NOAA’s Mystery Hurricane Report

September 26th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to Nature today last spring NOAA convened an internal seven-person team to prepare a consensus report for public release on hurricanes and global warming. According to press reports (e.g., here), the near final report’s release was halted in May by (a) Department of Commerce political appointee(s).

I’d like to get the facts straight on this, as they are quite unclear in the media. I’d welcome hearing from anyone with firsthand knowledge of these events. We’d be happy to post a copy of the report as well, anonymity guaranteed.

As far as the science of hurricanes, it is safe to conclude that the mystery report has to be a synthesis of recent work that is publicly available, rather than any new science. What is more troubling to me is how the political ham-handedness (if not worse) of NOAA and its Bush Adminstration handlers works against effective hurricane policy and climate policy. Consider the following statement for the AP news report:

The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.

The reality, as documented in numerous papers and disucssions here and elsewhere, is that greenhouse gases cannot be an effective tool of hurricane policy. So long as advocates against action on greenhouse gases inside the Administration pretend that there is a linkage between future energy policies and future hurricane impacts by micromanaging information on hurricanes, people unfamiliar with the current state of hurricane science and policy, or those looking for a political bludgeon, will easily conclude something like the following:

“There must be a big connection between changes in energy policies and future hurricane impacts, or else why would the Bush Administration try to supress information? Becuase if there is no evidence of a future connection then NOAA and Bush officials must just be stupid by acting as if there is, right?”

I am quite familiar with recent debates on hurricanes, and frequent readers know that I believe that there is an honest, unsettled debate going on. My own research shows that any action on energy policies cannot have a discernible effect on hurricane impacts as far as the eye can see, so you can guess how I’d answer that last question.

8 Responses to “NOAA’s Mystery Hurricane Report”

  1. unbabeler Says:


    I think it is important to bring out that in terms of liability it is a coup de grace for the half dozen or so mega – engineering corporations to blame their failure of engineering judgement (aka increased profit) on “global warming” instead of the unrelenting pressure to label vulnerable assets as such.

    This misdirection allows for their continued irresponsible certification of building in areas susceptible to disaster, and their legal defense thereof much easier.

    Ultimately an under-estimated factor in terms of taxpayer dollars.

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  3. Lab Lemming Says:

    If society has already decided that the hurricane response will be to do nothing, then climate impacts are useful for determining the cost of this policy.

    It is interesting to contrast the federal response to volcanoes and hurricanes, especially when one considers the difference in the frequency of the destructive events that they produce.

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  5. Jim Giles Says:


    The news story explains the background to the document (although I appreciate that many Prometheus readers will not have Nature access). The document is a two-page statement designed to reflect the diversity of views on hurricane science held by researchers at NOAA. It acknowledges that there may be a link with greenhouse warming, but says more research is needed in order to clarify the issue. It doesn’t contain any new research or data. Hope that helps.


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  7. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Thanks Jim!

    (And for those w/o Nature access, Jim is the reporter there who broke this story.)

    Given what you’ve written there seems to be nothing substantively new in the statement, so the news is that NOAA was on a path to produce a document for public consumption and then decided to abort that course. Is this fair?


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  9. Joseph O'Sullivan Says:

    From the prespective of an advocate I do understand why the administration is doing what it is doing. The tactic is to never cede one inch to your opponents. If you do give in at all, your opponent can use it against you.

    In this case the idea is that it is better to say nothing. If the administration said there is no connection someone would call them on that. I think the administration has learned this lesson the hard way.

    But if they said it’s possible that there is a connection between pollution and hurricane intensity, then someone could use this (as they actually are) to argue for CO2 regulations.

    I wouldn’t call it a bad public relations strategy, but for policy decisions it is bad.

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  11. Nosmo Says:

    Roger you said:
    “My own research shows that any action on energy policies cannot have a discernible effect on hurricane impacts as far as the eye can see, so you can guess how I’d answer that last question.”

    Is it fair to say that your research is for the US only and that as far as the eye can see is on the order of 50 years? And that even after 50 years, the effect is small compared to development policies?

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  13. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Close but not quite … global and 100 years.


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  15. Richard Cathcart Says:

    I’d like to see a thorough expose of the insurance and reinsurance industry. These money-making groups have ’signed on’ to the global warming/future climate-caused disasters scenario wholeheartedly. In other words, they adhere to current public orthodoxy fostered by Greens and the Green-media to raise their rates and profits!