Second, it is possible that the decreasing trend in U.S. landfalls as a percentage of total storms is (at least in part) a reflection of the actual behavior of the climate system. That is, if one accepts the trends reported by Holland and Webster (2007) and Mann and Emanuel (2006), then logically, it follows that one also has to accept the trends reported here. In this case, if NATL tropical cyclone activity has indeed increased, then there has also been a significant decrease in the proportion of storms that strike the U.S. coast.

Under this second possibility there is then the question of attribution. Figure 3 indicates that, at least since 1950, there is in fact no obvious relationship between NATL ASO SST and the proportion of total storms that make landfall. Given this finding, if SSTs are indeed the principle factor explaining increasing tropical cyclone activity, as some studies have suggested (e.g., Holland and Webster (2007), Mann and Emanuel (2006), Hoyos et al. (2006)) and SSTs are largely forced by greenhouse gases (Santer et al. 2006), then it follows that explaining the decreasing proportion of landfalling storms requires further investigations of climate processes beyond trends in SSTs. In other words, if global warming is increasing the incidence of NATL tropical cyclones, then the same dataset that indicates this result also suggests that global warming, and/or some other factors, are acting to diminish the proportion of total storms that strike the United States.

Emanuel (2005) raises the possibility that simple randomness might explain the lack of a trend in landfalling storm intensities in the presence of such a trend in the entire NATL. This may very well be the case (Pielke 2005); however, Emanuel’s point was made with respect to an integrated index of power dissipation, for which the landfalling component was only about 1% of the total NATL data. In the case of total storms, about 20% of the total storms make landfall over the entire dataset. It is therefore quite unlikely that randomness alone explains these results.

This conclusion is unavoidable if one accepts the results of Holland and Webster (2007) that "data errors cannot explain the sharp, high amplitude transitions between the climatic regimes in the North Atlantic, each with an increase of around 50% in cyclone and hurricane numbers." With an increase of 50% in total hurricane numbers in two transitions among three climate regimes, and landfalling storms representing approximately 20% of the long-term total, it is statistically improbable that these changes would not manifest themselves in increased landfalls, all else being equal. Consider that that 31.8% of all storms that made landfall during 1905-1930 (Holland and Webster’s first NATL TC climate regime). Under a binomial distribution the probability of subsequently observing 131 or fewer landfalls out of 788 in the period 1931-2006 (i.e., the actual observations) at the earlier period’s probability of landfall is less than 0.00001. Thus, it necessarily must be true that either the data is flawed or there are real changes in the landfall characteristics of NATL climatology.

More recently, from 1944 to 1974 17.9% (31 years, 55/307) of total NATL storms made landfall in the U.S., and from 1975-2006 (31 years, 51/360) 14.2% of total NATL storms made landfall in the U.S.. The probability of observing 51 or less landfalls in the second period at the earlier period’s landfall rate is 0.054. Thus, there is reason to believe that even in the most recent half century where storm counts have been assumed to be most accurate there are either data problems or real changes have occurred in the climatology of NATL tropical cyclone landfalls.


This short note has revisited trends in U.S. landfalling hurricanes both as annual totals and as a proportion of total North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity from 1851-2006. The data indicate that there are no trends in landfall numbers but a marked decrease in the proportion of storms that make landfall. There are several possibilities for this decrease.

•One explanation is that earlier data fails to accurately represent the total actual number of tropical cyclones, thereby artificially increasing landfalling storms as a proportion of the total.

•A second explanation is that the trends in the total number of storms are in fact reflective of increasing Atlantic activity and the decreasing proportion that make landfall results from some yet unknown climate process that may or may not have a relationship to human activity. There is no obvious relationship between SSTs and landfall proportions.

•A third possibility, that the remarkable stability of landfall numbers over time is due to randomness, is highly unlikely simply for basic reasons of probability if one assumes that landfall proportions are constant over the long run.

Scientists are nonetheless in agreement that the coming decades will see landfall numbers that exceed the average from 1970-1994. Decision makers should take care not to overlook the possibility that future landfall rates may exceed that observed in the historical record, whether due to global warming, randomness, natural causes, or some combination. A lack of knowledge about the future means that surprises should be expected. Given the importance of landfalling storms to decision makers, a concluding recommendation is that the research community should place even greater attention to the challenging and important scientific questions of hurricane landfall climatology.



2. See the NOAA WWW page for a discussion of "affected the U.S. coastline."

3. The use of a ratio based on total storms follows the similar use of a ratio by Holland and Webster (2007) to examine trends in storm intensity.

4. Note that a 9-year moving average is used simply because this is the smoothing used in Holland and Webster (2007).

5. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center provides NATL SST indices by month from 1950 here:

References to be added

Posted on December 28, 2006 01:14 PM View this article | Comments (12)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 22, 2006

Swiss Re on 2006 Disaster Losses

It was a good year to be in the insurance and reinsurance industries. Swiss Re has released their preliminary assessment of 2006 catastrophe losses which are spectacularly low.

According to one industry official, "will see further rate increases even though 2006 has been a remarkably catastrophe-free year. 2005 was so bad that catastrophe rates must rise further."

According to our analysis, 2006 ranks 18th in terms of normalized hurricane damage years since 1987. According to Swiss Re, "Among the last 20 years, 2006 has produced the third-lowest insured losses, after 1997 and 1988. This is attributable mainly to the quiet hurricane season in the US and surrounding countries." But there were remarkably few other disasters as well.

Posted on December 22, 2006 02:10 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

December 18, 2006

Misrepresenting Literature on Hurricanes and Climate Change

Greg Holland and Peter Webster have a new paper accepted on the statistics of Atlantic hurricanes. While there are many interesting questions that might be raised about the data and statistics in the paper, here I comment on the paper’s treatment of the existing literature, some of which involves work I have contributed to. In this instance I find their characterization of the literature to grossly misrepresent what the existing research actually says. I have shared my comments with Drs. Holland and Webster, to which I received the following reaction from Greg Holland: "We shall not be modifying the paper as a result of your comments."

Below I present their original text and my comments. We think that readers can judge for themselves whether a mischaracterization of the literature has occurred. I promised Peter Webster that I wouldn’t speculate on their motivations, and so I’ll stick to the facts in what I present below. I do know that when scientists misrepresent each others work, it is likely to stymie the advancement of knowledge in the community, and thus should be of general concern. When such misrepresentations are missed in the peer review process this also should raise some concerns. In this case I find the misrepresentations obvious to see and egregious, occurring in just about every sentence in the relevant paragraph.

Do note that the comments below do not get into their statistical analysis, which is worth considering separately on its own merits, but which goes beyond the focus of this post. Both Drs. Holland and Webster are widely published and respected scientists with admirable track records. They are welcome to respond here if they’d like. And I do note that different people can interpret the literature in different ways, so the below is my reading only.

Holland and Webster’s new paper can be found here in PDF and the text I have excerpted below in bold comes from their pp. 5-6. My comments are interlaid within their text.

Questions have been raised over the quality of the NATL data even for such a broad brush accounting. For example, a recent study by Landsea et al (2006) claimed that long-term trends in tropical cyclone numbers and characteristics cannot be determined because of the poor quality of the data base in the NATL even after the incorporation of satellite data into the data base. Landsea et al. also state unequivocally that there is no trend in any tropical storm characteristics (frequency or intensity) after 1960, despite this being established in earlier papers by Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al. (2005), and more recently by Hoyos et al. (2006).
Here is what I read in Landsea et al. (2006) (PDF): "There may indeed be real trends in tropical cyclone intensity . . ." Holland and Webster report the opposite of what Landsea et al. (2006) actually says. Landsea et al. (2006) state that they do not believe that the data record is of sufficient quality to definitively detect trends. They do not say that there are no trends. Holland and Webster ascribe a claim to Landsea et al. that they do not make.

Figure 1 shows a strong statistically significant trend since the 1970s similar to that found by Hoyos et al. (2006) and Curry et al. (2006). The overall Landsea et al. analysis is curious and is based on the premise that the data must be wrong because the models suggest a much smaller change in hurricane characteristics relative to the observed SST warming (e.g., Henderson-Sellers et al 1998).

Here is what Landsea at al. (2006) actually say: "Theoretical considerations based on sea surface temperature increases suggest an increase of ~4% in maximum sustained surface wind per degree Celsius (4, 5). But such trends are very likely to be much smaller (or even negligible) than those found in the recent studies (1-3)." Landsea et al. (2006) are reporting a finding accepted in the community. Indeed, the recent WMO statement (written and signed by Greg Holland) states, "The more relevant question is how large a change: a relatively small one several decades into the future or large changes occurring today? Currently published theory and numerical modeling results suggest the former, which is inconsistent with the observational studies of Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al. (2005) by a factor of 5 to 8 (for the Emanuel study)." Holland and Webster do not cite the WMO statement.

In contrast, Michaels, Knappenberger and Landsea (2005) argue the opposite, that the models must be wrong because they do not agree with the data. We shall show later that there are factors not included in the models that may explain some of the differences between model and observed trends.

Michaels et al. (2005) do not say that "the models must be wrong because they do not agree with the data." They say that if you run the models with different inputs you get different results. They write (PDF), "when [Knutson and Tuleya’s model is] driven by real-world observations rather than unrealistically parameterized and constrained model conditions, the prospects for a detectable increase in hurricane strength in coming decades are reduced to the noise level of the data." Michaels et al. are not comparing data with models, but looking at modeled output using different inputs.

Further, noticeable by omission is that Holland and Webster ignore relevant work that discusses the relationship of models, theory, and observations that includes Landsea as an author (which seems to be the focus of this paragraph). In particular the following paper discusses this subject explicitly:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C.W. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver, R. Pasch, 2006. Reply to Hurricanes and Global Warming Potential Linkages and Consequences, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 87, pp. 628-631. (PDF)

It particular Pielke et al. (2006) responds to a statement in a related paper (Anthes et al., Greg Holland included in the et al., PDF), that says that there is "broad consistency between observations, models, and theory." This statement is contradicted by Pielke et al. (2006) and WMO (2006), the latter is actually signed by Holland.

Of greater concern is that the conclusions in the Landsea et al. paper are at odds with several previous publications that include the same authors (e.g. Owens and Landsea 2003, Landsea et al. 1999), without introducing any additional evidence. These papers state clearly that the author’s considered that the period of reliable and accurate NATL records commenced in 1944 with the implementation of aircraft reconnaissance.

I coauthored Landsea et al. (1999) (PDF) and in that paper there are indeed statements on concerns about post-1944 hurricane data (e.g., at p. 94). Further, Landsea et al. (2006) cite a range of post-1999 studies acknowledging new uncertainties in data and methodologies, (e.g., C. Velden et al., Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., in press.; J. A. Knaff, R. M. Zehr, Weather Forecast., in press). To say that there has been no additional evidence cited by Landsea et al. (2006) (when Holland and Webster’s work is key to that new evidence) is simply misleading and wrong.

The bottom line here is that while this is just one paragraph in one paper, there is perhaps reason to be concerned about the fidelity of the literature, whatever the underlying causes may be. We have documented other shortfalls in the literature on several occasions on this site. To the extent that these data points are representative of broader problems in the climate literature, scientists should redouble their efforts to exert high standards of quality control. For if I can spot these misrepresentations in the literature, then others will as well.

December 14, 2006

Follow Up to Flood Policy Presentation

I had the opportunity to give a presentation yesterday at the National Flood Risk Policy Summit to an audience which included many national leaders on flood policy. I promised the audience that I’d post a short entry here with links to relevant background papers and other materials. This post provides these links.

First, here are the main points of my presentation:

*The "100-year flood" is not a good basis for a successful national flood policy.

*Losses provide a basis for evaluating long-term policy success.

*Political factors play a large role in the disaster declaration process.

*Population and development drive loss trends.

*As yet, no link established between human-caused climate change and flood/storm damages


Here are relevant background links:

We have created a WWW site – -- that presents a range of U.S. flood data and analyses. As I mentioned at the talk, we would gladly turn this over to any agency or organization that is interested in keeping it updated, publicly available, and of use to researchers and policy makers. For now it is not being updated.

Several papers of ours are relevant:

On national flood policies:

Pielke Jr., R.A., 1999: Nine fallacies of floods. Climatic Change, 42, 413-438. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2000. Flood Impacts on Society: Damaging Floods as a Framework for Assessment. Chapter 21 in D. Parker (ed.), Floods. Routledge Press: London, 133-155. (PDF)

On climate and flood damage:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and M.W. Downton, 2000. Precipitation and Damaging Floods: Trends in the United States, 1932-97. Journal of Climate, 13(20), 3625-3637. (PDF)

On the politics of flood disaster declarations:

Downton, M. and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 2001. Discretion Without Accountability: Politics, Flood Damage, and Climate, Natural Hazards Review, 2(4):157-166. ((PDF)

On disaster losses and flood damage:

Downton, M., J. Z. B. Miller and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. Reanalysis of U.S. National Weather Service Flood Loss Database, Natural Hazards Review, 6:13-22. (PDF)

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228. (PDF)

On flood disasters related to tropical cyclones:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and R. Klein, 2005. Distinguishing Tropical Cyclone-Related Flooding in U.S. Presidential Disaster Declarations: 1965-1997, Natural Hazards Review, May 2005, pp. 55-59. (PDF)

On the role of demographics in hurricane losses:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C.W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2007. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, (submitted). (link)

For a global perspective, see the report of our Hohenkammer Workshop, in parthership with Munich Re, GKSS, and the Tyndall Centre.

More along these lines can be found here.

Posted on December 14, 2006 01:26 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty

December 12, 2006

WMO Press Release on Hurricanes and Climate Change

This press release (.doc) from the World Meteorological Organization yesterday:

A consensus of 125 of the world’s leading tropical cyclone researchers and forecasters says that no firm link can yet be drawn between human-induced climate change and variations in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones.

The WMO is of course one of the parent bodies of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Given this pedigree and the importance of this consensus statement, I'm sure that we'll now see this widely discussed on science-related weblogs and in the media. For details on the consensus statement, see our earlier discussion here.

Posted on December 12, 2006 10:17 AM View this article | Comments (10)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 11, 2006

Disquiet on the Hurricane Front

[This op-ed by Dan Sarewitz and Roger Pielke, Jr. on the 2006 hurricane season was not published by a number of major newspapers. So we are happy to share it here. Anyone interested in publishing it before a wider audience, please send us an email. -Ed.]

The 2006 hurricane season has ended without a single hurricane landfall along the Gulf or East coasts. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, journalists, politicians, and even some scientists were proclaiming that the catastrophe of global warming was upon us. A quiet year later, perhaps there is some room for clearer thinking about hurricanes, about global warming, and about society’s vulnerability to climate.

Before this year, the last years without a U.S. hurricane landfall were 2000 and 2001, just a blink of an eye in climate terms, but an eternity in the politics of global warming. In all, hurricane behavior over the past century and more has been highly variable, with periods of great intensity followed by lulls. Scientists remain deeply divided about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in hurricane behavior. But scientists have appreciated for decades the inevitability of a Katrina-like hit on New Orleans. The city was doomed for reasons that have nothing at all to do with global warming: it lies on a subsiding river delta in the heart of hurricane country.

Increasing damages from U.S. hurricane landfalls in the U.S. over the past century are entirely explained by growing socioeconomic vulnerability—that is, by coastal development trends that continually expose more people, more infrastructure, and more economic activity, to hurricanes. If one accounts for the effects of socioeconomic change, then there has been no observable increase in U.S. hurricane damage since data were first collected in 1900.

The future may indeed hold more frequent or intense hurricanes. However, the science at this point shows unambiguously that the effects of any such changes in storm behavior will be completely dwarfed by the effects of continued coastal development.

As Katrina made devastatingly clear, the hurricane problem is one of unsustainable coastal development combined with unconscionable socioeconomic vulnerability. Katrina’s blood relatives are the 2004 south Asian tsunami (220,000 dead) and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake (80,000 dead), not the Earth’s slowly warming atmosphere.

Feel-good appeals to buy hybrid vehicles cannot reduce the entrenched social inequities, irresponsible development trends, and inadequate hazard reduction policies that led to the worst of Katrina’s depredations and that are the cause of rising disaster vulnerability worldwide. Neither can the Kyoto Protocol, carbon trading markets, or other energy policies. There is simply no evidence that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—as important as they are for other reasons—will lead to any discernible reduction in hurricane impacts over the next 50 to 100 years. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is about as relevant to controlling the impacts of hurricanes and other natural disasters as a nuclear non-proliferation treaty is to protecting public health.
Yet many well-tested policies are available to help reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. These range from building codes that can keep structures from collapsing in a storm or earthquake, to land use regulations that limit construction in disaster-prone areas, to environmental laws that preserve natural features, such as wetlands and forested slopes, that act as buffers against extreme events. The rising toll of disasters around the world demonstrates that nations are greatly underinvested in applying such policies, despite the fact that they are known to be effective, and despite the certainty that more disasters will soon occur.

From a political perspective, it is tempting to exploit the tragedy of Katrina and other natural disasters to promote action on greenhouse gas reductions. But no matter how strongly advocates may feel about global warming, if climate policies are based on the false expectation that emissions reductions will reduce hurricane losses, then political failure is inevitable, because the problem will get worse, not better. (To grasp this point, just consider the political impact of falsely linking Iraq to terrorism).

During this quiet hurricane season, more people moved to the coasts and other locations vulnerable to disasters, ensuring that future losses will be larger than those of the past. At the same time, more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere. These are separate problems that demand separate solutions. But by turning hurricanes into a greenhouse gas problem, we fail to focus sufficient attention and resources on reducing disaster vulnerability, and thus turn our backs on the victims of future disasters as well.

December 08, 2006

Hurricane Trends, Frequency, Prediction

This post is a slightly edited version of some random musings on hurricane science that I have shared with the Tropical Storms discussion list.

A few thoughts come to mind from the latest round of exchanges on the list.

1. Detection of trends

I call your attention to a recent paper by Rob Wilby:

Wilby, R. L. 2006. When and where might climate change be detectable in UK river flows? Geophys. Res. Lett., Vol. 33, No. 19, 14 October. (PDF)

. . .under widely assumed climate change scenarios, expected trends in UK summer river flows will seldom be detectable within typical planning horizons (the 2020s). Even where climate driven changes may already be underway, losses in deployable resources will have to be factored into long-term water plans long before they are statistically detectable.

Specifically, Wilby finds that "Assuming no change in variance, annual mean [river flow] must change by 38-46% by 2025 or 28-33% by 2055 to be detectable." These are huge numbers for changes in means and they assume perfect data quality. Wilby explains this result as "The long detection times for trends in UK river flow are due to the low signal-to-noise ratio of hydro-climatic time series at basin scales."

What does this mean for detection of trends in tropical cyclone intensity?

Assuming as the recent WMO report does that there is a 3-5% increase in windspeed for every degree increase in SST, and given that (a) windspeeds are, to date at least, measured with certainties that are arguably not at this level of precision (sometimes using S/S categories that are up to 5 times as large as these values), and (b) SSTs themselves are a noisy series, see e.g. this paper, this community may be in a situation where the science is fundamentally "underdetermined." I think that everyone in this community would benefit from an understanding of the notion of "underdetermination" in science and what it signifies for scientific debates. For an intro see this brief discussion.

For these reasons I have come to the conclusion that the search for detection of trends in TC activity will no doubt motivate much interesting research, but cannot result in a comprehensive community consensus anytime soon.

2. A Theory of (Maximum Potential) Frequency

If the above points may seem pessimistic (well, they are;-) the community need not throw up its hands. It seems to me that a way out of this quandary is for even greater attention to be paid to the development of a theory of maximum potential frequency to parallel MPI (maximum potential intensity) theory. I may be mistaken, but as an outsider looking in, it seems that much of the community is quite comfortable with existing MPI theory and is largely hopeless about a theoretical understanding of frequency (those working on further exploring MPI and developing a theory of frequency, please forgive, I am making a general point).

It also seems to me, perhaps naively, that intensity and frequency cannot be treated as independent, and continuing to treat TC research in this manner is an obstacle to further advances.

I would be interested in any efforts to develop a basin-by-basin theory of maximum potential frequency. For the Atlantic basin for instance, what is the maximum theoretically possible number of TCs that can develop during a single hurricane season, and why? Even starting with the classic six (?) conditions for development provides an upper constraint on the number of developing systems in a particular season. Inherent in the notion of a "season" are the seeds of an MPF theory. Consider that in the Atlantic 2005 saw 28 named storms, could there be 35? Why or Why not? 40? How about 5? Zero?

How about it?

3. The Importance of Prediction

In recent decades, Bill Gray, and others, have drawn a line in the sand, by arguing that in a particular basin the best that can be done in terms of expecting future activity is not to be found based on theory-based models but based on an understanding of statistical relationships which may not be fully understood from a theoretical standpoint. Debates about statistical vs. dynamical approaches to prediction occur across the sciences, and are no different here.

It seems to me that if this community wants to make progress on the debate over hurricanes and climate, it will necessarily have to engage in predictions of the future to a far greater degree that it does now, much as the ENSO community has done. There will be limited successes at first and successes and failures determined by luck. There will also have to be the careful management of public and policy makers expectations.

By predictions I mean - can anyone devise a methodology that can systematically beat out Gray, Saunders, Elsner, NOAA, climatology etc.? Such predictions might be seasonal, multi-year, or longer, but they should be verifiable by actual data on time scales that allow for feedback into the process of research. The experiences of the ENSO community are very instructive (and somewhat humbling) along these lines. If the long-term climate (i.e., over several years and longer) of TCs is indeed nonstationary, then over time those who base their predictions on historical statistical relationships will produce predictions whose skill should be easily exceeded by those using dynamical methods. In practice, in many fields, achieving such success has been difficult -- compare managed mutual fund performance to the naive baseline of the S&P 500, for instance!

Generic predictions about what will happen under 2XCO2 in 2100 are great, but they are unfalsifiable by experience on research timescales, feeding the problem of underdetermination. The alternative to making scientific predictions is that we perpetuate the state of underdetermination in this community and risk detaching ourselves from the fundamentals of this important aspect of the scientific method.

Posted on December 8, 2006 05:52 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 06, 2006

That Didn't Take Long -- Misrepresenting Hurricane Science

Now that the WMO has issued a consensus statement on the state of climate science, scientists should be careful in how they characterize the overall state of the science. I have complete respect for scientists who have strong views on what the data, models, and theory shows, and fully expect them to make their case to their colleagues and others. However, scientists also should be careful not to represent their own views as in fact representing a consensus of the community when they do not, especially when making arguments for political action.

Here is an example of a scientist involved in the hurricane debate, Michael Mann of Penn State, making a demonstrably incorrect statement about the state of understanding of hurricanes and climate change six days after the WMO issued its consensus statement on tropical cyclones and climate change:

It is the increasingly widespread belief by researchers that increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are leading to increases in various measures of Hurricane activity over time, both globally, and for the tropical North Atlantic region whose storms influence the Gulf coast and East Coast of the U.S..

Here is what the WMO says:

The possibility that greenhouse gas induced global warming may have already caused a substantial increase in some tropical cyclone indices has been raised (e.g. Mann and Emanuel, 2006), but no consensus has been reached on this issue.

And on the existence of trends in storm intensity the WMO says:

This is still hotly debated area for which we can provide no definitive conclusion.

This is a situation that Dr. Mann should understand well, as he has argued strongly for adherence to scientific consensus on his weblog, RealClimate. Dr. Mann's characterization about what researchers increasingly believe about hurricanes and climate change is not backed up by what the researchers themselves are saying. Why does this matter? Because Dr. Mann is using his characterization of the community's views on hurricanes and climate change as a basis for arguing for particular policy actions. As Dr. Mann writes:

We are likely to see only increased warming and increased Hurricane activity, if we continue to increase atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations through fossil fuel burning.

To be clear -- I take no issue with Dr. Mann making an argument that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will reduce hurricane intensity. That is what he believes, and as a scientist conducting research in this area he is someone we should listen to. But when he characterizes the community's views as "widespread" and "increasingly" supporting his perspective, he has engaged in a mischaracterization. Mischaracterizations of science, by themselves, are perhaps of only scholarly interest. But when the mischaracterizations are used as tools of political advocacy they are no longer simply mischaracterizations of science, but instead, they are bad policy arguments.

For scientists wanting to use the notion of consensus as a tool of political advocacy, they risk being perceived as inconsistent when their actions change when they are the ones on the outside looking in.

November 21, 2006

Collins and Lieberman fire another missile at DHS/FEMA

Yesterday Sen. Lieberman's office, on behalf of him and Susan Collins, chair of the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, released a letter to DHS head Mike Chertoff. The title of the Lieberman press release says it all:


Little Progress Seen Since Hurricane Katrina

The letter is long. In essence, Lieberman and Collins are accusing DHS of making little to no progress toward having a solid, functioning, and competent center of operations for the next disaster. They use the term "situational awareness" over and again throughout their letter. What they mean is that DHS has not built sufficient capacity to be able to gather on-the-scene reports from the myriad and scattered agencies and first responders on a disaster. This letter is the latest in body of work from HSGAC trying to light a fire under DHS's heels (written about here).

Of course, there's another interesting sideshow to notice here. After the WTC attacks and the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security, both chambers of Congress created a new committee to match the new executive branch agency. The Senate wrapped up its Homeland Security committee into its existing Committee on Government Affairs, creating the horribly awkward acronym HSGAC. [his-GACK? hus-GACK? H-S-GACK? HIS-gack?] The House created a standalone Committee on Homeland Security and didn't touch the existing Committee on Government Reform (which I believe was a creation of the 1994 Republican takeover...not that the committee was new, just that it was renamed, adding the "reform" part).

With Henry Waxman taking over the Government Reform Committee in the House, it's clear what that committee is going to be spending its time on. Namely, the same thing that Rep. Waxman has been doing as a sort of unseated power unto himself for the past few years. Except now he'll have the power to actually hold oversight hearings, which are sure to include hearings on the misuse of science.

But judging by what it has taken on over the past year, Senate HSGAC doesn't seem to be headed that way. HSGAC has seemed to delve exclusively into the HS of HSGAC, although they've filed their inquiries into Iraq reconstruction under GA instead of HS. You can get a sense of what they've been doing by clicking through the links on this page. HSGAC has had two main issues of concern: the spate of DHS's responsibilities (including how DHS is handling their disaster response responsibilities under FEMA), and how Iraq reconstruction is being managed. Those of you clamoring for a Democrat counterassault to the "Republican War on Science" will probably be seeing it out of the House and not out of the Senate.

Posted on November 21, 2006 01:05 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

November 20, 2006

Al Gore at His Best, and Worst

In yesterday’s Telegraph (UK) Al Gore has a lengthy article on climate change science and policy. In the piece Mr. Gore includes an egregious and unquestionable misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change. This is unfortunate, because it detracts from a compelling argument for action in the same piece.

Mr. Gore starts out, ironically enough, asserting the importance of peer-reviewed science. I call this ironic because the misrepresentation that follows (a) hasn’t been peer reviewed, and (b) the peer-reviewed literature contradicts the misrepresentation. Here is what Mr. Gore says about the peer reviewed literature:

[T]here is a reason why new scientific research is peer-reviewed and then published in journals such as Science, Nature, and the Geophysical Research Letters, rather than the broadsheets. The process is designed to ensure that trained scientists review the framing of the questions that are asked, the research and methodologies used to pursue the answers offered and even, in some cases, to monitor the funding of the laboratories — all in order to ensure that errors and biases are detected and corrected before reaching the public.

Shouldn’t this also apply to the claims that Mr. Gore makes, and not just his opponents? Here is the misrepresentation:

And with regards to some of the financial implications suggested by the Stern report, one need only look to the insurance industry for validation of the potential costs of global warming. On Wednesday, the reinsurance giant Munich Re reported, "driven by climate change, weather related disasters could cost as much as a trillion dollars in a single year by 2040".

We discussed this particular misrepresentation in depth in a post last week and discussed the Stern report’s misrepresentation the week before in this post. As I have said on many occasions, I am neither surprised nor too concerned that a politician would stretch the facts to advance his political agenda. What concerns me is that many scientists have been complicit in advancing such mischaracterizations and remain selectively mute when they are made. In this manner, a large portion of the mainstream climate science community has taken on the unfortunate characteristics of politicians like Mr. Gore, deciding to uphold scientific standards only when politically convenient. This is one way how science becomes pathologically politicized.

Mr. Gore’s misrepresentation is unfortunate because he makes a compelling argument for why action on climate change makes sense based on short-term benefits, a point a made in congressional testimony (PDF) last summer. Here is Mr. Gore’s argument for the short-term benefits for action on climate change:

Some of the policies detailed in the [Stern] report include: increasing global public energy research and development funding, dramatically reducing waste through energy efficiency measures, expanding and linking emissions trading systems and carbon markets, multiplying programmes to reduce deforestation of natural areas such as Amazonia, and continuing to set aggressive domestic and global targets to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. None of these policy measures should cause alarm.

In fact, not only are they rational, but also they have substantial co-benefits, which include increased air quality, improved access to energy among the rural poor in developed countries, further independence from foreign sources of energy in volatile and unstable regions of the world, and, of course, the obvious opportunities in the new markets developing for low carbon technologies.

We need more good arguments like this and less misrepresentation.

Posted on November 20, 2006 01:37 AM View this article | Comments (45)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

November 15, 2006

Looking Away from Misrepresentations of Science in Policy Debate Related to Disasters and Climate Change

For me the most amazing aspect of the repeated misrepresentation of science related to disasters and climate change is not that political advocates look to cherry pick science or go beyond the state of the science. What is most amazing is that in the face of incontrovertible and repeated misrepresentation that the overwhelming majority of scientists, the media, and responsible advocacy groups have remained mute (with a few notable exceptions such as Hans von Storch).

