Hurricane Irene: psychology of risk perception

by Judith Curry

As Major Hurricane Irene prepares to sideswipe the entire east coast of the U.S. north of North Carolina, what makes people discount or respond to to information on an impending disaster?

Andy Revkin at Dotearth has a post entitled “As Irene approaches, so does challenge of heeding warnings about rare threats.”    The post features an essay by David Ropeik, a consultant in risk communication and author of “How Risky Is It, Really?.”

A serious earthquake shakes the Mid Atlantic and New England states, and the reaction is as much excitement as fear. Now a serious hurricane bears down on tens of millions of Americans. How will they respond? The psychology of risk perception suggests that in many cases their reactions won’t match the realities of the danger, and as a result, some of their choices and behaviors might not maximize their safety.

Hurricanes are thankfully rare in the Northeast. The more powerful, more dangerous ones are rarer still. Few of those threatened by Irene have lost homes or property, or loved ones, or even just lost electrical power, or water, or phone/cable/Internet connections for days or weeks, the way people have in the Carolinas, Florida, the Gulf Coast states. Hurricanes in the Northeast are like earthquakes in a way — rare oddities to Twitter and text about as much as to fear.

What that means in terms of the way we perceive risk is that, even now, this threat remains abstract. It’s data about wind and rainfall and storm track. It’s information -– and as alarming as that information may be, risk perception is not just about the facts but how those facts feel, and an abstract risk usually doesn’t trigger as much concern as something we’ve actually been threatened by, or suffered from, in the past.

So while warnings will cause high alarm in some, and some people may be stocking up on bottled water and batteries, many will fail to take adequate precautions, and that leaves them at greater risk.

For the same reason, should evacuations be recommended, many might not follow that advice. And should evacuations be mandatory, some will resist, not only because they don’t take the risk seriously enough, but also because they fear that their property might be looted. We always weigh risks against benefits. Anyone who stays to protect property is making a risk-versus-benefit choice that says the risk of a hurricane – which in a mandatory evacuation area includes the risk of dying – doesn’t feel as big as the benefit of protecting your replaceable physical belongings. OOOPS!

For those of us who have lived through hurricanes in the Mid Atlantic states and Northeast, another psychological factor can diminish concern – the, “I’ve lived through this before” effect, a false sense of familiarity. Risk perception research has found that when we grow familiar with a risk…when we have experienced the danger but not suffered…we start to take it less seriously. The problem of course is that not every hurricane is the same. The hurricanes to make landfall in New England in some of our lifetimes -– Agnes in ’72, Gloria in ’85, Bob in ’91 — were weaker or smaller thanThe Great New England Hurricane of 1938 that hit as a Category 3 storm, causing serious damage from the Mid Atlantic states up to southern Quebec, and killing between 682 and 800 people, damaging or destroying 57,000 homes, and causing damage in today’s dollars of $4.7 billion. But few of us around now lived through that.

(Some in New Orleans made this “I’ve lived through it before, I can do it again” judgment as Katrina bore down, having survived even the Category 5 storm Camille in 1965. Not to be melodramatic about it, but some of the New Orleanians who perceived the risk of Katrina that way are now dead.)

Then there’s the seductively reassuring, and in the case of big storms false, sense of control. Some may not take adequate precautions, or evacuate, because they think that if things get really bad, then they can get out, or sandbag their house against flooding, etc. This is dangerous hubris, but a common phenomenon of risk perception. The more control you think you have the less afraid you are. Documentaries about the ’38 Great New England Hurricane tell a number of these stories, and some of them are abut people who thought they had more control than they did, and perished.

The ultimate example of all of this will be the people who go out in the storm, even down to the waves and surging sea at the coast, to see what it’s like. I was a TV reporter and covered big storms in New England for two decades. It can be exciting. It is also, I promise you, unequivocally scarier than you would think. But then, risk perception isn’t just a matter of rational thinking. It’s about our gut feelings too.

The real world bears out what the risk perception research has learned. Look at how Floridians behave when hurricanes loom. Their firsthand and relatively frequent experience with the fierce destructive danger of these storms makes the risk more visceral, and they take it seriously. They make their personal preparations, protect property, leave when it’s recommended. They know where the evacuation routes are. Do most of us in the Mid Atlantic and Northeast? Probably not.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, the evacuation from Houston several days later in advance of Hurricane Rita was unprecedented, far greater than expected by emergency planners. Roads jammed for hours as tens of thousands fled, far more than would probably have left except the terrible power of hurricanes was tragically viscerally real because of what had happened a few hundred miles to the east just days before. In fact, Houston was full of refugees from Katrina, sharing their firsthand stories, and making the threat that much more compelling.

There is a lot of alarmist coverage of Hurricane Irene, but the storm may change its course, weaken over the cooler ocean waters off the middle of the east coast, and come ashore, if at all, as a weaker storm — still dangerous, but short of Stormageddon. Regardless of the way the actual storm plays out, the way we perceive this risk offers a cautionary tale. It’s just one example of how our perception of risk, an affective/instinctive mix of facts and feelings, cognition and intuition, reason and gut reaction, can pose risks all by itself.

JC comment:  Hurricane Irene has been an exceptionally predictable storm, we saw this coming weeks in advance.  Given the northward track parallel to the coast, much of the coast won’t be exposed to the deadly right front quadrant of the storm, which is where the heaviest rains and tornadoes are.  Also, given the counterclockwise circulation of the storm, storm surge should not be very high at those locations parallel and to the west of the storm direction of motion.  Cape Cod and Maine could see a more direct strike with significant storm surge and exposure to the damaging part of the storm.  But given the high density of population, wealth and property in this region, it could be a collosally damaging storm. Pielke Jr has a post on potential damage estimates.

And finally, I’m sure you knew it had to be coming:

Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming

The quote is from Bill McKibben, cited in a post at Collide-a-Scape.  Apparently Kevin Trenberth’s reversal of the null hypothesis has taken hold in certain segments.


258 responses to “Hurricane Irene: psychology of risk perception

  1. This is an interesting topic, living in the Florida Keys, where Jim Cantori has a bounty on his head, I am sure my perspective is totally different from the majority. Category three is the point where I consider visiting relatives in the mid west or spending a few days in a casino up the road. Residents in the Keys have been through quite a few of these rodeos, so evacuation from the Keys is very orderly. Once we get to the mainland things get crazy.

    Hurricane Floyd had people from south Florida evacuating north, people from north Florida evacuating south and people in central Florida running to the coast to surf. During hurricane Wilma, I evacuated because I lived on the Gulf side but people living on the ocean side stayed put. The reverse was generally true for hurricane George. For hurricane Ivan and LOL killer tropical storm Michelle which was predicted to be a cat 5 when it hit the Keys, hardly anyone evacuated.

    Then in the Keys, our evacuation route can be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. When I evacuated for Wilma I spent the night just on the dirty side of the south eye wall, pretty interesting night.

  2. The hurricane of 1938 left entire forests leveled, like you see after a volcano. It also occurred before satellites, which meant they only knew a hurricane was coming when ships encountered them and could radio in the information. Thus, when downtown Providence started to flood, people were going about their workday business with no warning.

    Regarding risk in general – is it conceivable that some people understand the risk, and still choose to stay in their homes? The current fetish for safety among some people did not always exist, and is not shared by all. How did men ever go to sea in wooden ships? Those who live in a bicycle-helmet world might be shocked, but some of us are fully capable of understanding risks, and come to different decisions than others.

    • Yes. My take on reading this was that the author just assumes that he has the proper understanding of the tradeoffs and everyone who disagrees with him is a fool. Of course, he probably designates himself as an “expert” and we all know what that means.

