Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

My subjective impression (from being a casual hurricane watcher for twenty years) is that they are, at least in the North Atlantic, and I believe I have heard others say this. I had said something to that effect in another thread, was challenged about it, failed to find hard evidence to support it, and withdrew it.

Remarkably, just since then, the climogosphere has been popping with discussion about a new paper by Grinsted et al which detects “a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923”. This has been out, actually, for a couple of months, so it isn;t as if it were rushed to press for Sandy, but it’s certainly germane.

Hoerling, quoted by Andy Revkin, isn’t buying it:

As to underlying causes, neither the frequency of tropical or extratropical cyclones over the North Atlantic are projected to appreciably change due to climate change, nor have there been indications of a change in their statistical behavior over this region in recent decades (see IPCC 2012 SREX report).

This time he has some excuse, as Grinsted et al postdates SREX 2012. But again,as has been true in previous statements by Hoerling, there’s confusion of causality, attribution, and trend here. We should try to untangle it as the dust settles, which I don’t expect until Wednesday at the earliest, possibly Thursday.

By the way, Revkin, in the same article, quotes The Egregious Pat Michaels (Yes, I know, that’s Doctor The Egregious Pat Michaels to me.) We know, that is to say, which side of the coin came up this morning.


  1. Er, well yes, if Grinsted et al.'s results are new and post-date the SREX, it would make sense for them to have not been accounted for in the latter. So Hoerling's point is...? Anyway, it's not the first time he's put out this sort of nonsense. Apparently the climate outrunning the science causes him discomfort.

    As of max. tide in lower Manhattan, right about now, if this isn't the worst possible case I don't know what would be. Those subway sandbags turned out to be as effective as Wile E. Coyote's umbrella.

    Also, apparently the West Side Highway is now described as a river. I hope Jim Hansen is able to take a few moments to appreciate the irony.

  2. Jeff Masters quoted in today's NYT:

    “The climatology seems to have changed,” Dr. Masters said. “We’re getting these very strange, very large storms with very low central pressures that don’t have that much wind at the surface.”

    So Michael really wasn't imagining things!

    Re the rest of the article, I am deeply unhappy with it. I think there's a more coherent thread than Gillis was able to piece together from those disparate quotes. I suppose it's very hard for someone in his position to have background knowledge sufficiently deep to do a good job under circumstances like these, but that's no excuse.

  3. Steve, I disagree with your second point. I think Gillis struck the right note and as usual with him was quite accurate and balanced.

    If there were more reporters like Gillis (or, really, fewer so much unlike him) we'd be in much better shape today.

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