More than anything else, even the misrepresentations themselves, the collective willingness to overlook bad policy arguments unsupported (or even contradicted) by the current state of science while at the same time trumpeting the importance of scientific consensus is evidence of the comprehensive and pathological politicization of science in the policy debate over global warming. If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

Here are just some of the misrepresentations of science in policy discussions related to disasters and climate change from the Prometheus archives:

Misrepresentation by ABI of UK Foresight flood assessment

Misrepresentation by UNEP of disaster loss trends

Misrepresentation by former head of IPCC of disaster loss trends

Misrepresentation by New York Times of trends in disaster losses

Misrepresentation by editor of Science of detection and attribution of trends in extreme events

Misrepresentation by editor of Science of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gas emissions

Misrepresentation of literature of disaster trends and climate in article in Science

Misrepresentation by lead IPCC author responsible for hurricane chapter of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gas emissions

Misrepresentation of ABI report on future tropical cyclone losses

Misrepresentation by Al Gore of state of hurricane science and attribution of Katrina

Misrepresentation by Time of science of hurricanes and attribution of Katrina

Misrepresentation by IPCC WG II of storm surge impacts research

Misrepresentation by AGU of science of seasonal hurricane forecast skill

Misrepresentation by Environmental Defense of attribution of Katrina to greenhouse gases and prospects for avoiding future hurricanes

Misrepresentation in the Washington Post of the science of disaster trends and future impacts

Misrepresentation in Stern report of trends in disaster losses and projections of future costs

Misrepresentation by UNEP of trends and projections in disaster losses

November 14, 2006

More Climate and Disaster Nonsense

Debunking nonsense related to disaster losses and climate change is getting to be a full time job. The latest misleading information is uncritically reported by Reuters and comes from a report commissioned by UNEP. Reuters reports:

Losses from extreme weather could top $1 trillion in a single year by 2040, a partnership of the United Nations Environment Programme and private finance institutions (UNEP FI) warned on Tuesday.

Speaking at a major U.N. climate meeting in Kenya, they said the estimated cost of droughts, storm surges, hurricanes and floods reached a record $210 billion in 2005, and such losses linked to global warming were seen doubling every 12 years.

"This is an unequivocal statement by 15 of the largest financial institutions: Climate change is now certain," Paul Clements-Hunt of UNEP FI told a news conference.

The $1 trillion figure comes from a report commissioned by UNEP, released today (PDF). The report states:

The following scenario constructed by Andlug Consulting presents one possible pathway that climatic losses might follow in coming decades, and suggests how the financial sector might be affected. It is NOT a prediction, but like all scenarios, is intended to explore the future so that better plans can be made.

The trend value for economic losses in 2005 is 50 billion USD ( Figure 7). Industry analysts reckon that this is about half the total losses, which therefore are 100 billion USD. The long-term trend of six percent annual growth means the costs double every 12 years, taking them to 800 billion USD by 2041, in 2005 values. However, great disasters always appear in clusters: Figure 7 shows that one year in three, the costs are 50 percent higher than the trend-line. In fact they were more than double the trend value in 1992, 1993 and 2005. Making allowance for such clusters, and for the inclusion of all societal and opportunity costs, it seems very likely that the there will be a “peak” year that will record costs of over 1 trillion USD before 2040. In fact, since so much development is taking place in coastal zones, the figure may arrive considerably before 2040.

The $1 trillion is therefore not linked to global warming but an extension of current loss trends into the future. This is a point that we made at the AGU one year ago and which was reported responsibly by Kenneth Chang of the New York Times 11 December, 2005 (link, registration required). That NYT article said, "With wealth and property values increasing, and more people moving to vulnerable coasts, by the year 2020 a single storm could cause losses of $500 billion -- several times the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina." It is no stretch to get from $500B in 2020 to $1 trillion by 2040. Of course, the size of the economy grows over that time frame as well.

Further, the UNEP analysis was prepared by Andlug Consulting, which is run by Andrew Dlugolecki, a participant in our Hohenkammer workshop of last May. At the workshop all participants agreed to the following consensus statements (report):

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions . . . In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

Hence, the projection of the possibility of a $1 trillion disaster year is independent of projected effects of human-caused changes to the climate system on the intensity or frequency of extreme events.

Bottom line: The UNEP report does not say what the representative of UNEP said it did. Nor does it say what has been reported in the major media, including the Reuters report. This is unfortunate because the UNEP-report has some valuable information on the importance of adaptation in the face of continuing growth in vulnerability to disasters. Effective policy on climate is unlikely to develop if the UN and the media are providing misleading or incorrect analyses. As Richard Tol said here last week, unsound analyses only provide fodder for those skeptical of action on climate change.

Posted on November 14, 2006 05:20 PM View this article | Comments (7)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

November 10, 2006

Interview With Chris Landsea

Thomson Scientific has an interesting interview with NOAA's Chris Landsea online here. In the interview Chris discusses our work on normalized hurricane losses as well as the recent debate over hurricanes and global warming. According to Thomson Scientific, Chris is the 2nd most highly cited scientist in the world on tropical cyclones 1996-February 28, 2006, and he also has the 2nd most cites per paper. You can see an interesting map of the most cited papers on tropical cyclones here.

Posted on November 10, 2006 02:24 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

November 07, 2006

Normalized US Hurricane Damage: 1900-2005

We are happy to release a new paper and dataset on normalized U.S. hurricane damages for the period 1900-2005. The paper and dataset can be found here. Please note that we are releasing the paper and the data upon submission for publication, so changes may result from the process of peer review. Comments are welcomed. In particular we are interested in hearing how people are using the dataset. I'll be discussing the data in various future posts. Here is what one of our normalization schemes looks like, 1900-2005.


Posted on November 7, 2006 12:51 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

November 02, 2006

Update on Hurricanes and Global Warming

This news story about an all-too-predictable spat between Kevin Trenberth and Bill Gray reminds me that we are overdue to provide an update on the issue of hurricanes and global warming.

In December, 2005, five of us attempted to summarize the state of the science on hurricanes and global warming, including the science of impacts and the policy significance of current understandings. At that time we concluded (PDF) :

. . . the state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

In May of this year we had a chance to once again address this issue in the form of a response to an extended comment on our earlier paper. We concluded by quoting a statement prepared by the World Meteorological Organization’s Tropical Meteorology Research Program Panel in February, 2006(PDF) :

The research issues discussed here are in a fluid state and are the subject of much current investigation. Given time the problem of causes and attribution of the events of 2004–2005 will be discussed and argued in the refereed scientific literature. Prior to this happening it is not possible to make any authoritative comment.

The WMO statement was meaningful because it was coauthored by many of the big names involved in research on hurricanes and climate change. Thanks to the WMO there has been another update made available on the community’s perspective as a result of background papers prepared for an upcoming workshop on tropical cyclones to be held in Costa Rica at the beginning of December.

Two background papers are particularly relevant to the community’s views on hurricanes and climate change. One presents a draft statement for discussion at the Costa Rica workshop prepared by Dr. John McBride, Dr Jeff Kepert (Australia), Prof. Johnny Chan (Hong Kong, China). Julian Heming (United Kingdom). Dr. Greg Holland, Professor Kerry Emanuel, Dr. Thomas Knutson, Dr Hugh Willoughby, Dr. Chris Landsea (USA). It says (PDF):

Emanuel (2005) has produced evidence for a substantial increase in the power of tropical cyclones (denoted by the integral of the cube of the maximum winds over time) during the last 50 years. This result is supported by the findings of Webster et al (2005) that there has been a substantial global increase (nearly 100%) in the proportion of the most severe tropical cyclones (category 4 and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), from the period from 1970 to 1995, which has been accompanied by a similar decrease in weaker systems.

The research community is deeply divided over whether the results of these studies are due, at least in part, to problems in the tropical cyclone data base. Precisely, the historical record of tropical cyclone tracks and intensities is a byproduct of real-time operations. Thus its accuracy and completeness changes continuously through the record as a result of the continuous changes and improvements in data density and quality, changes in satellite remote sensing retrieval and dissemination, and changes in training. In particular a step-function change in methodologies for determination of satellite intensity occurred with the introduction of geosynchronous satellites in the mid to late 1970’s.

The division in the community on the Webster et al and on the Emanuel papers is not as to whether Global Warming can cause a trend in tropical cyclone intensities. Rather it is on whether such a signal can be detected in the historical data base. Also it can be difficult to isolate the forced response of the climate system in the presence of substantial decadal and multi-decadal natural variability, such as the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation.

Whilst the existence of a large multi-decadal oscillation in Atlantic tropical cyclones is still generally accepted, some scientists believe that a trend towards more intense cyclones is emerging. This is a hotly debated area for which we can provide no definitive conclusion. It is agreed that there is no evidence for a decreasing trend in cyclone intensities. [emphasis added]

A second background paper provides a comprehensive literature review, led by Tom Knutson of NOAA, leading an extremely distinguished and diverse working group consisting of K. Emanuel, S. Emori, J. Evans, G. Holland, C. Landsea, K.-b. Liu, R. E. McDonald, D. Nolan, M. Sugi, Y. Wang. It includes the following statement (PDF):

There are substantial roadblocks both in making reliable future projections about TC activity and in determining whether a trend can be detected in historical TC data.

So based on these recent statements prepared by scientists with very different perspectives in the debate over hurricanes and climate change, I am happy to report that our 2005 and 2006 peer-reviewed papers are holding up extremely well. (As an aside, anyone want to offer odds on whether or not our 2005 paper will be cited by IPCC?;-)

As far as hurricane impacts and hurricane policy, the most relevant update is the report of our May, 2006 workshop in partnership with Munich Re, which can be found here. The consensus presented at this workshop was entirely consistent with our papers on hurricanes and climate change published in 2005 and 2006.

Bottom line? If you want a scientifically accurate and comprehensive perspective on the state of the science of hurricanes and global warming, as well as the significance of the science for societal impacts and policy responses, you could do much worse than our 2005 and 2006 papers, which in my view have held up exceedingly well in the context of a rapidly evolving debate.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch, 2005. Hurricanes and global warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 86:1571-1575. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C.W. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver, R. Pasch, 2006. Reply to Hurricanes and Global Warming Potential Linkages and Consequences, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 87, pp. 628-631. (PDF)

Posted on November 2, 2006 01:10 AM View this article | Comments (10)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 27, 2006

Recap: Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages

We’ve had an interesting discussion this week on the historical relationship of Atlantic sea surface temperatures and U.S. hurricane damage. I began by asking:

What Does the Historical Relationship of Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature and U.S. Hurricane Damage Portend for the Future?

This post provides a recap of the week’s discussion.

I answered the initial question with two perspectives, one that I prepared and one by Munich Re’s Eberhard Faust. The conversation was quickly joined by noted hurricane expert Jim Elsner from Florida State, who claimed that his preferred approach definitively resolved this question. Jim and I have had a lengthy exchange this week in the comments, including an effort on my part to replicate part of his analysis, successful in the end, but with a mistake along the way. Thanks to Jim for helping make this replication successful

Even with the lengthy exchange, I remain confused about what Elsner is arguing. He has claimed that the signal of SST couldn’t be seen using all historical damage data in a simple regression because of the effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Here is how Jim described it:

Sometimes when the Atlantic is warm and hurricanes are strong, the steering flow keeps them from reaching the US and the steering during the season can be predicted to some degree by preseason values of the NAO; thus a simple regression of annual loss on SST is inadequate for understanding the relationship between loss and SST.

This last phrase – "a simple regression of annual loss on SST is inadequate for understanding the relationship between loss and SST." – seems completely consistent with the focus of my original post in which I asserted that a relationship between SSTs and damage "may materialize in the future, but one cannot use the past to project such a relationship, it must be based on some other considerations." Elsner, it would seem, agreed that "other considerations" (e.g., like the NAO) actually matter for the ability to identify a signal. But Jim would have none of this potential agreement. He later made what appears to be the opposite argument, that the future influence of SST on damages would be identifiable independent of the NAO, explaining that "The correlation between tropical SST and NAO is small." Either the NAO masks or does not mask a SST signal, it cannot be both -- hence my confusion.

Lost in these very fine points about very marginal statistical relationships is the fact that Jim and I are pretty close in our views, no matter how aggressively he objects to each point that I make. He writes of his answer to my original question about what the past relationship of SSTs and damage tells us about the future:

If all we know are SST and damages from history, then I would assign a personal probability of 60-70% that over the next 100 years the warm SST years will, on average, have greater annual loss totals compared to the cold SST years.

If I were to modify Jim’s statement to more accurately reflect my own perspective, I’d simply change 60-70% to 50%, which in my view is not a particularly big difference. I therefore don’t see our views as being particularly far off from one another (though I am sure that Jim would strongly disagree;-).

I’ll close by referring the reader back to the first post presented in this discussion, and the two graphs that I presented.



To provide my answer to the question posted in Part 1 that kicked off this discussion. If all you know is SSTs and U.S. damage from the historical record -- that is, the data shown in these graphs – then you have no statistical basis for saying what will happen in the future if SSTs increase. Faust suggests that by looking at a subset of the data a stronger relationship can be seen. Elsner suggests that by introducing other climate variables than those presented here and distinguishing intensity from frequency a stronger relationship can be seen. Both Faust’s and Elnser’s points are fairly made. For reasons that you’ll find in the discussion this past week, I find that accepting their arguments at face value (i.e., setting aside the appropriateness of looking at a limited subset of data or the stability of relationships over time) leads to only marginal relationships (at best) whose existence are dependent upon the data of 2005. Sometimes the simplest analysis tells the whole story.

Future increases in Atlantic SSTs may indeed be accompanied by larger amounts of U.S. hurricane damage. But I find little basis for this conclusion in the overall historical record of SSTs and damage. Others disagree. I respect their views, but remain unconvinced by their analyses. If nothing else this exercise has been a wonderful example of the diversity of the scientific enterprise, and how seemingly simple questions are subject to a range of legitimate perspectives. The good news is that effective hurricane policies need not await consensus on this issue!

[Thanks to those of you who emailed ideas and comments!]

Posted on October 27, 2006 07:57 AM View this article | Comments (12)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 26, 2006

Atlantic SSTs and U.S. Hurricane Damages, Part 5

Widely respected hurricane expert Jim Elsner of FSU has posted a lengthy response to these posts over at his blog. I’d encourage interested readers to have a look. This exchange reminds me of a quote attributed to John von Neumann speaking on statistics, "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." It also serves as a good reminder that Dan Sarewitz’s notion of an "excess of objectivity" is alive and well even when one is dealing with 34 data points. Let me start by acknowledging that Jim and I are going to agree to disagree and interested readers will have to judge the merits of our arguments themselves.

Elsner argues that the statistics of loss data are best fit by using a "random sum" that combines the statistics of frequency of losses with those of intensity of losses. This approach was first applied to hurricane damage data by my former colleague at NCAR Rick Katz in his 2002 paper "Stochastic modeling of hurricane damage" (in PDF). In my critique of Elsner’s work, I accept that the "random sum" methodology is indeed useful for deconvolving components of a statistical relationship (see, e.g., the acknowledgements in Rick’s paper). As Katz writes in his 2002 paper, "By enabling the variations in total damage to be attributed to either variations in event occurrence or in event damage, the present modeling approach has an inherent advantage over previous analyses." But such a methodology, or any sophisticated statistics, cannot create a strong relationship in the real world where one does not exist.

I have focused my critique on the intensity part of Elsner’s analysis. With Jim’s help I have successfully replicated this part of their work (Part 4) and I have found that their results are highly unstable -- that is they do not hold for 1950-2004 or for 1950-2006. What they report on large losses has much more to do with one event in 2005 (Katrina) than statistical properties of the dataset that are stable over time. On his blog Elsner suggests that the period 1950-2005 "is not intended to stand by itself." That is good, because it does not stand by itself. Based on the lack of a relationship between SSTs and damage in the subset of data that Elsner claims that there is a strong relationship, I have concluded that there is little reason to expect that Elsner’s model would allow for an accurate prediction of future damage amounts conditional on SST. A question for Jim -- What, for instance, would it have predicted for 2006 before the season?

Let me reassert that reasonable people can disagree on such subjects, as I had stated in Part One. Elsner would in my view make a much better case for his arguments by focusing his replies on the substantive questions, such as the obvious lack of stability in his intensity model or what physical basis there exists between May-June SSTs and damage that occurs within the hurricane season (points which he does not address). He is representing his work as "sound science that will likely have a major impact in the reinsurance industry" and indeed he is selling services to these companies. Thus, he should probably expect that his methods will attract attention (and in my experience in academia, attention means that one’s views are worth considering, which should be a compliment, even if the attention is critical as is often the case in academic discussions). If Jim is confident in his approach then he should welcome such scrutiny and efforts to clarify his methods and their significance. Bluster and invective are not only weak means of argumentation, but also make for poor marketing tools.

Let me also once again acknowledge that I did make a mistake in an earlier post, which was corrected online immediately when Jim pointed it out. In response to Jim’s complaints about a lack of apology I posted the following on Jim’s blog:

Jim- Let me once again formally apologize for making a mistake. It happens from time-to-time ;-) It has been corrected, as you know. As I wrote immediately after you brought the data issue to my attention in a personal email to you, "Thanks Jim for following up. Thanks for catching the data sort mix up, apologies for that."

I'll follow up on the substance next. Thanks!

In closing it is worth remembering the old adage that if one tortures data sufficiently it will confess. In this case, simple and straightforward analyses of the relationship of SST and hurricane damage without deconvolving intensity or frequency indicates that there is no relationship. Elsner and Faust both show that if you segregate the data in various ways you can use the influence of 2005 to attain, at best, a very marginal relationship. We disagree on whether such a relationship is indeed marginal and also the importance of such a relationship. Fair enough. As 2006 provides an excellent example of, scientists have no ability to predict hurricane landfalls with accuracy, much less frequency or intensity at landfall before the season starts. Until such a capability has been demonstrated, efforts to predict damage with accuracy will in my view amount to little more than statistical data mining.

Posted on October 26, 2006 08:32 AM View this article | Comments (19)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 25, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs, U.S. Hurricane Damage, Part 4

I am happy to report that after follow-up by Jim Elsner, I have been able to come close to replicating his results. However, the replication does not add much support to the hypothesis that Atlantic SSTs are related to normalized U.S. hurricane damage. Here is why.

First, in his paper (properly cited as Jagger et al., here in PDF) Elsner reports that their analysis was "able to explain 13% of the variation in the logarithm of loss values exceeding $100 mn using an ordinary least squares regression model." Their analysis focused on insured losses and ours is on total losses. Their analysis is in 2000 US dollars and ours in 2005 US dollars. Because insured damages are roughly half the total economic losses, and inflation, wealth, population increase by about 5-7% per year, it makes sense to use a cut-off of $250 million for our dataset rather than $100 million - thanks to the reader who made this observation. (This has the effect of eliminating about 70% of the data, an important point which I will return to later, but for now we are simply replicating the earlier results). With the dataset parsed in this fashion we get the following results.


You can see that just as is reported in Jagger et al.’s paper, this result also shows an r^2 of 0.13 and I get a p value of 0.03, so the results are significant. I am satisfied that we have faithfully replicated his analysis! But what happens when one looks at the relationship from 1950-2004? The following graph shows this result.


By removing 2005 the r^2 is cut in half and the p value goes up to 0.14, which is not statistically significant! So the results presented by Elsner are entirely a function of 2005, which was indeed an extreme year for both SSTs and damage. The question of whether 2005 is like seasons to come is a fair question, but I submit that the answer cannot be found in the historical data on SSTs and damage, not matter how one parses the data. Consider that if one adds 2006 to the results (damage = $250M, MJ SSTs = 26.88) the r^2 of the linear regression drops to 0.08, and the p value is 0.08, just outside statistical significance.

In short, there are a lot of ways to analyze data, and Elsner and colleagues approach is interesting. But in my view it does not provide much support for the hypothesis that SSTs are a useful or accurate predictor of damage. Anytime you have to remove 70% of the data to find a marginal (at best) relationship, it tells you that whatever relationship might exist cannot be that strong.

To underscore my perspective – future increases in Atlantic SSTs may indeed be accompanied by increases in normalized damages, but it is very difficult to accept this hypothesis based on the historical record of damage and SSTs, no matter how it is parsed. Thanks again to Jim for his continued involvement in these discussions.

Posted on October 25, 2006 09:45 AM View this article | Comments (14)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 24, 2006

Atlantic SSTs vs. US Hurricane Damage, Part 3

Following up a continuing conversation with hurricane expert Jim Elsner, this post presents an analysis of Atlantic May-June SSTs versus normalized damage 1950-2005, but only including storms which had >$100 million in damage and storms of hurricane or greater strength, as recommended by Jim. As the graph below shows [10-25-06 update -- analysis superceded by Part 4 here], the results of this analysis show no relationship.

[10-25-06 graph reposted in part 4 with >$250M threshold]

I'd welcome Jim's response, but for now I remain unambiguous in my conclusion that there is no relationship between SSTs and normalized damages. If Jim provides his data, I'd be happy to reconcile the different results, and perhaps my views will change. Until then, I necessarily must go with what the available data shows, which is quite unambiguous.

Posted on October 24, 2006 10:20 AM View this article | Comments (10)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

Atlantic SSTs vs. U.S. Hurricane Damage - Part 2

In the comments of our first post on this subject FSU's Jim Elsner, a widely respected hurricane expert, pointed us to a forthcoming paper (here in PDF) in which he and colleagues looked at the relationship of Atlantic SSTs and U.S. hurricane damage. In the paper Elsner et al. make the following claim:

Using the preseason Atlantic SST, we are able to explain 13% of the variation in the logarithm of loss values exceeding $100 mn using an ordinary least squares regression model. The relationship is positive indicating that warmer Atlantic SSTs are associated with larger losses as expected. The rank correlation between the amount of loss (exceeding $100 mn) and the May-June Atlantic SST is +0.31 (P-value = 0.0086) over all years in the dataset and is +0.37 (P-value = 0.0267) over the shorter 1950–2005 period.

I've looked at our dataset and find nothing remotely close like these numbers. Here is my analysis for 1950-2005:

The following graph [updated 10-25-06] shows the relationship of Atlantic May-June SSTs and U.S. normalized hurricane damage (for years in which damage exceeds $100M).


You can see from this graph there is no relationship; The rank correlation I get is -0.088. So I am curious about the reasons for the different results (leaving aside for the moment other questions). Are we using different data? To facilitate analysis, here is the data that I am using in this analysis (for all years 1950-2005, note that original NATL SST data is available here):

[UPDATED 10-25-06]

Year--MJ SST---Damage----------ln(dmg)
1950 26.11 $5,529,320,501 22.43333077
1951 26.65 $358,069,353 19.69623725
1952 26.66 $114,732,781 18.55811634
1953 26.59 $55,787,059 17.83705248
1954 26.49 $35,671,450,726 24.29761651
1955 26.29 $23,274,260,349 23.87061388
1956 26.18 $577,494,764 20.17420993
1957 26.29 $3,841,822,355 22.06921266
1958 27.30 $509,818,712 20.04956575
1959 26.09 $858,779,107 20.5710223
1960 26.60 $29,970,493,213 24.12347918
1961 26.24 $14,468,733,186 23.39525583
1962 26.79 $92,192,732 18.33939186
1963 26.56 $246,291,959 19.32202822
1964 26.44 $15,693,459,358 23.47650986
1965 26.12 $21,261,254,041 23.78015219
1966 26.65 $336,552,296 19.63426411
1967 26.21 $4,016,468,362 22.11366884
1968 26.21 $657,263,225 20.30359514
1969 26.99 $21,225,180,492 23.77845407
1970 26.75 $5,627,670,656 22.45096146
1971 25.94 $2,083,668,167 21.45739572
1972 26.10 $17,579,304,340 23.58998816
1973 26.32 $145,454,945 18.79537694
1974 25.53 $1,073,783,964 20.79445466
1975 25.75 $2,791,286,883 21.74976857
1976 25.82 $486,444,597 20.00263357
1977 26.43 $53,776,992 17.80035628
1978 26.38 $145,903,706 18.79845741
1979 26.87 $14,096,216,718 23.36917228
1980 27.05 $1,602,040,183 21.19454377
1981 26.77 $171,359,510 18.95927431
1982 26.53 $43,148,911 17.58016773
1983 26.98 $7,469,100,008 22.73404035
1984 26.12 $289,628,417 19.48410934
1985 26.00 $11,068,101,797 23.1273331
1986 25.95 $50,026,988 17.72807318
1987 26.94 $19,011,511 16.76055519
1988 26.73 $172,912,773 18.96829783
1989 25.95 $16,770,856,131 23.54290846
1990 26.62 $126,787,371 18.658022
1991 26.10 $3,044,037,453 21.83645058
1992 26.38 $57,663,865,630 24.77789657
1993 26.48 $126,479,971 18.65559452
1994 25.86 $1,938,752,062 21.38531034
1995 26.91 $7,501,957,030 22.73842976
1996 26.71 $6,537,460,457 22.60081462
1997 26.66 $163,560,186 18.91269159
1998 27.27 $6,021,601,438 22.51861908
1999 26.44 $8,277,977,785 22.83686455
2000 26.26 $36,525,742 17.41352783
2001 26.38 $6,970,450,131 22.66494564
2002 26.31 $1,491,060,293 21.12275331
2003 26.38 $4,212,081,525 22.16122279
2004 26.69 $49,130,243,738 24.61774064
2005 27.62 $107,350,000,000 25.39936036

Posted on October 24, 2006 02:02 AM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 22, 2006

What Does the Historical Relationship of Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature and U.S. Hurricane Damage Portend for the Future?

Every four years the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) holds a workshop that brings together forecasters and researchers from around the world who focus on tropical cyclones (which are called "hurricanes" in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific). The sixth such workshop is taking place in Costa Rica at the end of November and in preparation for that workshop experts in a wide range of issues related to tropical cyclones have prepared number of background reports (links found below). Supported by an all-star international team, I was in charge of preparing a background report on "Factors Contributing to Human and Economic Losses." The WMO has now posted these background papers online. In this post I’d like to discuss one aspect of our report – the relationship of Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and U.S. hurricane damage.

In particular, our report presents two different perspectives on the relationship of SSTs and damage. One perspective, mine, is that there is absolutely nothing in the historical record that suggests a relationship between SSTs and damage. Such a relationship may materialize in the future, but one cannot use the past to project such a relationship, it must be based on some other considerations. A second perspective is presented by my friend and colleague Eberhard Faust of Munich Re. He argues that there is “remarkable evidence for global warming effects on losses.” Because we disagree on this issue, in our report we presented our two different perspectives.

Our two perspectives are presented on pp. 548-550 (Pielke) and pp. 551-555 (Faust) of our report (available here in PDF), and are together in a final section titled "Differing views of the role of global warming on losses" which falls at the very end of our 23 page report at pp. 547-555. The brevity of these two analyses is such that it might make for a very good case study for students to examine in a course in statistics or atmospheric sciences. Which analysis is more compelling and why?

My argument is based on the following graphs.



In the paper I argue:

Figures 5.2.7a and 5.2.7b shows the lack of meaningful relationship between normalized U.S. hurricane damages (NHC data, transformed with the natural log) and North Atlantic [August, September, October = ASO] sea surface temperatures 1950-2005 and 1950-2004. The r-squared values are low with or without 2005 included, and the regression results are not statistically significant (p = 0.28 and 0.69 respectively). There is consequently no systematic evidence that higher SSTs are systematically associated with larger losses.

Eberhard’s begins with the following graph:


In the paper he argues:

But if analyzed more closely, the normalized loss data show nonetheless systematic changes over time. Fundamental to these changes is the presence of a correlation between normalized annual losses and June-October annual tropical sea surface temperatures. Munich Re analyzed the respective annual SST anomalies and annual normalized losses since 1900. Figure 5.2.8 simply displays the normalized losses against the SST anomalies. Also, the average loss calculated for a running window of 0.2°C in width is displayed (red line). The running average is shown over a range where the 0.2°C windows are populated densely enough (at least 12 data points, i.e. half the maximum population, see the dashed black line). A remarkable general increase in average annual normalized losses with increasing SST can be observed over the -0.4°C to +0.4°C anomaly range. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient, which is independent of the distributions involved, gives 0.26 for the range from -0.4°C to +0.4°C and 0.28 for all of the data.

We both think that our respective analyses will be compelling. If you are interested, please read both analyses in full. Eberhard was a key participant in our workshop held last spring on Climate Change and Disaster Losses, the report of which you can find here. I’d be happy to discuss the two analyses in the WMO report in the comments if there is interest. Do note that neither of our perspectives have yet appeared in the peer-reviewed literature, but stay tuned.

For those of you interested in the other background reports prepared for the WMO workshop, they can be found here. In particular have a look at the Topic 4 "Climate variability and seasonal prediction of tropical cyclone activity/intensity" which includes a comprehensive literature review led by Tom Knutson (Special Topic 4a is also relevant). It is safe to conclude that debate persists on this subject. Topic 5 is relevant to those of you interested in policies related to tropical cyclones. We say it often enough here, but bears repeating -- the debate over human-caused climate change and tropical cyclones is scientifically interesting and has become caught up in the politics of global warming, but there is no evidence that energy policies can ever serve as an effective means of modulating future hurricane damage given that the overwhelming factors responsible for increasing damage have been and will continue to be the ever-increasing vulnerability of people and property.

Posted on October 22, 2006 11:28 AM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 17, 2006

Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop Report

Last May, Peter Hoeppe of Munich Re and I organized a workshop to bring together a diverse group of international experts in the fields of climatology and disaster research. The general questions to be answered at the workshop were:

* What factors account for increasing costs of weather related disasters in recent decades?