      Clearly, people make poor assessments of risk. This is true regarding both sides of the coin. People are terrified of risks that are tiny and not fearful enough of risks that are actually major.

  3. How do we assess the risk perception of those who advocate for systematically dismantling the ability of the federal government to predict and respond to these types of events?

    • Just one, of many, many, easily found examples:

      WASHINGTON — A spending plan being pushed by Republicans would slash funding for the agency that warned the West Coast about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

      The plan, approved by the GOP-controlled House last month, would trigger an estimated $126 million in cuts for the National Weather Service, the agency that houses the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. The center issued widespread warnings minutes after Friday’s earthquake and issued guidance and updates throughout the day.

      • Well, since we have at least three federal agencies doing climate research, can’t we cut at least one of them?

        When I lived in Hawaii, I thought the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii was funded by the state. If not, it should be.

      • Well, since we have at least three federal agencies doing climate research, can’t we cut at least one of them?

        To the extent that the activities they perform are proven to be redundant, or considered of a relatively low priority after – comprehensive evaluation, absolutely — we should demand no less.

        The problem I have is when people advocate for dismantling the ability of the federal government to perform such a roll without sufficient assessment – owing to an overriding ideological predisposition to denigrate the ability and/or right of the federal government.

      • It is actually 14 science agencies, not counting DoD. Google on USGCRP for the budget documents. The USGCRP (which is just the collection of all these agency programs) runs about $2 billion/year and since it was established in 1990 it has spent around $30 billion.

        I would argue that nothing useful has come from this boondoggle, not that I can see, and the whole program should be scrapped. It is not a matter of redundancy it is a matter of uselessness. That is a careful evaluation, as I have been tracking this spending for 18 years. Show me $1 billion worth of useful results, let alone $30 billion and counting. It is all gold plated AGW.

        In fact it is worse than useless because it has generated a steady steam of CAGW scare stories. $30 billion worth of scary speculation. Enough is enough.

      • Let’s say it’s $30 billion. How much of that spending would you say has ancillary benefits? None? How has any of that funding fed back into the economy in a positive fashion?

        I’m not arguing in favor of directing funding in any particular direction because it may or may not feed back in positive ways indirectly – only that you have to take consider ancillary benefits when you do your accounting (as you do have to consider “opportunity costs”).

        And further, $30 billion is a lot of money that could, arguably, have been spend in ways that would have resulted in a better return – but viewed in context of the overall economy and the debate about the health of our economy, or other funding such as the DoD more generally, I have to wonder if the outrage is out of proportion to the spending. And that, of course, leads me to an examination of the potential for “motivated reasoning.” When I then encounter a large % of the outraged are ideologically predisposed towards rightwing ideology that opposes government spending in general, it raises red flags; in particular when many of those same people defend spending orders of magnitude more – say over $1 trillion for in Iraq, another issue where the return on investment is highly, highly dubious – the flags fly even higher

      • I should add also, that the $30 billion could simply not have been spent.

      • Or the people who choose to live in a risk prone area could bear the cost. When you align the costs with the benefits you tend to get more bang for the buck and better accountability. Tsunami warning is a local problem, probably best served by a local solution where those responsible for warning and planning are held responsible at a local level. And the costs are best managed by those who benefit from good planning. Having farmers in Iowa fund agencies in washington to address a local problem in hawaii or the west coast, doesnt really make good operational sense. Not for Iowanians or west cost people. Of course when you have the hammer of the federal government every local problem looks like a nail.

      • Tsunami warning is a local problem, probably best served by a local solution where those responsible for warning and planning are held responsible at a local level.

        Really? Seems to me that if I were going to look for non-local problems, tsunamis would rank pretty high on the list. You’re saying that localities would be better off tracking events that might cause tsunamis, and scaling up predictions based on measurement of those specific events is best handled locally?

        As to response once predictions are made, that seems to me to be something that is better decentralized, at a conceptual level – but even there, there are certainly efficiencies that can result from a federal-level coordination of local efforts. It is possible, I might imagine, to combine federal-level and local efforts to maximize the combined efficiencies. But maybe that’s just a “retarded” idea, eh?

      • Or the people who choose to live in a risk prone area could bear the cost. When you align the costs with the benefits you tend to get more bang for the buck and better accountability.

        Just to add – as a principle for policy development, I don’t disagree with that. But – that doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do when facing current circumstances, and it doesn’t answer the question about how to pull that off logistically. I would be curious to hear your ideas as to the logistics of how to implement such a principle of policy development – given what we currently face where people already live in risk prone areas, some of whom could not absorb such costs.

      • Ancillary benefits?! ROTFLMAO!

        Use the force of govt to take money from people who have worked hard for it, waste it on worthless programs, but argue that the spending has ancillary benefits. That’s the same Keynesian BS that was used to justify Obama’s pork-ulus scam.

        Joshua — here’s a clue. Letting people keep their own money has “ancillary benefits” that totally dwarf whatever ‘benefits’ you can conjure up.

        Ancillary benefits. Wow.

        “All your money are belong to us.”

      • It’s the Government as Irene model. Break enough windows to drive wide fallacies through.

      • Hoo Haw, the epicenter is the District of Columbia, the vacuum at the center exceeds all previous records, the winds, mad as Maria, feed on hot tropical taxes, the eyewall is tangled journalists top to bottom.

        Where is Hieronymous Bosch when we need him.

      • Well, since the NOAA and NWS squandered billions on bogus AGW projects, good for Republicans.

        And sad that the NWS would choose to cut employees hours to 32 per week instead of cutting bogus AGW crap.

      • Bruce –

        Can you quantify that amount of “squandered” money – controlled for spending that overlapped with resources that had multiple applications?

        Could you compare that with an assessment of the risk increased costs due to defunding federal agencies tasked with predicting and responding to national disasters?

      • I think squandered is accurate enough.

        AGW is bogus. Every penny spent on it is squandered.

        The interesting thing is that evil people int he bureaucracy responded to budget cuts with extortion: “Give us back all our money or we will cut the most useful thing we do to save all out administrators/propagandists jobs.”

        Call their bluff. Make them justify every penny spent. Don’t allow them to cut useful things. Cut the grants to AGW. Cut every penny from anyone who participated in a bogus chicken little AGW study.

        There is fat in every bureaucracy.

      • Anytime you might want to answer the questions – feel free to do so.

      • Sure.

        “According to the GAO, annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010, amounting to $106.7 billion over that period.”

        Cut every penny.

      • Let’s say that answers the first question.

        Good job. You’re making progress.

        Now how about the other two?

      • You first. How much of that 108 billion was for “predicting and responding to national disasters?”

        How much of the 8.8 billion in 2010 was for “predicting and responding to national disasters?”

      • You first.

        That’s funny, Bruce. What happened to that progress you were making?

        My suggestion to you is that you should reserve judgement about something being “squandered” until you actually have some idea as to what it was spent on. Otherwise, your assessment might display a touch of “motivated reasoning” and confirmation bias.

        And I know you wouldn’t want that to happen, now would you?

      • How much of that 108 billion was for “predicting and responding to national disasters?”

      • Those cuts are tactical ploys.

      • Joshua, if you read these budget cut scare stories carefully you will see the trick, and it is an old one. Cutting the NWS by $126 million is not cutting the tsunami warning center. It is actually a small cut to a large agnecy. What the agency (and the reporter) does it pick the most sensational thing the agency does and pretend that the cut applies to that. It doesn’t.

      • That’s a fair point, David –

        However, you will note that the article does provide this information:

        While lawmakers look for cuts, they recognize the need to maintain critical life-saving and safety programs, Hing said. For instance, the GOP budget does not cut spending for a network of tsunami-detecting buoys in the Pacific Ocean.

