New paper shows no climate trend in hurricane damage losses

Dr. Roger Pielke Junior writes:

Our major update to the CONUS normalized hurricane loss dataset has now been published, after several years of effort and an intensive review process by Nature Sustainability.

Weinkle et al. 2018.Normalized hurricane damage in the continental United States 1900–2017, Nature Sustainability. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0165-2

Abstract.

Direct economic losses result when a hurricane encounters an exposed, vulnerable society. A normalization estimates direct economic losses from a historical extreme event if that same event was to occur under contemporary societal conditions. Under the global indicator framework of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the reduction of direct economic losses as a proportion of total economic activity is identified as a key indicator of progress in the mitigation of disaster impacts. Understanding loss trends in the context of development can therefore aid in assessing sustainable development. This analysis provides a major update to the leading dataset on normalized US hurricane losses in the continental United States from 1900 to 2017. Over this period, 197 hurricanes resulted in 206 landfalls with about US$2 trillion in normalized (2018) damage, or just under US$17 billion annually. Consistent with observed trends in the frequency and intensity of hurricane landfalls along the continental United States since 1900, the updated normalized loss estimates also show no trend. A more detailed comparison of trends in hurricanes and normalized losses over various periods in the twentieth century to 2017 demonstrates a very high degree of consistency.

Some key excerpts from the paper:

Consistency check with climate trend data.
Long-term trends in hurricane landfall frequency and intensity provide a useful means of evaluating the results of a normalization methodology. A normalization should not be used to explore climate trends; climate data better serve that purpose. However, climate data can be used to perform a consistency check with a normalization. Trends in an unbiased normalization dataset should match corresponding trends in the incidence of extreme events for countries such as the United States that have heavily populated coastlines. After all, the goal of a normalization is to remove the signal of societal changes from a loss dataset as much as possible. Thus, if relevant extreme events have become more (less) common or more (less) intense, then over the same period we would expect a normalized loss dataset to show a corresponding increasing (decreasing) trend.

Discussion
Landfalling hurricanes contribute significantly to disaster losses both in the CONUS and globally. Large loss years such as 2017 remind us of the magnitude of losses that are possible when several major hurricanes make landfall in a single year. However, our normalization analyses suggest that the losses in 2017 are far from a worst-case scenario. Losses from a single storm striking the CONUS, analogous to the Great Miami hurricane of 1926, could result in twice the total direct economic loss amounts of 2017, totalling well over US$200 billion. Loss potentials are certainly higher
than this for conceivable storms for which there is no historical analogue since 1900.

As growth continues, the United States should thus expect much greater hurricane damage in its future. Understanding the role of societal changes in loss potential, how such changes evolve over time and the role of disaster mitigation policies that might address loss potentials is essential to the design and implementation of effective actions under the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Recently, the CONUS has experienced a long period of good fortune with respect to landfalling hurricanes, notably the 11-year stretch of no major CONUS hurricane landfalls that ended in 201720. Consequently, if coming years see storms make landfall at rates and intensities closer to observed historical averages, then we should expect larger losses than those observed from 2006 to 2016.

In addition, over climate timescales, any increases in major hurricane frequency or intensity above historical rates would lead to even greater losses. Whatever the future brings, addressing exposure and vulnerability to hurricanes will remain a permanent priority for communities along the US Gulf and Atlantic coasts seeking to implement sustainable and robust disaster mitigation policies in the face of an uncertain climate future.

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43 thoughts on “New paper shows no climate trend in hurricane damage losses

  1. “seeking to implement sustainable and robust disaster mitigation policies in the face of an uncertain climate future”
    Really?
    I guess they had to add that in order to get it through the socialist gate-keepers at Nature Sustainability!

    • Actually, I think they are advocating the strengthening of infrastructure to better withstand current climate risks and mitigate actual damages. Since the future is uncertain, there is nothing we can practically do with our infrastructure. Spending vast amounts out of fear is irrational.

      • Correct. Note the wording used: “disaster mitigation policies,” not “emissions (or climate) mitigation policies.”

  2. As a young’n I visited Naples Florida in the late ’60s. I asked long time resident and family friend why there were no houses just a bit south of the pier. He replied; “There used to be.” That was Hurricane Donna in 1960.

    “Beach shacks” would not have been an insult to their memory but a description. These days those same lots are covered with really nice houses. Given that the US has twice as many people and most of them in places like Naples I would suggest that hurricane loses are way down not just level.

  3. Sorry, Anthony and Dr. Roger, but I just heard Jake Tapper on CNN say that the scientists have diligently reported the climate risks awaiting us and Trump is a moron (paraphrasing here). Jake knows these things because he has a History and Visual Arts degree and is known as a “cartoonist”. Apparently his view of cartoons is a little different that those of Josh, just guessing.