* What are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

We are happy to release our final workshop report. From the workshop home page you can download PDFs of:

*The entire report (8 mb)
*Executive Summary
*Summary Report
*Individual participant white papers from:

* C. Bals
* L. Bouwer
* R. Brázdil
* H. Brooks
* I. Burton
* R. Crompton et al.
* A. Dlugolecki
* P. Epstein
* E. Faust et al.
* I. Goklany
* H. Grenier
* B. R. Gurjar et al.
* J. Helminen
* S. Jun
* C. Kemfert and K. Schumacher
* T. Knutson
* R. Muir-Wood et al.
* R. Pielke, Jr.
* S. Raghavan
* G. Tetzlaff
* E. Tompkins
* H. von Storch and R. Weisse
* Q. Ye
* R. Zapata-Marti

The workshop's major sponsors were Munich Re and the U.S. National Science Foundation, with contributing sponsorship from the GKSS Institute for Coastal Research and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Posted on October 17, 2006 02:12 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

October 10, 2006

A Perspective on the 2006 Hurricane Season

The 2006 hurricane season is not yet in the books, and there is plenty of time remaining for additional storms. However, if we consider the damage that has occurred this year thus far in historical perspective, how does it rank?

Let’s assume that this season has $250 million in damage. For the following data, I am using what we call “normalized” hurricane damage which adjusts past losses to current values. The 2006 season thus far ranks 73 out of 106 seasons since 1900, and 41 out of 56 seasons since 1950.

We hope to have the completely updated normalized loss analysis and data available soon. Stay tuned.

Posted on October 10, 2006 03:07 PM View this article | Comments (13)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

October 04, 2006

Follow Up on NOAA Hurricane Fact Sheet

Thanks very much to those who sent me the "Dear Colleague" letter from NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher discussing the now-released NOAA fact sheet on hurricanes and climate change (here in PDF). The full letter can be seen below.

Message From the Under Secretary
October 3, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

Many of you have probably seen the latest reports concerning a document on Atlantic hurricanes and climate. I do not make it a practice to comment on every mischaracterization and falsehood in media reports.

However, reports that deal with the agency’s scientific integrity strike directly at NOAA’s mission and everything the agency does. Therefore, I believe strongly that we must confront them directly and correct them quickly.

Without the foundation of sound science, every decision, policy, and action at the agency can be called into question. Unfortunately, the mere perception of scientific stifling has the same damaging effect. As someone who believes wholeheartedly in NOAA’s mission, its people and its work, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that NOAA stands for scientific integrity. As I’ve stated previously, peer-reviewed science speaks for itself and doesn’t need me or anyone else to interpret or modify the results. For those of you who know me personally, you realize that I encourage and actively pursue vigorous debate on all topics, particularly including science related to NOAA’s mission.

The latest round of news reports focus on an information sheet that was being prepared for this year’s hurricane season rollout. The information sheet detailed the current state of the science on the recent increase in hurricane activity. There is currently a healthy debate in the scientific community inside and outside NOAA about whether recent increases are the result of natural cycles, climate change, or other circumstances. The information sheet was prepared and reviewed in a highly collaborative fashion by nearly 50 scientists across the entire spectrum of the debate and aimed to highlight this debate in an easy-to-understand public document.

Media reports have alleged that the document was blocked because it made a reference to work by NOAA scientists that found climate change may have an impact on increased hurricane activity. This charge is inaccurate. The information sheet summarized existing scientific research and findings and contained no new science. In fact, all the studies cited for the information sheet are publicly available on the NOAA website, making the charge that they would somehow now be suppressed all the more unfounded.

The information sheet in question has been posted on our website (PDF
I urge you to read the document so you can judge for yourself. As I tried to make clear to the media, my hope was that this process would be an exercise in scientists with different views coming together to answer important questions. While I fear an official science policy issued by the agency might have the effect of stifling this important debate, I completely support making the public aware of the state of the science.
We have established a process for encouraging further scientific debate and developing similar information sheets and we look forward to others coming out in the near future.

I reiterate my call to you to let me know personally if you ever feel like NOAA or DOC processes are not supporting the free flow of your or your colleagues’ scientific research. Scientific integrity is critical to NOAA’s credibility.


Conrad Lautenbacher's Signature
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

September 27, 2006

Caught in a Lie

There is an old political maxim that it is not the event but the cover-up that gets politicians in trouble. The issue of a two-page NOAA fact sheet and the decision by leadership in NOAA and/or its parent agency, Department of Commerce, to prevent its release is yet another lesson in Politics 101.

The figure below shows a recent version of the NOAA "fact sheet." (Note that I have received multiple copies from independent sources, several of whom -- but not all -- who asked me not to post. Several, but not all, of the documents have different dates, but the differences are not substantive. I present a screen shot of a version so as not to inadvertantly reveal where it came from.)


The document is clearly prepared for public dissemination. It includes the following text that I have circled:

The purpose of this document is to respond to frequently asked questions on the topic of Atlantic hurricanes and climate. This document reflects the current state of the science, which is based on official data sets and results presented in peer-reviewed publications. It does not contain any statements of policy or positions of NOAA, the Department of Commerce or the U.S. Government.

This is obviously not a statment one would find on an internal document. The second page includes the statement at the bottom "Visit us on the web at" Surely not a request made to employees.

Compare this to how Nature yesterday (here) reported NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher's description of the document.

When asked about the document, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told Nature that it was simply an internal exercise designed to get researchers to respect each other's points of view. He said it could not be released because the agency cannot take an official position on a field of science that is changing so rapidly.

An internal exercise? Bush Administration appointees it seems can make plenty of smoke appear even when there is no fire.

Posted on September 27, 2006 04:01 PM View this article | Comments (7)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

Revealed! NOAA's Mystery Hurricane Report

Here is in its entirety is the NOAA "report" discussed in Nature yesterday. It is in fact titled a "fact sheet" and looks more like a set of talking points than a consensus report. I do not have the figures being referred to in the text. There is absolutely nothing new or surprising in the fact sheet. Why NOAA or DOC officials would not want this released is beyond me. Have a look.

NOAA Fact Sheet: Atlantic Hurricanes and Climate

What has been Atlantic hurricane activity during the 20th Century?
• Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995 have been significantly more active, e.g. more hurricanes and more intense hurricanes, that the previous two decades (figure 1)
• Earlier periods, such as from 1945 to 1970 (and perhaps earlier), were apparently as active as the most recent decade.
• The past decade has seen increased U.S. landfalls, however periods of even higher landfalls occurred early in the century (figure 2)
• Strong natural decadal variations, as well as changes in data quality, density, sources, and methodologies for estimating hurricane strengths, lie at the heart of arguments whether or not a global warming contribution to a trend in tropical cyclone intensities can be detected.

How have ocean temperatures varied?
• Over the 20th Century, global ocean temperatures and sea surface temperatures in the main development region (MDR) for hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic, (and Gulf of Mexico) have warmed at similar rates, indicating a role for global warming in these regions. (Figure 3)
• Anomalous MDR, tropical Atlantic temperatures were significantly warmer than the global average from about 1930 to 1970 and after 2000 . This warming is attributed to the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO)
What factors influence seasonal to multi-decadal hurricane activity
• Hurricanes respond to a variety of environmental factors besides local ocean temperatures.
• The tropical multi-decadal phenomenon and the El Nino/La Nina cycle are important factors in determining the conditions for seasonal to multi-decadal extremes in hurricane activity.
• Research indicates that global warming can also increase hurricane intensities; there is less evidence for impacts on frequency.

How long will the current active period last?
• Scientists disagree as to whether currently a sound basis exists for making projections on how long the current active period will last. The viewpoints are:
o Limited understanding of natural decadal variability, combined with its irregular temporal behavior, preclude definitive statements about how long the active period will last. (NOAA)
o One might expect ongoing high levels of hurricane activity and U.S. landfalls for the next decade and beyond since the previous active period (1945-1970) lasted at least 25 years. (NOAA)
o Because of global warming the active period could persist
Programs of improvements to data sets, diagnostic studies for improved understanding, and systematic numerical experimentation studies will help to reveal the underlying causes for the recent active period and to predict how long the period of increased activity will last. NOAA is actively engaged in each of these activities.

Key Problems NOAA is working on
• Understanding the dynamics of the AMO, its links to the larger-scale tropical climate variability, and developing an ocean monitoring and decadal prediction capability
• Improving the quality and scope of hurricane relevant data sets
• Numerically simulating and ultimately understanding seasonal to decadal hurricane variability
• Understanding whether or not and to what degree anthropogenic forcing is having an influence on hurricanes
• Developing a predictive understanding of global climate variability and trends and the impacts of these on extreme events
• Making improvements to short range hurricane track and intensity forecasts through improved models and development of additional capabilities for hurricanes.

NOAA Resources for Additional Information

• NWS/NCEP/CPC – intraseasonal to multi-season climate forecasts; seasonal hurricane forecasts; diagnostic studies of major climate anomalies; real time monitoring of climate.

• NWS/NCEP/TPC/NHC – issue daily and seasonal (in conjunction with CPC and HRD) operational hurricane forecasts; maintain and update the official Atlantic and Northeast Pacific hurricane databases from which observational climate studies are conducted

• NESDIS/NCDC – official archive for climate data sets; development of global tropical cyclone databases, analysis of historical frequency and strength of Atlantic Basin hurricanes to support engineering design and levee rebuilding in New Orleans, analyses of climate trends, monitoring and historical perspective on current seasons.

• OAR/AOML/HRD & PHoD – physical understanding of hurricane dynamics through use of research aircraft and field studies; improvements to hurricane track and intensity forecasts; monitoring of Atlantic ocean circulations; studies of Atlantic climate

• OAR/GFDL – studies of climate variability and change; development and use of the required climate models; development of models used for operational hurricane forecasts by NOAA and the NAVY; numerical studies of climate impacts on hurricanes and their decadal variability

• OAR/ESRL – diagnostic studies of climate variability and changes; impacts of climate on extreme events.

• NOAA Climate Office – intramural and extramural support for development of a predictive understanding of the climate system, the required observational capabilities, delivery of climate services.

Posted on September 27, 2006 08:21 AM View this article | Comments (13)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

September 26, 2006

NOAA's Mystery Hurricane Report

According to Nature today last spring NOAA convened an internal seven-person team to prepare a consensus report for public release on hurricanes and global warming. According to press reports (e.g., here), the near final report's release was halted in May by (a) Department of Commerce political appointee(s).

I'd like to get the facts straight on this, as they are quite unclear in the media. I'd welcome hearing from anyone with firsthand knowledge of these events. We'd be happy to post a copy of the report as well, anonymity guaranteed.

As far as the science of hurricanes, it is safe to conclude that the mystery report has to be a synthesis of recent work that is publicly available, rather than any new science. What is more troubling to me is how the political ham-handedness (if not worse) of NOAA and its Bush Adminstration handlers works against effective hurricane policy and climate policy. Consider the following statement for the AP news report:

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

The reality, as documented in numerous papers and disucssions here and elsewhere, is that greenhouse gases cannot be an effective tool of hurricane policy. So long as advocates against action on greenhouse gases inside the Administration pretend that there is a linkage between future energy policies and future hurricane impacts by micromanaging information on hurricanes, people unfamiliar with the current state of hurricane science and policy, or those looking for a political bludgeon, will easily conclude something like the following:

"There must be a big connection between changes in energy policies and future hurricane impacts, or else why would the Bush Administration try to supress information? Becuase if there is no evidence of a future connection then NOAA and Bush officials must just be stupid by acting as if there is, right?"

I am quite familiar with recent debates on hurricanes, and frequent readers know that I believe that there is an honest, unsettled debate going on. My own research shows that any action on energy policies cannot have a discernible effect on hurricane impacts as far as the eye can see, so you can guess how I'd answer that last question.

Posted on September 26, 2006 07:23 PM View this article | Comments (8)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

September 18, 2006

FEMA will remain within DHS but ...

... with new authority and independence. Senators Collins and Lieberman, Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs negotiated with a few House committees and the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee to insert most of their S.3721 (the "Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006") into the conference report of the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

(As far as I can tell none of this language got a committee markup or saw floor debate or markup in either chamber. It may be good language, but it is authorization language being inserted without debate into an appropriations bill.)

A press release out of the committee can be found here, and in part says:

...FEMA would be strengthened and become an independent entity within the Department of Homeland Security with the same protections currently provided to the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly identical to the Collins-Lieberman FEMA legislation.


FEMA becomes a distinct entity within DHS – as are the US Coast Guard and the Secret Service - and is therefore protected from future reorganizations by DHS.

The Administrator of FEMA is the principal advisor to the President for emergency management. The language is modeled after the Joint Chiefs of Staff language.

The Administrator has authority to report directly to Congress and may be designated as Cabinet level at the President’s discretion during disasters.

Reunites Preparedness and Response with FEMA so that the Administrator is responsible for all phases of emergency management (preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation).

Stricter qualification requirements for Administrator of FEMA.


It creates a system for ensuring that FEMA is engaged in appropriate planning, training and exercise programs with its counterparts at the federal, state and local levels. It also requires that FEMA establish specific performance measurements against which to measure progress in planning, training and exercises towards establishing readiness.

Establishes a national disaster recovery strategy to assist with the recovery from future catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina.

Posted on September 18, 2006 02:31 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

September 12, 2006

The Promotion of Scientific Findings with Political Implications

In the Houston Chronicle today, Eric Berger has a thoughtful article about the state of the debate over hurricanes and global warming. One question that it raises is the degree to which scientists should be actively engaged in partnering with advocacy organizations to promote their work. Here is an excerpt from the Chronicle article:

While nearly all scientists agreed Earth has warmed considerably in the last century, there was no consensus on whether that warming world was causing more and stronger hurricanes to form.

Now some of those scientists have changed their minds, saying a consensus has indeed emerged.

Such talk was sparked Monday when 19 respected climate scientists published a research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluding that human burning of fossil fuels has warmed the oceans, providing the fuel for tropical cyclones to become monster hurricanes.

"The work that we've done closes the loop," said Tom Wigley, an author of the new paper and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The message for the public should be clear, added Robert Correll, a senior fellow of the American Meteorological Society: Humans are the "primary driving force behind increased hurricane activity."

In a post-Katrina world, this is a question public policy-makers and the public have sought an answer to, leading to a flurry of research in the last year.

But some researchers who study the complicated interplay between hurricanes and global warming suggest little has changed in the last few months to suggest that scientists have come to a consensus.

"Honestly, I don't think anyone's changed their mind," said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. "To me, this looks like the same people saying the same thing over and over again."

Earlier this year, Klotzbach published a paper suggesting that, despite a rise in ocean temperatures during the last 20 years, hurricane activity worldwide has decreased.

When Klotzbach published his paper, however, he did not issue a press release or organize a teleconference.

This week's PNAS article was accompanied by a teleconference with Correll, Wigley and two other prominent hurricane scientists, Kerry Emanuel and Greg Holland.

"What concerns me," Klotzbach said, "is the politicization of this issue."

The teleconference being referred to was organized by a group called Resource Media which describes itself as "dedicated to making the environment matter. We provide media strategy and services to non-profits, foundations and other partners who are working on the front lines of environmental protection." Resource Media’s "partners" are a long list of environmental advocacy groups. I’ve personally given money to some of these groups, and in most cases I am not opposed to their advocacy. But I am concerned about scientists who align themselves with one political agenda in a politically contentious debate putatively over science. This feeds the pathological politiicization of science.

On this subject last March I wrote about how a different group of hurricane scientists participated in a media briefing organized by the group TechCentralStation, an organization that values "the power of free markets, open societies and individual human ingenuity to raise living standards and improve lives." Here is what I said then about the self-segregation of scientists according to their political predispositions:

Let’s take a look at this behavior from two perspectives. First, from the perspective of the individual scientist deciding to align with an interest group, it should be recognized that such a decision is political. There is of course nothing wrong with politics, it is how we get done the business of society, and organized interest groups are fundamental to modern democracy. Nonetheless, an observer of this dynamic might be forgiven for thinking when they see scientists self-select and organize themselves according to political predispositions that different perspectives on scientific issues are simply a function of political ideologies. We can see how contentious political debates involving science become when filtering science through interest groups is the dominant mechanism for connecting science to policy.

Aligning with powerful interests can certainly help a scientist to amplify their message in the media and elevate their prominence in political debates. This sort of amplification has long been a tactic of the political right, and it seems that the left is rapidly catching up. But the battle over perceptions of science in the media is not the same as scientific debate.

Resource Media’s campaign is disingenuous because it presents the scientific debate over hurricanes-climate change as if it has been settled, and the climate scientists they are promoting have contributed to this misinterpretation. Consider that the PNAS paper being promoted this week focuses on a subject that has never been at issue in the scientific debate:

National Hurricane Center scientist Chris Landsea said warmer water doesn't lead necessarily to stronger hurricanes.

"I agree with the paper's conclusion that the warming trend in the tropical oceans is likely due, at least in part, to greenhouse gases," Landsea said. "But this paper certainly isn't the 'key link' between hurricanes and climate change. Its focus is on something that I thought was settled quite some time ago."

As far as the scientific debate over hurricanes and climate change. It remains exactly where it has been for the past year – a debate.

On the very professional (but password protected) website that Resource Media has set up to promote the latest paper, they provide a long list of publications related to the hurricane-global warming debate, but conspicuously fail to include any work by Landsea, including his comments on Emanuel’s work, Chan, including his comments on Webster et al., or a link to the joint statement led by Kerry Emanuel and colleagues (including several who participated in the Resource Media teleconference) on the policy significance of this debate. Do they take reporters for rubes? Do they think that reporters are not aware of the broader literature? Do they not know that most reporters know a promotional campaign when they see one?

Such tactics have been criticized as cherrypicking and misrepresentation by critics of the use of science by those on the political right, and appropriately so. It seems to me that cherrypicking and misrepresentation is improper no matter who is doing it. Advocacy groups and politicians will always make the best case they can for their agenda, at the known risk of being called out by the other side.

However, when scientists willingly participate in such tactics to promote their research, and presumably a political agenda hitched to that research, they place their long-term credibility at risk. On the climate issue, many of the scientists who have aligned themselves with the political right have seen their credibility evaporate, even as they have received considerable media attention. The hurricane scientists who are now amplifying their message by aligning with the political left should take a close look at this lesson from recent history, as it may foretell their own future.

September 08, 2006

Follow-up on Ceres Report

On August 23 here we took the group Ceres to task for misrepresenting our work in a report on insurance and climate change. I am happy to report that Evan Mills and Ceres have graciously followed up with me seeking to correct the presentation of our work in the report (PDF). Here is what the report now says:

Thanks to a workshop held by Munich Re and the University of Colorado at Boulder, a previous debate has evolved into a consensus that climate change and variability are playing a role in the observed increase in the costs of weather-related damages, although participants agreed that it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions.

Thanks very much to Evan and Ceres for following up!

Posted on September 8, 2006 12:08 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

August 26, 2006

Hurricane Damage Futures

A futures market called Hedge Street is offering futures contracts on insured hurricane damages for the 2006 season. There are 4 different contracts offered paying out 30 November 2006. The contracts pay out $100 for damage thresholds of $100 million, $1 billion, $10 billion, or $25 billion. As of Friday the contracts last traded at the following values:

>$100M $80.30
>$1B $65.00
>$10B $24.20
>$25B $16.80

According to our research (underway, not peer-reviewed) we are currently about 25% of the way through "damage season" meaning that 75% of the historical damage has occurred after this date. We focus on total economic damages, but if we assume that insured damages are 50% of total economic then according to one of our adjustment methods (we now have 3) the past 106 years would have seen the Hedge Street thresholds exceeded with the following occurrence:

>$100M 70.8%
>$1B 48.1%
>$10B 14.2%
>$25B 5.7%

If we scale each of these figures to 75% of their value to reflect that we are a quarter of the way through damage season then they would be less. What might this mean for investing in hurricane futures?

As of Friday the bid price for each of these thresholds was as follows:

>$100M $75.00
>$1B $62.00
>$10B $15.00
>$25B $10.00

The bid price is that Hedge Street members are willing to buy a contract. If I were investing at Hedge Street (I am not, but thinking about it!) I’d probably be selling at those prices. In particular, selling the $1B contract looks particularly attractive at $62. Based on our current estimates of historical losses, that gives you about a 50% chance of making more than 160% return on your investment. Of course the downside is that you have about a 50% chance of losing your investment. I don’t see an easy way to stop loss, but maybe I am missing something. Anyone?

Posted on August 26, 2006 07:56 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

August 23, 2006

Ceres is Misrepresenting Our Work

A while back we documented in some detail how a publication in Science by Evan Mills grossly misrepresented existing research to make the claim that human-caused climate change was observable in the economic record of disasters. In a just-released report by the group Ceres, an advocacy group focused on the insurance industry, Mr. Mills is again misrepresenting existing research, and this time it is mine.

In the report just out, co-authored by Mr. Mills (here in PDF), they write of the scientific debate over the role of climate change and disaster losses:

Thanks to a workshop held by Munich Re, a previous debate has evolved into a consensus that climate change is playing a role in the observed increase in the costs of weather-related damages.

Well, no. I co-organized the workshop with Peter Hoeppe of Munich Re (to which Mr. Mills was invited to attend but turned down). Here is what the workshop report executive summary (PDF) actually says:

Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions. . .

In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

The use of our work in the Ceres report represents either complete incompetence or a deliberate misrepresentation our work. In either case, if they are so cavalier with how they report my work, how can I trust that they are accurately reporting the work of others? Advocacy groups that base their arguments on flawed or erroneous representations of existing research have absolutely no credibility in my book. Science is diverse enough to be able to cherrypick and shade arguments in one’s preferred direction without misrepresentation. Ceres has in fact misrepresented my work. And that is unfortunate, because some of what Ceres has to say looks like it might make sense.

Posted on August 23, 2006 06:16 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

August 21, 2006

Judy Curry in the Comments

[The below is an excerpt from a comment provided by Judy Curry, which I thought worth highlighting as our conversation has spanned several threads. RP]

100 years from now, if global warming proceeds as expected, there is a risk for whopper hurricanes with sea level rise making the risk even worse for our coastal cities. The elevated risk in terms of hurricane activity may already be upon us. No one wants to see coastal cities disappear. You are right that actions like limiting greenhouse gas emissions cannot help the hurricane situation in the short term (20 years or maybe even 50 years), but on the century time scales there should be some impact at least on the rate of sea surface temperature increase (it is the century time scales that the washington post editorial addresses). Hurricane Katrina, even tho there was no direct causal link with global warming, has served as a huge wakeup call to the American public that global warming might actually have some seriously adverse impacts if we were to see such storms more frequently in the future (this issue seems to have a much greater impact on the public than melting of polar ice gaps). The risk is there, science is important to the public and decision makers, and people are starting to talk about policy options both for the short term and the long term (e.g. the washington post editorial). Surely this is a good thing. Step back for a minute and reflect on why your position on this is so often misrepresented, misunderstood or ignored. There would be more traffic on prometheus on this issue if you would be more reflective about what the other people are trying to say, rather than trying to fit everything into something that supports your thesis (not sure how our BAMS article fell into that category) or makes no sense because it doesn't support your thesis (e.g. the washington post editorial).

Posted on August 21, 2006 09:27 AM View this article | Comments (15)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Disasters

August 20, 2006

Bunk on the Potomac

The Washington Post has published one of the worst op-eds I have ever seen. Arguments such as this one might make one think that the environmental community is hell bent on its own self-destruction (compare). Here is an excerpt:

Barring a rapid change in our nation's relationship to fossil fuels, every American within shouting distance of an ocean -- including all of us in the nation's capital -- will become de facto New Orleanians. Imagine a giant floodgate spanning the Potomac River just north of Mount Vernon, there to hold back the tsunami-like surge tide of the next great storm. Imagine the Mall, Reagan National Airport and much of Alexandria well below sea level, at the mercy of "trust-us-they'll-hold" levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Imagine the rest of Washington vulnerable to the winds of major hurricanes that churn across a hot and swollen Chesapeake Bay, its surface free of the once vast and buffering wetland grasses and "speed bump" islands that slow down storms.

Because of global warming, this is our future. Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three feet this century, and much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. And intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans, bringing the Big Easy "bowl" effect here to the Washington area, as well as to Charleston, S.C., Miami, New York and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we'll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas -- just like New Orleans.

Weekly World News? Nope. The Washington Post. Here is more:

In the face of this sobering data suggesting we're bringing New Orleans to the Potomac, what should we do? Realistically, there are three major options: 1) abandon our coastal cities and retreat inland, a response too staggering to imagine, 2) stay put and try to adapt to the menacing new conditions, or 3) switch to clean energy as fast as possible.

Adapting, of course, means committing fully to the New Orleans model. It means potentially thousands of miles of levees and floodwalls across much of the region. And that's just to handle the rising sea. For hurricane surge tides, Stevenson thinks the only solution might be to build a floodgate across the Potomac near Mount Vernon. It could be closed during periods of maximum danger, then reopened as the surge ebbs. He envisions another on the Patapsco River to protect Baltimore. The New York Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, has examined the idea of three such floodgates for New York City.

But are we truly ready to become New Orleanians, casting our lot behind ever-higher, unsustainable walls? Once we commit to fortified levees and massive floodgates, there's no turning back. It's an all-or-nothing proposition, as New Orleans has graphically demonstrated.

Alternatively, we can go with the third option. It's less expensive, less risky and overall much better for us: clean energy. It's the option that treats the disease of global warming, not just the symptoms. Only by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas pollution -- by switching to hybrid cars and wind- and solar-powered electricity and high-efficiency appliances -- can we slow the sea-level rise and potentially calm the growth in hurricane intensity.

We must join the rest of the world in this effort because, while the effects are local, the solution can only be global. Some adaptation to global warming will still be necessary, given the momentum built into the warming process. And a national clean-energy overhaul will represent a huge challenge to our society, especially given how little time scientists say we have left -- maybe just 10 years -- before runaway climate effects become a reality.

But switching to clean, efficient energy is a challenge compared to what? Compared to life below sea level with a constant eye on the Weather Channel, waiting for the next Category 5 storm to replicate the horrifying events of last Aug. 29?

There are numerous scientific errors and misstatements in the piece (e.g., confusion of wind speed and power dissipation), but these factual problems pale in the face of its absurd policy arguments. I fully support switching to clean, efficient energy. But to suggest that such a switch can play a perceptible role in modulating the impacts of future hurricanes is simply bunk. It is absolute, utter nonsense.

Leading scientists would do well to recognize that their coy flirting with environmental activists bent on emissions reductions, while at the same time trying to hide their actions behind a fig leaf of policy agnisticism, only serves to feed such absurdities. Anyone wanting to help the environmental community achieve the goal of decarbonizing the global energy system should instead try to stop such poor policy arguments in their tracks.

Posted on August 20, 2006 09:09 PM View this article | Comments (9)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

August 19, 2006

Hurricanes and Global Warming: All You Need to Know

The current issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) has a lengthy commentary (PDF) by Judy Curry, Peter Webster, and Greg Holland offering their opinions on a wide range of subjects related to the recent debate over hurricanes and global warming. Beyond lengthy criticism of (see also Curry's extended comments at Real Climate) the media, meteorologists, engineers, NOAA, NWS, Bill Gray, the AMS, the tropical storms list-serv, and the private sector (Did I miss anyone? How did I escape mention? ;-)), Curry et al. do tell those interested in an appropriate representation of the current debate all we need to know.

In the article, Curry et al. state clearly that the science of hurricanes-climate change is contested and differing expectations for what the future holds based on competing hypotheses won't be resolved for at least a decade:

In summary, the central hypothesis and subhypotheses cannot be invalidated by the available evidence. We anticipate that it may take a decade for the observations to clarify the situation as to whether the hypothesis has predictive ability. In short, time will tell.

This echoes what we wrote in 2005 in BAMS (PDF):

. . .the state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.

At last year's AMS meeting Webster and Curry presented an earlier version of this paper and cited Bertrand Russell on skepticism (also cited by RealClimate here):

There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. . . Nevertheless, the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

The issue of hurricanes and global warming is clearly is in Russell's category (2), and according to Curry et al. will remain there for at least a decade. What this means is that (a) those who claim that science has demonstrated no linkage between hurricanes and global warming and (b) those who claim that science has demonstrated a linkage are both misrepresenting the available science. We should expect scientists in competing camps to argue strenuously for their own perspective. This is what Curry et al. have done as well as those scientists holding a different view. But for those of us not participating in the science, picking sides reflects factors that go well beyond the science. As we wrote in BAMS in 2006 (PDF), "we should not make the mistake of confusing interesting hypotheses with conclusive research results." And as Rick Anthes has written, "it will be a number of years—perhaps many—before we know the relationships between climate change and the various characteristics of tropical cyclones."

The good news is that policy related to hurricanes is in no way dependent upon resolving this ongoing debate, as Curry, Webster, Holland, and seven of their colleagues from various camps in the debate have wisely recognized.

As we have said all along, (1) the debate is contested, and will remain so for the the indefinite future, and (2) the debate is not relevant to policy actions related to hurricanes. And that is all you need to know.

Posted on August 19, 2006 10:21 AM View this article | Comments (20)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

August 07, 2006

Hurricanes, Catastrophe Models, and Global Warming

Yesterday’s Boston Globe had an interesting article about catastrophe models in the insurance industry in the context of uncertainties about hurricanes and global warming. The article raises a number of unanswered questions. Here are a few excerpts and a few of my reactions:

An influential but little known segment of the insurance industry is considering whether climate change might be partly to blame for more intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic. The result of this examination, which comes as scientists debate the same question, could be skyrocketing insurance rates in coastal regions from Maine to Texas.

Already, one leading company that forecasts the risk of natural disasters for the insurance industry has revamped the computer model it uses to simulate future weather trends. The model, which looks five years out, now captures the possibility that global warming might be contributing to hurricane activity.

Risk Management Solutions released the new model in May, predicting that average annual insurance losses will increase 25 to 30 percent in the coastal Northeast because of increased hurricane activity.