        Anyway, as fair as your point is, the scatter-shot approach that the GOP has taken towards federal agencies certainly does not ensure that federal cuts are targeted towards redundancies as opposed to programs that save lives – certainly because it is part of a larger ideological context that is full of anti-government rhetoric.

        An example:

        The House GOP’s 2011 budget would chop $156 million from the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for immunization and respiratory diseases. The GOP reductions are likely to hit the CDC’s support for state and local immunization programs, the agency’s ability to evaluate which vaccines are working, and its work to educate the public about recommended vaccines for children, teenagers, and other susceptible populations. The CDC especially focuses on serving lower-income families who receive vaccines at state and local health offices and community health clinics, rather than a private doctor’s office.

        Why should we assume that cuts to agencies that provide disaster prediction and response would be different than the example above?

        If you have evidence that the GOP cuts have contingencies attached that control how the cuts are targeted, I’d appreciate seeing it.

      • What “contingencies” are you asking for Joshua? As your quote about the CDC makes clear, the cuts tend to be quiet precise, at the program level. These cuts are typically designed by staffers who are experts on the programs in question. For example, here are the FY11 CR cuts. Big cuts are a specific judgement against the program. You may not agree but you are not in charge.

      • David –

        Do you have any idea what programs will be affected by the cuts, and a cost benefit analysis of those cuts?

        How do you feel about the cuts to the immunization programs that I excerpted? Do you think they are cost effective?

        The “contingencies” I would be asking for relate to specificity in the targeting of cuts. What parts of the CDC do you think should be cut? What parts of the NWS do you think should be cut? Do you have a cost/benefit analysis that supports your opinion about what should be cut – or just a blanket assertion that cutting costs would bring positive returns?

        What “specific judgements” are behind the decision to cut immunization funding? To cut the NWS?

        And again, how does $30 billion stack up against, say, defense spending?How does the cuts for the CDC or the NWS compare? How does the fact that they are much smaller in magnitude fit into your viewpoint about the importance of cutting that $30 billion and cutting funding for the CDC and the NWS?

      • Joshua, people do not operate by cost-benefit analysis, they operate by judgement. If you want to know why these specific CR cuts were made you need to ask the people who made them. I know about a few of them but that is all. My guess is that the funders do not consider immunization to be a Federal role, but it is just a guess as I know nothing about the program.

        I can however do a rough cost benefit analysis of zeroing the USGCRP. The cost is $2 billion/year. The benefits of the program are strongly negative, since it produces a lot of CAGW hype and nothing of value. Thus the B/C ratio of zeroing it is significantly greater than $2 billion/year.

        Note too, the fact that somebody gets the $2 billion is not a benefit of the program, because all that money was taken from someone else. In economics this is called a transfer payment. In fact the loss of benefit to the taxpayer has to be subtracted from the benefit of the expenditure, to find the net benefit. Otherwise 100% taxation would be the optimum.

        BTW you are hijacking the thread. This has nothing to do with Irene or risk perception.

      • BTW you are hijacking the thread. This has nothing to do with Irene or risk perception.

        I seriously love this. Many posters at this site talk about the political ramifications that are tangential to the specific focus of the post. Often scientific discussions spin off tangentially also. How often do you see people spinning virtually any discussion into talk of the AGW/eco-Nazi/progressive/federally funded fraudulent climate scientist cabal? I’ll bet you’ll find post from that angle on virtually every Climate etc. thread. Are you distinguishing my posts from those type of posts because my elicit responses, and therefore are considered “hijacking?”

        As I see it, the definition of “hijacking” is entirely subjective – in the eye of the beholder, as is the label of “troll.”

        But either way, David – you have accused me of such on more than one occasion as have other commenters at this site.

        In point of fact, if you choose to describe as hijacking the phenomenon where I post on topics of interest to me, and you, repeatedly, as well as other readers, respond to my posts, you certainly have that right. But you should now that in no way do I feel any responsibility for the actions that you choose to take – no matter how many times you try to transfer that responsibility. I don’t have a gun. I don’t force you to respond.

        If Judith thinks that I’m “hijacking” a thread, I completely respect her right to delete my posts or ban me from posting (not that my respect of her right to do so has any impact on her power to do so).

      • Joshua, people do not operate by cost-benefit analysis, they operate by judgement.

        And that’s the problem as I see it, David. It seemed to me that you were arguing differently earlier, but anyway, “judgement” is entirely subjective, and more than likely based on little other than political ideology. For my money, cost/benefit analysis is a much better way to go. IMO, failure to do a cost benefit analysis displays an unscientific approach to risk assessment.

        My guess is that the funders do not consider immunization to be a Federal role, but it is just a guess as I know nothing about the program.

        But the federal cuts had a direct impact on local immunication programs. I find it curious that, apparently, you support such costs without, apparently, having any idea what the cost benefit analysis of that impact to local immunization programs might be.

        Note too, the fact that somebody gets the $2 billion is not a benefit of the program,

        Actually, David – I already noted that – when I spoke of opportunity costs. But thanks for the lesson in the terminology of economics – I can use all the help I can get. As it happens, confusion about the definition of transfer payments as opposed to subsidization is an issue that I see very often. Would that more people had your knowledge of economics terms.

      • Joshua,

        You’re a central planning liberal at best. Don’t you think it strange that “science” reveals itself based on a particular set of people who largely think as you do?

        As for skeptics being conservative, what policy gain is there other than stopping your tribe on AGW agenda making (more central planning)?

        This is why everyone associated with the debate should disclose their political profiles. Especially the IPCC and consensus participants. Skeptics never escape labels and close political filtering by a linked partisan media alliance. You do admit the mainstream media is left-wing also; Wash Post, NYTimes, NBC, CBS, ABC, Time, Newsweek, Nature Mag. etc?

        Academia is also skewed left for reasons aside from the faux “higher intellect” claims. The society self-segregates for many complex reasons and ways. AGW is a social and political movement first and foremost, the vague science is very secondary. It’s linked to past “eco left” movements of the past and would not have been possible had the culture not taken over in fertile academic ground as a 60’s left anti-western culture theme. Self-hatred and guilt projection is another old left quality. That liberals are attracted to abstract result fields such as found on campus and long-research isn’t a surprise either. That our society permits a different two culture system where those who pay most of the taxes, produce most of the private wealth that then is transfered to your cultures (certainly there are those in the private sector who share your views but the percentage can’t as great as in the receiving enclaves such as academia, government employment or social welfare) is worth discussing. Our U.S. election cycle is largely based on this eb and flow and AGW has followed that pattern. After the 06′-08′ liberal peak the tide turns. In a short time under a President Bachmann or Perry you will looking back at the weak moderate of “Hitler” Bush (No-Child/Central Planning Education, expanded medicare, 3 “stimulus” scams, TARP groupthink, “Compassionate conservative” twaddle) as the good old days. Liberalism needs a strong private sector to leech off if only for funding reasons long-term. It’s ironic since everything about the past three years has been and attack on the private sector and AGW is a shinning example. It’s the suicide self-hate gene that is part of human history. As for people being concerned over AGW they would do better to think about the trend of other declining cultures and the trend toward central planning the people who enbrace it. In short; you and your consensus are part of social decline.

      • When the Centers for Disease Control have enough money to do programs like
        Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health (not a disease)
        Pregnancy (not a disease)
        Overweight and Obesity (not a disease)
        Power Tools: Nail Down Safety First (not a disease)

        Just go to their Web site and you will find that they are into almost everything.

      • If the police and fire departments were wasting millions of dollars on egregiously wasteful boondoggles and Republicans introduced a bill to cut back on the waste, Democrats and the news media would put out headlines claiming that the GOP was eliminating the very people who save our lives.

        And the gullible fools would come on websites like this and post comments pointing to the horror of it all. Those mean, heartless, terrible Republicans want to kill us!

