Global warming not a factor in hurricane damage, numbers

Scientists today released a study that said economic damages from hurricanes have increased in the U.S. over time due to a population, infrastructure, and wealth build-up on US coastlines, and not to any spike in the number or intensity of hurricanes. 

“There is nothing in the US hurricane damage record that indicates global warming has caused a significant increase in destruction along our coasts,” said Chris Landsea, one of the researchers as well as the science and operations officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center in Miami in a statement. “We found that although some decades were quieter and less damaging in the U.S. and others had more land-falling hurricanes and more damage, the economic costs of land-falling hurricanes have steadily increased over time.”

The findings fly in the face of the Al Gore-inspired scientists and researchers who say the exact opposite, that global warming is causing more, higher intensity storms. For example, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change says: “In the North Atlantic, for which we have the best records, there has been a clear increase in the number and intensity of tropical storms and major hurricanes. This increase in frequency correlates strongly with the rise in North Atlantic sea surface temperature, and recent peer-reviewed scientific studies link this temperature increase to global warming.”

The NOAA researchers found that economic hurricane damage in the U.S. has been doubling every 10 to 15 years. If more people continue to move to the hurricane-prone coastline, future economic hurricane losses may be far greater than previously thought, the researchers said in a statement.

The results illustrate the effects of the tremendous pace of growth in vulnerable hurricane areas. If the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane were to hit today, the study estimated it would cause the largest losses at $140 billion to $157 billion, with Hurricane Katrina second on the list at $81 billion.

The team concludes that potential damage from storms – currently about $10 billion yearly - is growing at a rate that may place severe burdens on exposed communities, and that avoiding huge losses will require a change in the rate of population growth in coastal areas, major improvements in construction standards, or other mitigation actions.

The NOAA research paper “Normalized Hurricane Damage in the United States: 1900–2005,” which can be found here, states: “This paper normalizes mainland U.S. hurricane damage from 1900–2005 to 2005 values using two methodologies. A normalization provides an estimate of the damage that would occur if storms from the past made landfall under another year’s societal conditions. Our methods use changes in inflation and wealth at the national level and changes in population and housing units at the coastal county level. Across both normalization methods, there is no remaining trend of increasing absolute damage in the data set, which follows the lack of trends in landfall frequency or intensity observed over the twentieth century.” 

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