Florida state officials are researching whether they should add a climate change component to an insurance hurricane risk model they have developed. And Boston-based AIR Worldwide Corp., another top risk modeler, is launching a study with Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Kerry Emanuel to understand global warming's impact on hurricanes and whether insurance risk will rise as a result.

"It behooves us to research this in a scientific way," said Karen Clark, president and chief executive officer of AIR Worldwide. "We want to quantify the effect of global warming on hurricane activity."

The confidential risk models that private companies like AIR and Risk Management Solutions develop are key factors in the price of homeowners insurance bought by many coastal residents. The modelers calculate the risk from hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural hazards to homes and businesses in a region that takes into account everything from construction material to wind speeds. Insurance providers often use the predictions as an important piece in a complicated formula to set rates.

If global warming is driving more intense hurricanes -- and more of those hurricanes hit land -- it could drastically increase the risk of property loss along crowded coasts.

If catastrophe models are an important factor in insurance rates, and insurance rates are an important factor in insurers bottom line (not to mention a hot-button political issue in U.S. coastal states), then it seems obvious that there is potential for financial conflicts of interest in this area. With respect to pharmaceuticals generally there has been much concern, appropriate in my view, about the role of financial ties to industry among researchers and advisors. And on the climate issue industry funding from the energy sector is tantamount to a scarlet letter. How should we think about insurance industry funding of research related to global warming and insurance risk? [Disclaimer- A few years ago I had a graduate student funded by an insurance company to study uncertainties in catastrophe models.]

Howard Kunreuther, an expert on risk and insurance at the Wharton School, hits the nail on the head when he in quoted in the article:

Ultimately, the problem modelers face is figuring out a short-term prediction from a long-term trend. "The problem is that scientists talk about climate change in terms of 25, 50, or more years; they are not willing to make predictions about five years," said Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "The insurance industry is most interested in knowing what is likely to happen in the next few years as they determine what premiums to set on their coverage against hurricanes and other natural disasters."

Predictions about the long-term future are of course safe, because they cannot be evaluated in the short term. And there will always be this or that event that is "consistent with" the long term predictions, and absolutely nothing is inconsistent with them. According to the article, some scientists are apparently willing in private to make short-term predictions for the insurance industry (also discussed at length here):

In part to deal with this problem, Risk Management Solutions convened a panel of four specialists, including Emanuel, in Bermuda last October to discuss, among other things, what was causing recent hurricane activity and how many storms might hit land.

Aided by the scientists, RMS came to the conclusion that the current period of hurricane activity is so different from the long-term record it didn't make sense anymore to base its models on only the past. In May, the company announced a new model that incorporated the specialists' opinions and the more recent spate of hurricanes, among other changes.

Telling the rest of us what they told the insurance industry, in the form of peer-reviewed, scientific, short-term predictions, would be good in a number of ways. It would allow for empirical evaluation of the predictive skill of short-term (5 years or less) hurricane/climate science, based on actual events. And importantly, it would provide some transparency and accountability for the insurance industry as it ventures into the complicated, conflicted, and political world of climate science, with implications for their bottom line and their customer's insurance rates.

July 25, 2006

Scientific Leadership on Hurricanes and Global Warming

I have often made the case that one of the best ways for scientists to depoliticze science is to clearly discuss the significance of scientific disputes for policy action. Today's New York Times reports that 10 scientists involved in the sometimes acrimonious debate over hurricanes and global warming have prepared a statement that places their debate into policy context. Here is an excerpt from the NYT story:

The scientists, several of whom had publicly debated the hurricane-climate connection in recent months, said they were concerned that the lack of consensus on the climate link could stall actions that could cut vulnerability — no matter what is influencing hurricane trends.

Philip J. Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University who disputes the idea that global warming is linked to stronger storms, said the social and economic trends were completely clear.

"There is likely to be an increase in destructiveness from tropical cyclones regardless of whether they are getting more intense or not," he said yesterday. “"his is largely due to the increase in coastal population and wealth per capita in hurricane-prone areas."

Kerry A. Emanuel, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, drafted the statement and conducted one of several recent studies asserting that the building energy of hurricanes in recent decades was probably related to human-driven warming of the seas.

"We as a community have said for a long time that this is a big social problem right now," Dr. Emanuel said in an interview. "A lot of us are tired of the climate question being set up as a bigger conflict than it is."

The full statement can be found here.

Congrats to the authors Kerry Emanuel, Richard Anthes, Judith Curry, James Elsner, Greg Holland, Phil Klotzbach, Tom Knutson, Chris Landsea, Max Mayfield, and Peter Webster. This is scientific leadership at its best.

Posted on July 25, 2006 12:55 AM View this article | Comments (17)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

July 21, 2006

Follow up on Criticism of AGU Hurricane Assessment

Not long ago I criticized an AGU assessment of hurricane science for its demonstrably inaccurate treatment of seasonal climate forecasts. I hypothesized that the issue of seasonal hurricane forecasts had been caught up in the "hurricane-climate wars" between Bill Gray and Greg Holland. Holland and Peter Webster (who were both involved with preparing the AGU report) took serious issue with my even raising this hypothesis (how dare I!!), flatly denying any such relationship between the AGU report's criticism of Gray's seasonal forecasts and the global warming debate. However, In today's hearing (that I participated in) Judy Curry's testimony completely vindicates my raising this issue (Curry is a collaborator with Holland and Webster). Here is the relevant excerpt from her testimony (PDF):

It may take up to a decade for the observations to clarify the situation as to which explanation, natural variability or global warming, has better predictive ability. In the short term, evaluation of seasonal forecasts for the North Atlantic can provide some insights into the predictive capability of natural variability. Holland (2006) has conducted an assessment of statistical forecasts of North Atlantic tropical storm activity. Seasonal forecasts are based upon the statistics of North Atlantic tropical storms for the period since 1950. W. Gray commenced making seasonal forecasts in 1984. For the first decade (until 1994), Grays forecasts performed well (Figure 10), with a bias error of -0.2 storms per season for the June forecasts and a root mean square error of 1.8. In the period since 1998, Grays forecasts have performed much worse, with a notable low bias averaging -3.1 storms per season and a root mean square error of 5.2. NOAAs seasonal forecasts for the same period show little variation from Grays forecasts. It is argued here that the persistent low bias in the seasonal forecasts since 1995 indicates that the elevated activity in this period cannot be explained solely by natural variability seen in the historical data record since 1950.
Posted on July 21, 2006 02:07 AM View this article | Comments (21)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

June 28, 2006

Westword on Bill Gray

Here is a pretty thoughtful article on Bill Gray and a number of familiar folks in the hurricane debate.

Posted on June 28, 2006 04:02 PM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

June 26, 2006

A New Paper

The text that accompanied my public lecture last spring for the NAS Ocean Studies Board has now been published in the magazine Oceanography. Here is a citation and link:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. 2006. Seventh Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture: Disasters, Death, and Destruction: Making Sense of Recent Calamities, Oceanography, 19:138-147. (PDF)

Comments welcomed.

Posted on June 26, 2006 03:24 AM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

June 17, 2006

We Are Not Ready

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a report yesterday (PDF) detailing a review of the state of emergency preparedness across the United States. Bottom line: we are not as ready as we can or should be. My interpretation – the response to Katrina did not necessarily reflect unique circumstances. This report is a sobering read. Here are a few excerpts:

According to U.S. Census data, the average number of people per square mile in Hurricane Belt States is 711, compared to 94 people per square mile in other States. This high-population density is a further impetus to develop and maintain emergency plans that can help warn, evacuate, shelter, and provide care for large numbers of people. p. 35
Only 27% of State and 10% of urban area [emergency operations] plans were rated as Sufficient in terms of adequacy to cope with a catastrophic event. p. 62
Only 18% of State and 11% of urban area plans were rated as having Sufficient feedback mechanisms to ensure the public is taking appropriate action as directed in disseminated forecasts and messages. . . . Although advances in technology (e.g. Internet, cell phones, pagers) have provided several avenues to communicate to the public, many participants have not effectively employed those resources to expedite or expand the provision of emergency public information. p. 66
DHS Peer Review Teams rated less than 20% of State and 10% of urban area plans as Sufficient in providing time estimates and planning for use of multiple modes of transportation for evacuation of people in different risk zones. Both DHS and DOT found that plans do not adequately address evacuation for the most socially vulnerable population segments. Some participants expressed the belief that they will never experience a catastrophic event as defined in IB197 and mass evacuations were not considered a plausible scenario. p. 67
Emergency public information is critical to reduce loss of life and property and to facilitate emergency response operations. Government at all levels does not adequately address pre-incident public education on preparedness measures, alerts and warnings, evacuation, and shelter procedures. Most Review participants do not have a process to evaluate the effectiveness of public education in these areas or for outreach to people with special needs. p. 74
No ironclad guarantees exist in a profession that combats terrorists and nature. Even the best plans will not always deliver success. The historian Henry Adams said, “In all great emergencies, everyone is more or less wrong.” Planners cannot foresee every outcome, and incident managers cannot anticipate every scenario. While disasters have a language of their own and no plan can guarantee success, inadequate plans are proven contributors to failure. The results of the Nationwide Plan Review support fundamental planning modernization. Vince Lombardi said, “We’re going to relentlessly chase perfection knowing full well we will not catch it because perfection is unattainable. But we are going to relentlessly chase it because in the process we will catch excellence.” p. 80
Posted on June 17, 2006 07:18 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

June 13, 2006

Hurricane Politics

Hurricane Politics

I like Bill Clinton. I wish he were still president (22nd Amendment aside!). But the following characterization of his remarks on hurricane policy is an inevitable consequence of the ongoing debate over hurricanes and global warming, in which hurricanes are used to justify emissions reductions policies:

As Tropical Storm Alberto threatened to strengthen into the ninth hurricane in 22 months to affect Florida, former President Clinton predicted Monday that Republican environmental policies will lead to more severe storms.

Expect to see more of such nonsense in the coming months.

Posted on June 13, 2006 07:21 AM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

June 07, 2006

Comments on Nature Article on Disaster Trends Workshop

Quirin Schiermeier has an article in the current issue of Nature on our recent workshop on disaster loss trends and climate change. The workshop executive summary can be found here and a PDF here. The article, unfortunately, has a few mistakes and is subject to misinterpretation.

1. The Nature article does not recognize that the workshop participants used the IPCC definition of "climate change" to mean a change irrespective of causes. At several points the author of the Nature article conflates "climate change" and "global warming" which is something we at the workshop were careful not to do. Here is the opening paragraph of the Nature story:

Insurance companies, acutely aware of the dramatic increase in losses caused by natural disasters in recent decades, have been convinced that global warming is partly to blame. Now their data seem to be persuading scientists, too. At a recent meeting of climate and insurance experts, delegates reached a cautious consensus: climate change is helping to drive the upward trend in catastrophes. . .

Delegates seem to have found the record persuasive. Their consensus statement, to be released on 8 June, says there is "evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in global losses".

Clearly climate change has played a role in driving recent increases in losses. On attribution to human causes see below.

2. The article does not distinguish my collaborator’s personal views from those of the workshop consensus, thereby creating room for confusion. Here is the relevant passage:

There was no agreement on how big a role global warming has played, however. "Because of issues related to data quality, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change," the workshop concluded.

"Dissent over the issue is clearly waning," says Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks department, who co-chaired the workshop with Roger Pielke Jr, director of the University of Colorado's Center of Science and Technology Policy Research. "Climate change may not be the dominant factor, but it has become clear that a relevant portion of damages can be attributed to global warming."

The workshop consensus is worth repeating:

11. Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions


13. In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

3. Nature unfortunately trots out the worn “skeptic” label to describe my views:

Previously sceptical, Pielke says that he is now convinced that at least some of the increased losses can be blamed on climate: "Clearly, since 1970 climate change has shaped the disaster loss record."

He adds a note of caution, however: "Disaster damage is not the place to look for early indications of climate change," he says. "Policy advocates should exercise caution in using disaster losses to justify climate mitigation, lest they go beyond what science can support."

I was accurately quoted, but my use of the term "climate change" was as we used it at the workshop. [Update- Upon checking I was misquoted! See comments. RP] I am increasingly convinced that since 1970 a portion of the increase in disaster losses is due to changes in climate, clearly, and largely due to US hurricanes. But it is less clear that such trends exist if the record dates to 1950 or 1920.

4. Nature cites GermanWatch as a group who has used attributed disaster losses to human-caused climate change, but does not mention that a representative of the group participated in the workshop and signed on to the workshop consensus.

Overall, I am disappointed with this story.

Workshop Executive Summary

Report of the Workshop on
“Climate Change and Disaster Losses - Understanding
and Attributing Trends and Projections”
25-26 May 2006, Hohenkammer, Germany


In summer 2005 both Roger Pielke, Jr. of the Center of Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado and Peter Hoeppe of the Geo Risks Research Department of Munich Re learned from each other that each planned to organize a workshop on the assessment of factors leading to increasing loss trends due to natural disasters. Both agreed that such a workshop was timely, especially given the apparent lack of consensus on the role of climate change in disaster loss trends. Roger Pielke, Jr. and Peter Hoeppe decided to have a common workshop in 2006 in Germany to bring together a diverse group of international experts in the fields of climatology and disaster research. The general questions to be answered at this workshop were:

What factors account for increasing costs of weather related disasters in recent decades?

What are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

[click through to read the rest]

The participants were selected by a workshop organizing team that met in December, 2005. Participants were selected for their high level of competence and to represent a wide range of different attitudes to the subject. All participants came into the workshop agreeing that anthropogenic climate change is a concern.

In total 32 participants from 13 countries attended the two day workshop (list of participants attached). “White papers” from 25 participants were submitted in advance and formed the basis of the discussions. The workshop was organized in 4 sessions:

1. Trends in extreme weather events
2. Trends in Damages
3. Data issues – extreme weather events and damages
4. Syntheses discussion

In the syntheses session the discussion was focused on finding consensus positions among the participants on statements about the attribution of disaster losses and the policy implications. These 20 statements are listed in the executive summary and are described in more detail in the full workshop summary report. Specific views of individual participants can be found in their white papers, which each was given the opportunity to revise following the workshop.

The workshop was sponsored by Munich Re, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, and the GKSS Research Center.

Workshop on
“Climate Change and Disaster Losses - Understanding
and Attributing Trends and Projections”
25-26 May 2006, Hohenkammer, Germany

Executive Summary

The focus of the workshop was on two questions:

What factors account for increasing costs of weather related disasters in recent decades?

What are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

Consensus (unanimous) statements of the workshop participants:

1. Climate change is real, and has a significant human component related to greenhouse gases.

2. Direct economic losses of global disasters have increased in recent decades with particularly large increases since the 1980s.

3. The increases in disaster losses primarily result from weather related events, in particular storms and floods.

4. Climate change and variability are factors which influence trends in disasters.

5. Although there are peer reviewed papers indicating trends in storms and floods there is still scientific debate over the attribution to anthropogenic climate change or natural climate variability. There is also concern over geophysical data quality.

6. IPCC (2001) did not achieve detection and attribution of trends in extreme events at the global level.

7. High quality long-term disaster loss records exist, some of which are suitable for research purposes, such as to identify the effects of climate and/or climate change on the loss records.

8. Analyses of long-term records of disaster losses indicate that societal change and economic development are the principal factors responsible for the documented increasing losses to date.

9. The vulnerability of communities to natural disasters is determined by their economic development and other social characteristics.

10. There is evidence that changing patterns of extreme events are drivers for recent increases in global losses.

11. Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions

12. For future decades the IPCC (2001) expects increases in the occurrence and/or intensity of some extreme events as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Such increases will further increase losses in the absence of disaster reduction measures.

13. In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.

Policy implications identified by the workshop participants

14. Adaptation to extreme weather events should play a central role in reducing societal vulnerabilities to climate and climate change.

15. Mitigation of GHG emissions should also play a central role in response to anthropogenic climate change, though it does not have an effect for several decades on the hazard risk.

16. We recommend further research on different combinations of adaptation and mitigation policies.

17. We recommend the creation of an open-source disaster database according to agreed upon standards.

18. In addition to fundamental research on climate, research priorities should consider needs of decision makers in areas related to both adaptation and mitigation.

19. For improved understanding of loss trends, there is a need to continue to collect and improve long-term and homogenous datasets related to both climate parameters and disaster losses.

20. The community needs to agree upon peer reviewed procedures for normalizing economic loss data.

June 06, 2006

Lloyd's on Climate Adaptation

Lloyd's of London has an interesting new report out on the need for the insurance industry to improve their adaptive capacity in the face of climate change (here in PDF). The report is titled "Climate Change: Adapt or Bust." Here is the executive summary:

1. TOO LITTLE BUT NOT yet TOO LATE. The insurance industry must do more now to understand and actively manage climate change risk.

An increasing wealth of scientific evidence is available to predict the impact of changing weather patterns and future climate change on the insurance industry. So far, efforts to do so have been patchy and there is little evidence of industry behaviour changing as a result. Much of the latest science suggests that climate change will take place faster than we thought. Urgent and active management of climate change – starting with investment in research – is now imperative. It is not too late to change, but change is long overdue.

2. Recent events have shown capital and pricing models to be wanting. We must regularly update and recalibrate our models to keep pace with REALITY.

Catastrophe modellers have now reacted to criticisms following the recent record US hurricane seasons. However, much of this work could and should have been done prior to these events. Going forward, the industry must take a new approach to underwriting, looking ahead and not simply basing decisions on historical patterns. Insurer pricing and capital allocation models must be updated regularly – and not just in extremis – to reflect the latest scientific evidence. Our responsibilities in this regard will be increasingly widely drawn: regulators will require the industry to maintain a level of capital adequate for changing levels of climate change risk.

3. Windstorm trends will put particular pressure on businesses and their insurers.

Based on natural cycles alone, we can expect the current trend towards extreme windstorm events to continue and increase over the next decade. Climate change can only exacerbate this, and insurers must plan for a higher frequency of extreme events, over a longer storm season and over a wider geographical area. Insurers must also take advantage of scientific advances to factor forecasts for the season ahead into their planning, instead of relying only on long-term trends.

4. Climate change means Exposures are changing and new ones emerging.
insurers must regularly review and communicate conditions of coverage.

We foresee an increasing possibility of attributing weather losses to man made factors, with courts seeking to assign liability and compensation for claims of damage. Exposures can also be expected to increase in respect of property, business interruption and political risks, demanding the same response. That means the insurance industry will want to regularly review conditions of coverage against risk appetite, and do more to educate the public about changing exposures. The industry can help by creating incentives for policyholders to reduce risk. Opportunities for those insurance markets which are flexible and innovative will emerge too: as society adapts to the impact of climate change, new technologies will be required and insurance of these developments will be needed.

5. Insurers must prepare for the impact of climate change on asset values. Underwriting for profit will be key,

As major corporate investors, insurers rely on returns from assets to boost their own financial performance. We expect climate change not only to produce extreme capital damaging events, but also to increase uncertainty around corporate business plans and potentially reduce asset values. This makes it even more important for the industry to price risk according to exposure and to underwrite for profit. We also see industry players having increased opportunity to use their influence as investors, in order to encourage responsible and climate proof behaviour from the boards of corporations in which they invest, and with which they do business.

6. Effective partnership with business and government will be key to
managing risk. The insurance industry must engage now.

Based on long experience, Lloyd’s believes that insurance markets operate most efficiently when left to free market forces, and the vast majority of natural perils are insurable – as long as the market is free to price risk adequately. However, if this freedom is removed, or if the pace of climate change grows faster than expected, this could change our view. Industry strategists will want to consider the long-term insurability of weather-related risk. We believe that a meaningful partnership with government and business, supported by a series of practical actions, has the best chance of providing solutions. In particular, this should address the issue of increasing concentrations of population and economic wealth in high risk areas, for example on coasts. This report focuses on adaptation but we recognise that mitigation of the risk itself (ie the reduction of CO2 emissions) is crucial.

June 05, 2006

Climate Change is a Moral Issue

Quite unintentionally, Dave Roberts of Grist Magazine provides an incredibly clear statement of the insanity of the climate debate:

Advocating that adaptation play a larger role in U.S. policy, in the current political context, does not increase the odds of sensible, balanced climate policy. It simply, if inadvertently, helps the corporatist right cloud the debate and avoid the difficult steps required to cut GHG emissions.

And whatever else we do, that task is paramount.

In an ideal, abstract policy debate, sure, I'd say we should boost our attention to adaptation. But in the current political situation, I don't want to provide any ammunition for the moral cretins who are squirming frantically to avoid policies that might impact their corporate donors. Until they're gone from the scene -- until we have an administration serious about addressing this problem -- I'm going to focus on cutting emissions.

Dave’s honesty is to be applauded, as his view on this subject is widely shared among those in the climate debate but rarely explained so clearly. However, his focus on sticking it to the “moral cretins” he so despises has the side effect of preventing greater help to people like those pictured below waiting for help in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch. There are hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, who sure could use a little help in improving their adaptive capacity irrespective of emissions reductions.


Climate change is indeed a moral issue. But hey, why advocate policies that can directly help suffering people around the world when you can instead stick to your ideological opponents?

June 02, 2006

Comment from Judy Curry

[Ed.- I want to make sure that Judy's response to my post earlier today is not missed. I will respond in the comments. RP]


I make it a practice not to blog, but i want to clarify your misreading of our meeting with Governor Bush. We went to extreme pains NOT to talk about policies or politics. We talked about the science and the risks to Florida. Governor Bush made the important point in our discussion that this whole issue has become very politicized, and said that we needed to take the politics out of this and get to the bottom of the scientific issue of hurricanes and global warming. I wholeheartedly agree.

The most important issue from Florida's point of view is to understand whether the hurricane situation is likely to get worse. We said that there is a considerably risk that it will.
Florida and other coastal cities need to urgently reassess their risk to hurricanes to allow for the risk of increased hurricane activity. No matter what we decide to do about the greenhouse warming issue, the most vulnerable coastal cities need to reconsider their coastal engineering, land use practices, emergency procedures, etc. in view of the risk of increasing hurricane activity and the longer range prospect of sea level rise.

The prospect of increasing hurricane activity has overall raised people's awareness of the global warming issue, but I don't think that many people believe that anything we do re greenhouse gases in the short term will influence the problems that our coastal cities are facing particularly in the next few decades.

The media has often misrepresented my remarks, that is unfortunate but not unexpected I guess. The particular article you refer to was an accurate portrayal of our meeting with Governor Bush. Yes, there are a variety of advocacy groups in Florida that are trying to influence Governor Bush and others to adopt a variety of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yes those groups believe that hurricanes can help raise awareness of the global warming issue. But no one that I know of is pushing greenhouse gas reductions as a policy to deal with increasing hurricane activity.


Like a Broken Record

We have made the case many times here that reducing greenhouse gases makes good sense for a wide range of reasons, not just climate change, but that it is a poor policy argument to suggest that greenhouse gas reduction can have any effect on hurricane losses in the near term, and only a small effect in the long term due to the inexorable pace societal development along the coast. Just yesterday I was asked in the comments why it is I that on hurricanes and global warming I always “change the subject” from climate science to hurricane policy. Below are some good reasons why we should always ask “so what?” in the context of scientific debates.

In comments made earlier this month Georgia Tech scientist Judy Curry was quoted as advocating emissions reductions as a means to respond to hurricanes (when I contacted Judy about this she said that the media put together two disconnected thoughts to make it sound like she was advocating emissions reductions as hurricane policy, but that she was not):

"We’re seeing an increase in the sea surface temperatures, and increase in the number of storms and in the intensity of those storms," said Dr. Judy Curry.

The question is why? Dr. Judy Curry says part of the reason is us.

Curry is one of the researchers in the forefront of the contentious global warming debate. She says data clearly shows that greenhouse gases we create with our cars, our industrial plants, our very lifestyles are helping to dissolve the polar ice caps and worse, melt the Greenland ice sheet.

"We have the technologies, we still have some time to reduce our greenhouse gases there is no reason we shouldn’t be doing this," said Curry.

And just yesterday another news story cited how greenhouse gas emissions reductions were being advocated in Florida as a response to hurricanes.

Florida's governor cautiously entered the debate Wednesday over whether rising global temperatures are to blame for an increase in the number of strong hurricanes, meeting with two researchers who say global warming is threatening Florida with a long-term future of more bad storms.

Bush met with Peter Webster and Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who published research last year showing an increase in global hurricane intensity, with a doubling of the number of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes since 1970. That increase coincides with a rise of nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit in ocean surface temperatures, they say. . .

The debate is something of a storm itself, and Bush joined it cautiously.

"He said they presented some pretty compelling information," said Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss, declining to say whether Bush agrees that global warming is increasing the number of strong hurricanes. "He encouraged them to continue with their research."

Webster and Curry's meeting came as environmentalists seek to push to the state level efforts to curb the emission of so-called greenhouse gasses that are blamed for causing global temperature increases.

They say President Bush's administration in Washington hasn't done enough to combat greenhouse gas emissions _ and note that Florida could help by cutting emissions since it's the fifth largest producer of such gasses in the United States.

Besides, in hurricane alley, Florida has more to gain from lower emissions than the country as a whole if Webster and Curry's findings are right , said Jerry Karnas of the Florida Wildlife Federation, which set up the meeting.

Bush didn't commit to any policy changes in the meeting.

But Attorney General Charlie Crist, with whom the scientists also met, said he was impressed. Crist is one of several men running to be the next governor.

"It's fairly apparent that (global warming) has increased (hurricane) activity," Crist said after meeting the scientists.

So long as there are bad arguments for good causes valid criticisms of the justifications for those good causes will be enabled from friend and foe alike, and much more importantly, policies might be enacted that cannot do what they are sold on. For some perhaps the ends justifies the means – that is, securing emissions reductions is worth selling them on poor policy arguments. However the irony is that bad arguments are in the end unlikely to be a winning strategy of salesmanship, as you risk being identified as not having a good case to make in the first place. And on greenhouse gas emissions there is a solid policy argument to make, it just doesn’t involve hurricane policy.

Hat tip: Dad

May 31, 2006

Cherrypicking at the New York Times

You won’t find more blantantly obvious example of cherrypicked science than in today’s New York Times, which has an article on two new peer-reviewed studies on hurricanes and climate change. Given the debate over climate change and hurricanes the new studies are certainly newsworthy. However, it is what is left out of the Times story that makes the cherrypicking stand out undeniably.

The New York Times makes (and has made) no mention of two other just-published peer-reviewed studies (links here and here) providing somewhat different perspectives on the hurricane-climate issue and its policy significance (I am a co-author on one of the studies. It does not deny a global warming-hurricane link, but instead characterizes the literature in the context of an exchange with others with a different view). These studies, which are two among a larger family of research, are not necessarily "the other side" but they do add important context selectively ignored by the Times. In today's article, for balance the New York Times interviewed NOAA’s Stanley Goldenberg, who is a respected scientist, but who hadn’t seen either of the papers referred to in the article or published a peer-reviewed study this month. Interviewing one of the authors of recent peer-reviewed work would have necessarily required referencing that work.

To the extent that the New York Times has a powerful role in shaping how policy options are framed and discussed, it does a disservice to the public and policymakers when it cherrypicks science. I suppose this is because they have decided to pick sides in the political debate over climate change and that political calculus shapes its editorial decisions.

May 23, 2006

Decisions Matter

From today's New York Times:

"People didn't die because the storm was bigger than the system could handle,and people didn't die because the levees were overtopped. People died because mistakes were made and because safety was exchanged for efficiency and reduced cost."

Raymond Seed, University of California at Berkeley

Prof. Seed is the lead author of a report released yesterday on Hurricane Katrina. The NYT covered the release of the report in this article yesterday.

Posted on May 23, 2006 07:49 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

May 22, 2006

Off by 6 Orders of Magnitude

In an ABC News story on changing hurricane intensities NCAR scientist Greg Holland asserts,

"Remember, for each 10 mph increase of wind speed," says atmosphere scientist Greg Holland, "there's about 10 times more damage, and 20 times more financial loss."

There are those who argue that damage is proportional to the sqaure or even the cube of changes in wind speed, but no one I am aware of who argues that there is a factor of 10 or 20 per 10 mph. This would equate to a difference of 10^8 or 10,000,000 times more damage beween a category 1 and a category 5 (i.e. from 75 mph to 155 mph).

Empircally, when we look at normalized hurricane damage over the past 106 years, we find about 100 times more damage in category 4/5 storms than category 1.

Posted on May 22, 2006 03:46 PM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

Climate Change and Disaster Losses Workshop

With Munich Re, we are co-organizing a workshop this week outside of Munich that will bring together experts from around the world to deal with two questions:

The economic costs of weather-related disasters have increased dramatically in recent decades. However, experts disagree about the reasons for this increase. Some think that the trend can be explained entirely by the ever-growing numbers of people and value of property in harms way. Others think that human-caused climate changes have led to more frequent and intense weather events and therefore account for some part of the increased damage.

We are organizing a workshop to bring together experts from around the world to address the following two questions:

1. According to the research currently available, what factors account for the increased costs of disasters in recent decades?

2. And what are the implications of these understandings, for both research and policy?

Participants have been selected not only because they can bring value to the discussion, but because they bring to the workshop different answers to these questions. Our goal is not to reach a complete consensus, but what one member of the Workshop Organizing Team appropriately called a “consensus dissensus” – agreement on areas where there is remaining disagreement, the research necessary to resolve those differences, and the significance for research and action.

The Workshop is sponsored by Munich Re, GKSS Research Centre, the Tyndall Centre, and the U.S. NSF.

We expect to produce a report and a paper for publication on the workshop. Meantime those interested in learning more can access a library that we have started to put together with literature relevant to the discussion. If you would like to suggest additions to the workshop, we would be happy to add them.