  4. So you’re saying they realized it costs more to rebuild a modern mansion than a 1930’s shotgun house? Wonders never cease, do they?

    • built right…the modern mansions get very little damage

      Lost the roof to the greenhouse…polycarbonate…and one 4 foot section of fence to Irma
      …and had a really messy yard

  5. All Global Warming theory and all Global Warming models show the same thing. CO2 causes fewer storms and less intense storms. If the data doesn’t show any difference, the affect must be too small to measure.

    Why do the models show fewer storms? CO2 absorbs IR in a wavelength that is emitted from very cold (human terms) temperatures. This means that its direct affect is to warm the upper atmosphere and the polar winter. Storms are caused by transfer of heat from the hot parts of the earth to the cold parts*. If the cold parts are a little warmer, there are fewer storms and less intense storms.

    *This assumes storms aren’t driven by solar charged particle flux – if that isn’t true then CO2 is totally irrelevant.

    • I am not disputing this, but I’m having trouble figuring out how a small change in temperature gradient over 10,000 kilometres or so affects hurricanes which are local-to-maybe-regional storms. Please point me to the science on that.

      • It’s all there for you R.E.Jim….watch the movie.
        Al Gore’s narrative has changed the public’s perception: The world is in peril, our grandchildren are screwed unless we change our ways. Floods, fires, ozone collapse, rising seas of acid, desertification, hurricanes and tornadoes amok, earthquakes quaking, volcanoes bursting….dogs and cats living together.
        We can’t point to the actual science as it doesn’t exist but that matters little…perception trumps reality…fear sells…according to mainstream media it’s the end of the world as we know it unless we change our ways.
        Apparently this is all due to a trace gas molecule’s radiative properties in the far infrared. And to think people actually believe this junk…..Good grief.

      • “I’m having trouble figuring out how a small change in temperature gradient over 10,000 kilometres or so affects hurricanes which are local-to-maybe-regional storms”

        They use models, therefore they can do anything!

    • It’s the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy not too dissimilar to random events such as avalanches.

    • Hurricanes are heat engines that obey all the Laws of Thermodynamics. They could care less about the the pseudoscience Laws of Climate Change CO2 Quackery and it adherents that claim everything hurricanes do today is the result of 1 additional molecule of CO2 in 10,000 molecules.

      That said, the Carnot Cycle is commonly used to model the hurricanes heat engine cycle. T1 is the ocean water sea surface temperature, which is the heat reservoir that the hurricane’s engine draws its fuel. T2 is the temperature of the Tropopause to which the towering cunmulonimbus heat pipes must teleconnect with via convection in order to extract the energy needed to do the work of lifting megatonnes of water to 30,000 feet and turning an air column in a whirlpool at speeds above 150 MPH.

      T1 ( the SST) in on the order of 298 K to 303 K. T2 is usually around 200 K to 205 K. Small differences in those numbers have huge impacts on the efficiency of the heat engine to convert the SST’s heat into work and thus to strengthen or weaken.

      • What small differences are you talking about, Joel? Both your T1 and T2 vary (independently, I assume) by 5 degrees K.

        • Dave,

          Yes, T1 and T2 do vary independently to some degree. There is latitudinal dependence on T1, and latitudinal dependence on the height in the atmosphere where T2 occurs.
          Do the Carnot efficiency calculations.

          The real problem for Tropical Cyclone is that SSTs (T1) tend higher with lower latitude, and the height of tropopause goes higher also with lower latitude, and is a trade-off. The teleconnection of the cumulonimbus heat towers to the tropopause is more difficult the closer to the equator the storm stays.
          The Atlantic High moves the TC’s CW, first westward, then northwest. As long as the water temps are sufficient, as they start their move northward the lower tropopause allows the storm’s cloud tops to remain connected to the coldest part of the atmosphere, a lower T2, and they can strengthen. But then T1 starts to fall if they get too far north or they are too early or late in the peak SST season.

          • The real problem for Tropical Cyclone is that SSTs (T1) tend higher with lower latitude, and the height of tropopause goes higher also with lower latitude…

            correct

            and is a trade-off

            no, there is not ‘tradeoff’ because your claims about the tropopause are incorrect/backwards.

            The teleconnection of the cumulonimbus heat towers to the tropopause is more difficult the closer to the equator the storm stays.

