Hurricane Harvey – Happenstance or Hyperbole?

Well, of course, who’d a thunk it? The climate alarmists are climbing on the inundated Houston bandwagon to claim that “Climate Change Worsened the Impact of Hurricane Harvey“, in 24 font headlines. No big surprise there. Everyone from Michael Mann to the neighborhood paperboy is drooling over this “proof” of the devastating effects of climate change, the New Normal™. Of course, this is absolutely, completely, unequivocally wrong. There is not the slightest bit of evidence to support this claim.

Houston itself was founded in 1836, in a swamp called Buffalo Bayou, and in the past 181 years has grown to encompass 670 square miles, 639 square miles of which is land (albeit squishy) and 28 square miles (and counting) is water. The human population of this swamp now stands at over 2,399,000 people (over 6 million in the greater Houston metropolitan area), once they all return when the water subsides.

This article by Angie Schmitt on Streetsblog USA points out the inconvenient truth that the Houston area has developed and paved over “166,000 acres of mostly former coastal prairie since 2001,” reducing the land’s ability to absorb rainfall, and exacerbating runoff into the city’s sewer systems downslope from the aforementioned development. The current flooding in Houston, hyperventilated in the press, is the result of a medium sized hurricane stalling out over the heavily developed and populated Texas coast, and Texas’s largest city. The rainfall still falling on Houston, as on any impervious surface, has no where to go but up, as the inadequate runoff infrastructure is incapable of handling the increase.

Michael Mann’s screed cites “sea level rise, sea temperatures, stalling due to weak prevailing winds which are failing to steer the storm off to sea” as climate change factors that contributed to the flooding.

Mann’s conclusions rely on vaguely referenced climate modelling results rather than observations of the real world beyond the walls of the supercomputer center. He conveniently ignores the evidence that the flooding in Houston is caused by the rain, not by a storm surge, so sea level rise is not a factor.

Mann states “Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than the ‘average’ temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere. That large amount of moisture meant the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding.”

This argument ignores the fact that energy driving a hurricane does not come from warmer ocean temperatures. Hurricanes are fed by the energy of increased evaporation due to low relative humidity over the ocean within an atmospheric low pressure system. The facile equation: warm ocean yields big hurricane has no basis in reality.

Furthermore, hurricanes have not increased in severity or frequency over the past “few decades,” even over the past century. In fact, the worst hurricane in Texas history hit  Galveston, Texas in 1900, almost twelve decades ago, with winds of 150 miles per hour, leaving 6,000 to 12,000 dead among a much smaller population than exists today (Houston’s population was 44,600), the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

Mann trots out the usual disclaimer: “… we cannot say climate change ’caused’ hurricane Harvey… we can say that it exacerbate (sic) several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life,” but then gives it all away by claiming, without the slightest bit of evidence, that “Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.”

Climate change alarmism is mired in 17th Century Cartesian thinking, exacerbated by reliance on numerical climate models which cannot incorporate the physical realities of a chaotic, nonlinear, closely coupled ocean/atmosphere system. This results in prognostications of sophomoric linear relationships which only exist in computers and the vapid political aspirations of self-proclaimed climate experts.

The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was the result of a chaotic natural phenomenon occurring by happenstance at a location where humans have congregated and built homes and cities highly vulnerable to high winds and heavy rains. Climate change hyperbole had nothing to do with the outcome.



One thought on “Hurricane Harvey – Happenstance or Hyperbole?

  1. Hi Michael. Ever since you deleted your Medium account I was intensely curious about why that happened, so I hope you don’t mind that I’m snooping around your blog.

    Mann’s article uses the phrase “coastal flooding” – his article may not be entirely clear, but it’s not unreasonable to interpret his words as a reference to the greater Houston area rather than within city limits. According to this picture, the greater Houston area is affected by storm surges:

    > Hurricanes are fed by the energy of increased evaporation due to low relative humidity over the ocean within an atmospheric low pressure system. The facile equation: warm ocean yields big hurricane has no basis in reality.

    However, this argument is a non sequiter and a false dichotomy: it’s possible that your statement and Mann’s statement are both correct. If Mann’s statement were wrong, then wouldn’t an expert in hurricane physics have called him out on this? After all, Mann’s article was well-circulated, we both saw it independently. Your claim that “energy driving a hurricane does not come from warmer ocean temperatures” is not substantiated by the page you linked to. To quote the NOAA, “Recent studies have shown a link between ocean surface temperatures and tropical storm intensity – warmer waters fuel more energetic storms.” (

    The only time Mann mentions models is in this paragraph:

    “The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds, which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth. This pattern, in turn, is associated with a greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the US at the moment, with the jet stream pushed well to the north. This pattern of subtropical expansion is predicted in model simulations of human-caused climate change.”

    If I’m reading this right, he’s just saying that observations are consistent with phenomena previously seen in models. I can agree at least that the wording is a bit vague.

    > hurricanes have not increased in severity or frequency over the past “few decades,” even over the past century.

    The evidence you’re citing for this is to mention record-setting hurricanes that have made landfall. However, as I understand it the predictions from climate scientists regarding cyclones are not about cyclones that make landfall! I’m not even sure that “setting records” is among their predictions, but I can say with great confidence that scientists don’t predict hurricanes will set records for lives lost.

    Look up the video “How not to be ignorant about the world” by Hans Rosling to learn about how we should fully expect a hurricane in the year 1900 to kill a record number of people. That video is not about climate change.

    IIUC, climate scientists have predicted a change in the probability distribution of cyclones; the evidence will come by measuring the combined energy of all storms over many years, or something like that, depending on what precisely the prediction says (hmm, I think somebody should make a web site about what the actual predictions say, and just as importantly, what they do not say. I’d do it myself except I’m not a climate scientist and I find the info rather hard to pick out of the scientific literature).

    Just today I cautioned a pro-AGW supporter against using landfalling hurricanes as evidence. I said this:

    > a small number of landfalling hurricanes doesn’t give any strong evidence for climate change because scientists’ predictions for hurricanes have to do with hurricane probabilities for ALL hurricanes including the vast majority of storms that don’t make landfall. Since making landfall is a rare and random event, it is an unreliable source of data about climate change. Just as it’s silly to scream “OMG lightning strikes have doubled in America” when you learn that 2 people have been hit by lightning in your city – twice as many as last year! – the same is true of hurricanes.


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