May 17, 2006

A Few Reactions to the Bonn Dialogue on the FCCC

This week the International Institute for Sustainable Development continues its invaluable service of providing summaries of international meetings and negotiations by providing a summary of the “UNFCCC dialogue on long-term cooperative action.” Here are a few reactions to that summary, focused mainly on issues of adaptation. The IISD summary suggests that serious problems remain with consideration of adaptation under the FCCC and that some developing countries are not satisfied:

ADAPTATION: Tanzania and the Philippines said adaptation should have the same status as mitigation, expressing concerns that it had not yet been seriously addressed. Tuvalu underscored adaptation as a crucial issue, and called for urgent action rather than studies or pilot projects, implementation of UNFCCC Article 4.4 (developed country support for adaptation for vulnerable developing countries) and a process to ensure a rapid response to help countries suffering damage. The Philippines highlighted the need for innovative ways of financing. Egypt noted that mitigation efforts in developing countries are receiving more support than adaptation measures through the CDM.

We have discussed this subject frequently. The FCCC has a built-in bias against adaptation and characterizes it as being in opposition to mitigation. Bizarrely, under the FCCC adaptation has costs but not benefits (and the IPCC follows this cooking of the cost-benefit books), because under its view of the world adaptation would be unnecessary if climate change could be prevented. Under this way of thinking, adaptation projects reflect costs that would be avoided with mitigation, hence, preventing adaptation represents a benefit of mitigation. Think about that for a minute, and ask yourself, how can adaptation and mitigation really be complements under the FCCC if the case for the latter depends in no small part on preventing the former?

Under the FCCC adaptation to climate change means something very specific, it does not mean adaptation to climate, but only to those marginal effects of climate changes directly attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. If this strikes you as unrealistic and confusing, you’d be right. The reality is that in many, if not most, places in developed and developing countries adaptation to climate (broadly, not just the marginal effects of GHGs on climate) makes good sense as societal is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate, whatever the underlying causes. As we have stated here many times, it is scientifically untenable to tease out the GHG contribution to human disasters like Katrina. It is nonsensical to try to implement policies that address only those marginal impacts of GHGs, rather than the root causes of disasters themselves, which lie primarily in societal vulnerability.

We discussed this sort of nonsense following COP-10 in December, 2004 based on another IISD report which included the following telling explanation of why it is that developing countries have difficulty receiving funding for adaptation projects:

. . . adaptation projects are generally built on, or embedded in, larger national or local development projects and, therefore, the funding by the GEF would only cover a portion of the costs. In other words, if a country seeks funding for a project on flood prevention, the GEF would only be able to finance a portion proportional to the additional harm that floods have caused or will cause as a result of climate change, and the rest would have to be co-financed by some other body. The plea from LDCs, particularly the SIDS, lies precisely on this paradox, in that even if funds are available in the LDC Fund, their difficulty of finding adequate co-financing, and the costly and cumbersome calculation of the additional costs, renders the financial resources in the LDC Fund, in practice, almost inaccessible.

At this weeks meeting a comment by the UK summarized by the IISD suggests that little has changed in this regard:

The UK identified some cross-cutting themes, including financing and scientific uncertainty, which is particularly problematic for adaptation.

Why is scientific uncertainty problematic for adaptation? Because unless there is a way to attribute the impacts of GHG-caused climate change on developing countries, under the FCCC there is no vehicle for action, as the FCCC is not an all-purpose framework for reducing vulnerabilities to the effects of climate. How ironic is this? Adaptation is all about decision making under uncertainty and preparing for a future that is unknown. So in the face of uncertainties adaptation should make good sense, because its benefits are broad. Yet, under the FCCC the arbitrary rules have been set up in such a way as to mostly exclude adaptation as a policy response.

Of course, this gets back to the fact that the FCCC has been and continues to be a vehicle for changes to global energy policies and considerations of adaptation simply get in the way. Approaching climate change in this fashion makes about as much sense as telling someone that because we don’t know when they will be struck by heart disease we can provide little assistance helping them to adopt of a healthy lifestyle.

To be fair, I have many friends and colleagues who are far more sanguine about the prospects for adaptation under the FCCC, and are willing to debate this point strenuously with me when I raise comments like those above. They use words like “mainstreaming” and “sustainable development” to make their case, and cite Article 4.4 of the FCCC, among others. I respect their views and perhaps our differences in views have a bit of glass half full/half empty about them. But even so I have been convinced for some time now that the FCCC is much more of an obstacle to effective action on adaptation than a facilitator. Much of its efforts on adaptation seem to be an effort to provide a fig leaf of competence in order gloss over what increasingly appears to be a fatal flaw in the framework. The recent report from the IISD provides no reason for me to change my views.

Until the very core of the FCCC is opened up for discussion (and by core I mean Article 2 and its gerrymandered definition of climate change), the bias against adaptation is likely to persist, and adaptation policies will continue to be presented as counter to the goals of mitigation and will continue to be considered in that manner in formal negotiations (statements to the contrary notwithstanding). If this is anywhere close to the mark then people will suffer and die more than they might otherwise because of the words used to frame the climate debate as an issue of energy policy, and energy policy only.

For further reading:

A short essay:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2004. What is Climate Change?, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer, 1-4. (PDF)

Peer-reviewed studies with lots of detail:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2005. Misdefining “climate change”: consequences for science and action, Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 8, pp. 548-561. (PDF)

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1998. Rethinking the Role of Adaptation in Climate Policy. Global Environmental Change, 8(2), 159-170. (PDF)

May 15, 2006

More Peer-Reviewed Discussion on Hurricanes and Climate Change

In the May issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a group of distinguished scientists have written a response to our 2005 article on Hurricanes and Global Warming. The scientists include Rick Anthes, Bob Correll, Greg Holland, Jim Hurrell, Mike MacCracken, and Kevin Trenberth. Our response is co-authored by the same group that brought you Pielke et al. 2005 – Pielke, Landsea, Mayfied, Laver, and Pasch. Links to the entire set of papers are below in reverse chronological order. I’ll be happy to address comments and questions on this exchange in the comments. Overall, I think that this is a fruitful exchange that clearly delineates some of the differing positions on this subject. Have a look!

Reply to Comment by Anthes et al. 2006: Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. W. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver, R. Pasch, 2006. Reply to Hurricanes and Global Warming Potential Linkages and Consequences, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 87:628-631. (PDF)

Comment on Pielke et al. 2005: Anthes, R. A., R. W. Corell, G. Holland, J. W. Hurrell, M. C. McCracken, and K. E. Trenberth, 2006 Hurricanes and global warming: Potential linkage and consequences. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 87:623-628. (PDF)

Original paper: Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch, 2005. Hurricanes and global warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 86:1571-1575. (PDF)

May 04, 2006

FEMA Disaster Database

Rick Sylves of the University of Delaware sent me this link to an online database of FEMA disaster declaration information, supported by the Public Entity Risk Institute. I haven't had a chance to explore it, but it looks quite valuable. Have a look.

Posted on May 4, 2006 02:05 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

May 01, 2006

Really, Really, Really Bad Reporting

Time magazine has named MIT’s Kerry Emanuel one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Congrats to him, I certainly think he is brilliant and the honor is well deserved. However, I can’t imagine that Kerry is too happy with the unfortunate blurb Time put together to describe him.

It's easy to argue about the hypothetical causes and effects of global warming. It's a lot harder for any serious disagreement to continue when extreme weather is demolishing a major American city. The U.S. experienced just such a moment of clarity last year when Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, awakening all of us to the true cost of climate change. It was Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped us make the connection.

Perhaps before writing that bit of nonsense Time might have visited Kerry’s homepage and considered this statement he has posted:

Q: I gather from this last discussion that it would be absurd to attribute the Katrina disaster to global warming?

A: Yes, it would be absurd.

Klotzbach on Trends in Global Tropical Cyclone Intensity 1986-2005

Here (in PDF) is a very interesting paper by Phil Klotzbach, a student of Bill Gray’s at Colorado State University, accepted for publication by Geophysical Research Letters, and apparently in press for later this month (according to this page). The paper challenges the findings of recent high-profile studies on trends in hurricane intensities.

In the paper Klotzbach replicates the methodology of Webster et al. (2005) (PDF) and a very similar approach to Emanuel (2005) (PDF) to explore trends in tropical cyclone intensity over the period 1986-2005, which is a subset of the period used by Webster et al. and Emanuel, and apparently the period during which there is the most agreement on the quality of the observational data. What he finds is pretty interesting. Here are a few of Klotzbach’s talking points (PDF) that he prepared to accompany the paper:

3) If the increases in TC activity found by Emanuel [2005] over the past 30 years (based on data from 1975-2004) and Webster et al. [2005] over the past 35 years (based on data from 1970-2004) are robust, one would expect to see similar trends over the shorter time span evaluated in this paper (1986-2005), especially since SST increases have accelerated in the past twenty years.

7) With regards to ACE [Ed.- A measure of intensity, similar to Emanuel’s PDI], there has been a large increase in ACE in the North Atlantic basin since 1986. There has been a large decrease in ACE in the Northeast Pacific basin since 1986. All other basins show small upward or downward trends. Globally, there has been a slight increasing trend from 1986-2005; however, if only the past sixteen years are evaluated (1990-2005), there has actually been a slight decreasing trend.

8) With regards to the number of Category 4-5 hurricanes, there has been a large increase in North Atlantic storms but also a large decrease in Northeast Pacific storms. When these two regions are summed together, there has been virtually no increase in Category 4-5 hurricanes (i.e., 47 Cat. 4-5 hurricanes from 1986-1995 and 48 Cat. 4-5 hurricanes from 1996-2005). For the globe, there has been an approximate 10% increase in Category 4-5 storms from 1986-1995 to 1996-2005; however, most of this increase occurred from the late 1980s to the early part of the 1990s in the Southern Hemisphere where some data quality issues may have still been present. There has been very little change in the number of Category 4- 5 hurricanes since 1990, which is an agreement with Figure 4, panel A from Webster et al. [2005].

10) These findings indicate that there has been very little trend in global tropical cyclone activity over the past twenty years, and therefore, that a large portion of the dramatic increasing trend found by Webster et al. [2005] and Emanuel [2005] is likely due to the diminished quality of the datasets before the middle 1980s. One would expect that if the results of Webster et al. and Emanuel were accurate reflections of what is going on in the climate system, than a similar trend would be found over the past twenty years, especially since SSTs have warmed considerably (about 0.2°C – 0.4°C) during this time period.

Interestingly, from Table 2 of Klotzbach’s paper, he shows that the number of category 4-5 storms increased from 164 in 1986-1995 to 180 during 1996-2005. Between the same two periods the number of Category 4-5 storms in the Atlantic basin increased from 10 to 25 storms, meaning that setting the Atlantic aside, the rest of the globe saw and increase from 154 in 1986-1995 to 155 during 1996-2005, or no trend at all. However, a close look at the basins around the world shows lots of variability. Consequently, this paper is quite useful to my research because it means that in regions outside the Atlantic basin that damage trends related to storm intensity since 1986 must be due to factors other than changes in storm intensity.

More generally how this peer-reviewed paper, which challenges much of the received wisdom on hurricanes of late, is handled by the scientific community, the blogoshpere, and the media will say a lot about the current state of the debate over climate change.

April 28, 2006

Al Gore’s Bad Start and What Just Ain’t So


The image above is taken from the homepage of Al Gore’s new movie. If the imagery is indicative of the role of science in its presentations of policy options, then the case for action on climate change is going to suffer a setback. Reducing smokestack emissions, or any CO2 emissions, is simply not an effective tool of hurricane disaster mitigation.

Often on these pages we have made the case that the debate that rages over hurricanes and climate change is largely irrelevant to climate policy, even as it used as a symbol in climate politics. The reason for the insensitivity of policy to this debate is the overwhelming influence of societal factors in driving trends in the growth in disaster losses even under assumptions that global warming has significant effects on hurricanes. We have made the case in a wide range of fora and in a wide range of ways, and yet, it seems that the urge to use hurricanes as a justification for climate-related energy policies is just too appealing, despite its grossly unsupportable scientific grounding. It does not matter whether or not scientists can establish a link between global warming and hurricanes – it won’t affect how we think about climate policy.

More evidence for this perspective is provided in a recent news story about the insurance and reinsurance industries,

"Regardless of whether climate change is leading to increases in the number of storms or their intensity, analyses by ISO's catastrophe modeling subsidiary, AIR Worldwide, indicate that catastrophe losses should be expected to double roughly every 10 years because of increases in construction costs, increases in the number of structures and changes in their characteristics," said [Michael R.] Murray [ISO assistant vice president for financial analysis], "AIR's research shows that, because of exposure growth, the one in one-hundred-year industry loss grew from $60 billion in 1995 to $110 billion in 2005, and it will likely grow to over $200 billion during the next 10 years."

Assume a doubling of losses every ten years for the next 80, and you get a multiple of 2^8 or 256. Can anyone cite a study that suggests that hurricane frequencies or intensities will increase by 1/100 of this amount? (Note that damage is not linear with intensity, but even so.) You can’t. Even with less aggressive assumptions about societal change one still gets very, very large increases in impacts. For the simple math of why it is that societal growth dominates any scenario of the projected effects of climate change, and hence climate mitigation, on hurricanes, see this post we did a short while back. And there are umpteen others available on this site. I await the acceptance of this argument by the mainstream climate science community (as well as the relevant parties of the blogosphere), of which a troubling number have ignored or openly resisted this argument, and some very publicly yet without substance. But they shouldn't, as it is about as solid a policy case as one can imagine.

As we have often said, climate mitigation makes sense, and so too does preparing for future disasters, but linking the first with the second is simply unsupported by an honest policy assessment. And it seems to me that honest assessments of policy action help the case for action on climate change. Al Gore is off to a bad start -- let’s hope the rest of his effort is substantially better or else he risks setting back the case for action on climate change.

April 24, 2006

Climate and Societal Factors in Future Tropical Cyclone Damages in the ABI Reports

Last year the Association of British Insurers released several reports on damages from extreme weather events and climate change. Since then, I’ve seen the reports cited as evidence of (a) a climate change signal has been seen in the disaster record, and (b) the importance of greenhouse gas reductions as a tool to modulate future disaster losses.

Unfortunately for those citing the ABI reports in these ways, the actual content of the reports supports neither of these claims. A close look at the ABI report shows that it actually supports the arguments that we have made on the relationship of extreme weather events and damage trends. And there is at least one significant error in the report, which serves as a reminder why as valuable as such “grey literature” can be, it is always important to put complex research through a process of rigorous peer reviews. Here are all the gory details (and I do mean all!):

The ABI overview report (PDF) uses catastrophe models (provided by a firm called AIR headquartered in Boston) to project future increases in damage costs related to climate change and extreme events. The report observes:

This study is one of the first to use insurance catastrophe models to examine the potential impacts of climate change on extreme storms. It focuses on one of the most costly aspects of today’s weather – hurricanes, typhoons, and windstorms, because of their potential to cause substantial damage to property and infrastructure.

The report concludes of tropical cyclones in the U.S. and Japan, and European windstorms:

Under these climate change scenarios, total average annual damages from these three major storm types could increase by up to $10.5 bn above a baseline of $16.5 bn today, representing a 65% increase.

My analysis below focuses on the two largest contributors to these costs, tropical cyclones in the U.S. and Japan. First, it needs to be observed that the report does have an enormous oversight:

These loss estimates do not include likely increases in society’s exposure to extreme storms, due to growing, wealthier populations, and increasing assets at risk. For example, if Hurricane Andrew had hit Florida in 2002 rather than 1992, the losses would have been double, due to increased coastal development and rising asset values. Adaptive measures to limit vulnerability could prevent costs escalating.

Why does this matter? Consider Japan, which the report estimates will see its population reduced by half over the next 100 years. By not factoring in this decrease in exposure, the report overestimates the future impacts of climate change by a factor of two. In other words, if today’s population of Japan was half its present value, its current baseline of average tropical cyclone damages would be proportionately lower. It is incomplete, at best, to project future damages by holding society constant and simply changing the climate. Society changes in big ways, and these also must be considered in any projection. The failure to consider societal change sets the stage for misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the ABI reports.

On to the data:

From Table 6.4 we find a baseline of total losses for the US and Japan related to tropical cyclones of 13.5 billion (9.5 and 4.0, respectively). In the ABI Technical Report (PDF, Table 3.7 on p. 38) we see that the total losses increase by the following amounts for a doubling of CO2 by the 2080s:

Wind speed increase US Japan
4% 4.4 1.6

6% 6.8 2.5

9% 11.3 4.1

The ABI also provides data that would allow for a sensitivity analysis of the influence of changing per capita wealth and populations on future damages. Here is what is reported in ABI Technical Report tables 3.8 and 3.9 for population and wealth out to 2100 (2004 = 100):

US Japan

Wealth 262 280

Population 267 50

Since the climate changes impacts are projected to 2085, we need to adjust this table to 2085 through interpolation (2004 = 100):

US Japan

Wealth 236 259

Population 231 57

So this gives a combined change in population and wealth for the US and Japan, 2004-2085, under the assumptions of the ABI as follows:

US = 2.36 * 2.31 = 5.45
Japan = 2.59 * .57 = 1.48

So using the framework we had presented in an earlier post to examine the sensitivity of losses to future climate and societal changes:

Baseline US = 9.5
Increase related to changing climate, society constant (4%, 6%, and 9%) = 4.4, 6.8, 11.3
Percentage increase over baseline = 40%, 63%, 103%
Increasing damage as a function of societal changes (climate constant) = 51.8
Percent increase of societal changes over baseline = 545%

Sensitivity ratio, societal factors to climate factors, US case:

13.6 to 1
8.7 to 1
5.3 to 1

Baseline Japan = 4.0
Increase related to changing climate, society constant (4%, 6%, and 9%) = 1.6, 2.5, 4.1
Percentage increase over baseline = 46%, 72%, 119%
Adjusted for population decrease = 26%, 41%, 68%
Increasing damage as a function of growing wealth (climate constant) = 10.4
Percent increase of societal changes over baseline = 259%

Sensitivity ratio, societal factors to climate factors, Japan case:

10 to 1
6.3 to 1
3.8 to 1

In Table 3.5 in the Technical Report the ABI estimates that climate mitigation could reduce from about 20% to 80% of the projected increases in damages related to climate change, or from $1.2B (0.2 * (4.4+1.6)) to $12.3B (0.8 * (11.3+4.1). Setting aside the inter-related effects of societal and climate change as well as the baseline value (which consequently makes this calculation very conservative), by contrast efforts to reduce vulnerability could reduce future damages by as much as $62.2 billion (51.8 + 10.4). In other words reducing vulnerability is between 5 and 52 times more effective than mitigation. This is the same conclusion that we reached in our published work on this subject.

Unfortunately, the information found in the ABI report is sometimes misrepresented. For instance, in an exchange with me in Science, Evan Mills makes the following claim (here in PDF) about the ABI report:

As an indication of the potential value of emissions reductions, the Association of British Insurers, in collaboration with U.S. catastrophe modelers, estimated that U.S. hurricane or Japanese typhoon losses would vary by a factor of five for scenarios of 40% and 116% increase in pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Perhaps this is just inartful writing, but this claim is decidedly not what the ABI report says, as can be clearly seen from the tables and analysis above. When assumptions and qualifications are dropped, meanings can change dramatically, sometimes 180 degrees as happened in this instance. Less charitably, Mills claim about what the ABI report says is a complete misrepresentation. Elsewhere I have written about the “laundering of grey literature,” and this instance is one worth watching with respect to the next IPCC report.

Contrary to some citations of the ABI reports on climate change, a close look indicates that the reports actually underscore the points we have been making about the relationship of tropical cyclones and climate change. It is worth noting that the analysis in this post takes the ABI assumptions exactly as they are given in the ABI reports. This exercise indicates that only way to conclude that reducing emissions is an effective tool of disaster management is to rig the analysis to guarantee this result by doing two things: (1) freeze society and only allow climate to change, and (2) to disallow vulnerability reduction as a policy response and allow only greenhouse gas reductions. This is of course not how the real world works. The bottom line is that it would be a mistake to cite the ABI reports as in any way contradictory to the work we have done. In fact, I’m going to start citing them in support of our work!

April 14, 2006

Are We Seeing the End of Hurricane Insurability?

Catastrophe (cat) models are computer models of expected losses that allow the insurance and reinsurance industries to have a quantitative basis for calculating the risks that they face and hence set prices in a manner that is actuarially sound (for some background see this post). At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory. (Warning: This is a long and detailed post.)

In practice things are far more complex, not least because cat models are “black boxes” developed outside of the public view, which makes it impossible to evaluate them independently. Cat models, and their opaqueness, are the focus of an emerging debate between consumer groups and cat model companies. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that in this debate are some indications that hurricane insurance may be changing dramatically. Insurance Journal reported the following last week (Note: Risk Management Solutions (RMS) is a leading provider of “catastrophe models.”)

Risk Management Solutions has defended its hurricane risk models in the face of consumer groups' criticisms that the models are more political than they are scientific and that they are designed to justify insurance premium increases.

RMS declined to address the specific allegations made by the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Economic Justice but issued a statement claiming that the groups' viewpoint "is a misrepresentation" of its role in the insurance industry.

On March 27, CFA and CEJ wrote to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners raising questions about recent upgrades in the RMS wind models that the groups maintain would lead to "unjustified increases in homeowners and other property casualty insurance rates."

The letter, signed by CFA's J. Robert Hunter and CEJ's Bernie Birnbaum, called for state regulators to increase regulation of RMS and other third-party organizations, including credit-scoring firms, whose work impacts insurance rates and availability.

The groups also blasted state regulators for failing to closely monitor the activities of RMS and other third-party rating organizations.

The consumer watchdogs referred to a recent announcement buy RMS that it is changing its hurricane models. RMS said that "increases to hurricane landfall frequencies in the company's U.S. hurricane model will increase modeled annualized insurance losses by 40 percent on average across the Gulf Coast, Florida and the Southeast, and by 25-30 percent in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastal regions relative to those derived using long-term 1900-2005 historical average hurricane frequencies."

The groups, claiming this would mean overall double-digit rate increases from Maine to Texas, contend that while RMS says that this increase is necessary for scientific reasons, "the evidence indicates that the primary reason for the change appears to be not science at all, but politics."

The letter from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Center for Economic Justice (CEJ) can be found here in PDF. The letter states:

Consumers were told that, after the big price increases in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, they would see price stability. This was because the projections were not based on short-term weather history, as they had been in the past, but on very long-term data from 10,000 to 100,000 years of projected experience. The rate requests at the time were based upon the average of these long-range projections. Decades with no hurricane activity were assessed in the projections as were decades of severe hurricane activity, as most weather experts agree we are experiencing now. Small storms predominated, but there were projections of huge, category 5 hurricanes hitting Miami or New York as well, causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. Consumers were assured that, although hurricane activity was cyclical, they would not see significant price decreases during periods of little or no hurricane activity, nor price increases during periods of frequent activity. That promise has now been broken.

The CEA and CEJ are expressing frustration that the science of hurricanes has evolved since the models were first developed. For its part, RMS goes some distance towards concluding that hurricane history is now irrelevant. In a white paper (PDF) used to justify its new approach to risk, RMS writes:

Given a constant climatological state (or if annual variations from that state are short lived and unpredictable) the activity rate in a catastrophe model can best be represented as the average of long-term history. In this situation there is no need to characterize the period over which the activity is considered to apply because, with current knowledge, it is expected that rate will continue indefinitely. The assumption that activity remains consistent breaks down, however, where there are either multi-year fluctuations in activity or persistent trends. It then becomes necessary to characterize the time period over which the activity in the Cat model is intended to apply.

It does not seem to me that RMS recognizes how profoundly revolutionary this perspective is, or its potential consequences for their own business. What they are say is that the historical climatology of hurricane activity is no longer a valid basis for estimating future risks. This means that the catastrophe models that they provide are untethered from experience. Imagine if you are playing a game of poker, and the dealer tells you that the composition of the deck has been completely changed – now you don’t know whether there are 4 aces in the deck or 20. It would make gambling based on probabilities a pretty dodgy exercise. If RMS is correct, then it has planted the seed that has potential to completely transform its business and the modern insurance and reinsurance industries.

What happens if history is no longer a guide to the future? One answer is that you set your expectations about the future based on factors other than experience. One such approach is to ask the relevant experts what they expect. This is what RMS did last fall, convening Kerry Emanuel, Tom Knutson, Jim Elsner, and Mark Saunders in order to conduct an “expert elicitation”. Here is how RMS described their process and its results:

The experts were asked to address and resolve the following questions:

• What is the expected basin activity of category 1-5 and category 3-5 hurricanes in the Atlantic basin over the next five years?

• What is the expected activity for category 1-5 and category 3-5 hurricanes at U.S. landfall over the next five years?

• How much longer can we expect the recent period of high Atlantic hurricane activity to persist?

• What is the expected activity of category 1-5 and category 3-5 hurricanes in the Caribbean over the next five years?

The experts discussed each question for one hour and a consensus opinion was then established for each question. The main conclusions reached by the experts were:

1. Activity in the Atlantic basin for the next five years is expected to be close to the average of the past 11 years. The probability for the activity to return to levels corresponding to the long term baseline is small over the next five years.

2. The experts each provided perspectives on the probability of the five-year U.S. landfalling rates being above or below certain thresholds, with the probability estimates provided by each expert considered interdependent (under a Poisson assumption). Relative to the historic 1900-2005 baseline, the increases in landfalling activity rates averaged across the group convert into about a 20% increase in the rate of category 1-2 storms and a more than 30% increase for category 3-5 storms.

3. The high levels of activity observed over the last 11 years are expected to last for at least another 10-15 years.

4. The medium-term activity in the Caribbean region is expected to be consistent with the perspective of activity developed for the full basin.

RMS then used the information provided by the panel of experts to implement the five-year view of activity rates in both the U.S. and Caribbean Hurricane models.

In general, expert elicitation is a very useful method for aggregating the views of a community of specialists on focused questions. In this instance, RMS has left itself wide open to some valid criticism. For instance, although each scientist included in its elicitation is well-respected in the field, the four experts represent a small subset of the relevant and available expertise on the questions that were asked. Including more of the community in an expert elicitation would add to the legitimacy of the results, even if the conclusions themselves don’t change. Because the elicitation resulted in a forecast of persistence, I’d guess that including more experts probably wouldn’t much change the results, although it might increase the uncertainty of the conclusions.

Also, RMS conducted its elicitation October, 2005 with the intent that it will shape its risk estimates for the next 5 years. This is wholly unrealistic in such a fast moving area of science. It is unlikely that the perspectives elicited from these 4 scientists will characterize the views of the relevant community (or even their own views!) over the next five years as further research is published and hurricane seasons unfold. Because RMS has changed from a historical approach to defining risk, which changes very, very slowly, if at all over time, to an expert-focused approach, it should fully expect to see very large changes in expert views as science evolves. This is a recipe for price instability, exactly the opposite from what the consumer groups, and insurance commissioners, want.

From the perspective of the basic functioning of the insurance and reinsurance industries, the change in approach by RMS is an admission that the future is far more uncertain than has been the norm for this community. Such uncertainty may call into question the very basis of hurricane insurance and reinsurance which lies in an ability to quantify and anticipate risks. If the industry can’t anticipate risks, or simply come to a consensus on how to calculate risks (even if inaccurate), then this removes one of the key characteristics of successful insurance. Debate on this issue has only just begun.

Posted on April 14, 2006 08:33 AM View this article | Comments (26) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

April 12, 2006

Out on a Limb II: A Verrrry Looong Limb

Kerry Emanuel and Michael Mann have a draft paper (which I haven’t seen, but I’ve seen Kerry present) in which they argue that the multi-decadal patterns of active/inactive hurricane periods in the Atlantic are mainly a function of anthropogenic forcings, including greenhouse gases and aerosols. Related to this work Emanuel makes a bold forecast reported in today’ Palm Beach Post:

"It's unlikely we'll ever see a quiet decade [for hurricanes] for the next 100 years in the Atlantic."

I wonder if we’ll soon hear industry in the eastern US asking for relief from the Clean Air Act requirements justified in terms of reducing hurricane impacts (joke). More seriously, it’ll be a long time before Kerry’s prediction can be evaluated against observations, however, in the short-term, it simply adds to the overwhelming case already in place to enhance resilience to hurricane impacts in those regions known to be at risk to hurricane strikes.

Posted on April 12, 2006 08:54 PM View this article | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

March 29, 2006

Once Again Attributing Katrina’s Damages to Greenhouse Gases

Last fall we took issue with Kevin Trenberth, NCAR scientist and IPCC lead author responsible for the chapter on hurricanes, when he gave a presentation to policy makers that attributed part of Katrina’s rainfall to greenhouse gas emissions, and suggested that the added rainfall may have caused the New Orleans flooding and damage.

When I blogged this, some folks accused me of misquoting him or “putting words in his mouth.” Fortunately, Kevin has spoken to the media this week in New Zealand on this subject, and we can let his own words speak for themselves. Here is a how the Dominion Press reported Kevin’s thoughts on Katrina:

“Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through New Orleans last year, leaving a repair bill of up to US$200 billion, is a sign that humans ought to be paying more attention, he says. "This is not to say Katrina was due to global warming . . . There is an influence of global warming, something like an 8 per cent influence.

"So if about 305 millimetres of rain falls in New Orleans that means about an extra 25.4mm of rainfall more than might have occurred anyway. Often it's the straw that broke the camel's back. Was 25.4mm of extra rainfall enough to cause the levees to break? The big flooding event in Manawatu, that may be an example of the same kind of thing . . ."

