12 August 2009

No Change in Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Frequencies Over More than a Century

NOAA issued a press release yesterday on a major new peer-reviewed paper published in the Journal of Climate (emphasis added):
A NOAA-led team of scientists has found that the apparent increase in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes since the late 19th and early 20th centuries is likely attributable to improvements in observational tools and analysis techniques that better detect short-lived storms. . .

According to Dr. Brian Soden, a professor at the University of Miami’s Rosentiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, “The study provides strong evidence that there has been no systematic change in the number of north Atlantic tropical cyclones during the 20th century.
There have been (as of this writing) exactly zero news stories on the paper. Whatever the reasons, there is clearly a huge bias against reporting on scientific studies that do not support a particular perspective on climate change as being catastrophic or worse than we thought.

A few years ago Andy Revkin at the New York Times explained this dynamic as follows:

There are a variety of reasons that the media tend to pay outsize attention to research developments that support a “hot” conclusion (like the theory that hurricanes have already been intensified by human-caused global warming) and glaze over on research of equivalent quality that does not.

The main one, to my mind, is an institutional eagerness to sift for and amplify what editors here at The Times sometimes call “the front-page thought.” This is only natural, but in coverage of science it can skew what you read toward the more calamitous side of things. It’s usually not agenda-driven, as some conservative commentators charge. It’s just a deeply ingrained habit.


  1. "It’s usually not agenda-driven, as some conservative commentators charge. It’s just a deeply ingrained habit."
    These are not mutually exclusive propositions. I would argued that it is an ingrained habit amplified by an agenda.

  2. I see plenty of news reports about studies that (at least supposedly) disprove global warming, or some aspect of it. And I see plenty of interviews with deniers and skeptics. Give it a day or two. In the US, the health care issue is drowning out other news at the national level.

  3. -2-Dean

    This post has absolutely nothing to do with "deniers and skeptics". This post is about a peer-reviewed scientific study in a leading journal.

  4. Here's the first #1 hit when I click on your link of "zero news stories":


    "Atlantic hurricanes have developed more frequently during the last decade than at any point in at least 1,000 years, a new analysis of historical storm activity suggests."

  5. I was impressed that this paper actually got some air time on my local NPR affiliate. I thought it was on ATC, but looking through the show's roster from yesterday, it wasn't, so it must have been one of the other (obviously less popular) programs.

    But, as a side note, it was instructive to search the ATCs with terms like "hurricane" and see the spate of stories about "climate change meaning stronger, more destructive" storms. It is certainly deeply ingrained...

  6. I think they just needed a snappier title. If they used the title of your own post it would have brought more attention. Of course even the IPCC says that there isn't any overall increase expected from a warming sea.

  7. Mark, your news item is referring to a new paper in Nature by Mann et al.:


    The authors hint at the modern period having higher activity, but this falls within the uncertainties of their estimates for medieval times.

  8. Now it has hit The Times:


    I hope the calculations have been verified.

  9. "Mark, your news item is referring to a new paper in Nature by Mann et al.:


    Indeed! Isn't it ironic that the link that Roger gives to show that the last few decades are in no way exceptional for the 20th century actually has as the #1 "hit" that the last few decades ARE exceptional for the last 1000 years! (The Google headline is: "Scientists say hurricanes at a 1000-year high.")

    P.S. In case anybody missed it, the reason Michael Mann's paper showed up in the link Roger gave was that Chris Landsea--the name in Roger's link--was actually criticizing Mann's paper as being incorrect.