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Ten Years After Katrina: Lessons From False Predictions & Climate Alarmism

Fabius Maximus

Most 10-year anniversary articles about Katrina omit one chapter of that sad story: its exploitation by climate activists. They predicted more and stronger hurricanes. Let’s grade them. Every time activists falsely cry “wolf” we become weaker, less able to prepare for real threats. Remembering is the first step to learning.


  1. Katrina and Wilma hit America.
  2. Alarmists exploit the disaster.
  3. Hurricanes go MIA.
  4. Forecasts of  hurricanes.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. For More Information.
  7. A book recommendation.

(1) Katrina and Wilma hit America

The 2005 hurricane season was the most active on record by many measures. Ten years ago today Hurricane Katrina almost destroyed New Orleans (details here). Hurricane Wilma hit in Florida on 24 October 2005 (among the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic basin).

(2)  Alarmists exploit the catastrophe

Climate alarmists exploited this disaster. For example see Al Gore’s speech at Sierra Club’s National Environmental Convention and Expo in San Francisco on 9 September 2005 — excerpt…

“Winston Churchill, when the storm was gathering on continental Europe, provided warnings of what was at stake. And he said this about the government then in power in England — which wasn’t sure that the threat was real — he said, “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.” He continued, “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences.

“… Last year we had a lot of hurricanes. Last year, Japan set an all-time record for typhoons: 10. The previous record was 7. Last year the science textbooks had to be rewritten. They said, “It’s impossible to have a hurricane in the South Atlantic.” We had the first one last year, in Brazil. We had an all-time record last year for tornadoes in the United States: 1,717. Largely because hurricanes spawned tornadoes. Last year we had record temperatures in many cities. This year 200 cities in the Western United States broke all-time records. Reno: 39 days consecutively above 100°.

“The scientists are telling us that what the science tells them is that this — unless we act quickly and dramatically … {t}his, in Churchill’s phrase, is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until there is a supreme recovery of moral health.”

Since Katrina, climate activists have beat a steady drumbeat warning of doom.

  1. Warming seas cause stronger hurricanes“, Nature, 2006 — “Mega-storms are set to increase as the climate hots up.”
  2. Are Category 6 Hurricanes Coming Soon?“, Scientific American, 2011 — “Tropical cyclones like Irene are predicted to be more powerful this year, thanks to natural conditions”
  3. Global warming is ‘causing more hurricanes“, The Independent, 2012.
  4. A Katrina hurricane will strike every two years”, ScienceNordic, 2013 — About a widely reported study in PNAS by geophysicist Aslak Grinsted of the Niels Bohr Institute Copenhagen U. Also see “Katrina-Like’ Hurricanes to Occur More Frequently Due to Warming” in US News & World Reports.
  5. Hurricanes Likely to Get Stronger & More Frequent“, Climate Central, 2013 – About a study in PNAS by Kerry Emanuel et al.
  6. See ten even more outlandish predictions from the big 3 networks.

We should distinguish between the research of scientists, unbalanced reporting of research by journalists, and exaggeration of their findings by activists. Science advances by bold predictions, valuable no matter what the result. Of course, studies are news. But journalists often do not state the long-term scope of these forecasts, hide the uncertainty, and show only one side of the debate among scientists. There were balanced articles after Katrina, but too few to counterbalance the alarmists.

  1. Can we expect more hurricanes like Katrina?”, The Guardian, 2005.
  2. Debunking the Myths of Hurricane Katrina, Popular Mechanics, 2006 — Debunked myths, but most remain widely believed.
  3. Climate myths: Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming”, New Scientist, 2007.
  4. Hurricanes and global warming: 5 years post Katrina”, Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech), 2010.

(3)  Hurricanes go MIA

Among the longest records of active hurricane zones is on the US east coast. NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division has data back to 1851. No major hurricane (category 3 or more) has hit the continental US since Wilma in October 2005. That is the longest pause on record. NOAA says “It is premature to conclude that human activities — and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming — have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane activity.

Despite the confident forecasts of doom, global hurricane numbers and energy show no trends (scroll down to see the graphs here); reliable records begin in 1970. Here are two papers crunching the numbers. Red emphasis added.

(a)  Excerpt from “Comments on “Monitoring and Understanding Trends in Extreme Storms: State of Knowledge” by Christopher William Landsea in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, July 2015. No significant trend in the number of US hurricanes hitting the US since 1900; the increase since 1970 appears to be natural variation.

Atlantic hurricane landfalls on America“Figure 1 provides an analysis of U.S. hurricanes from 1900 through 2014. The record begins at the start of the twentieth century as it was approximately at that time that enough coastal communities were established along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean coasts to ensure a relatively complete monitoring of all U.S. hurricanes … [….]

(5)  Conclusions

Will a strong hurricane hit America and wreck another major city? Certainly, eventually. Unfortunately, it seems likely that that city hit will be only slightly better prepared than were New Orleans and New York City (hit by tropical storm Sandy in 2012). Our preparations for most forms of extreme weather are no better.

Historians will more accurately assess the causes of our irresponsible public policy than we can, but a large role clearly results from the often disturbing behavior of climate scientists, unlike what the public expects from those warning of a global disaster, and the routine exaggerations and false predictions by activists. Perhaps historians will assign even more blame to our unwillingness to take responsibility for this serious issue: get clearer answer and act accordingly.

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