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Are Typhoon Disasters Getting More Common?

Roger Pielke, Jr.'s picture
, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He also holds appointments as a...

  • Member since 2018
  • 38 items added with 37,038 views
  • Nov 14, 2013
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I have recently been engaged in a Twitter debate with Jeff Sachs, of Columbia Earth Institute, motivated by his tweet as follows.

The reference is to a paper by Elsner et al. (2008) in Nature which shows an increase in the strongest tropical cyclones in some basins over the sub-climate time period of 1981-2005. Unfortunately for Sachs that paper does not show trends significant at the >90% level for the strongest cyclones in the western North Pacific basin (the world’s most active and where Haiyan occurred). The lesson here is that if you are going to pick cherries, make sure that the fruit is not a lemon.

Fortunately, there is a more relevant study (Weinkle et al. 2012, here in PDF) which looks specifically at landfalls in the western North Pacific basin. Landfalls are of course what cause disasters. The data from that paper for the major landfalling tropical cyclones (i.e., Category 3+) is shown at the top of this post. The trend line is added by Excel, and shows a decline. However, the western North Pacific basin has been shown to exhibit very large variability, so I wouldn’t put much weight into any claims of trends up or down (but don’t believe me, check IPCC). That said, recent research has looked at the recent decline in activity in that basin.

Given this data, substantial research on it and a strong IPCC consensus does anyone really want to debate that typhoon disasters have become more common? If so, my comments are open to you.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 14, 2013

Roger, again you attempt to avoid recasting your own views when the evidence shows it’s necessary.

You claim that “landfalls are of course what cause disasters”, but the speciousness of this argument is obvious. Landfalls of the most intense storms are what cause disasters, and Jeff Sachs’ tweet is entirely consistent with the general finding that though storms may be less prevalent in the future, they will likely be more severe.

Your consideration of only frequency is a statistical dodge which doesn’t do the credibility of your analysis any favors.

Roger Pielke, Jr.'s picture
Thank Roger for the Post!
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