Scientists routinely tell us that we cannot attribute the effects of anthropogenic climate change to any one particular event, and while Trenberth does say that we cannot attribute the existence of Katrina to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), he does suggest that once it does exist we can attribute precisely 25.4 mm of rainfall to GHGs, and that this difference could have led to the disastrous flooding of New Orleans (as well as another flood event in New Zealand). Here is what we said about this last fall:

Perhaps there are good scientific reasons for making such a claim, but they probably should go through peer review before being announced as fact (with no sense of uncertainty!) before policy makers. Especially when other scientists, like Kerry Emanuel, assert that such precise attribution is not possible. And further, given that the IADWG has published in JOC May 2005 that attribution of trends in precipitation to GHGs has not yet occurred, it stretches the credulity of this non-climate scientist to think that such precise attribution is possible for specific events.

I am a supporter of scientists speaking their minds, and I support Trenberth’s right to say what he believes. Kevin is a prolific scientist who is widely cited in the community. However, on this issue he is way out on a limb, especially in his comments about damage, a subject on which I have some expertise. In a 1999 paper (PDF) we responded to Kevin’s frequent invocation of the straw/camel metaphor to draw a very different conclusion:

With respect to the relative contribution of climate and societal factors to the flood damage record, Trenberth’s (1997) metaphor of increasing precipitation being the ‘‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’’ is particularly apt. The camel (representing society) is already burdened by the weight of past decisions that have placed people and property into harm’s way. Thus, when hydrologic floods do occur, they can lead to enormous damage. In many instances, such damage is avoidable— society need not wait for the ‘‘last straw’’ to act.

Kevin’s statements on hurricane science and impacts are especially troubling because of his role as the lead author of the IPCC chapter on hurricanes. For better or worse, his credibility, and thus that chapter’s legitimacy, is at risk on this particular issue. [Note: Kevin has an open invitation to respond to this post here, which we will gladly publish.] It is important for the climate science and policy communities to recognize the reality that out-on-a-limb statements by leaders in the IPCC community can seriously damage the credibility of the IPCC and the legitimacy of arguments for action on climate change even if, as some assert, such views have no bearing on the content of the report or are tangential to more important reasons for action.

March 22, 2006

The Big Knob

In 2000, we wrote a paper titled, "Turning the Big Knob: Energy Policy as Means to Reduce Weather Imapcts." The metaphor implied that some viewed energy policies as a means for decision makers to tune the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in such a way to modulate the number or intensity of extreme events, and thereby also modulate the resulting societal impacts. Frequent readers of Prometheus will know that this subject has been the subject of many discussions on this site of late, and will know that we think that while there are good reasons for concern about climate change, and for reducing GHG emissions, the Big Knob strategy is a loser when it comes to disaster impacts.

Upon hearing from several critics of our work comments to the effect that no one really believes that GHGs can be used to intentionally modulate hurricanes or their impacts, I thought it worth showing the figure below. This was part of a major media campaign by a leading (and typically very thoughtful) environmental group last fall focused specifically on hurricanes (not GHG reductions generally). This image was taken from their WWW site at the time. See the Big Knob?


March 15, 2006

Forbidden Fruit: Justifying Energy Policy via Hurricane Mitigation

We’ve on occasion discussed a paper that we did in 2000 on the relative contributions to future damage of changes in intensity of hurricanes (called tropical cyclones worldwide) and changes in societal vulnerability, under the assumptions of the IPCC to 2050. Our paper found that the independent effects of changes in societal vulnerability are larger than the independent effects of changes in storm intensity by a factor of between 22 to 1 and 100 to one. The ratios are far larger the further one goes into the future. This would seems to provide pretty compelling evidence that even if scientists are underestimating the degree to which hurricane intensity will change in the future, energy policies simply are not going to be an effective tool of hurricane policy. Thus we have often recommended keeping separate the issues of greenhouse gas reductions and hurricane policy.

For obvious reasons some people find this argument inconvenient. One response to a talk I gave on this last week was, “if we don’t have the imagery of hurricane damage it is going to make the task of selling greenhouse gas reductions that much harder” (see also the recent discussion at Kevin’s NoSeNada blog, and thanks to Brian S. for motivating this further discussion). Below is some simple math that should make the point inescapable, drawn from the analysis in Pielke et al. 2000 (PDF). Have a look, and play around with the numbers yourself.

A = hurricane damages today = $1

B = increase in hurricane damages in 2050, according to high end of IPCC TAR = 10% increase = $1 * 0.10 = $0.10

C = increase in hurriane damage in 2050, according to low end of IPCC TAR in Pielke/Landsea normalization method = 220% increase = $1 * 2.20 = $2.20

D = combined effect of B and C = $2.20 * 0.10 = $0.22

E = Total increase in costs = B + C + D = $0.10 + $2.20 + $0.22 = $2.52

F = Total costs in 2050 = A + E = $3.52

Of E the part that can be addressed by intentionally modulating the intensity of hurricanes (a dubious proposition, but lets assume) is $0.32 (B + D), and the part that can be addressed by addressing vulnerability is $2.44 (C + D) (note: does not equal E because D is counted twice because it is influenced by both factors).

So if you focus on energy policies as a way to modulate hurricane behavior as a tool of disaster mitigation, and assuming that (a) you can instantaneously reduce GHGs to pre-industrial, and (b) that we are not committed to change already, then you can at best reduce the increase in future damages from $3.52 to $3.20, still representing a 320% increase from today.

But lets be slightly more realistic, how about Kyoto? Assuming that the effects of GHG reductions on hurricane intensity are instantaneous and exactly proportional to emissions concentrations (also dubious assumptions, but lets go with them) under full and successful implementation of Kyoto, including the participation of the US, the reduction in projected damages would be about $0.03. (Assuming: increase 2005-2050 = ~120 ppm, Kyoto’s effects = ~12 ppm, $0.32 * 12/120 = ~$0.03, but substitute numbers as you wish, I just made these up.) Now before people start writing to tell me Kyoto is a first step, please go ahead and substitute second, third, and fourth steps as you wish and see what effects they get. Then get back to the political realities such as Kyoto is not meeting its targets, and the subsequent steps look a long way off (not to mention the incorrect simplifying scientific assumptions above about the close connections of GHG reductions and corresponding reductions in hurricane intensity) .

Again, it is important for me repeat that I support emissions reductions, and I even think Kyoto makes good political sense for the U.S. to be a part of, however, it stretches credulity to think that Kyoto or any emissions reductions policy makes sense as a tool of hurricane (or more generally, disaster) mitigation. The important policy question is not whether or not global warming affects hurricanes, it probably does, but rather, what outcomes can be expected from different policies in response to hurricanes related to the things we care about, like property and life?

Moving on, if you focus on reducing vulnerability as a tool of disaster mitigation, then you can at best reduce the increase in future damages by $2.42 to $1.10, representing an increase of 10% from today. And of course mitigation need not stop at the level of damages we see today, and in principle can cut into that original $1.00 of losses, which proportionately reduces the increase related to changing storm intensity. It seems obvious that achieving the same $0.03 reduction in future losses from the $2.42 expected due to increasing vulnerability would be a much more tractable and cost effective approach to hurricane mitigation than an indirect effort to modulate storm behavior. Put another way, 100% success in implementation of Kyoto is the equivalent of about 1% success in addressing vulnerability. This is a huge difference in both the politics and the practicality.

Note that all of the above are calculated using the most favorable ratio toward emissions reductions of 22 to 1. The other end of the scale is 100 to one, so keep that in mind. Alos keep in mind that this anaysis goes to 2050, if you'd like to extend it to, say, 2085, probably should at least quadruple the vulneability numbers and increase the intensity numbers by a percent or three.

The bottom line: For advocates of emissions reductions, asserting a hurricane-energy policy linkage is tempting, very tempting. But it does not make good policy sense. It is a bad argument, perhaps even an abuse of science or immoral. If scientific accuracy is of concern, then look elsewhere for your justifications.

Talk in DC Today

Just a reminder for readers in DC, I'll be giving a talk at the Smithsonian at 5:30PM. Details here.

March 13, 2006

Reactions to Searching for a Signal

I would love to be the first person to conclusively identify the signal of increasing greenhouse gases in the historical record of disaster losses. I have no doubt that such a study, scientifically solid and peer reviewed, would be widely cited, globally reported, and the author(s) would reach near rock star status in the climate science and advocacy communities. The problem is that I (and a number of colleagues) have been looking for such a signal for more than 10 years, recording our efforts in dozens of papers along the way, and so far the signal hasn’t been found.

On Wednesday his week I’ll be giving the NRC Ocean Studies Board’s annual Roger Revelle memorial lecture at the Smithsonian in Washington DC in which I’ll provide an overview of this search and what we’ve found to date. The message of the talk is as follows:

1. Anthropogenic climate change is real.
2. Greenhouse gas reductions make good policy sense.
3. But there is no evidence that energy policies focused on climate change can be an effective tool of disaster mitigation.
4. There is currently no evidence that allows us to attribute to human-caused climate change any part of the decades-long trend of a rising toll of disasters, a record which is dominated by floods and storms.
5. More people are beginning to conduct research in this area and perhaps future research results will tell a different story, but 1-4 above are what can be said today and supported by scientific research.
6. Given the state of the literature, this should not be a controversial conclusion.
7. There are better justifications for GHG reductions than disasters, and there are far better options available to policy makers than energy policies to make a material difference in future impacts of climate and weather extremes.

Of late, as the subject of disasters and climate change has become increasingly salient I have noticed a significant ratcheting up in the intensity of criticism that some leading scientists bring to discussing my work. Some of it, quite frankly, borders on the bizarre. Consider the following recent experiences:

*On several occasions, one in a public forum, a very prominent scientist whose name you would all recognize all but accused me of falsifying my research results in order to hide the global warming signal in disaster losses that he believes must certainly be there. The alternative, that our work is solid, apparently is not a possibility.

*Another prominent scientist whose name you would all recognize quite angrily and nastily accused me in an email of being a climate change denier who refuses to see the truth. I replied with an explanation that I was no denier and I provided a list of a few dozen peer-reviewed papers to support my perspective on climate change and disasters, with no response.

*After giving a lecture at a major U.S. university I had a chance to talk one-on-one with the head of the unit that had invited me (a major unit on campus), who was another big-name-you-would-recognize. His first question for me was to ask my political orientation, stating that it was hard to discern from my talk. I thought it an odd question but I answered him anyway. He had no substantive questions about my talk, so I hope my answer to his political orientation question clarified everything.

*Perhaps most troubling, the editor of a leading scientific journal asked me to “dampen” the message of a peer-reviewed publication for fear that it would be “seized upon” by those seeking to defend their interests in business-as-usual energy policies. I found this incredible – was I really being asked to change scientifically well-supported arguments based on some editorial concerns about politics?!

These sorts of experiences are not completely new for me. In past years I have also described how colleagues have pressured me to be careful about my research because of its supposed political implications for those seeking to justify energy policy action based on reducing disaster impacts. Of course, from where I sit one important message of my research is for advocates of changes in energy policies related to climate change simply to make better arguments and to avoid bad ones. This message would seem to be in everyone’s interests.

Some of the experiences described above can be explained as resulting from interactions with a few hyper-politically-charged scientists, some who are full of anger and vitriol. So perhaps these experiences are only a function of a few bad apples that I have the good fortune to be interacting with. From that perspective perhaps I should not be too concerned by the behavior of these individuals. But given their prominence in the community and its institutions, and the chance that these are not isolated experiences, I do worry that the politicization of climate science is reaching epidemic proportions with profound consequences for the field. From my narrow perspective on the climate science community, viewed through the lens of how my work on disasters is received, it seems that some research is judged not by its content but by how some would like the research to turn out. For my part I will continue searching for a signal of global warming in the disaster record, and if and when I find it you’ll know that I really believe that it is there. And know that I won’t be intimidated, bullied, or pressured into saying otherwise or staying silent.

For those who are interested in my work in this area, the following list of publications focuses primarily on storms and floods and document various ways that we have tried to understand and probe the disaster loss record in these contexts. Of course, there is much research conducted by others on this subject, most of which is referenced in the articles below. We have discussed this subject at length here at Prometheus and new readers can find this discussion under the climate change archives. As in any area of science there is much work in this area remaining to be done, and such research may indeed provide new insights that change the perspectives of today.

PDFs of the articles below, almost all which are peer reviewed, can be found here, and the books should be obtainable from your library.

Downton, M., J. Z. B. Miller and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. Reanalysis of U.S. National Weather Service Flood Loss Database, Natural Hazards Review, 6:13-22.

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2005. Are there trends in hurricane destruction? Nature, Vol. 438, December, pp. E11.

Pielke, R. A., 2005. Attribution of Disaster Losses, Science, Vol. 310, December 9, pp. 1615.

Pielke, Jr., R.A., S. Agrawala, L. Bouwer, I. Burton, S. Changnon, M. Glantz, W. Hooke, R. Klein, K. Kunkel, D. Mileti, D. Sarewitz, E. Thompkins, N. Stehr, and H. von Storch, 2005.Clarifying the Attribution of Recent Disaster Losses: A Response to Epstein and McCarthy, Bulletin of American Meteorological Society, Volume 86 (10), pp. 1481-1483.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. Landsea, M. Mayfield, J. Laver and R. Pasch, 2005. Hurricanes and global warming, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 86:1571-1575.

Pielke, Jr., R.A. and D. Sarewitz, 2005. Bringing Society back into the Climate Debate, Population and Environment, Volume 26, Number 3, pp. 255-268.

Pielke, Jr., R.A., J. Rubiera, C. Landsea, M. Fernandez, and R.A. Klein, 2003: Hurricane Vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean, Natural Hazards Review, 4: 101-114.

Downton, M. and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 2001. Discretion Without Accountability: Politics, Flood Damage, and Climate, Natural Hazards Review, 2(4):157-166.

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2001: Politics and disaster declarations. Natural Hazards Observer, 25(4), 1-3.

Changnon, S., R. A. Pielke, Jr., D. Changnon, D., R. T. Sylves, and R. Pulwarty, 2000. Human Factors Explain the Increased Losses from Weather and Climate Extremes, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 81(3), 437-442.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2000. Flood Impacts on Society: Damaging Floods as a Framework for Assessment. Chapter 21 in D. Parker (ed.), Floods. Routledge Press: London, 133-155.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and M.W. Downton, 2000. Precipitation and Damaging Floods: Trends in the United States, 1932-97. Journal of Climate, 13(20),

Pielke, Jr., R.A., M. Downton, J. Z. B. Miller, S. A. Changnon, K. E. Kunkel, and K. Andsager, 2000: Understanding Damaging Floods in Iowa: Climate and Societal Interactions in the Skunk and Raccoon River Basins, Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, August.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., R.A. Klein and D. Sarewitz, 2000. Turning the Big Knob: Energy Policy as a Means to Reduce Weather Impacts. Energy and Environment, Vol. 11, No. 3, 255-276.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and R. A. Pielke, Sr. (eds.), 2000: Storms: a volume in the nine-volume series of Natural Hazards & Disasters Major Works published by Routledge Press as a contribution to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Routledge Press: London.

Kunkel, K., R. A. Pielke Jr., S. A. Changnon, 1999: Temporal Fluctuations in Weather and Climate Extremes That Cause Economic and Human Health Impacts: A Review. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 80, 6, 1077-1098.

Landsea, C. L., R. A. Pielke, Jr., A. Mestas-Nuez and J. Knaff, 1999. Atlantic Basin Hurricanes: Indicies of Climate Changes. Climate Change, 42, 89-129.

Pielke Jr., R.A., 1999: Nine fallacies of floods. Climatic Change, 42, 413-438.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and M. Downton, 1999. U.S. Trends in Streamflow and Precipitation: Using Societal Impact Data to Address an Apparent Paradox. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 80(7), 1435-1436.

Pielke, Jr., R.A., and C.W. Landsea, 1999: La Nina, El Nino, and Atlantic Hurricane Damages in the United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 80, 10, 2027-2033.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. W. Landsea, M. Downton, and R. Muslin, 1999: Evaluation of Catastrophe Models Using a Normalized Historical Record: Why It Is needed and How To Do It. Journal of Insurance Regulation. 18, pp. 177-194.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. and C. W. Landsea, 1998. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1925-95. Weather and Forecasting, American Meteorological Society, Vol. 13, 621-631.

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1997: Reframing the U.S. Hurricane Problem. Society and Natural Resources, 10, 485-499.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and R. A. Pielke, Sr., 1997: Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society. John Wiley and Sons Press: London.

March 01, 2006

Upcoming Public Lecture in DC at The Smithsonian

I’ll be giving a lecture on March 15, 2006 at 5:30 PM in the Baird Auditorium of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, details here. The lecture is the Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture sponsored by the National Research Council’s Ocean Studies Board. Please come out and do introduce yourself if you are a Prometheus reader. The title of my lecture is “Disasters, Death, and Destruction: Accounting for Recent Calamities.” Here is the abstract:

The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and South Asian earthquake has kept natural disasters at the focus of our attention. The past decades have seen a spectacular series of catastrophes around the world with ever increasing economic losses and horrific loss of life. The recent spate of disasters has created two common perceptions among decision makers and the general public.

First, there is a sense that the economic impacts associated with extreme events have increased in recent years. Second, given that a human influence on the climate system has been well established, a perception exists that the recent increase in weather-related disasters like floods and hurricanes is in some way related to changes in climate.

These perceptions beg two questions:

Have loss of life and damages associated with extreme weather events actually increased in recent years?

What factors account for observed trends in the impacts of weather on society?

The answers to these questions are more than simply idle speculations -- they underlie policy decisions with important social, economic, and political ramifications, such as disaster preparations, insurance, international climate change negotiations, and policies for scientific research. Because policy is based in part on the perceptions that policy makers hold about weather and climate, it is worth determining the answers to the two questions in a scientifically rigorous manner. This lecture discusses trends in loss of life and damages associated with disasters with a focus on extreme weather events. It also discusses factors which account for the observed trends and the state of our knowledge in this area. It concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and research related natural hazards and global climate change.

Posted on March 1, 2006 06:42 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

February 21, 2006

Consensus Statement on Hurricanes and Global Warming

Under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission on Atmospheric Sciences, its Tropical Meteorology Research Program Panel has just issued a statement on hurricanes and global warming (here in PDF).

The statement is significant not only because it was drafted by nine prominent experts, but because it includes in its authorship Kerry Emanuel, Greg Holland (second author of Webster et al. 2005), Ton Knutson, and Chris Landsea. Frequent readers will recognize these names as people not always in agreement. That they came together to produce a consensus statement is good for the community, and also gives a good sense on where they agree and disagree.

While the statement has enough background and language to allow anyone to selectively cherry pick from it in support of any perspective, here is the take-home message from the statement

“The research issues discussed here are in a fluid state and are the subject of much current investigation. Given time the problem of causes and attribution of the events of 2004-2005 will be discussed and argued in the refereed scientific literature. Prior to this happening it is not possible to make any authoritative comment.”

Therefore, for those of us not involved in primary research on hurricanes and climate change, any conclusions, or predictions about how future research will turn out, about the role of global warming in hurricanes will necessarily be based on non-scientific factors. If you are like the IPCC, then you will assume that observed climate phenomena can be explained by natural variability unless and until the thresholds of “detection and attribution” can be achieved. This is a high threshold for identification of greenhouse gas effects on climate, and it is of course not the only approach that could be taken. But it is the approach of the IPCC.

If you are politically or ideologically motivated to use the threat of stronger hurricanes in pursuit of some goal, then you will bet that a link will indeed be established. And similarly, if you are politically or ideologically motivated to discount the threat of stronger hurricanes in pursuit of some goal, then you will bet that no link is immediately forthcoming.

The reality is that the present state of science does not allow us to come to a conclusion that global warming has affected hurricanes (e.g., see this PDF). It is suggestive, and different experts disagree about what future research will tell us. I’d bet that this condition of uncertainty about future research will be with us for a long time. Thank goodness its resolution is not of particularly large importance for understanding and implementing those actions known with certainty to be most effective with respect to hurricane impacts (e.g., here in PDF).

Posted on February 21, 2006 06:56 AM View this article | Comments (31) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

February 07, 2006

Lindell on evacuation

This morning I sat in on the first half of the National Science Board meeting in Boulder on "Toward a National Agenda for Hurricane Science and Engineering" (agenda link).

I have a couple of thoughts that I'll spread out over two or three posts. (Roger gave a presentation at the meeting so he'll probably have his own thoughts, too.) Here's my first thought:

In a powerpoint presentation, Professor Michael Lindell of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M threw out a bullet point that said, "Evacuation is a sign of policy failure."

This was said in a context of presenting evacuation as a very expensive, unpredictable, and largely unmanageable undertaking. He went on to say that the necessity for emergency evacuation means that intelligent pre-event planning was not in place and that building structures were not designed or retrofitted to withstand the hurricane event (obviating the need for evacuation).

I focused on the last. I can buy labeling "evacuation" as a "policy failure." But I wonder if it's possible that evacuation is actually less expensive than the total cost that would be involved in preventing its necessity, especially on the engineering side. Retrofitting buildings is extremely expensive (price per square foot to retrofit buildings for earthquake resilience is so much more expensive than new construction that generally only historical buildings are retrofitted....great example is this awesome building and retrofit project).

So it's possible that in not addressing the evacuation vs. resilience problem, decision makers are getting the right answer (coming out on the cheaper side) for the wrong reason (not even addressing the issue). I discussed this with Michael after his panel discussion and he agreed that the numbers should be examined but haven't yet been.

Posted on February 7, 2006 01:54 PM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

January 26, 2006

The Elephant in the Floodplain

Yesterday the Government Accounting Office released a statement by David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, on the challenges for the National Flood Insurance Program (PDF), before the Chairman, Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate. The report notes the tremendous impact of the hurricanes of 2005 for the program, and goes over some of the basic challenges facing the NFIP, like the fact that the program is by design not actuarially sound. However, the report does not address what is the most fundamental flaw in the program: it is built upon a vision of climate science that does not square with reality.

As we discusses in depth here last week, policy makers almost always have to simplify their world in order to make policies. Such simplifications are often practically useful if they lead to desired outcomes. But if a policy is based on a fundamentally incorrect notion of how the world works, the policy may fail or even lead to outcomes opposite of those intended. Such is the case with the NFIP. The NFIP is at its core based on the notion that climate is stationary and unchanging. It does not recognize climate variability or change. As such it produces maps of flood risk that are used to guide implementation of the program that are based on a completely incorrect vision of how the world works. Comptroller Walker’s testimony yesterday observed,

Accurate flood maps that identify the areas at greatest risk of flooding are the foundation of the NFIP. Flood maps must be periodically updated to assess and map changes in the boundaries of floodplains that result from community growth, development, erosion, and other factors that affect the boundaries of areas at risk of flooding. FEMA has embarked on a multiyear effort to update the nation’s flood maps at a cost in excess of $1 billion. The maps are principally used by (1) the approximately 20,000 communities participating in the NFIP to adopt and enforce the program’s minimum building standards for new construction within the maps’ identified flood plains; (2) FEMA to develop accurate flood insurance policy rates based on flood risk; and (3) federal regulated mortgage lenders to identify those property owners who are statutorily required to purchase federal flood insurance.

No mention there of climate variability or change. Here is what I said in a 1999 paper (PDF) about flood risk and how perceptions of flood risk are the number one fallacy policy makers hold about floods:

The concept and terminology of the ‘100-year floodplain’ was formally adopted by the federal government as a standard for all public agencies in 1977 under Executive Order 11988. In 1982 FEMA reviewed the policy and found that it was being used in the agencies and, lacking a better alternative, concluded that the policy should be retained (FIFMTF, 1992, p. 8-3). However, despite the FEMA review, use of the concept of the 100-year flood is encumbered by a number of logical and practical difficulties (cf. Lord, 1994).

First, there is general confusion among users of the term about what it means. Some use the term to refer to a flood that occurs every 100 years, as did the Midwestern mayor who stated that ‘after the 1965 flood, they told us this wouldn’t happen again for another 100 years’ (IFMRC, 1994, p. 59). Public confusion is widespread: A farmer suffering through Midwest flooding for the second time in three years complained that ‘Two years ago was supposed to be a 100-year flood, and they’re saying this is a 75-year flood, What kind of sense does that make? You’d think they’d get it right’ (Peterson, 1995).

Second, the ‘100-year flood’ is only one of many possible probabilistic measures of an area’s flood risk. For instance, in the part of the floodplain that is demarcated as the ‘100-year floodplain’ it is only the outer edge of that area that is estimated to have an annual probability of flooding of 0.01, yet confusion exists (Myers, 1994). Areas closer to the river have higher probabilities of flooding, e.g., there are areas of a floodplain with a 2% annual chance of flooding (50-year floodplain), 10% annual chance (10-year floodplain), 50% annual chance (2-year floodplain) etc., and similarly, areas farther from the river have lower probabilities of flooding. The ‘100-year floodplain’ is arbitrarily chosen for regulatory reasons and does not reflect anything fundamentally intrinsic to the floodplain.

Third, the ‘100-year floodplain’ is determined based on past flood records and is thus subject to considerable errors with respect to the probabilities of future floods. According to Burkham (1978) errors in determination of the ‘100-year flood’ may be off by as much as 50% of flood depth. Depending on the slope of the flood plain, this could translate into a significant error in terms of distance from the river channel. A FEMA press release notes that ‘in some cases there is a difference of only inches between the 10- and the 100-year flood levels’ (FEMA, 1996). Further, researchers are beginning to realize an ‘upper limit’ on what can be known about flood frequencies due to the lack of available trend data (Bobée and Rasmussen, 1995).

Fourth, the 100-year floodplain is not a natural feature, but rather is defined by scientists and engineers based on the historical record. Consequently, while the ‘100-year floodplain’ is dynamic and subject to redefinition based on new flood events that add to the historical record, the regulatory definition is much more difficult to change. For instance, following two years of major flooding on the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona, the previously estimated 100-year flood was reduced to a 50-year flood (FIFMTF, 1992, p. 9-7). What happens to the structures in redefined areas? Any changes in climate patterns, especially precipitation, will also modify the expected probabilities of inundation. For example, some areas of the upper Midwest have documented a trend of increasing precipitation this century (Changnon and Kunkel, 1995; Bhowmik et al., 1994). Furthermore, human changes to the river environment, e.g., levees and land use changes, can also alter the hydraulics of floods. Finally, the extensive use of the term ‘100-year flood’ focuses attention on that aspect of flooding, sometimes to the neglect of the area beyond the 100-year flood plain (Myers, 1994).

The fact of the matter is that the NFIP is based on the idea that floods occur with a constant probability and that such constancy can be quantified in maps to guide development and insurance. This assumption is fundamentally wrong. The NFIP cannot succeed until it addresses this fundamental flaw. Meantime, expect the public to foot the bill for a policy that cannot work because it fundamentally mischaracterizes how the world really works.

Posted on January 26, 2006 07:10 AM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

January 23, 2006

Big Knob Critique Response

In 2000, Dan Sarewitz, Bobbie Klein and I published a paper titled “Turning the Big Knob: Energy Policy as a Means to Reduce Weather Impacts” (PDF) in which we calculate the relative sensitivity of future tropical cyclone damages to the independent effects of changes in storm behavior under climate change to changes in societal vulnerability. For the changes in both storm behavior and societal vulnerability we used the assumptions of the IPCC. Brian Schmidt, who works for an environmental organization in San Francisco, and who occasionally has visited our website with always-thoughtful comments, has taken the time to write up a critique of our paper and post it on his blog. We appreciate the engagement. Brian graciously asked us for a response, so here it is.

First a correction, Schmidt states that “Climate will increase hurricane costs by about 40-50%, according to the studies cited in the paper.” This is what those early-1990s studies said, however, they used assumptions about changing hurricane intensity that were later revised downward by the IPCC. Using in the damage projection methods the actual numbers cited by the IPCC SAR for changing “maximum potential intensity” of tropical cyclones the projected increase in damages due only to the effect of changes in storms related to climate change is in fact about 8-10%. For close followers of this subject the numbers used by the SAR were about twice those projected in a subsequent paper by Knutson and Tuleya. This error is repeated throughout Schmidt’s post. It is worth noting that the general conclusions are pretty much insensitive to an error of this magnitude.

Schmidt offers three critiques of our paper. First, he writes, “it ignores the combined effects of climate change and increased economic value.” We have heard this before. The response is that we are performing a sensitivity analysis and not generating a prediction of future damages. Our point in this paper was to identify the independent effects of climate change versus societal change. It Schmidt would like to go ahead and add another factor that recognizes the fact that future damages will indeed be the result of the combined effects, he should go right ahead. This does nothing to change the fact that the independent effect of societal changes is larger than the independent effect of climate change by a factor of between 22 to 1 and 60 to 1. This is the case if combined effects are included or not.

Schmidt offers up this as a second critique, “Another major problem is the implicit assumption that by controlling land-use, one can in effect relocate away from global warming.” We said no such thing. What we did say is that if societal factors are far more responsible than climate change for the expected growing impacts of tropical cyclones, then from a policy perspective it is only logical that decisions related to societal vulnerability are likely to have greater potential to address those impacts. We discuss land use, but also forecasts and warnings (to save lives), reducing environmental degradation, enforcement of building codes and other policies. Relocation is not something that we discuss.

Schmidt’s third critique is even less appropriate, “A third major problem parallels the problem with Bjorn Lomborg's critique of a lack of economic analysis over global warming, particularly a lack of cost-benefit analysis.” We did not conduct a cost-benefit analysis, nor did we claim to, so it is hard to respond to this. We conducted a sensitivity analysis to ascertain where policy makers might have the greatest ability to influence future hurricane damages. What we found is that using the “big knob” of tuning global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is unlikely to be able to affect anything more than a very small portion of future tropical cyclone losses, and that this finding is very robust under all combinations of scenarios of climate change and societal change present in the IPCC SAR.

Schmidt offers three other minor critiques:

“ Damage estimates are artificially low because they come primarily from a time when hurricanes were at a low point in their long-term cycle. Recalibrating the damages to include more intense hurricane cycles we are experiencing now would give much larger figures.