            …as they start their move northward the lower tropopause allows the storm’s cloud tops to remain connected to the coldest part of the atmosphere, a lower T2…

            You may want to ‘bone-up’ on your basic meteorology before posting. The higher the tropopause (T2), the colder (not warmer) the air is because a higher the T2, the longer the adiabatic process (cooling) works on the air parcel before it reaches the T2 inversion (warming w/ height). Since the T2 generally lowers as you move toward the poles, a lower T2 means a warmer temperature at T2.

            If you have other information which supports your claims & refutes my facts, feel free to post them…with references, of course.

            I’m not even going to get into your tropical cyclone ‘teleconnection’ theory (derail the thread) but you may want to study up on Potential Vorticity Inversion.

          • JKrob,

            The problem with your simplistic view JKrob is that you assume the adiabatic lapse rate is constant with latitude. It most certainly isn’t. If it were then your explanation would be correct. But the adiabatic lapse rate with latitude is not constant.
            The closer to tropics the humidity of the air column is higher. It is precisely because the aidabatic lapse rate varies that the tropopauuse height varies.

            You do understand the difference between a wet adibat and a dry adiabat lapse rate? If not , let me help you.

            “The value of the lapse rate is strongly dependent on the amount of water vapor in the air. Dry air cools at about 10 C/km (the ‘dry adiabatic lapse rate’), while moist air usually cools at less than 6 C/km (‘moist adiabatic lapse rate’).”

            That is the primary reason the tropical tropopause is higher than the mid-latitude tropopause.

          • JKrob,

            And my use of the term “teleconnection” and heat towers are using thermodynamic concepts to understand the energy and work processes in the tropical cyclone. Most meteorologists have little training in thermodynamics beyond a basic introduction in physics, so using such ideas as a Carnot cycle is unfamiliar to them. The towering cumulonimbus are nothing more than a convection-driven heat pipes between to surfaces of different T, where water is the working fluid.

            So your confusion is understandable.

          • The problem with your simplistic view JKrob is that you assume the adiabatic lapse rate is constant with latitude. It most certainly isn’t.

            you are factually incorrect – it *is* a constant across the globe, both wet & dry

            If it were then your explanation would be correct. But the adiabatic lapse rate with latitude is not constant.

            Dry air cools at about 10 C/km (the ‘dry adiabatic lapse rate’), while moist air usually cools at less than 6 C/km (‘moist adiabatic lapse rate

            Oh, do make up your mind – is the adiabatic lapse rate (wet/dry) a constant or not? At first you say it isn’t then you ‘quote’ it is…which is it? (of course it is, BTW) Latitude is irrelevant because you can have both saturate (wet lapse rate) & unsaturated (dry lapse rate) at at any point on the globe.

            Most meteorologists have little training in thermodynamics beyond a basic introduction in physics

            and you got your meteorology degree form where…? How many meteorology books do you have? How many meteorology programs have you written? Please quit making yourself look like a bigger fool than you already have.

            Again, if you have other information which supports your claims & refutes my facts, feel free to post them…with references, of course. Since you didn’t follow instructions, your just giving your opinion…which isn’t worth much here.

      • Hi Joel,

        I imagine you are correct that CO2 quackery is not relevant.

        My point was that *Even* if CO2 quackery is correct – let the quacks have there assumptions, then T2 rises more than T1, and the affect is fewer less strong storms. That means that all claims for stronger storms by CO2 quacks are not justified by their own science – something they probably know at some level.

        Maybe I shouldn’t be letting CO2 quackery have its assumptions, but I thought it would be a reasonable thought process to go through.

  6. I am trying to understand the biggest spike on Roger’s graph.

    The year is 1926.
    The Great Miami Hurricane (GMH) as it was called:
    1) was not a hurricane, it never got past Tropical Storm wind speeds, and it
    2) never made actual landfall on the US proper.
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/atlantic/1926/Great-Miami-Hurricane

    But it did cause 349 recorded deaths and $105 Million USD in damage in 1926 dollars. Is that it?
    There is nothing else in 1925 to 1927 even close to the 1926 GMH.
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/at1926.asp

    And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator, $105 Million in 1926 has the inflation adjusted value of today of $1.52 Billion USD. That is 157 times less than the amount shown in the plot (~$240 Billion).

    • Wundergound seems to have mixed up some data on that storm. If you go to the link you give and look up the 1926 season, you’ll see that what’s called “Major Hurricane 7” is the real Miami Hurricane.
      Cat 4 and all that.

      • To both Richard Keen and Old Eng,

        The weather.gov site has this statement,
        “On October 9, well after the hurricane, the Red Cross reported that 372 persons had died in the storm and over 6,000 persons were injured. Damages in 1926 dollars were estimated at $105 million, which would be more than $164 billion in today’s dollars.”

        372 deaths is very close to the 349 deaths that Weather Underground has on its site. And both sites list the 1926 damage estimates at $105 Million.