      • stan –

        Those mean, heartless, terrible Republicans want to kill us!

        I don’t believe that I said anything that would support that characterization of my perspective – but let’s say that I mistakenly did so. So now I’ll clarify further what my perspective is.

        I don’t think that Republicans are heartless, terrible people that want to kills us. Not in the least. I don’t think that the majority of Republicans are heartless or terrible in the least.

        Which is exactly the root of my question.

        Given that they aren’t heartless, terrible people, I don’t understand the risk perception of those Republicans who advocate for indiscriminate cuts in funding of federal agencies that provide prediction and response services for natural disasters – particularly if they demand those cuts before alternative forms of predication and response are in places.

        It isn’t the moral character of Republicans that I question. My assumption – one based on a lifetime of interacting with Republicans – is that conz are no more terrible and heartless than libz.

        What I question is the logic that leads people who do value human life and who do care about others, to advocate for policies that I think “misdunderestimate” risk.

        I hope that clears things up. And further, I hope that in the future it might help you to realize that broadly characterizing libz as “gullible fools” might be based on similar misinterpretations of what libz are saying?

    • Who is pushing for the systematic dismantling of the federal government’s ability to predict and respond to storms?
      How do we assess the rational thinking abilities of people who make such mindless idiotic ignorant and incorrect claims?

      • Who is pushing for the systematic dismantling of the federal government’s ability to predict and respond to storms?

        I suppose I could look around The Google for examples more specifically related to hurricanes, but I think that the article I linked above suffices as a relevant example.

        I assume you disagree, hunter. Why?

      • How’s this, hunter?

        Does it qualify? From back in March:

        The Republicans’ proposed bill funding the government through September would cut $131 million from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy as well as $1.4 billion from emergency response training to chemical and radioactive disasters.

      • Also from March:

        The continuing resolution passed by the GOP House, the one that just failed in the Senate, reduces funding for the federal agencies that monitor and react to disasters. …According to the House Appropriation Committee’s summary of the bill, the CR funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA — its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.

      • “this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president’s never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting.”

        So the President asks for a grotesque amount of money to squander and the Republicans threaten to spend less than the grotesque amount?

        Oh the horror!

      • So, Joshua, how exactly would you sort out the massive US debt problem without destabilizing your economy (oh and the rest of the world’s)? Any duplication of effort is unaffordable these days. Somebody has to decide the priorities. You certainly can’t keep borrowing like you are at the moment (not that we are any better in the UK!). Down that path lies other risks – perhaps you are adverse to these?

      • I have a number of views about how the debt can be dealt with, without cutting funding for national disaster agencies. I don’t really think that this is the place to go into detail on that – but would if pressed.

        My opinion is that cutting this kinds of programs, in addition to resulting in more suffering, would likely be cost ineffective. It would be interesting to see some comprehensive analysis in that regard. But then again, can you exclude the human suffering when doing a cost analysis? How do you put a cost on increased human suffering?

      • Check IPCC literature they probably studied the cost of suffering they will impose on people in poor countries who will stay poor because of proposed global strategies. .. ah yes, but people in 2100 will be better off so we can just do a net present value of future joy.

      • Steven,

        Are you familiar with the term strawman?

      • Joshua,

        Since he doesn’t employ them at anywhere near the rate you do, it is likely that he is not as familiar as you. I’m sure if he spent a weekend reading every one of your comments here over the last few months, he’d be an expert.

        Assuming he survived the ordeal without permanent damage.

      • And RobB –

        What is the amount of $ spent on these programs relative to the size of the debt?

      • Hi Joshua, your point is well made, It is true that the cost of such programs is small compared to the size of the national debt. However, the fiscal situation (in both our countries) is so severe that every dollar or pound of spending has to be looked at no matter how small. Even if the national debt can’t be reduced it is imprative that the budget deficit is stabilized in the interests of future prosperity.

        Now, I don’t know the particular details of how these cuts will affect the NWS’s abiity to provide tsunami warnings but I note that in the article you cite the subject was introduced by a union spokeman:

        “A union representing workers at the tsunami center said the proposed cuts – part of $454 million in cuts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – could result in furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices. If so, that could affect the center’s ability to issue warnings similar to those issued Friday, said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.”

        I’ll just make the point that whenever public organizations have their budgets trimmed there are always self interested groups that will try to portray the most alarming impacts. That’s their job, but it doesn’t mean savings can’t be made successfully without increasing risk.

      • I’ll just make the point that whenever public organizations have their budgets trimmed there are always self interested groups that will try to portray the most alarming impacts. That’s their job, but it doesn’t mean savings can’t be made successfully without increasing risk.

        No disagreement with any of that, Rob. Of course, I’d add that same sort of logic applies basically whenever any entities’ budgets are trimmed.

        My basic argument is that a comprehensive risk assessment should be made. Even the best risk assessment will not be perfect or unquestionable – but that isn’t a reason to not make the effort, IMO.

        But to advocate for wide-scale cuts before such assessments are made, IMO, says quite a bit about someone’s approach to risk assessment – or actually, about the degree to which “motivated reasoning” can overwhelm one’s approach to risk assessment.

      • Debt, who is worried about, debt?…

        I wonder how they were ever able to make change for you, when you just have 136 tons of Franklin? Bet it’s Gold now.

      • Joshua,
        Show us where the Republicans are saying we need to reduce the ability of hte Federal govt. to respond to emergencies.
        Or keep filustering with bs articles making false claims.
        And follow up with posts about how Katrina was a racist republica plot and the levees were dynamited.

      • OK –

        I get it now. So you’re saying that significant defunding, across the board, and assailing the very notion of federal agencies being charged with these and related tasks, is different from actually saying that you want to reduce the ability of the federal government to respond to emergencies.

        And follow up with posts about how Katrina was a racist republica plot and the levees were dynamited.

        That’s cute. Would that be considered a “pre-strawman?” Let’s see if we can get through this without building any strawmen of any type.


    • Joshua, My view is that the ‘mission’ of FEMA is to identify the threat as early as possible, keep those threatened well informed & respond ‘as soon as possible’. Also, some sort of strategic national reserve of supplies (food, water, shelter, clothing, medical) pre-positioned at some old SAC airbase. We should be able to Respond Quickly. Not predict. This country needs to: Deal with what is happening, not with what might happen.

      • Tom –

        So – to confirm, at a categorical level you favor federal funding for response, but not prediction?

        As I mentioned above, it would be interesting to see a cost analysis of the money spent on the infrastructure that enables prediction – including the ancillary benefits (i.e., the benefits of having better weather forecasts widely available).

      • Joshua, to be clear, I did not say that that is ‘what’ FEMA has done, rather it is what FEMA should be ‘doing’. That is the point I made.

    • Slightly OT but related to climate science financial cuts:
      Next up for the GOP chop is the IPCC:

      Look at this!

    • Notice how Joshua works hard to hijack any thread possible into a stage to demonstrate his ignorance of politics?

  4. Don’t listen to the government if they order “mandatory evacuation.” Make your own decision. The government isn’t going to guard your stuff and they aren’t going to stop looters.
    There was very little crime in Houston compared to NO. Probably because Texans tend to shoot looters.

    • Sam-

      Just to check – you also would say that anyone who doesn’t evacuate because they didn’t listen should receive no publicly funded services in any way. Roads leading to their houses should not be rebuilt, they should be given no emergency medical services if they don’t pay with cash, up front. If a fire breaks out in their home no firefighters should fight the fire, etc.

      And how would federal personnel know whether you didn’t evacuate because you decided to ignore the mandatory evacuation, or whether you didn’t evacuate because you didn’t know about the mandatory evacuation or were unable to evacuate? Should they just assume that everyone who didn’t evacuate made a deliberate decision to not do so?

