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Media Link Hurricanes and Global Warming for More than a Decader

     Some lessons are hard to learn. For the media, who have been told many times by scientists that global warming doesnt cause weather cataclysms, each new disaster is an opportunity to ask the same question again.

     On the August 29 NBC Nightly News, reporter Robert Bazell said many scientists say we can expect such storms more often as global warming increases sea temperatures around the world. Bazell took for granted that global warming is happening enough to cause weather disturbances an assumption commonly found in the media.

     Journalists have been promoting a link between hurricanes and global warming for at least 13 years. Just a few examples:

     In a June 10, 1992, CBS special report, Dan Rather was covering an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History that predicted global warming chaos. The exhibit proclaimed that models predict warmer tropical oceans. More heat from the oceans adds energy that creates powerful winds. This could lead to stronger storms and hurricanes. Rather added: A change of just a few degrees could make a catastrophic difference. With oceans rising, Rather said, Washington, D.C., a few feet above sea level, could disappear underwater.

     On Aug. 26, 1992, Rather was interviewing hurricane expert Dr. Neil Frank during 48 Hours coverage of Hurricane Andrew. Rather asked, Well, Dr. Frank, what about the theory, very quickly, that the so-called greenhouse effect is causing us to have more hurricanes? Any empirical evidence of that? Frank replied, No, not at all. And, of course, we just dont have a long enough period of record to establish whether or not there is even a trend in warming or cooling, and therefore we have no knowledge about whether the increase in hurricane activity is related to that.

     Such assurances from scientists and weather experts havent stopped journalists from asking the same question again or declaring it as fact. In 1995, ABCs Ned Potter was covering a U.N. study on climate change. He announced on the Sept. 18, 1995, World News Tonight: Larger and more frequent hurricanes, longer and more intense droughts, coastal cities slowly flooded by rising oceans. This is the worst case scenario of global warming.

     Soledad OBrien interviewed National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Meteorologist Stanley Goldenberg on NBCs July 21, 2001, Saturday Today, about the possibility of more powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean. OBrien said, The bottom line is a fluctuation in the colder and the warmer temperatures in the Atlantic. Can we blame all of that, then, on global warming? Goldenberg replied: I think you can blame almost none of it on global warming. This is a clear cycle that weve seen again and again. Itd be just like saying youre getting warmer in June. You wouldnt say thats because of global warming; youd say its because of summer. Its a normal cycle. This is a long-term cycle weve seen in the oceans. Very strong, definitely not a global warming signal.

     On the Jan. 1, 2004, NBC Nightly News, The Weather Channels Jim Cantore was on hand to wonder about storms like Hurricane Isabel. Cantore said, Is it global warming? Maybe so. And certainly the thinking is that weve probably, as humans, have had an influence on our planet, and were starting to see the effects of that. And we will continue to see the effects of that with extreme weather events. Reporter Robert Hager added, Because many scientists believe warming may also bring more precipitation and more violent storms.

Looking at the science

     In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, even The New York Times didnt completely buy into the warming hype. Kenneth Chang reported on Aug. 30, 2005: Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming. But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught is very much natural, said William M. Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.

     The Cato Institutes Pat Michaels also refuted the suggestion on the Aug. 30, 2005, Special Report with Brit Hume on Fox News. Michaels pointed out that only 10 percent of the variation in hurricane strength and frequency from year to year is related to sea-surface temperature. He said the worlds surface temperature had gone up slightly over the past few decades, begging the question, has the number of hurricanes, meaning tropical cyclones around the world, gone up? In other words, does global warming increase global hurricanes? And you will find that there has been no statistically significant change whatsoever in the number of global tropical cyclones.


For more information:

Global Warming Fact Sheet

Katrina and Disgusting Exploitation

Katrina Kicks Up Storm of Global Warming Debate

There She Blows

Global Warming Coverage: Science Left Behind

Destroying America to Save the World