AP Gets Blown Away

Sometimes a little coverage is worse than no coverage at all.

So it is today with an Associated Press story that brings us one of the sorrier examples of “he said/she said” journalism we’ve seen since the end of Campaign ‘04:

Since 1995, the Atlantic has had more hurricanes than normal. Last year, Florida was hit by four hurricanes. Forecasters say this abnormally active period could last for at least another decade, and up to 40 or 50 years total.

Some blame the long-term rise on global warming, but others say it is due to a natural cycle. (Emphasis added.)

And with that — “some” say it’s one thing, “others” say it’s something else — the piece ends.

So which is it?

As the AP article notes, this year has produced an above-average number of tropical storms (19 so far, and counting). But that may vary well be explained by natural variation; as a BBC article on the subject noted, “Records from the 20th Century suggest that hurricane formation over the Atlantic has changed phase every few decades: the 1940s and 50s were active, the 70s and 80s less so, while the currently active phase appears to have commenced in 1995.”

An analysis by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also contends that it’s currently impossible to make accurate predictions about the impact of climate change on the frequency of future hurricanes. But the analysis does note that, “Although we cannot say at present whether more or fewer hurricane will occur in the future with global warming, the hurricanes that do occur near the end of the 21st century are expected to be stronger and have significantly more intense rainfall than under present day climate conditions.” (The theory goes that increased global temperatures will likely increase ocean surface temperatures, one of the major factors behind the intensity of hurricanes.) Other recent studies support the same conclusion.

In short, sometime down the road, global warming could increase the severity of nasty storms. But the bulk of scientific research has, to date, failed to find a connection between global warming and the increasing number of hurricanes.

There. Was that really so hard?

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.