Noon, September 16, 2023 – An Associated Press headline this morning trumpeted “Climate change could bring more monster storms like Hurricane Lee to New England.” I immediately went to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) website to see the most current conditions. Lee had been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone with 75 mph winds.
But it still covers a lot of territory. As of noon, Lee is producing 1-2 foot storm surge and tropical-storm-force winds in portions of Maine. NHC gave the northeastern tip of Maine a 5-15% chance of flash flooding. They predict 1-4 inches of rain over portions of the state that receive rain, though the extreme eastern tip may get up to 6 inches.
Does Climate Data Support AP Claim?
Next, I went to NHC’s Climatology page to see how unusual hurricanes are in New England. Because of the colder waters, they’re certainly not as frequent as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. But they’re also not unusual as you can clearly see from the image below. It shows hurricane tracks going back to 1851.
Next, I looked at the points of origin for Atlantic storms in the 10-day period each season from Sept. 11 – 20.
In fact, during September, there’s at least a 70% annual chance that a hurricane will affect this region (see below).
Data goes from 1944 to 2020, but is normalized for 100 years. 1944 was the year NOAA started tracking hurricanes with aircraft.
The AP article related higher than normal sea surface temperatures to BOTH climate change and the risk of being affected by a hurricane in New England. It’s true that temperatures ARE above average off the New England coast this year. But it’s also true that temperatures cycle above and below an “average.” You can’t assume that sea surface temperatures ALWAYS increase.
This 28-second animation of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies from 2002-2011 shows how temperatures vary monthly and annually around the world as well as off the coast of New England.
It’s fair to relate one stronger than normal hurricane to higher than normal sea surface temperatures. But it’s not valid to assume that hurricanes will continue to get stronger when sea surface temperatures decrease.
The Curse of Data Truncation
And that brings me to my gripe – data truncation in reporting. “Truncation” means “cutting short,” for instance, when you pick start or stop points in an analysis to prove the trend you allege.
Example: you point to above-normal SSTs (this year) and one waning post-tropical storm. Then you conclude that “climate change could bring more monster storms like Lee.”
The implication: climate change is linear and temperatures are going straight up. Therefore, we can expect more monster storms in New England – where Lee will not even make landfall.
Reporting Turned into Advocacy
AP is a great news organization. But on the issue of climate uncertainty, they have crossed the line between reporting and advocacy. AP even admits it.
To their credit, in 2022, AP announced “a sweeping climate change initiative.” They hired 20 additional journalists to supplement existing staff already dedicated to covering climate change. Their mission: “to infuse climate coverage in all aspects of the news…”
To help finance its climate coverage, AP accepts backing from several foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, which admits, “Our focus is on scaling renewable energy.”
I’m not saying that AP or the Rockefeller Foundation deliberately misled people to further an agenda.
However, I can promise you that writers write about what clients want them to write about. And if they don’t, well, hundreds of other writers are lined up ready to take their jobs.
This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just the way the world works.
Other News Sources Delivered Different Interpretation
Everyone should read critically and consult multiple sources. Triangulate on the truth. Had you read someone else’s coverage, you would have reached totally different conclusions. In that regard, I note several stories posted AFTER AP’s story on Lee that did not even mention climate change once. See CNN, CBS, New York Times, NBC, Reuters, USA Today, or Fox, for instance.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/16/2023
2209 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.