      • “Just to check – you also would say that anyone who doesn’t evacuate because they didn’t listen should receive no publicly funded services in any way. ”

        It starts before that. Our policies on rebuilding in disaster prone areas, our bailouts actually incentivize people to make risky decisions about where they choose to live. Do you think it makes sense to subsidize the rich?

      • Makes perfect sense to me…subsidize the insurance that allows them to build there then pay out when mother nature knocks it down…lather, rinse, repeat.

      • I’ll check out your links.

        My quick reaction is that federal infrastructure development often pays dividends that many people are very reluctant to acknowledge for ideological reasons (I’ve seen this most apparently in arguments about funding for public transportation).

        That said – I don’t disagree that more careful consideration needs to be made as to how funds are directed to risk prone areas and to subsidize people to live in those areas.

      • Speaking of “subsidizing” people to live in risk prone areas….

        What are the economic externalities of the federal money that has flowed into the risk prone areas of the ports of San Francisco and Oakland? Or perhaps Silicon Valley, Lawrence Llivermore, Stanford?

        Do you suppose that spending on infrastructure and the direct funding of research in Silicon Valley is more of that incentivizing people to make poor decisions about where to locate? Do you suppose those industries have taken on all the costs associated with their location decisions? What do you imagine the cost/benefit analysis might be of the federal money that has flowed into the area that has in turn resulted in so much economic activity?

      • When Joshua says “Do you suppose that spending on infrastructure and the direct funding of…” he stands, ‘shovel ready’.

      • Joshua

        Having both grown up in Silicon Valley and relatives who worked in the industry near the begining I don’t think using Silicon Valley is a very good example. Silicon Valley was created more out of happenstance than by government incentives. Money now flows into the Valley because that is where the best and the brightest are.

      • Jeff –

        I think government incentives played a pretty big role in the development.

        The law of (negative) unintended consequences and moral hazard arguments are frequently used frequently to criticize the outcomes of government “subsidization.” Not to say that you made those arguments…..

        Claims about a corrupted process- rigged by self-serving academics (who are only seeking to work in academic because they’re too incompetent to cut it in the private sector) and their subservient government enablers (or is it the other way around?) – the arguments go, only allows for unsustainable activity to take place to line the pockets of the co-conspirators who profit from activity that could’t survive in the “real world.”

        You will see those points made over and over on these threads. OK – to some degree I think they are at least arguable. But those same co-conspirators played an important role in the creation and success of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley would not exist were it not for “encouragement” and “subsidization” by government, to the private sector, to create a hub of activity in a highly risk prone area.

        The bulk of the initial industrial activity in Silicon Valley – though the 60s at least, relied very heavily on government funding and close partnership with government for research to produce technology for whom the government was the primary customer. The relationship was not even purely a contractual one.

        Private Incentive and the Role of Government in Technology Advancement: Silicon Valley, Stanford University and the Federal Government

        Well beyond that, the academic sector has continued to drive a great deal of the activity in Silicon Valley. And then, we could go into government-funded infrastructure development – which was indispensable to the growth of the Silicon Valley.

        First, it is important to remember that the US government played a very important role in launching Silicon Valley and keeping it going for at least the first 10-15 years of its existence. As early as the 1950s several companies were spun out from Stanford University to develop microwave technology for the Cold War under government contracts. During the 60s government-sponsored projects around spy satellites and ballistic missiles gave rise to many successful semiconductor companies. It was since the late 60s, along with the rise of institutional venture capital, that academic and private sectors drove our region’s success. However, with subsequent technology waves, the government’s role became one of providing the right incentives for people and companies to jump in, but then become less involved.

        1/3 of all venture capital in the U.S. is flowing into a risk prone area.

      • Sorry for the errors, typos, misuse of html tags. It was a long night last night, pumping and wet-vacuuming water out of my basement straight through until 6:00 AM.

  5. Excellent article.
    One small typo:
    Camille was a 1968 storm and missed New Orleans.
    Hurricane Betsy, however did strike New Orleans directly and led to substantial flooding in 1965
    One interesting characteristic of hurricanes that move up the east coast is that they tend to travel at higher speeds as they proceed north.

    • I was stationed in Biloxi Mississippi at the AFB when Betsy hit as a category four. We were on the righthand side of the eyewall. Several hotels along the beach had their first two floors utterly destroyed by storm surge along with many other businesses and homes. Many car dealers lost their entire inventory due to being pushed around and under water.

      The destruction was catastrophic in within several miles of the beach.

  6. “federal government”

    Joshua, it’s possible other entitites could predict and respond to weather. Why does it have to be Big Brother?


    • Andrew (or should I call you bad?)-

      I don’t know that it would have to be a federal entity. I can see advantages for decentralization, but in balance, I’d say that this is the kind of circumstance where centralization brings more advantages than disadvantages.

      But in lieu of first building or ensuring a more decentralized infrastructure (and just how might you propose doing that?) – if you’re advocating the existing federal structures, in effect you’re advocating for having nothing at all.

      What kind of risk perception would lead someone to, effectively, be advocating for no way to predict these kinds of events and no way to respond beyond, say, nailing up some plywood every time the skies darken?

      • sorry –

        “….if you’re advocating for dismantling the existing federal structures….”

      • Joshua,

        Please don’t presume to tell me what I’m advocating. I know what I’m advocating better than you. I’m advocating that localities deal with the weather as they see fit and spend as much or as little money on it as they choose to. I’m also generally advocating the reduction of the scope of the federal government in every area.


      • Ok, Andrew,

        My apologies.

        I’m telling you that IMO, to advocate for the dismantling of the ability of the federal government to predict and react to these kinds of events, without first funding and developing more local infrastructure, is effectivelyadvocating that we ensure no ability to predict or react beyond a strictly individual or small-group level.

        I would go on to argue that trying to predict and respond to these kinds of events by relying only on a decentralized approach would be excessively inefficient in myriad ways. That’s not to say that there aren’t inefficiencies in a more centralized approach – only that they would be dwarfed by the inefficiencies that would accompany a strictly decentralized approach.

        I never meant to suggest that you, or anyone else I know of, is selecting out federal disaster programs for dismantling. Sorry if it seemed that I was. But I am, honestly, curious about the risk perception of someone who doesn’t mind sweeping up federal disaster programs in their zeal for dismantling the federal government more generally.

      • “but in balance, I’d say that this is the kind of circumstance where centralization brings more advantages than disadvantages.”

        Seriously, on what basis. Centralization brings no more knowledge to the problem, less accountability, more cost and longer reaction times. The only benefit it brings is more dollars. Which means that when disaster strikes on a coast which is more likely to be populated by the well to do, you are transferring funds from the less well to do who choose to live other places or who could not afford to live in risky places, to the better off individuals who are subsidized to live in dangerous places.
        The median income of residents of coastal counties exceeds the median income of non coastal residents by 17%. And we continue to allow and even incentivize building there. In 2003 43% of all new building permits were issued in coastal counties. If the cost of repair for disasters was bourne entirely by those actually taking the risk, then you can well imagine that this insanity would abate. When you encourage people through subsidy to engage in risky behavior ( building on land that has a higher probablity of flood and destruction) are you shocked when they do so? Any why shouldnt they? The true cost of living there is hidden from them, picked up by their poorer countrymen living in less risky areas.

        ” Homeowners across North Carolina could face a steep increase in their insurance premium next year to help pay for damage to beach properties when the next major storm hits the coast. …

        The N.C. Rate Bureau, an insurance-company association that helps set insurance rates, released a proposed increase Tuesday that would raise homeowners’ premiums by an average of 19.5 percent across the state. The rate jump would be higher on the coast, with potential increases of as much as 50 percent on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and 70 percent in coastal counties.