Let’s accept this as true. It is irrelevant. Our analysis focused on how damages would increase as a multiple of a particular base year. Changing the base has no effect on the multiple, and has no effect on our sensitivity analysis.

“It's dated. It's from 2000, and relies extensively on 1996 IPCC assessments, which rely on still earlier studies. This isn't a flaw of the study itself, but rather than relying on it, the work should be done again with updated information.”

It is a 2000 paper. Nonetheless the analysis holds up exceedingly well as there has nothing that has occurred related to scientific understandings of tropical cyclones or projections of societal vulnerability that would change our basic conclusions. We do intend to update this analysis using the assumptions of the IPCC AR4 (we do have funded research on such sensitivity analyses under our SPARC project.). Better yet would be if the IPCC itself did such a sensitivity analysis, not just for tropical cyclones, but for every climate impact that is the joint function of climate and societal factors.

“It ignores costs resulting from redirecting land use.

We don’t claim to be doing a cost-benefit analysis, nor do we discuss relocation.

The bottom line is that the analysis is robust under a wide range of realistic and unrealistic scenarios for climate change and societal change. Even if we were to simply assume that the IPCC SAR underestimated changes in future tropical cyclone intensity by 100% or 200% the qualitative implications of our paper would remain unchanged. I appreciate Schmidt’s comments that changing land use behavior is difficult. But the reality is that there is no basis for expecting that a global energy policy focused on stabilizing greenhouse gas offers a meaningful tool with which to modulate future tropical cyclone damages.

The lure of a “big knob” that can be tuned to an ideal state is indeed appealing, but in the case of tropical cyclones the sooner we recognize that effective policy will take place on the ground in thousands of vulnerable locations around the world that experience damage, then the more effective policy responses will be.

Posted on January 23, 2006 07:31 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

January 19, 2006

On Donald Kennedy in Science, Again

In this week’s Science magazine editor Donald Kennedy opines that “Not only is the New Orleans damage not an act of God; it shouldn’t even be called a “natural” disaster.” Could it be that he sees the significance of millions of people and trillions of dollars of property in locations exposed to repeated strikes from catastrophic storms? Unfortunately, not at all.

Prof. Kennedy is a Johnny-come-lately to exploiting Katrina for political advantage on climate change. He writes, “As Katrina and two other hurricanes crossed the warm Gulf of Mexico, we watched them gain dramatically in strength. . . We know with confidence what has made the Gulf and other oceans warmer than they had been before: the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human industrial activity, to which the United States has been a major contributor.”

I suppose one could make the convoluted case that Prof. Kennedy is [just a bad writer/only talking about statistics/dumbing-down the science/anticipating inevitable future research results] and didn’t really mean to link Katrina’s damage (or Katrina) with global warming. But he did, clearly. The current state of science doesn’t support such claims. Let’s review:

From Kerry Emanuel’s homepage:

“Q: I gather from this last discussion that it would be absurd to attribute the Katrina disaster to global warming?

A: Yes, it would be absurd.”

From Webster et al.(2005) in Science (PDF):

“. . . attribution of the 30-year trends [in hurricane intensity] to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state.”

From RealClimate:

“. . .there is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible.” (emphasis added)

From Rick Anthes at UCAR (who effectively used the “act of god” metaphor in his essay):

“Whatever the relationship between hurricanes and global warming turns out to be, it is not likely to be simple, and we will never be able to attribute a single event like Katrina to a changed climate.”

If you want to read about Katrina not being an “act of God” I’d recommend this thoughtful essay by former national park service director Roger Kennedy. We criticized Donald Kennedy just last week for advocating policies related to extreme weather events that simply cannot work, and this week he backs that up with more of the same. If one actually cares about the impacts of hurricanes, it makes no sense to express concern about hurricane damage without at all mentioning coastal population growth and development. As I have written previously, our continuing focus on the issue of hurricanes and global warming is not simply about getting the science right. It is about advocating policies that can save lives and mitigate damage. Global warming is important, hurricanes are as well, but you can’t kill those two birds with a single stone. You can’t (PDF).

For an argument for policies that hold far more promise for dealing with hurricane impacts than those being advocated by Professor Kennedy, have a look at this op-ed (in PDF) that Dan Sarewitz and I had in the L.A. Times last fall. Reflecting upon Prof. Kennedy’s recent editorials, I not sure what is worse – the repeated advocacy of really bad policy on the pages of the nation's leading scientific journal or the deafening silence of the relevant scientific community in the face of these arguments.

Posted on January 19, 2006 03:16 PM View this article | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

January 17, 2006

NEHRP fears came true

I spent some time in early 2004 working on the Senate's part in reauthorizing the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) in the 108th session. It eventually became law as PL 108-360.

NEHRP is a research direction and interagency coordination bill, with funding pieces in FEMA, USGS, NIST, and NSF. As the House Science Committee writes in its report on the NEHRP reauthorization bill (H.Rep. 108-246):

Currently the agency responsibilities within NEHRP include:

FEMA—overall coordination of the Program, education and outreach, and implementation of research results;

USGS—basic and applied earth science and seismic research;

NSF—basic research in geoscience, engineering, economic, and social aspects of earthquakes;

NIST—problem-focused earthquake engineering research and development programs aimed at improving building design codes and construction standards.

NEHRP was first created in 1977 as PL 95-124. The biggest change in this reauthorization was a switch from FEMA to NIST as lead coordinating agency. This change was requested by stakeholders such as the groups who joined the NEHRP coalition. These stakeholders saw an alarming disconnect by FEMA on natural hazards and disasters after FEMA was swallowed by the Department of Homeland Security in the post- World Trade Center executive branch reorganization. When stakeholders began asking Congress to take the lead role on NEHRP away from FEMA and give it to NIST, and when FEMA didn't even bother to dissent, Congress seemed happy to agree.

But during my experiences on the NEHRP reauthorization, one senior staffer on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee did try to put the brakes on the lead agency shift. She voiced strong concern over appropriations battles that were leaving NIST underfunded. This was a fear shared by the House Science Committee, as seen in H.Rep. 108-246:

NIST is fully capable of carrying out the lead agency responsibilities as the Chair of the Interagency Coordinating Committee, but NIST will have difficulty fulfilling its duties under sections 5(b)(1) and (5) of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act, as amended, unless it receives appropriations at the level authorized by this bill.

Well, the Science/State/Justice/Commerce appropriations bill is done (PL 109-108) and the fears of the authorizers have been realized. While NIST gets a 5% increase for the Scientific and Technical Research and Services (core programs), no direct appropriations are made for NEHRP. Report language states:

The Committee encourages NIST to allocate funding available under this account to carry out responsibilities under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (Public Law 108–360).

Forcing NEHRP to compete internally with other programs within the core. These "competitors" include national security programs highlighted and prioritized by the committee:

The Committee expects NIST to continue to prioritize funding for programs associated with standards and guidelines relating to the national security of the United States, including efforts relating to biometric and cyber security and programs relating to improvements to the nation’s manufacturing and services sectors. The recommendation also continues funding for a telework project and a critical infrastructure program, at the same funding levels as in fiscal year 2005.

Given this loose language and no clear direction to pursue NEHRP priorities set out in the authorization bill, it is unclear whether NIST will step up to the coordinating agency role it took from FEMA. This issue was actually anticipated by House Science in the NEHRP report:

However, the Committee also believes that the Program’s potential has been limited by the inability of NEHRP agencies to create synergy through coordinated efforts—a necessary part of any truly successful interagency program. It is because of these concerns that the Committee is modifying the structure of NEHRP. The Committee believes that, while NEHRP has been a successful undertaking, a great deal of room for improvement exists.

Where NEHRP goes from here remains to be seen, but if Congressional appropriators read the recently released Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC) report -- a report commissioned by Senate appropriators in the 106th Congress -- they will find language like this:

The analysis of ... FEMA grants awarded during the study period indicates that a dollar spent on mitigation saves society an average of $4.

A summary of the numbers can be found here. And while the study was done on FEMA numbers and not the NEHRP program in general, the take home message is that money spent on mitigation (the overall purpose of NEHRP) is money saved over the long term.

Posted on January 17, 2006 03:14 PM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Disasters

January 13, 2006

Does Disaster Mitigation Mask a Climate Change Signal in Disaster Losses?

Based on the current peer-reviewed literature, it absolutely does not. This post explains why this is the case.

One reaction to our work on attribution of factors responsible for the increase in weather-related losses worldwide has been to claim that successful disaster mitigation, that is, the protection of people and property from losses related to extreme events, has masked the role of climate change in driving increasing disaster losses. Such claims are not backed up by data or analysis.

For example, in his response to a comment (here in PDF) in Science Evan Mills asks, "What are the offsetting effects of human efforts to curb losses (building codes, early warning systems, fire protection, flood defenses, land-use planning, crop irrigation, etc.)?" He provides an answer to this question in his original paper:

"Many human activities mask losses that would otherwise manifest in the trend data. These include improved building codes, early-warning systems, flood control, electric load-shedding to avoid blackouts during heatwaves, disaster preparedness and response, and land-use planning. Insurer actions to reduce their exposures produce a dampening effect on observed insured costs. Untangling these offsetting factors is a necessary part of any comprehensive attribution analysis and has not been dealt with satisfactorily in the literature."

The argument here seems to be that successful mitigation efforts remove a portion of losses that otherwise would have occurred and with them they remove a signal of climate change. This argument is flawed for two reasons. First, it is logically incoherent. The effects of mitigation on losses are unrelated to climate signals. Mitigation modulates the exposure of population and wealth, it does not affect the underlying climate signal in the data. Hurricane Andrew will cost more than a category one storm taking the same path, regardless of level of mitigation. Second, a close look at actual disaster data shows that any signal of mitigation is exceedingly small in the context of the inexorable growth in population and wealth exposed to the effects of extreme events. In fact, it is not clear in many cases if mitigation efforts have had a positive or negative effect on losses. While documenting the costs and benefits of mitigation is important from the standpoint of disaster mitigation policy, by all indications it is largely irrelevant to this issue of attribution of trends in disaster losses as related to climate and societal factors. Let's consider each of these factors in turn.

Logically it makes sense that disaster mitigation affects the societal contribution to the disaster loss record, but not the climate contribution. This is explicit in the definition of disaster mitigation, which refers to "a sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects" (Source: FEMA PDF). When we look at a long-term trend in disaster losses, to identify a climate signal one of the first methodological steps is to adjust the data in a way that removes a societal signal from the loss data, by adjusting the data to some base year's losses, seeking to leave only those trends and variations that result from the physical behavior of the extreme weather phenomena. Successful mitigation actually contributes to this end by "dampening" the societal signal of increased wealth and population.

If the effects of mitigation were large enough and exhibited a systematic trend over time, then they would indeed be important factors to consider in loss normalization. There is no evidence that this is the case and ample evidence to the contrary (see below). At some point those who assert a climate change signal is disaster data will have to get their hands dirty with actual data analysis and research, rather than vigorous "proof bys assertion" (I couldn't resist).

There is the hypothetical situation where the mitigation efforts completely eliminate any damages whatsoever. In this case, a climate signal would of course be eliminated from the loss record, as the loss record itself would be terminated. Such situations are rare but not unprecedented. One example of this was shown to us in a recent seminar by Hans von Storch on North Sea storm surges which shows that the structural mitigation put in place after the North Sea floods of 1962 have eliminated damages in that region since that time making it impossible to glean climate trends from storm surge losses. But so long as the extreme event results in any damages at all, mitigation activities do not "mask" a climate signal. More intense events and more frequent events will still result in more damages than less and less intense events. In principle, successful mitigation may reduce the magnitude of societal growth on losses, but do not affect the ability to detect a climate signal in the loss record.

One way that mitigation effects might be seen in a long-term record of disasters is if one were to adjust the data for population and wealth, and if climate events are shown to have no trend, then the remaining trend in the adjusted dataset would necessarily be due to changing characteristics in the population and wealth, which might include the effects of mitigation. Successful mitigation would result in a long-term decline in losses, all else being equal. So for example, if we look at flood damages in the United States we find that losses per capita have increased while losses per unit wealth have in fact decreased (see this 2000 paper in PDF). These twin trends are consistent with the conclusion that when wealth and population are considered together in the context of a long-term trend if increasing precipitation, that mitigation has had a tangible effect on losses per unit wealth, and the increasing losses per capita reflect the growing wealth per capita. As we argued in the 2000 paper:

"after the variability in precipitation is accounted for, a significant decreasing trend is found in damage per unit wealth. This would suggest that the vulnerability of tangible property to flood damage has declined (perhaps because of successful flood policies), and the total damage has increased simply because of growth in total wealth."

So while it is possible that mitigation has had a discernible impact, it does not mask or otherwise preclude an analysis that concludes, as we did that, "the growth in recent decades in total damage is related to both climate factors and societal factors: increased damage is associated with increased precipitation and with increasing population and wealth. At the regional level, this study reports a stronger relationship between precipitation measures and flood damage, and indicates that different measures of precipitation are most closely related to damage in different regions. This study suggests that climate plays an important, but by no means determining, role in the growth in damaging floods in the United States in recent decades." (Note: For those interested in changes in precipitation, globally they have not been attributed to human caused climate change, see this discussion.)

So the presence of mitigation policies related to flooding precluded neither the identification of a small climate signal in the loss data nor identifying the much larger signal of societal changes, nor the relationship of the two. We found a similar result when we looked at hurricane damage and ENSO. (Hurricane damage is obviously a much more straightforward case for discerning climate-society relationships.) Efforts to mitigate hurricane impacts presented no obstacle to the identification of the climate signal of ENSO in the hurricane loss data (see this paper in PDF). We should not expect mitigation to mask climate signals because mitigation modulates only the societal signal in all cases except when it results in completely eliminating damages, which occurs in only exceedingly rare situations.

And perhaps troubling from the standpoint of disaster policy, a close look at loss data suggests that mitigation has a pretty small signal in any case. It may not even be positive in many instances. As FEMA notes, "Evaluating natural hazard mitigation is a complex and difficult undertaking which is influenced by several variables" (Source: FEMA PDF). The reason such evaluation is so difficult is that the signal of mitigation is small in the context of other factors. In his paper Mills selectively cites a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which (in support of its efforts to justify building levees) asserts that, "estimates that flood control measures have prevented 80% of U.S. losses that would have otherwise materialized." Such studies have been widely criticized because flood control measures create the conditions that lead to flood damage in the first place. Tobin (1995) explains how this might be so:

"Once [a levee] has been constructed, however, the structure may generate a false sense of security to the extent that floodplain inhabitants perceive that all flooding has been eliminated. With the incentive to take precautions removed, few residents will be prepared for the remedial action in the event of future floods. Even more costly, however, this false sense of security can also lead to greater development in the so-called safe areas, thus adding to the property placed at risk when the levee does fail, the increase in development can actually raise losses even higher than if no local system has been constructed in the first place"

Something similar was observed in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Surveys of damage found that homes built decades ago performed much better in the storm than homes built in recent years. Part of this was due to the style of home but also building quality and lack of effective inspections. So the effect of "mitigation" in the form of building practices was in fact to enhance vulnerability and thus increase losses as compared to past decades, which make in fact "mask" the actual costs of past storms estimated through normalization. Quantifying the effects of mitigation on losses has proven extremely difficult in aggregate loss trends because of the overwhelming influence of other societal factors.

So the methodology for distinguishing climate versus societal factors in the historical trend of increasing disaster losses remains unchanged by claims that disaster mitigation masks climate signals in loss data.

First, look to trends in climate events (e.g., frequency, intensity, location, etc.). If there are no trends identified, then it is impossible for trends in the events to be driving trends in the losses. If mitigation is in fact a significant factor this should be clearly identifiable in loss data adjusted for growth in population and wealth in the context of well-established understandings of climate phenomena.

Second, adjust the loss data to reflect changes in wealth and population exposed to the extreme events. If mitigation does not eliminate losses, then it is unlikely to have any material impact on the normalization methodology from the standpoint of discerning the effects of climate trends in the loss record.

Merely asserting the presence of disaster mitigation is an insufficient argument to overcome the evidence available to date (PDF) that supports the hypothesis that the worldwide trend of increasing weather-related disaster losses can be explained just about entirely by growth in population and property exposed to damages. I am open to new evidence and in particular quantitative analyses that address this hypothesis, as it is completely plausible that changes in climate could drive trends in disaster losses. However, we haven't see such data or analysis shown yet.

Posted on January 13, 2006 07:45 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

January 10, 2006

Does Donald Kennedy Read Science?

In an editorial in the 6 January 2006 issue of Science editor Donald Kennedy writes, "The consequences of the past century's temperature increase are becoming dramatically apparent in the increased frequency of extreme weather events ..."

In a letter published in Science 9 December 2005 written to correct another set of unsupportable claims published in Science about extreme weather events, I wrote (here in PDF),

"Over recent decades, the IPCC found no long-term global trends in extratropical cyclones (i.e., winter storms), in "droughts or wet spells," or in "tornados, hail, and other severe weather"... A recent study by the International Ad Hoc Detection and Attribution Group concluded that it was unable to detect an anthropogenic signal in global precipitation."

And even though my brief discussion of hurricanes got lost in the page-proof process (a correction is pending), recent research indicates no increase in the global frequency of tropical cyclones (e.g., Webster et al. 2005), and no long-term increase in the number or intensity of storms striking the U.S. (e.g., Landsea 2005). In short, there is no evidence to support Prof. Kennedy's claim of an "increased frequency of extreme weather events" that can be attributed to increasing global temperatures.

This issue is about more than simply getting the science right. In advancing an explicitly political agenda from a very influential position, Prof. Kennedy is making claims for particular policy actions that won't work as advertised. As we have written umpteen times here, and backed with research, yes greenhouse gas reductions make sense, but not as a policy instrument for addressing the escalating societal impacts of extreme events. While I have sympathies for Prof. Kennedy's politics, as a matter of policy, Professor Kennedy's argument is simply wrong.

Posted on January 10, 2006 09:09 AM View this article | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 09, 2005

Exchange in Today's Science

I have a letter in Science this week reacting to an article by Evan Mills in the 12 August 2005 issue of Science, which I comprehensively critiqued here. My letter is accompanied by a lengthy response from Mills. You can find both my letter and the response here in PDF.

I wrote the letter is in response to claims made by Mills (2005) about the role of climate change in the increasing losses related do disasters. Mills stated in the August paper that "climate change has played a role in the rising costs of natural disasters," and on the "relative weights of anthropogenic climate change and increased exposure" in the loss trend Mills concludes "quantification is premature." My letter concludes, "Presently, there is simply no scientific basis for claims that the escalating cost of disasters is the result of anything other than increasing societal vulnerability." Mills response does nothing to question this statement about the current state of the science.

Mills' lengthy and rambling response to my letter essentially confirms this assertion by discussing many things, but avoids engaging the points that I raised in my letter. Here are a few reactions.

1. First, Science for some reason did not include my page proof changes to the letter. This is not a terribly big deal. But I did update the letter to reflect some more recent literature on hurricanes, and a citation that was "in press" but is now published. I've emailed to see where things broke down. You'd think they wouldn't at Science.

2. Mills writes, "The disaster attribution literature upon which such assertions are based is fraught with data and measurement uncertainties and is decidedly incomplete, especially concerning events outside the United States (1)." To support this claim, he once again cites a paper that has no relevance to the point being made, referencing a study that does not discuss trends in disasters or their attribution (here). Mills seems unaware of actual work that seeks to quantify measurement uncertainties in disaster loss data, like this paper: Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228. (PDF). He doesn't seem to realize that if the data are really as bad as he suggests they are, that this doesn't support his claim to be able to identify a greenhouse gas signal in the loss record.

3. Mills goes on an on about issues that are far removed from his original claims about natural disasters or my reaction to those claims. He discusses "noncatastrophic processes such as small storms, lightning, soil subsidence, permafrost melt, the effects of mold and airborne aeroallergens on human health, coral reef decline, coastal erosion, or crop diseases." He also mentions "energy prices" and "changes in temperature and precipitation extremes, continental drying, and a range of associated impacts on physical and biological systems." He also discusses "atmospheric and ocean circulation and elevated ocean heat content, as well as sea-level rise and associated coastal erosion." Wow, neat stuff. But what do these things have to do with natural disasters or the clear focus of my letter? Nothing.

4. Mills raises some questions, "Why are losses from weather-related events rising faster than those from nonweather events? What are the offsetting effects of human efforts to curb losses (building codes, early warning systems, f ire protection, flood defenses, land-use planning, crop irrigation, etc.)? How do we explain rising economic losses (e.g., those to crops in the heartland or physical infrastructure built on melting permafrost) that are only weakly linked to oft-cited demographic factors such as populations clustering around coastlines? Lastly, why would rising numbers of events not translate into rising costs?" My reaction to this laundry list of uncertainties is to wonder how it can be that in the face of such unanswered questions Mills can so confidently conclude that greenhouse gases are responsible for some part of the historical trend in economic losses from disasters.

5. Mills mischaracterizes one of my papers when he cites a paper of ours to support the following, "Assuming that only socioeconomic factors-rather than rising emissions-influence losses may yield ill-founded policy recommendations that focus exclusively on adapting to climate change while dismissing energy policy as a legitimate part of the toolkit for responding (11)." Here is what our paper (PDF) actually said about energy policy, "Recognizing that climate impacts are best address through adaptation rather than prevention need not undercut he goals of increased energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse emissions." Dismissing energy policy? Hardly.

I could go on (but I won't!). Mills concludes with a line that I might have written, "Rather than "proof " by vigorous assertion, the constructive approach is to better understand the compounding roles of increasing vulnerability and climate change, and take affordable precautionary steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changes rather than waiting for unaffordable consequences." Given that Mills cites essentially none of the relevant literature and once again engages in unfounded assertions, misdirected citations and far-reaching distractions, I am confident that for the thoughtful reader this exchange will go a long way toward clarifying where the state of science lies on this issue.

Posted on December 9, 2005 06:01 AM View this article | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

December 06, 2005

Preview of AGU Presentation -- The $500 Billion Hurricane

On Wednesday at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, along with Kerry Emanuel I'll be presiding over a special session on hurricane Katrina. As part of that session I will be presenting preliminary results of a comprehensive update of a 1998 paper that Chris Landsea and I collaborated on titled, "Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1925-95" (available here as PDF). On the update I am collaborating again with Chris, and also Joel Gratz from here at the University of Colorado.

First, some of the features of the updated analysis.

1. We have extended the dataset forward to 2005 from 1995 and back to 1900 from 1925, representing 35 years of additional data. (Our analysis of the period 1900-1924 is still in process.) NOTE! This data has not been peer reviewed and is preliminary. But it does give a sense of where we are at in the analysis and some early numbers.

2. We used updated inflation for all factors used in the normalization: inflation data (source: 2005 Economic Report of the President), population data (source: 2000 U.S. Census), and wealth data (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis).

3. We have included 2005 storms damages as twice the current insured loss total, following the conventional practice of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). These numbers will be closely looked at, particularly Katrina. Generally, flood damage is not included in the hurricane damage tabulation, so how exactly to deal with New Orleans will be a subject of considerable attention. In what you see below, consider 2005 numbers preliminary, but are an effort to make an apples-to-apples comparison with the data 1900-2004.

4. We will be paying close attention to uncertainties in the data. In particular, we are investigating the possibility that pre- ~1960 data may significantly underestimate the actual losses for two reasons. One is that in this period there was very little or no public assistance provided after disasters (e.g., federal disaster assistance) and thus such costs would not have appeared in the totals during that period, yet they do appear in every large event today. Second, at some point before 1987 the NHC began using insured losses as the basis for calculating total losses, multiplying insured losses by a factor of two to arrive at a total estimate. This raises the possibility of a step function in the loss data when this practice began, meaning that earlier losses could in fact be significantly higher than we report, perhaps by as much as a factor of two. We are confident that the data since 1960 is fairly robust. Note that all of these errors work in the direction of magnifying losses earlier in the century. The possibility exists that we may continue to underestimate the hurricane loss potential

Some Data

Top 10 Damaging Storms 1900-2005 (note 1900-1924 incomplete)

1.1926Great Miami$129,700,000,000
5.1915Storm 2$50,200,000,000
6.1938New England$35,000,000,000
7.1944Storm 9$34,300,000,000
8.1928Lake Okeechobee$29,600,000,000

Note that Katrina I ranked number 2 here. Even with a larger estimate for Katrina this would hold. The 1926 Miami storm estimate may be conservative for reasons discussed above. Note that none of the 4 storms from 2004 or Wilma appears in the top 10. Andrew is ranked 4th. Andrew and Katrina are the only storms in the top 10 that occurred in the past 35 years.

Top 10 Years 1900-2005 (note 1900-1924 incomplete)


Looking at yearly damages, 1926 is number 1 with 2005 not far behind. 2004 is in 7th place and 1992 is in 4th. The next most recent year in the rankings in 1954.

Top 10 10-Year Periods 1935-2005


When we look at the cumulative damages over 10-year intervals 1935-2005 we see the effects of many large events in the 1940s and 1950s. When we eventually extend the database back to 1900 comprehensively, I expect to see additional years in this listing around 1926 and before 1910. The take-home point here is that single large events are not the only way to look at hurricane losses, but decadal periods with consistently high losses. The 1980s and 1990s appear at the bottom of such a ranking. Our thinking about hurricane damage is shaped by our experiences in an anomalous several decades of very low losses when considered in historical perspective.

Differences between 1998 and 2005 analyses, and a look to the future

Across the board the average per-storm increase in losses between our 1998 study and the present effort is 104%. Inflation accounts for about 13% of this increase, meaning that losses have increased in real terms by 91% or in other words, have just about doubled.

Consider this, if the pace of population growth and increasing wealth continues at these rates until 2020, then in 2004 dollars (i.e., today's dollars) we should expect a repeat of the 1926 storm to cause about $500 billion in damages in 2020, all else being equal. Katrina would be $320 billion, Andrew $200 billion. These numbers boggle the mind, but provide some indication where we are headed.

Posted on December 6, 2005 08:54 AM View this article | Comments (17) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

November 22, 2005

Two Perspectives on Katrina

Rick Anthes at UCAR, writes, “There can be little doubt that the failure of society and government on all levels contributed so much to this disaster that it can hardly be called an act of God.” See his essay on the storm here.

Roger Kennedy, historian and former director of the National Park Service, writes, “Post-Katrina policy is being muddled with too much vague talk of “natural disasters” and “acts of God.” Disasters are catastrophes affecting people.” See his essay on the storm in our Center’s Fall newsletter, Ogmius, available here.

Posted on November 22, 2005 03:48 PM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

November 18, 2005

Special AGU Session on Katrina

Late in the development of the program for the Amreican Geophysical Union's (AGU) fall meeting, the AGU asked Kerry Emanuel and I to organize a special union session on hurricane Katrina. The session will be held Wednesday 7 December at 13:40. It has just been added to the AGU website here. If you are attending, please drop by, should be very interesting. Here are the speakers and talk titles:

1340 U33C Marriott Salon 7 Scientific Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina: >From Planning to Recovery I

Presiding: K A Emanuel, MIT; R A Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado
1340 Hurricane Katrina, the Response, and the Recovery: Discerning the Real Disaster
*M Davidson
1340 U33C Marriott Salon 7 Scientific Perspectives on Hurricane Katrina: >From Planning to Recovery I

1355 Meteorology of Hurricane Katrina *H Willoughby

1410 Perspectives on the State of Storm Surge Modeling *R Luettich, J Westerink, B Blanton

1425 The Role of Science and Scientists in Responding to Hurricane Katrina: A U.S. Geological Survey Perspective *T Cohn

1440 Normalized Hurricane Losses in the United States: 1900-2005 *R Pielke, Jr., C Landsea, J Gratz

1455 The Hurricanes of 2005: A Reinsurance Perspective *A Castaldi

1510 Science as the Whistleblower for Catastrophic Disasters; What Went Wrong with Hurricane Katrina? *S Laska

1525 Can science better inform policy? Connecting scientific insights to social values for effective policy making in the wake of natural disasters B Holland, *S Peters, J Ramage, D Sahagian

Posted on November 18, 2005 08:12 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

November 11, 2005

The Role of Social Science Research in Disaster Preparedness and Response

Yesterday the House Science Committee held a hearing on the role of social science research in disaster preparedness and response. Here are some excerpts from the prepared testimony:

Susan Cutter (PDF): "The Hurricane Katrina crisis was precipitated by a physical event, but it was the failure of social and political systems that turned the natural disaster into a human catastrophe. As a nation, we need to understand the human decisions and organizational failures that contributed to this disaster so it won't happen again. We need an independent review of the local, state, and federal responses to Hurricane Katrina so we can learn the lessons of what went right and what went wrong in the response and use these to improve our preparedness and responses to future disasters. The social science disaster research community is ready and willing to step up to this challenge and participate in such an independent review. Are you willing to authorize one?"

Shirley Laska (PDF): "I was not participating in some abstract intellectual exercise during the last few years as I was drawing from my own and others' existing research to warn professional group after professional group of an impending Katrina. The result of those warnings not being heeded was the end of my community. And as our warnings were accurate, this doom assessment of the impact is not hyperbole. Recovery of coastal Louisiana from hurricanes Katrina and Rita is in my opinion uncertain. We do not yet know if we have the family, organizational and governmental resources, ability and energy to accomplish it. And the cost to the society is astronomical. This is the outcome of scientists not being heard. And it doesn't get any more personal for a scientist than Katrina has been for me."

