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Weather actually began before 1980!

Dave 07Dear friends

I subscribe to a New York Times newsletter, and today it’s op-ed writer, David Leonard, had a column on the approaching climate disaster.

Mr. Leonard quoted statistics going all the way back to 1980, 40 years ago, which is probably longer than he’s been alive, so anything happening before that apparently is irrelevant.

But since the United States has good statistics going well back into the 1800s, I wrote him the following letter.


January 11, 2017

New York Times, op-ed Department

Dear Mr. Leonard

I’ve just read your January 11 column on climate change and storm frequency, and in it you have the following two paragraphs, and I quote: “This week, the National Centers for Environmental Information — a federal agency that bills itself as the nation’s scorekeeper for extreme weather — released a ranking of the worst years for damaging storms since 1980. At the top of the list was 2017, and it wasn’t even close.”

And again: “Not every year is going to set a record, thank goodness, but the trend is clear. The six worst years since 1980 have all occurred since 2004.”

Now I’m not sure if you do your own research, or have researchers on staff, but I simply Googled “worst years for storms in US history”, and up popped the following link.

The data clearly shows that 2017 was 17th in US history in terms of lives lost. It is first in terms of inflation-adjusted property damage, but to be truly meaningful, that figure must be further adjusted for the huge increase in population, and therefore, far greater amount of property that is in the path of recent hurricanes.

So next I Googled for population statistics and found that in 1900, Florida’s population was approximately 500,000. Just 100 years later, in 2000 it was 16 million, or 32 times larger, with the attendant massive increase in housing and businesses.

In 1900, the Houston/Galveston area population was about 80,000. In 2000, it was nearly 6 million, or 75 times larger, again with the attendant increase in the numbers of homes and businesses. A storm hitting a population concentration 30 to 75 times larger obviously has the potential to do 30 to 75 times as much damage. Examined on that basis, 2017 was a fairly middling year for hurricanes, lives lost, and property damage.

Blizzard of 88.jpgIn light of the recent snowfall and cold in the US Northeast, I did some more research and found that 8 of the 10 worst blizzards in US history happened before 1980 – to use your starting point – and most of them occurred before 1960 when human caused CO2 emissions apparently began wreaking havoc on the climate. In fact the worst blizzard in US history was in 1888, and it dropped up to 60 inches of snow, with winds creating drifts in excess of 50 feet, or 15 m. 400 people died.

So, as a journalist, your selection of statistics beginning less than 40 years ago, when statistics starting more than 150 years ago are readily available, is puzzling to me. Why would you not use the most comprehensive statistics available?

Yours truly

Dave W Reesor

Calgary Alberta Canada


*** Tuesday evening I attended a meeting of The Friends of Science; a Calgary-based group of engineers and Earth scientists that bring a scientific focus to the debates surrounding climate change. They have supporters from a number of different countries, and I’d encourage you to become a member of Friends of Science

This is an excellent organization that does great work throughout the year, but what is really impressive is that they have a major annual event, attended by hundreds. This year it’s on May 15. The evening begins with a buffet dinner, and then features presentations by two international experts on different aspects of climate change.

Whatever your current beliefs on the subject are, if you are interested in hard, but not boring, data, this event is for you.

4 replies on “Weather actually began before 1980!”

I am not one to put too much faith in anecdotal observations but recently I have been thinking that it would have been informative if there were a worldwide accepted definition of extreme weather events and a tracking of such phenomena. Perhaps there is such a thing. I feel like I am seeing more and more extreme weather and natural disaster events. I wonder though if it would not be prudent to look at the whole planet in terms of climate activity and not just the USA as the Times column seems to have done…

Hi Randall
I don’t think there is a worldwide accepted definition of extreme weather, but I think if you follow the discussion closely you’ll find that the definitions are very flexible, on both sides.
You are in fact seeing more and more extreme and natural disaster events; seeing them because of modern communication, and the media’s historical focus on the sensational to sell content, and their deliberate ignoring of everything that happened prior to 1980. . .
But there is ample statistical evidence to convince many scientists that we are actually in a period of relative calm. 2017 was the first really active hurricane season since Katrina in 2005. Those examples I gave in my blog were not anecdotal; they were recorded historical events. If you do the research, and I have, you will find that the Little Ice Age was a period of catastrophic weather events.
And many are recorded far farther back in history. I have a book on the history of China going back 5000 years, and famine has been a feature of Chinese life, up until the present, where finally people are being adequately fed. I’d suggest you can credit that to free enterprise agriculture..
Or, as a teacher, do you regard every reference to an event that happened before, say 1950, as probably just anecdotal, and not likely true?

Anecdotal in the sense that they are not part of a coordinated research but plucked from here and there…

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