        Homeowners in the rest of the state, including Mecklenburg County, would see increases ranging from 1 percent to 22.5 percent.

        State Rep. Bruce Goforth, an Asheville Democrat who sits on a special legislative committee that heard the proposal Tuesday, objected to the idea that the rest of the state would pay the insurance for the owners of beachfront mansions.”

        Or let the “federal government” pay for it, which means residents in other states pay.

        Ya, we subsidize vacation homes Joshua. Go figure that. And we subsidize the insurance on homes worth more than 1 million dollars.
        So a cautious poor person living away from danger pays the federal goverment to insure millionaires at rates below what they would have to pay. And that federal approach is somehow better? more fair? wise?

        The properties covered under the NFIP tend to be more valuable than other properties nationwide. The median value of owner-occupied housing in the United States is about $160,000; across the four classes of property in the sample, median values for single-family principal residences range from about $220,000 to $400,000. Much of the difference is attributable to the higher property values in areas that are close to water.

        Many subsidized properties, especially those in coastal areas, have high values. For example, 40 percent of subsidized coastal properties in the sample are worth more than $500,000; 12 percent are worth more than $1 million. For inland properties, the analogous figures are 12 percent and 3 percent.

        The difference in the value of subsidized and unsubsidized properties in coastal areas is attributable more to the value of the land than to the value of the structures that occupy it. Subsidized structures are less valuable, on average, than unsubsidized structures in coastal areas. Those patterns of land and structure value occur because subsidies go to older structures, which, although perhaps less valuable in themselves, often occupy more desirable, first-developed locations. By contrast, inland subsidized properties tend to be less valuable than inland unsubsidized properties.

        A significant fraction of subsidized coastal properties (23 percent in the sample) consists of residential properties that are not the policyholders’ principal residences. That category includes second homes and vacation properties, but it also includes properties that are rented to year-round tenants. Property values for subsidized coastal nonprincipal residences generally are higher than are those for subsidized coastal principal residences.”

      • steven –

        Good post.

        I much prefer when you engage in debates than simply characterize my viewpoints as “retarded,” or whatever.

        I will read your post in more detail and maybe we’ll pick up on a similar theme at some point in the future.

        By way of a general response –

        I don’t dismiss moral hazard arguments out of hand. I believe in the validity of the concept. What I disagree with are what I often see to be overly-simplified applications of that concept to very complex scenarios (not to say that’s what you’ve done here). Do I think it makes sense to encourage people to build in highly risk prone areas? As a general rule, no. But then again, as I mentioned above, when you look at the economic benefits of encouraging people to build in areas like Silicon Valley or San Francisco/Oakland through various forms of subsidies or transfers, the bottom line cost/benefits analysis becomes complicated. So that’s my view as a general principle. As to how the example you’re speaking about specifically stacks up against that general principle, I’ll have to think more before I could respond.

        Let me just some more on a general point – since I’ve been thinking about it lately. A related concept (at least to me) to the concept of moral hazard is the concept of “unintended consequences.” Often, I see unintended consequences – as a principle and in specific- instances – used as an argument against federal government involvement in society at a wide range of levels. I certainly think trying to factor in unintended consequences, as a possibility outcome, into socio-political policy equations is very important.

        But here’s a point I’ve been considering: Unintended consequences, by the very nature of the concept, is value neutral – unless one has an inherently negative view of how events unfold. At least in theory, unintended consequences can just as likely be positive as they might be negative. Now if you have some overriding “faith” in the benefits of an unadulterated free market – then I guess that might give some underlying logic to a viewpoint that any interference by a federal government would, necessarily, be more likely to have negative unintended consequences. Also, if you have an overriding political orientation that sees nefarious intent on the part of libz or by definition, any effort on the part of the federal government to address large-scale socio-political problems, then I suppose that there might be a valid logic supporting a “federal government = negative unintended consequences” equation.

        But obviously, I don’t share those tenets. So, as I see it, when people make broad scale assumptions about unintended consequences having negative outcomes (again, not saying that you did that), it is likely to either be an indication of a binary mindset (that outcomes need to be either good or bad as opposed to some combination of both), or a limited political orientation that influences someone otherwise quite capable of complex logical reasoning to limit their reasoning to a binary type of algorithm

        So that’s a long-winded way of getting back to the question you asked:

        Seriously, on what basis.

        My starting assumption is that unintended consequences are value-neutral in the bulk of situations; just as likely to be good as bad. What is required to determine some kind of probabilities for the signed value of unintended consequences in any specific situation is a carefully constructed cost/benefit analysis, conducted free from motivated reasoning that will only lead one to easily predicted conclusions.

        So – specific to subsidies or other policies that encourage people to build in risk prone areas, I should say that while I might speculate about benefits as an outcome, I don’t know enough to speculate about where the balance might lie.

        As far as predicting and responding to natural disasters, while I recognize that there are downsides to a centralized approach (there always are), I think that the scale of the expertise and resources needed to monitor those situations and respond align relatively well with centralization. I’m open to discussing that further. That said, I am a huge supporter of localized planning (my experience with it is more closely related to participatory, community-based, collaborative urban) planning. So while I don’t find binary-thinking based rejection of the notion of federally centralize planning to be valid – I do find the discussion about centralized vs. decentralized approaches to natural disaster prediction and response to be of general interest.

        Sorry for the rambling post.

      • randomengineer

        But in lieu of first building or ensuring a more decentralized infrastructure (and just how might you propose doing that?)

        The old civil defense system worked well for these things precisely because the decentralised locals knew a great deal more about local conditions than a fed agency (FEMA) did, the result being far better emergency handling, supply distribution, etc.

        Of course this was “improved upon” via FEMA etc before you appear to have been born hence you seem to have no operational experience with which to judge.

        What you don’t seem to grasp in these discussions is the GOP is about decentralisation and local control — which can be done better and with less money — rather than feeding bureaucratic monsters that devour funding and deliver little.

        Look up Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureacracy and you will see what the GOP is really thinking. The GOP wants to see plenty of preparedness; they’re not keen on the _federal_ part of it which is wasteful and inefficient. Less money, better results. The “cutting services” crap you keep regurgitating is a leftist talking point intended to scare you into thinking bad things about the GOP. The GOP isn’t about cutting sevices. It’s about cutting bureacrats getting in the way of providing these services. Seems the propaganda works in your case; you blather about infrastructure as if this had never been addressed prior to FEMA.

  7. –e.g., Attention Getter: By the time it gets as far north as NY it won’t be as strong Hurricane Bob that hit Massachusetts on August 19, 1991, nor will it be as devastating as the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 but where it may first touch down–in South Carolina and Virginia and up to Washington DC–it may well be biggest hurricane of this century.

  8. It has been established that action in the face of peril, depends on who is in danger. If you have an adult in charge of a group of children, then it is almost certain that the adult will take appropiate action. If you have a bunch of peers, particularly men, then it is more likely they will choose to do nothing.

  9. Paging Mike Smith.

  10. What interests me is that the preparations for the hurricane themselves are so costly and disruptive, although many of the preparations will be entirely moot.

    No one knows what is going to fail in particular in the storm to come, nor can predict which evacuation is right and which a needless effort.

    It’s the Risk that brings the cost or preparation, not the hurricane.

    It’s the Risk knowledge too, that mitigates damage by having those right evacuations and necessary measures done to mitigate the storm impact.

    As “exceptionally predictable” as Irene is, she’ll still be extremely costly both in appropriate Risk assessment and preparation and in inappropriate Risk perception and inaction.

    Factors that increase and complicate Risk assessment cost us all at times like these.

    We know that AGW increases and complicates such assessment for 97% of those who study such things.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the people who benefit from AGW payed to defray these added Risk costs?

