Sea Surface Temperatures as of 6/30/23

The Problem with Climate-Change Hysteria

Go to almost any news source you can name and you will likely find an article about climate change. They generally manage to turn a local event into an international crisis.

The articles report on the latest freeze, heat wave, drought or flood somewhere in the world and tie that into similar stories affecting other areas. The aggregated anecdotal evidence makes it seem as though the world is burning; drowning; freezing; frying; being blown apart by hurricanes and tornadoes; etc.

One such article caught my eye this morning on the Associated Press website by a writer who appears to be from Phoenix. The headline trumpeted, “Heat waves like the one that’s killed 14 in the southern US are becoming more frequent and enduring.” Four paragraphs in, I read, “…extreme heat will only increase in the U.S. each summer without more action to combat climate change…”

That made it sound as though “the end is near.” The temperature is shooting straight up and I better buy an electric vehicle before I turn into charcoal!

So I emailed Jeff Lindner, Harris County’s meteorologist, and asked whether the alleged “facts” about the current heat wave cited in the article were true for the Houston area. Short answer: “In general, no.” But he did dig deeper to reveal some interesting nuance in the numbers.

Observations from Harris County’s Meteorologist

Lindner began, “The current hot weather is nowhere near the levels of 1980 or 2011 with respect to the longevity of the heat or the intensity…at least in southeast Texas. Along the Rio Grande temperature records have been broken including some all-time records.”

Then he added, “As for the claim about heatwaves becoming worse…climate models do suggest that heatwaves and drought will become increasingly common with climate change especially in the southern plains and Texas. This is most noted in the rise of overnight low temperatures in the summer months which we are seeing along the Texas coast, but not so much an increase in afternoon high temperatures.”

“The increasing summer low temperatures can be tied to the warm Gulf of Mexico waters that keep lows from falling much below 80 at night locally. They also help keep dew points elevated (as we have seen with this recent heat) resulting in the very high heat-index values over the last few weeks.

Sea surface temperature anomalies on 6/29/23. Source NOAA.

“While air temperatures have generally been in the upper 90’s for highs, it has been the high dew points that have combined with the high temperatures to result in the dangerous heat index values.

Local Vs. Global

I am not questioning the AP’s integrity, nor the author’s intellect or intentions. She’s simply using a well-worn, time-honored template in news coverage. Lead with specific examples – heat-related deaths – that dramatize a larger problem.

You see it every night on the news: Someone was shot; crime is out of control! Big Bend hikers died; we need to do more about climate change!

The specifics give stories emotional oomph that dry statistics can’t. But the specifics can also mislead.

Big Bend National Park, where the hikers died, is in the middle of a harsh, unforgiving, volcanic desert with little to no shade. Temperatures there reach 109 degrees and the average annual rainfall is only 13 inches. The last time I was at Big Bend, I saw dozens of signs warning people about sun, heat and running out of water. The county containing Big Bend is three times the size of Delaware, but has fewer than 10,000 people.

Should the story have been about the dangers of strenuous exercise in high temperatures? Or how the highs in Houston were higher 40 years ago?

Either approach would have been valid. Maybe even more valid than making the leap to climate change from one high pressure ridge. But…

I doubt the editors would have enthused over “Comparison of Recent Heat Waves Shows Houston Temps Falling.”

Bob Rehak

It doesn’t really fit the narrative.

I Wish…

When it comes to weather, the causes and trends aren’t always clear. For instance, is the current heat wave in Houston caused by emissions from internal combustion engines? Or is it caused by warm Gulf waters related to predictable El Niño-related changes in global wind patterns? If it’s the latter, is it fair to link it to the former?

Without taking a position on climate change one way or the other, I wish that climate reporting:

  • Put claims in historical context
  • Refrained from hysterical leaps into the distant future
  • Stopped making global generalizations from anecdotal evidence
  • Supported claims with more data
  • Scared people less and informed them more.

Ignoring the last point often backfires. Especially when you make global generalizations from local observations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/30/2023

2131 Days since Hurricane Harvey