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Playing politics with every disaster: Vanuatu cyclone blamed on “climate change”

Posted By Joanne Nova On March 18, 2015 @ 1:46 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

So far 24 are confirmed dead in Vanuatu, a figure that seems likely to rise.  About 100,000 are homeless, according to the local Oxfam director, which, if accurate, is an awful lot in a country of 270,000. There is no doubt the nation needs help.

Despite the pressing need to solve immediate problems, the predictable claims are already starting. How many journalists will bother to check these claims against the history of cyclones in Vanuatu?  Accuweather lists a lot, including one in 1951 that killed 100 people when CO2 levels were just 311ppm. In 1987 another storm killed 48.

President Baldwin Lonsdale is blaming “climate change”.

Pacific nations regard themselves as at the frontline of climate change, given many are low-lying islands dangerously exposed to rising sea levels, and Lonsdale said changing weather patterns were partly to blame for the destruction.

“Climate change is contributing to the disaster in Vanuatu,” Lonsdale told reporters in Japan, saying rain had been unusually heavy this year.

Even President Hollande, host of the Paris UNFCCC later this year, is milking this disaster: “…the cyclone “is a new cry for the international community to take seriously its responsibility in the fight against climate change, which primarily affects the most vulnerable.”

President Lonsdale went on to talk about the destruction, but probably wasn’t thinking about what his comments mean about his government building programs:

“After all the development we have done for the last couple of years and this big cyclone came and just destroyed… all the infrastructure the government has… built. Completely destroyed.” — Canberra Times

Vanuatu is regularly hit with cyclones. Could be time to reassess the building codes?

Here’s the effect of CO2 on South Pacific cyclones. If it is driving this trend, clearly we need more CO2.

Number and intensity of Cyclones in the South Pacific | Source: Met Service Blog 


President Lonsdale could be forgiven for being confused, but others should know better.


Scientists Mashable contacted said the storm intensified rapidly before hitting Vanuatu, aided by an area of unusually mild ocean waters and favorable atmospheric conditions. Ocean temperatures in the area where the cyclone intensified were up to 2 degrees Celsius above average for this time of year (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Some — but not all — of the sea surface temperature anomalies in the Southwest Pacific Ocean are likely related to global warming, according to Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, as well as other experts. According to Trenberth, about about 0.6 degrees Celsius, or 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit, of the ocean temperature anomalies “can be blamed on human-induced global warming” while the rest is “natural”…

 Trenberth apparently can look at this noise (below) and see that CO2 is to blame for 0.6C of the 2C anomaly. His models can’t get the global average right, but they have insight on this tiny scale…

Image Weatherbell Analytics

At least one scientist is putting a tiny brake on the hype:

Climate research has shown that tropical cyclones in many ocean basins are becoming stronger and lasting longer than they used to. However, the Southwest Pacific, where Cyclone Pam occurred, is not one of these areas, possibly due to the relative paucity of data there.

Kerry Emanuel, a meteorologist at MIT who is a prominent researcher examining global warming-related trends in tropical storms and hurricanes, told Mashable that not much can be said about trends in the vicinity of Vanuatu.

Though Emanuel can’t resist a strawman, and an ambitious claims about models:

“Ironically, this is a part of the world where we do not observe any significant upward trends in tropical cyclone metrics, and few models predict upward trends there as a consequence of global warming,” he said in an email.

Emanuel implies other parts of the world do show “upward metrics”? Which ones? The Global Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index is falling.

And which models got the cyclone predictions right? Did they also get the global temperature right?

As it happens, storms are not getting worse in New Zealand either:

There ought to be a more up to date graph on Fiji (can anyone find one?), but it appears Fiji has had a lot of cyclones, even when CO2 levels were low and ideal.

Source: Natural Perils and integrated hazard assessment in Fiji [PDF]

Cyclones are also not getting worse in Australia. (It would be good if the BOM updated this graph).


Source: BoM


The bottom line: No one should use their suffering to make spurious, unsupportable and political claims. I wish everyone in Vanuatu the best with their rebuilding, and we hope the toll does not rise.

Related posts: Do Tropical Storms correlate with CO2? In a word — No

h/t to Steve thanks.

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