        I can tell you for certain fact that inflation and the consumer price index between 1926 and today is certainly not 1000-fold. It is much closer to the 15X that the BLS provides from it calculator web page.

        Simply, $105 Million is NOT $164 Billion in today’s dollars. That would be a 1560 x increase. $105 Million in 1926 is the equivalent of about $1.5 Billion today.

        There is no way that I can see to get to the $200+ Billion (in today’s dollars for 1926 damage) damage figure that Roger shows in his figure from the 1926 hurricanes as listed.

        • This video clip gets my point across how absurd it is to claim $200 Billion in losses from the Great Miami Earthquake.

          • Earthquake …. where that hell did that come from? Sorry.
            I’ve been studying seismology of earthquakes all afternoon and I have earthquakes on the brain.
            The Great Miami Hurricane is of course what I meant.

        • I think you are looking at the normalization’s effects. Normalization means to put into a comparable perspective. Effectively it means “what would the cost have been in 1926 if the infrastructure/wealth/population in 2018 is projected back to 1926.”

          The 1926 hurricane hit an area with much smaller population, much less wealth, and many fewer, less affluent buildings. If the same hurricane hit the same area today the losses would be much greater, maybe $200 billion+, also correcting for the effects of better built houses today.

    • Joel-

      Also, reread the post.

      “A normalization estimates direct economic losses from a historical extreme event if that same event was to occur under contemporary societal conditions.”

      As I understand the procedure, it means what if the same hurricane struck Miami today. What would be the damage with todays population, population density, current buildings, etc? Thus, it is more than just expressing the 1929 damage in 2018 dollars.

      • Joel either didn’t read the explanation, didn’t comprehend it or just tried to pull a fast one. Your pick.

        • Excuse me, but you can’t “normalize” the costs of wooden frame buildings and beach huts built on Miami beach with little or no steel or concrete in the 1910’s – 1920s, built to zero code, to a modern reinforced concrete and steel buildings built to hurricane codes. Most of those 1920’s buildings wouldn’t have even had what today we would consider as acceptable sanitary plumbing (indoor toilets and sewer systems) and water delivery systems.
          The cost to rebuild a shack can’t be normalized to the cost of repairing a modern 30 story concrete and steel condo.

          Willis brought this point up a month ago with his Hurricane Michael post about 3rd World countries and typhoons. Something like, “20,000 people were lost, and the damage was $3.99.” was his tongue in cheek observation. That applies to 1926 Miami structures.

          From an engineering economics standpoint, the only thing you can reasonably do is to take the “Then lost value of the property”(as it cost then), and then use inflation adjustments (the BLS CPI calculator works) to puts those dollars in to today’s terms.

  7. It is often said amongst us climate alarmism skeptics that humans learn to adapt to climate change. That is obviously true given that hominids have been around throughout the entire Pleistocene Epoch, starting about 2.6 MYA, during which time the earth has experienced a dozen major glaciation-interglacial cycles and many more minor transient cycles, yet here we remain, fat, dumb, and happy, despite all that climate change.

    Beyond our ability to adapt to climate change extremes, we humans also have learned to adapt to “normal” weather and normal weather transients. Such as very cold winter weather, very hot summer weather, extreme rainfall and drought events, and extreme windstorms. We may occasionally lose a few unlucky or unprepared victims in very extreme events, but the numbers killed by weather continue to trend downwards.

    That is because we’ve developed better storm forecasts, better stronger structures, better drainage systems, better emergency response systems, better medical treatments, etc. etc.

    If sea levels turn out to rise as extremely as the climate alarmists say today, we’ll simply build better seawalls, levies, drains and such … we’ll simply build buildings and homes with higher first floor elevations (we’ve been doing that for decades in coastal areas) …. or if worst comes to worst, we’ll restrict legal development to areas further inland and on higher ground.

    Over multiple decades, we humans have repeatedly proved that it is easy peasy to adapt to what already is, and also to adapr to what may be yet to come, if it actually comes to be.

    We all adapt – it is in our very nature to do so.

  8. The number of landfall hurricanes must decrease because the land is rapidly being submerged by the rapidly rising seas.
    Haven’t you noticed?
    What an “unobservant” lot you are.
    It will not belong before Denver is the only remaining city in the USA.

  9. Hurricane damage has increased over the last century because of the decline in female modesty. People don’t go the seashore just to stare at the water. Beachfront property, beachfront hotels, beachfront vacations, etc. have increased in popularity, and thus in value, because girl-watching has improved since women discarded voluminous Victorian costumes in favor of scantier attire. More people horsing around & living near the beach = more property damage when hurricanes arrive.

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