    Say through a fee, levy or tax on GHG emitting fuels?


    • It’s the Risk that brings the cost or preparation, not the hurricane.

      Can you quantify that? What are the numbers you’re using for the cost of the preparation and the cost of the hurricane?

      • Did you mean cost of preparation?

      • Joshua

        At the moment, I cannot recall if it was a typo or a turn of phrase; certainly the cost is the preparation, and the preparation is the cost, when speaking of the cost of preparation.

        As to quantifying the cost of preparing for hurricanes and disasters in general, and Irene in particular, I wouldn’t hazard to guess what the ultimate figure might be in such a complex question.

        Certainly, it is many times what government allocates to the effort beforehand.

        I doubt it is reflected even in the size of the insurance industry; so many un-insured and underinsured parties live in hurricane zones.

        I’m sure someone has opinions that they could support about this quantum, however quantification that way — by expertise — doesn’t interest me.

        I’m more interested in what the fair Market mechanism would allow to mitigate the cost of Risk. And in the fair market, the price of anything is determined by the Law of Supply and Demand.

        I recommend charge a fee on GHG emission and pay it to everyone who has an interest in the Risk involved — that is all of us — and set the fee at the level the market will bear, as with any other market offering, which is the point total revenues are maximized, and another penny of fee results in less total CO2 emission worth more than a penny.

        See? Cost of Risk paid for by those who increase the Risk.

        Capitalism at work.

        Much better than, for instance, Ron Paul’s state intervention plan of involving the courts in litigation on every claim of harm. Litigation is nearly the costliest form of government, despite Ron Paul’s Big Law Business friends’ interests.

  11. Part of the risk perception problem, to the extent one exists, can be blamed on a media culture that habitually hypes storms. Some people just stop listening.

    Speaking personally, my own risk perception has increased dramatically with age. Even through my forties I loved wild weather. Of course I didn’t want anyone to be hurt, but the wilder and more disruptive the storm the more I liked it. One of the happiest times of my life was during what we refer to around Massachusetts as the Blizzard of ’78. One of my very first and fondest memories is being carried by my dad over our flooded driveway during Hurricane Carol.

    Now at 60, I’ve turned into a battery counting, candle hoarding, canned food purchasing old man worry wart. Sometimes I make myself sick to be honest :>)

  12. I have to disagree with Judy’s claim that “Hurricane Irene has been an exceptionally predictable storm, we saw this coming weeks in advance. ” From the perspective of the 7.5 million people here on Long Island, it has seemed quite unpredictable. I have some responsibility to watch over a few hundred people here, and I’ve been watching this storm since it formed. This past Monday I knew it could be bad and started alerting our folks to prepare. Tuesday it looked like we were getting a direct hit from a Category 2. Then it was veering off to the east and we were just getting a glancing blow. Then it came back to pointing straight at us, but weaker and with a larger area affected. From the NOAA 11 am images it’s looking now like it’ll hit well west of us and there’s a good chance we’ll see no hurricane-force winds here at all. There certainly will be a storm surge and people in the low-lying areas need to move to higher ground, but will the winds be that bad?

    I hate to be crying wolf and end up with no big problems. That’s the fundamental problem with low-probability forecasts of extreme conditions – people survive a few of those and then ignore warnings when it really is bad, when all along the probability of it being really bad was maybe 30% and they’ve just been lucky so far. More precise predictions is fundamental to reducing that “crying wolf” problem. We’re definitely not there yet.

    • Arthur, after things settle down, I will give you the time line and postmortem on our hurricane forecast for Irene (provided for the private sector). In terms of exact track location and damage to individual locations, no that just isn’t that predictable on the scale of a few kilometers that is relevant to Long Island.

      • But your forecast is/was just one of many, so it does not matter how good it is/was. Just a few days ago one leading model had Irene going up the west coast of Florida, another up the east coast. There is no reason to believe we will ever be able to accurately forecast turbulent, chaotic phenomena like this. Somebody needs to quantify this and then we need to stop making unrealistically precise forecasts, because they create their own problems.

      • They are quantified. If you were reading the National Hurricane Center’s forecast discussions, they were continually emphasizing precisely how large track errors typically are, especially out beyond 72 hours. Their map also shows a cone-shaped spread around the forecast track. If you believed the exact track with too much confidence, you only have yourself to blame (or you were getting info through a third party source that was not carrying along what the NHC was saying about the uncertainties.

        Of course, the intrinsic problem is that, for many weather events, the forecast errors…while not that large…turn out to be large on the scale where people observe the weather. I.e., a 50 or 100 mile error is not bad in the grand scheme of things but can make a considerable difference in what kind of weather you get.

      • Speaking of forecasts Joel

        Hey, I saw this, yesterday? You remember that CLOUD thing & looking for ‘the gods’ particle? Well, it seems the scientists at CERN, are gonna confessthat the Sun of all things, has something to do with it. They are still
        praying they find the Higgs Boson before they create that mini-Black- Whole, they all laugh at.
        Ok, here it is! Just, take a look:)

        Like the doc’s like to say: “Science is what you do, when you don’t know
        what you are doing.” Perhaps they should read One More Book.

      • Irene has now struck NC. Here’s an update from our forecast, which pretty much agrees with with NHC. The intensity has peaked, will be dropping from here. Our tracks are in agreement for a hit around long island, with a fairly narrow cone of uncertainty. After that, the NHC has it heading north, whereas our tracks hug the coast all the way up maine. For a storm this size, the exact track isn’t all that relevant since the damage swath can be pretty broad. Joel makes a good point, from a forecasting perspective 50-100 mile error is pretty good, but from the perspective of an individual or a city, it makes a big difference. This particular storm has been very predictable in terms of agreement by all the models and ensemble members, but will wait for nature to confirm this seeming predictability.

        Another point is that category 1 doesn’t necessarily mean wimpy damage. Horizontal size is as much related to damage as the wind speed. Think Ike, a category 2, that wiped out Galveston a few years ago, and ranks as the 3rd costliest U.S. storm.

      • Joel, I agree that the NHC cone is at least a start on quantifying the uncertainties, but it is not what is generally reported, or even forecast. If the cone is correct then every specific forecast is bogus and every report of a specific forecast is misleading. Saying people should not believe what they are told misses the point.

      • As a concrete example of what the NHS has been saying, here is their forecast discussion from 5pm Monday . Note their statement at the end:


        Here’s a cool link where you can watch how the NHS forecast track has evolved with time:

      • I know of no news outlet that is heeding this warning. But then I don’t use mass news. Using a mere 5 year average error seems wrong. It is like using just 5 years of climate data. Accurately quantifying this error is a grand challenge. So is communicating it.

      • If the average error is 200 miles what is the statistically significant (at 95%) error?

      • Private sector forecasts can be much more useful than the generic ensemble models. Some of the models are tuned to weak storms early, some more tuned to stronger storms and a few have pretty good weight on historical tracks. The historical may be useful somewhere, but it tends to straighten out tracks so the turns are underestimated. It was pretty easy to see Irene was going to turn east when it was near Hispanola.

        I am interested in seeing the private sector intensity forecasts. The ones used for the public are pretty useless.

      • Joe Bastardi had it nailed all the way as I’m sure did others.

        Concerning risk and the perception of risk. Hurricanes always do property damage, but in modern times they are not as dangerous concerning loss of life as they once were. Katrina was a thowback to previous centuries when we didn’t behave better contending with a known risk.

        Nowadays, hurricanes are exciting and make good news, but it is a pretty good bet that more people will die in automobile accidents on the coming Labor Day weekend than will die due to this hurricane. I don’t say that to be callous, just to point out that risk is a tricky perception. A boat, a six pack, and Lake Lanier can be a riskier deal than Myrtle Beach during a Force 3 hurricane.