Posted on November 11, 2005 08:03 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

October 14, 2005

Excellent South Asia Earthquake Resource

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming ... A colleague of mine here at CIRES, geologist Roger Billham, has an excellent web site on the South Asia earthquake. Roger observes,

"How bad was it? If reports from the Kashmir epicentral region are confirmed, the number of fatalities exceeds 40,000 making it the most fatal earthquake ever to occur in the Indian subcontinent. The number of fatalities in an earthquake is linked to the vulnerability of local buildings, population density, and shaking intensity. In 1935 a Richter magnitude M7.5 strike-slip earthquake near the city of Quetta, the only large settlement in an otherwise sparsely populated region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Baluchistan, resulted in an estimated 35,000 dead. The M7.8 Kangra earthquake in 1905 caused 20,000 fatalities, and the Mw=7.6 Bhuj 2001 earthquake 18,500."

This figure which shows deaths versus earthquake magnitude is very interesting. Of it Roger notes,

"Deaths vs earthquake magnitude for earthquakes throughout the world 1900-2004 compared to the Kashmir 2005 earthquake. Although a simple relation between earthquake magnitude and the number of resulting deaths can be discerned (gray shading), the fatal consequences of large earthquakes depends more on their proximity to urban populations, the vulnerability of dwellings, and the time of day, than on the energy released. (fig. from Hough & Bilham,2005). The Sumatra/Andaman/Nicobar earthquake resulted in epicentral building collapse and damage, and huge loss of life along a thin but concentrated population on a coastal strip throughout the Indian ocean and Andaman sea."

Lots more here.

Posted on October 14, 2005 12:38 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

October 04, 2005

Katrina as Category 1 in New Orleans?

An alert reader (thanks JA) passes along this very interesting news story from today's Florida Sun-Sentinel,

"Hurricane Katrina might have battered New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as a considerably weaker system than the Category 4 tempest initially reported. New, preliminary information compiled by hurricane researchers suggests the system struck southeast Louisiana on Aug. 29 with peak-sustained winds of 115 mph. That would have made it a Category 3 storm, still a major hurricane, but a step down from the enormous destructive force of a Category 4. Katrina might have further downgraded to a strong Category 1 system with 95 mph winds when it punched water through New Orleans' levees, severely flooding most of the city and killing hundreds. The levees were designed to withstand a Category 3 storm. If verified, the wind information compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division could have chilling ramifications.

Notably, it would leave the specter that if a Category 4 or a Category 5 hurricane were to hit the same region, it would be even more catastrophic. "It's important from a public perception standpoint," said Mark Powell, the research scientist who plotted the new wind measurements, adding that most people think they endured a Category 4. "They won't want to hear it was a Category 3." ... According to hurricane research division findings, Katrina remained a Category 4 until it was about 105 miles south of the Mississippi River delta. In downtown New Orleans, the winds were barely hurricane strength because buildings disrupted the flow, he said. That is information he suspects New Orleans residents don't want to hear. "People go through a bad event like that, and they want to feel it was something it couldn't be prevented," Powell said. "In a lot of cases, it can be prevented.""

Posted on October 4, 2005 03:02 PM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

September 28, 2005

Meade on Disasters and Research

Charles Meade, from the Rand Corporation, had a thoughtful op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week. Here is the full text, reprinted here with permission:

Get proactive with disasters

Charles Meade

Imagine if the Army's main strategy for protecting soldiers was to provide more ambulances, hospital beds, and doctors to treat the wounded - instead of relying on defensive measures such as fortifications, tanks, body armor and helmets to protect soldiers from being wounded in the first place.

The strategy of responding only after attacks instead of adequately preparing to defend against them sounds absurd. But it is exactly what the federal government, states and localities have done when it comes to protecting people from disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados and volcanoes.

Even if the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina had been far faster, bigger and better organized, the storm would inevitably have caused some death and severe property damage. But if more had been done earlier, New Orleans and other communities would have fared far better and many deaths would have been prevented.

In his Sept. 15 address from New Orleans, President Bush said: "This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina." Emergency response was clearly improved during Hurricane Rita. But a strategy based primarily on responding to a disaster after it hits is a losing strategy. We are far better off taking action to reduce and prevent disaster damage before it occurs.

While we don't know exactly when and where these calamities will strike, we do know that hurricanes often hit communities along the Gulf of Mexico, tornados are common on the Great Plains, and earthquakes often take place in parts of California. This knowledge can enable us to take action.

Even before the 2004 hurricane season, natural disasters were costing the United States an average of about $300 million per week, as documented in a 2003 RAND Corporation report I prepared for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The number of natural disasters has clearly continued to rise in the last two years, but there has been only limited federal action to prevent these types of losses.

We should be able to use research to develop better policies that determine where homes, businesses and other structures can be constructed - and where new construction is a bad idea. We should also use research to decide what building standards new homes and businesses must meet to withstand the forces of nature. These steps can greatly reduce the need for massive evacuation, and emergency response and recovery operations like those seen in the cases of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

A new national strategy to learn the lessons of Katrina and Rita about disaster preparation should do the following:

Focus scientific and technical efforts on reducing our vulnerability to disasters, changing the current emphasis on improving short-term weather forecasting. For example, as Katrina and Rita roared across the Gulf, they were extensively studied to predict landfall locations. But once the storms hit communities, there were virtually no measurements of wind force and direction near the ground. Such information could have been collected if instruments had been deployed ahead of time in areas likely to be hit by the storms. The information could be used to help develop better engineering and design standards.

Encourage tougher building codes requiring that new buildings be better able to withstand earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornados or other natural disasters. Such codes typically increase the initial costs of new construction, but they dramatically reduce future losses if disaster strikes.

Provide federal financial incentives that would prompt state and local governments and property owners to reduce disaster losses. Owners of homes and business could get federal tax breaks if they strengthened existing structures or paid higher construction costs to build safer homes and businesses.

We haven't seen measures like these because past policies and budgets have been reactive rather than proactive.

In the case of Katrina, this strategic failure proved extremely costly. Estimates are that the federal government could ultimately spend about $200 billion on recovery and rebuilding efforts. It would have been far cheaper to shore up levees in New Orleans, toughen building codes, change zoning laws, and take other actions that would have dramatically lowered the death and destruction.

In 1736, Benjamin Franklin famously stated that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If Franklin were alive today, he might say that "an ounce of preparedness is worth a pound of response." This is the most important lesson we can learn from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Charles Meade is a senior scientist with the Rand Corporation.

Posted on September 28, 2005 06:54 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Others | Disasters

September 23, 2005

Op-ed in the LA Times

Dan Sarewitz and I have an op-ed on hurricanes, climate change and disasters in today's Los Angeles Times. Here is the opening:

"LIKE A BAD horror movie in which the villain keeps coming back, Hurricane Rita, the 18th storm of the season, is spinning toward an inevitable rendezvous with the Gulf Coast. We've already seen more death and destruction than the last 35 hurricane seasons combined. And many people, including some European and U.S. politicians, are hoping that the carnage - represented most poignantly by the destruction in New Orleans - will help bring this country to its senses on dealing with global warming.

But understanding what this hurricane season is really telling us about why we're so vulnerable to climate-related catastrophes means facing up to an unavoidable fact: Efforts to slow global warming will have no discernible effect on hurricanes for the foreseeable future. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adequately preparing for future disasters are essentially separate problems."

Read the whole thing here.

Posted on September 23, 2005 06:48 AM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

September 22, 2005

Column in Bridges

My latest column in Bridges, the quarterly publication of Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC, is now online. It is titled, "Making Sense of Trends in Disaster Losses," and starts out like this:

"Record rainfall and over a thousand dead in Mumbai. Devastating floods in central Europe. A record hurricane season in the Atlantic, including more than $100 billion dollars in damage from Hurricane Katrina. The summer of 2005 seems to have witnessed more than its fair share of weather-related disasters. And, perhaps understandably, no weather-related disaster occurs without someone linking it to the issue of global warming... But as logical and enticing as it may seem to connect the ever-growing toll of disasters with global warming, the current state of science simply does not support making such a connection."

Read the rest here. Comments welcomed.

If you are interested in science and technology policy, then the entire issue of Bridges is worth your attention.

Posted on September 22, 2005 12:33 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters

September 15, 2005

Politics and Disaster Declarations

In today's New York Times, economist Alan B. Kruger discusses our work on politics and presidential disaster declarations. Here is an excerpt:

"While no one would doubt that a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina deserves the full commitment of the federal government, the language in the FEMA law is vague enough to count two feet of snow in Ohio as a major disaster, as was the case last December. Indeed, the law specifically prohibits the use of an "arithmetic formula or sliding scale" to deny assistance. So, disaster requests are not evaluated based on standard quantitative evidence; instead, declarations involve subjective judgment. Not surprisingly, in this vacuum presidents have displayed a tendency to declare more disasters in years when they face re-election. Mary W. Downton of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Roger A. Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder, for example, looked at the flood-related disasters that were declared from 1965 to 1997 in an article published in "Natural Hazards Review" in 2001. Even after accounting for the amount of precipitation and flood damage each year, they found that the average number of flood-related disasters declared by the president was 46 percent higher in election years than in other years. The tendency to declare more disasters during election years is not limited to floods. President Bill Clinton set a record by declaring 73 major disasters in 35 states and the District of Columbia in 1996, the year he was up for re-election. When George W. Bush faced re-election in 2004, he declared 61 major disasters in 36 states - 10 more than in 2003 and tied for the second highest number of major disaster declarations ever, according to data provided by FEMA. The increase from 2003 to 2004 was particularly sharp in the 12 battleground states in which the election was decided by 5 percent or less; these states had 17 major disasters declared in 2004 but only 8 in 2003, and, therefore, accounted for 90 percent of the increase."

The paper that Professor Krueger references is this one:

Downton, M. and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 2001: Discretion Without Accountability: Politics, Flood Damage, and Climate, Natural Hazards Review, 2(4):157-166. (PDF)

[Note: The Garrett and Sobel article referred to by Krueger can be found here and a prepublication version of the same study here (PDF).]

Posted on September 15, 2005 08:31 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

Part III: Historical economic losses from floods - Where does Katrina rank?

In Part I and Part II of his series we discussed some of the methodological challenges in quantifying economic impacts and sought to place Katrina into the context of historical hurricanes. Katrina holds the distinction of not only being one of the most costly hurricanes on record, but also one of the most costly floods.

In its tabulation of losses from extreme weather events, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) has historically distinguished hurricane damages from flood damages. In a research report to NOAA on flood damage that we completed several years ago we characterized the distinction as follows:

"[Flooding includes] river and coastal flooding, rainwater flooding on level surfaces and low-gradient slopes, flooding in shallow depressions which is caused by water-table rise, and flooding caused by the backing-up or overflow of artificial drainage systems. The NWS includes damage from most types of flooding listed above, but excludes ocean floods caused by severe wind (storm surge) or tectonic activity (tsunami)." The NWS also excludes mudslides from its flood damage totals.

In that report we reanalyzed the historical flood damage record of the NWS by going into NWS archives, exploring historical media reports and cross checking federal and state damage estimates. We think the resulting dataset is the best single source of information on flood damage available in the United States. You can see it here -

The data from our report can be converted to 2004 dollars by using the implicit price deflators found in Table B-3 of the Economic Report of the President (multiply 1995 dollars by 1.175 to get 2004 dollars). In millions of $2004 the ten largest flood-damage years from the period 1929-2003 are as follows:

1993: $20,039
1972 : $15,940
1997 : $10,135
1986 : $9,022
1979 : $7,920
2001 : $7,568
1996 : $7,059
1951 : $6,576
1973 : $6,134
1983 : $6,130

But as we have often discussed here, such measures can be misleading because there are profound societal changes that occur over a period of decades. One way to reduce the effects of societal changes is to look at damages per capita. Here are the top 10 flood years 1929-2003 measured on a per capita basis:

1993: $77.74
1972 : $75.94
1951 : $42.46
1997 : $37.85
1986 : $37.57
1937 : $36.11
1979 : $35.19
1965 : $30.20
1973 : $28.95
1955 : $27.31

Damage per capita still underestimates the effects of societal changes, as not only has the population changed, but it has overall become much more wealthy over time, resulting in the potential for much larger losses today than in the past. One way to further adjust the data is to look at damage per unit of national wealth. This graph (PDF) shows this data, and suggests that even as floods have increased in their total costs, their economic effects have diminished as a fraction of wealth.

We strongly encourage anyone who wants to use this data to become familiar with its strengths and limitations which are discussed here and in the publications listed below.

The flooding associated with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is, as we've discussed, a very unique case. The only parts of the total event that would be appropriate to include in this database (aside from inland flooding away from the Gulf) would likely be the levee breaks in New Orleans. And even then, if the levee breaks were determined to be the result of storm surge, then the flooding might then be judged an orange in this basket of apples.

But for the sake of discussion, let's assume that the flooding of New Orleans is indeed classified as flood damages and not hurricane damages. At any of the estimates currently available for the costs of draining and rebuilding New Orleans, Katrina's flooding will shatter the record for annual flood costs and per capita flood costs. Under such an allocation of costs, Katrina would likely be listed as the second most costly hurricane on record (after 1926 Miami) and the worst flood event on record. The total damages would thus be a combination of both types of loss estimates. If this seems a be convoluted, I'd agree, but we are constrained in our historical analyses by the methods used to assess damage over time. This is why great caution is needed in assessing Katrina's damages for the purposes of comparing the event with past storms.

For more information on flood damages please have a look at the following:

Downton, M., J. Z. B. Miller and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. Reanalysis of U.S. National Weather Service Flood Loss Database, Natural Hazards Review, 6:13-22. (PDF)

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228. (PDF)

And to see how flood damage has varied with climate trends, please see this paper:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., and M.W. Downton, 2000: Precipitation and Damaging Floods: Trends in the United States, 1932-97. Journal of Climate, 13(20), 3625-3637. (PDF)

Posted on September 15, 2005 08:21 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

September 12, 2005

Some Thoughtful Perspectives

Chip Geller and Dave Roberts from Grist have a nice piece in the 11 September 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Here is an excerpt:

"If we could travel back in time 10 years, even 20, and work to prevent last week's misery and loss, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would be far down the list of pragmatic preventative strategies. We'd start instead with reinforcement of New Orleans' levees, restoration of coastal wetlands, upgrades to regional emergency-response programs, maintenance of FEMA's independence and integrity, meaningful anti-poverty programs and the election of a commander in chief who wasn't so obviously in over his head. The wind and rain may have been natural, but Katrina was very much a human disaster, rotten with racism, willful neglect and criminal incompetence."

Paul Recer also has a very nice essay in today's Slate (Thanks DOK). Here is an excerpt:

"Until the science clarifies, environmental groups that use Katrina as a way to boost their campaign for tougher controls on greenhouse emissions risk provoking a backlash. Exploiting bad news and facile pseudoscience to seek support and fresh donations is a good way to lose credibility. Greenpeace, for instance, looked foolish when it denounced genetically modified foods as "Frankenfoods" that can potentially harm human health. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a respected independent advisory group, concluded in 2004 that foods created by gene manipulation were no more dangerous than crops altered by traditional breeding methods. The animal-rights movement suffered a similar embarrassment when it argued against using laboratory animals for medical research by claiming that computer modeling could accomplish the same research goals as living animals. Donald Kennedy, executive editor in chief of the journal Science, called the claim "a remarkable piece of science fiction."

Environmentalists who want to leverage Katrina are on far more solid ground scientifically and economically in going after the state and federal rules that permit people to build in harm's way. Population growth along the U.S. coastline has exploded in recent years-13 million people now live in Florida's coastal counties alone compared to only about 200,000 a century ago. A USA Today study concluded that about 1,000 people move into U.S. coastal counties each day. The denser population makes the areas more difficult to evacuate: Officials told the Washington Post that it now takes twice as long to evacuate Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., as it did 10 years ago."

Posted on September 12, 2005 04:53 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

Kristof on Hurricanes

In his column yesterday, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof jumps on the bandwagon suggesting that greenhouse gas policies can be used as a tool to modulate future hurricane behavior. We've covered this subject in some detail here, but there are two points worth making on this column.

First, Kristof goes out of his way to avoid the obvious issue of societal vulnerability. He quoted Kerry Emanuel as follows: "My results suggest that future warming may lead to ... a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century." Kristof's ellipses significantly change the meaning of Emanuel's statement. Here is the full quote from Emanuel's paper (PDF), including the information replaced by Kristof with ellipses, "My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and-taking into account an increasing coastal population- a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty- first century." This is playing a bit fast and loose with Emanuel's statement, given that Emanuel says elsewhere, "For U.S.-centric concerns over the next 30-50 years, by far the most important hurricane problem we face is demographic and political." Of course, as we've documented here, for at least the next half century and probably longer, societal vulnerability to hurricanes dominates any projected greenhouse gas effects, so in an essay advocating greenhouse gases as a tool of disaster management, it is obvious why Kristof would want to pretend that this issue doesn't exist.

Second, Kristof relies on the opinions of scientists rather than what you find in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Now, the scientists that he cites are surely very intelligent people, and the peer reviewed literature has its own flaws, and of course Kristof is a columnist not an IPCC contributor. But it seems to me that we have the peer-reviewed literature for a reason, and that in general it is likely a more reliable guide to what we know than predictions of smart scientists as to what future research will reveal. Kristof relies on the opinions of smart people whose views are convenient to his argument, and ignores the opinions of smart people whose views are inconvenient. This is called cherry picking. One way to adjudicate among different opinions of scientists is to consult the peer-reviewed scientific literature (this is of course what the IPCC does), and when there are different perspectives in the peer-reviewed literature, then that is a reality of science.

Over the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that the controversy over hurricanes and global warming exists because different scientists have different views as to what future research will reveal, and they have been outspoken in advancing these opinions. Bill Gray, for example, expects future research to reveal no discernible connection between hurricanes and global warming. By contrast, Kevin Trenberth believes that a connection will be found. Future research will help to clarify this dispute. But if one takes a look at the peer-reviewed science available today (and later this week), there is in fact a clear consensus on this subject.

In his column Kristof cites the useful, but non-peer-reviewed Real Climate weblog and Emanuel speculating that, "The large upswing [in the PDI] in the last decade is unprecedented, and probably reflects the effect of global warming." This last statement is what scientists call a hypothesis. It may in fact be correct. Bill Gray may also be proven correct. To address such divergent views is one reason why we do research in the first place. We could save a lot of money in research funding if we substituted scientific opinions for research. But lets be very clear --- as of today, as we documented in our BAMS paper, research has not been conducted that would allow for a definitive conclusion on these different opinions on hurricanes and global warming. And unless there are some surprises in the publication pipeline, it does not look like there will be any peer-reviewed scientific studies available by the end of 2005, and thus available to the next IPCC, that clarify the issue of attribution of greenhouse gas effects on hurricanes.

Scientists would do themselves and decision makers a favor by clearly identifying knowledge that can be supported by the peer-reviewed literature and that which is based on opinions by scientists as to what future research will reveal. Our forthcoming BAMS paper on hurricanes and global warming should be interpreted as an assessment of what statements can be made based on the peer-reviewed literature available today. Some scientists of course want to make stronger statements, on one side or the other, and they of course have every right to, but they should be careful to qualify such statements as hypotheses or statements of expectation and not of findings. Otherwise, if scientists' opinions are as good a basis of knowledge as peer-reviewed studies, then what is the point of the peer-reviewed literature at all?

Posted on September 12, 2005 07:46 AM View this article | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters | Environment

September 09, 2005

What kind of leadership does FEMA need?

The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu reports that “Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001.” The Post continues, “Patronage appointments to the crisis-response agency are nothing new to Washington administrations. But inexperience in FEMA’s top ranks is emerging as a key concern of local, state and federal leaders as investigators begin to sift through what the government has admitted was a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.”

Before this report becomes another dividing line between ‘Bush bashers’ and ‘Bush defenders’, we need to take a close look at what kind of leadership is necessary to run an emergency agency and whether political patronage has a place in such agencies. My answer is that both experienced emergency responders and political appointees are necessary, but ideally, those top leaders should be both.

First question: does emergency response require ‘different’ leadership skills than, say, leadership of other departments such as USDA, HUD, EPA, etc.? I argue yes. A large component of effective leadership (some may say all) is making good decisions. A lot of decision making at agencies occurs in the framework of formal processes: identify the problem, gather information, allow for public comment, explore options, make decision, etc. Obviously the process is not perfect, linear or surgical as some who read this will be quick to note. My point, however, is that there tends to be an unfolding of the decision process that is radically different from the decision making process, hence leadership, required in emergency and emergency response situations, particularly on a temporal scale. Decision making process become truncated, intelligence may be incomplete, and multiple problems demand solutions almost simultaneously. The importance of situational leadership (well articulate by Hershey) and the leaders’ ability to make decisions given the requirements of the particular emergency context cannot be overstated. Effective leadership in ‘crisis’ situations often requires years of training and experience to hone those qualities that separate capable leaders from those who are out of their league.

Second question: does political patronage have a place in emergency response agencies? Yes, it does. The Washington Post quotes Richard A. Andrews, former emergency services director for the state of California and a member of the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council says, "You need people in there who have both experience and the confidence of the president, who are able to fight and articulate what FEMA's mission and role is, and who understand how emergency management works." Political leadership and influence inside the Beltway is obviously important. Also, political appointments are as much a part of Washington as summer humidity and the practice won’t be going away anytime soon.

Third: Must the President choose between one who is an experienced emergency response leader and one who possesses those leadership skills necessary to succeed inside the Beltway? Absolutely not, nor should he. Political connection and emergency response leadership are not mutually exclusive qualities. James Witt, former FEMA director, embodies those qualities. The emergency response community has a talented pool of people from across the country from which to select such people. But with President Bush’s appointments to FEMA (at least the five mentioned in the Post article), he clearly placed the value of political patronage over the operational requirements of an agency that requires leadership skills that most managers and bureaucrats just don’t have. In the aftermath of Katrina, President Bush has an opportunity to make changes in FEMA’s leadership cadre, and indeed he should.

So what does this have to do with science policy? Researchers, practitioners, and private training companies are familiar with the unique qualities required of an emergency response leader. Why then did President Bush forego appointing more qualified people to FEMA in lieu of political patronage? Is this a problem of the ‘right’ scientific information not getting to the right people, e.g. President Bush and his staff? And if it is, how do we as researchers ensure that we get the right information about important leadership qualities to the right people in the future?

Posted on September 9, 2005 12:17 PM View this article | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: McNie, E. | Disasters

Part II - Historical economic losses from hurricanes - Where does Katrina fit?

[Note: See the bottom of this post for links to further reading from the peer-reviewed literature]

In purely economic terms, Katrina is certain to be among the costliest disasters in history. As Part I of this series observed, understanding the magnitude of disaster losses is important for a wide range of decisions, including evaluating the effectiveness of disaster mitigation and understanding trends in vulnerability. This post describes the historical record of hurricane damages and seeks to place Katrina's economic impact, at least given what is presently known, into historical context.

Current estimates for the losses associated with Katrina are in the range of $100-$150 billion. For reasons discussed below, this may be an oranges to apples comparison with the longer term historical record on hurricanes. But lets set this aside for the moment and use $125 billion as the total impact of Katrina. (read to the end for a discussion of why these estimates may not be a good comparison with past events.)

Katrina represents, by far, the single largest hurricane disaster in U.S. history. Based on data (PDF) available from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), here are the top 5 storms ranked by total damage in 2004 dollars:

1. Katrina $125B
2. Andrew $26.5B
3. Charlie $15B
4. Ivan $14.2B
5. Frances $8.9B

But frequent readers here will know that simply looking at the total costs can be misleading because storms that hit is the past encountered very different levels of development and population along the coast. Hence, storms of the past would undoubtedly cause far more damage were they to hit with today's levels of coastal development. To account for this Chris Landsea and I developed a methodology for "normalizing" historical losses to present day values (see this paper in PDF). We think that the data represents a fair adjustment to the data because we can identify a climate signal in the resulting dataset (i.e., the ENSO signal, see this paper in PDF and the data are consistent with the estimates of catastrophe models used in the insurance industry, see this paper in PDF) Once the data are adjusted to 2004 values a different picture emerges on the impacts of historical storms. Here is data (in PDF) from the NHC, including Katrina:

1. Katrina $125B
2. 1926 Miami $102B
3. Andrew $43B
4. Galveston 1900 $38B
5. Galveston 1915 $32B

And if you take a close look at this ranking you'll see that only 5 of the top 20 most damaging storms occurred since 1970! We are in the process of updating our analysis of normalized losses and hope to have an updated database following hurricane season this year.

But is $125 billion an accurate estimate for Katrina? Damage estimates are not precise and estimates for individual storms can have large errors (e.g., see this paper in PDF). Consider for example how the total damage for Ivan (2004) was determined. The NHC often uses a simple estimate that total damages are equal to twice the insured damages (and there is empirical evidence to suggest that this is a reasonable assumption, see this paper in PDF). Consider this from the 2004 NHC report on Ivan which describes how the $14.2 billion estimate was arrived at:

"A total of 686,700 claims were filed and the American Insurance Services Group estimates (14 December 2004 re-survey) that insured losses in the United States from Hurricane Ivan totaled $7.11 billion, of which more than $4 billion occurred in Florida alone. Using a two-to-one ratio of insured damages yields an estimated U.S. loss of approximately $14.2 billion."

But this approach can be inaccurate when there are unprecedented federal disaster packages such as we see with Katrina. This creates several problems for our normalized database that we will have to grapple with as we update the data this year. First, large federal disaster packages are a product of the late 20th century (see, e.g., this paper in PDF). There were no such packages before 1950 and without a doubt the costs of, say, the 1926 Miami storm would be far higher today than we estimate simply because of this factor. Second, federal costs throw off the relationship of insured to total losses. I have seen insurance industry loss estimates of up to $30 billion. This would suggest, under the methods used by the NHC to estimate losses in recent decades, that Katrina's total impact would be about $60 billion. Of course the disaster in New Orleans is extremely unique. So we will have to grapple with these issues as we consider how best to add Katrina to the hurricane loss database, and what, if any adjustments should result to estimates from the distant past.

For now, I'd urge some caution in comparing Katrina directly to historical hurricanes. It is certainly safe to say that it is one of the top two most costly storms in the normalized database, and one can make a good argument for it being number one. But we also have to recognize that historical losses (pre-1950) may significantly underestimate the total costs of storms today, particularly for those storms with the largest impacts because of the large role played by the federal government today in disaster assistance.

For further reading (available here):

Pielke, Jr., R. A., and C. W. Landsea, 1998: Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1925-95. Weather and Forecasting, American Meteorological Society, Vol. 13, 621-631.

Pielke, Jr., R.A., and C.W. Landsea, 1999: La Nia, El Nio, and Atlantic Hurricane Damages in the United States. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 80, 10, 2027-2033.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., C. W. Landsea, M. Downton, and R. Muslin, 1999: Evaluation of Catastrophe Models Using a Normalized Historical Record: Why It Is needed and How To Do It. Journal of Insurance Regulation. 18, pp. 177-194.

Downton, M. and R.A. Pielke, Jr., 2001: Discretion Without Accountability: Politics, Flood Damage, and Climate, Natural Hazards Review, 2(4):157-166.

Downton, M. and R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2005. How Accurate are Disaster Loss Data? The Case of U.S. Flood Damage, Natural Hazards, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 211-228.

Posted on September 9, 2005 09:03 AM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Disasters

September 08, 2005


There is a very interesting article in today's New York Times on the notion of "theodicy" a term "coined in the 18th century by the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, derives from Greek roots invoking the "justice of the gods." A theodicy is an attempt to show that such justice exists, to prove that we really do live in what Leibniz insisted was the "best of all possible worlds.""

Here is an excerpt:

"Recently, the philosopher Susan Neiman argued in "Evil in Modern Thought" that the Lisbon earthquake also destroyed an ancient idea that nature could itself be evil. After Lisbon, she argued, moral evil was distinguished from natural disaster. Earthquakes and floods could no longer be fitted into traditional religious theodicies.

But this did not mean, of course, that theodicies faded away. Ms. Neiman argued that for philosophers theology had been replaced by history. The fates of peoples and nations reflected other forces, and disruptions were given other forms of explanation. Hegel saw history as an evolutionary series of transformations in which destruction was as inevitable as birth. Marx believed other kinds of economic and human laws accounted for destruction and evolution. This mostly left natural disasters for the growing realm of science: if they couldn't be prevented, at least their origins could be understood.

Now though, with the prospect of thousands of dead becoming plausible with reports from New Orleans, other forms of theodicy also taking shape. Much debate is taking place about the scale of human tragedy, about procedures and planning and responsibility. And none of that should be ignored. But it is remarkable how this natural disaster has almost imperceptibly come to seem the result of human agency, as if failures in planning were almost evidence of cause, as if forces of nature were subject to human oversight. The hurricane has been humanized.

I don't want to push this too far, of course; human actions, as the Portuguese prime minister knew, are crucial. But this is still an important change in our views of the natural world. In a way, it inflates human knowledge. It confidently extends scientific and political power into the realm of nature. It doesn't really explain catastrophe, but it attempts to explain why we are forced to experience it: because of human failings.

There is a theodicy at work here, in the ways in which the reaction to natural catastrophe so readily becomes political. Nature becomes something to be managed or mismanaged; it lies within the political order, not outside it. Theodicy, if successful, does not overturn belief but confirms it. So, for some commentators, the flood and its aftermath provided confirmation of their previous doubts about the Bush adminstration.

Actually, in some respects, this theodicy has gone even beyond the political: just as a religious theodicy might have shown natural catastrophe to be the result of human misdeed, many of the early commentators about the flood did the same, creating a kind of scientific/moral theodicy in which human sin is still a dominant factor. Last week, for example, Germany's minister of the environment, Jürgen Trittin, said: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina - in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures - can visit on his country."

All of these explanations are subject to examination and debate of course, but in the heart of a secular age, they are also something else. They are theodicies. And in the face of nature's awesome and horrific powers, the prospect of political retribution is as prevalent as the promise of divine retribution once was."

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