      • Thanks, I’d like to see what it is you’re referring to. Though I don’t see how it’s a helpful thing if nobody knows about it. The issue isn’t just a “few kilometers” for us, the problem was (1) the storm path predicted for our latitude (NOAA NHC) over the week moved about 200 km west to east and back, and (2) predicted storm strength changed considerably over the week as well.

        In the end I think we calibrated our response about right. Most of our folks cleaned up their yards but didn’t board up windows; they prepared for a loss of electricity, but most didn’t feel the need to evacuate. I’m grateful I boarded a few of ours, because a large maple tree was uprooted outside my daughter’s window early Sunday morning; several medium size branches knocked against the plywood, and might have broken the window. About 1/3 of the families we’ve had report in so far are still without electricity and have been told it will be several more days.

        If the prediction had stayed with a category-2 storm landing right on us the preparations would have been very different – or the consequences very different if it had hit at that strength. So we’re grateful for the accuracy of the final forecast, and the decline of the storm intensity so significantly. I think people here are quite aware we were lucky and will take the next one just as seriously, so no real “crying wolf” problem for now. Still, it bothers me that things were so uncertain until Saturday morning just hours before the storm arrived.

    • Entice ’em with that naughty null.

    • Steve Goddard is somewhat more pithy in his description of McKibbin’s commentary about Irene and extreme weather:

      The alarmists recall is highly selective. None of them mention Camile (winds of 205mph in 1969), well before CO2 emissions reached 350ppm.

      What bothers me most is the intellectual dishonest displayed when attributing extreme weather events to AGW. It seems that extreme weather events are classified separately so that natural variability includes only anomalies within a reduced and narrow range. By my reckoning extreme weather is part of the natural variability data, not an exception thereto.

      • I was in Camile @Keesler AFB when it came through, Katrina was a rerun, just as the tornado out break this spring was a rerun of the 74 Tornado season, just as Irene is a rerun of the 38 NY hurricane.
        All came with in a couple days of the return of the same Lunar declinational and Outer planet synods as the original storm episodes.
        The maps currently on my site reflect the precipitation tracks of tropical systems that parallel the 1938 storm off shore about 100 miles or a little less than Irene is currently tracking.
        I wanted to get the additional data from the 1938 analog year included into the new maps I am producing for my web site on line before Irene became manifest, but production delays slowed me down. The precipitation patterns on the current maps show an off shore track in the right places on the right days, even though they were put together and loaded to the server 43 months ago, does any body else beat that lead time?

    • It is like some sort of neurotic ocmpulsion iwht the AGW community to blame any weather extreme on AGW, and then hope that when the grownup point out later that no, this was a typical storm/drought/flood/heatwave/coldwave that enough people will not notice the quiet presentation of reality having been dazzled by the bs of AGW.

      • Don’t forget the Trenberth strategy. Five percent of every extreme event is due to AGW.

      • Every penny spent on global warming research is a penny not spent on cancer research.

      • Note a few more things:
        -Total ocean storm energy (ACE) has been strongly down the last few years, and continues so.
        -The number of hurricanes has been negatively correlated with warming recently (and generally, in fact), despite howling assurances that ocean warming would multiply them.
        -In energy dynamics terms, the Cold Pole/Warm Tropics scenario generates far stronger fluxes, flows and wild weather than the Warm Pole/Warm Tropics alternative.
        -Therefore, if we get a few decades of cooling, expect much worse weather than the benign run we’ve had the last few years.
        -For historical perspective, check out some of the storminess reports and evidence from the LIA. Nothing in modern experience compares.

      • Mike Smith’s excellent point, noted elsewhere but widely, culturally, ignored, is that hurricanes in the Northeast were more powerful in the 19th Century, when it was cooler.

  13. Some interesting back and forth on a related thread over at my place:

    • Third and way too much,
      Down by eight, closing seconds.
      Bring up religion.

    • Irene, the first tropical storm to make land fall in the US this season has a middle name, it’s “Hype”.

    • I looked at the first 30 messages and did not see anything particularly interesting, except someone claiming that the locally high SST’s were due to global warming. Same old fallacy.

  14. Joe Bastardi has been predicting a New York landfall in 2006, 2007, 2008. Did he give up and actually miss it this year? or did he forecast a new york landfall for this year in a pre-season forecast?

    • In April 2011 he had an article about the 1938 hurricane which hit NY, and I recall he predicted a high probability of landfall in the NE this year. However, that article was when he was advertising his new gig, and the link does not now work.

      Does anyone have a link to that article?

    • “August 16 08:34 AM
      by WeatherBell Admin

      State College, PA – According to WeatherBELL Analytics Chief Meteorologist Joe Bastardi, a frenzy of named storms resulting in multiple hurricanes is about to be unleashed between Aug 25 and mid-September, and could pose a threat to the US during the time period.

      “Rarely and certainly not since 2008 when 6 named storms in a row struck the US do we see the Atlantic basin ready to become a focal point of the Earth’s tropical activity right at the height of the hurricane season,” said WeatherBELL Analytics Meteorologist Joe Bastardi.

      Bastardi said that the overall global pattern favors well below-normal activity in the Southwest-Pacific over the next 3 weeks, which means nature must use the Atlantic and Eastern-Pacific basins to produce the bulk of the tropical activity.

      “In a season of weak storms where 4 of 7 so far were non-tropical in origin, a frenzy of 5 to 7 true tropical storms are likely to emerge,” Bastardi said. “Almost all them are likely to reach hurricane status — and 3 or 4 of them could impact the US coast. It appears that this very active period that is emerging could rival the 2008 frenzy of storms.”

      The forecast period of heightened tropical activity from late August to mid-September was one of WeatherBELL Analytics’ pre-season analogs.

      While the Gulf of Mexico was the center point of activity in 2008, the current pattern suggests that the Gulf may represent the west side of the action this season, while New England is the Northeast-side, and Florida along with southeastern states appear to be the most ‘at risk’ for threats, according to Bastardi.

      “The pattern appears ripe for a rapid fire series of storms in the coming weeks, and by mid-September the memories of the hot 2011 summer are likely to be replaced by headlines of tropical storms and hurricanes – as well as rumors of more storms to come,” Bastardi added, “The first of these storms could reach the US coast the last week of August.””

  15. Discount, discount, discount!
    ‘Predictions (of disasters)’ sells newspapers/increases ratings.
    Irene – 4->3->2? And that’s before it hits land!
    Believe nothing! And certainly not alarmists. And definitely not Joshua!

  16. I’ve great respect for Bastardi though I find his personality a bit grating at times. I’ve been following him through various subscription services for 4 years. No question he was very definite that this fall was likely a return to the 1950’s great hurricane years in the northeast.

    He’s also been instrumental in my AGW skepticism. I’ve been watching him take apart the global warming embracing, establishment weather agencies, like the National Weather Service and UKMET season after season. He’s just made them look foolish. I can’t recommend true believers especially, subscribing to WeatherBell. It’s a cheap education. Well worth it.

  17. Sorry, misspoke. Of course I meant to write that believers SHOULD subscribe. I just don’t see how any fair-minded person could come away from a year watching Bastardi with their AGW faith intact.

    • That’s easy. The man doesn’t understand the subject of climate change. As his recent post on WUWT demonstrated well enough.

      • CO2GW believers don’t understand the subject of climate change. Climate change is any climate change, at any time scale.

      • Lolwot, do you understand the subject of climate change?

  18. Joshua successfully wrecked this thread for me. A good natural experiment and Joshua can’t let it run without derailing it. The lack of respect for other commenters is stunning.
    I can say that I am taking Irene seriously primarily because I remember Hurricane Bob – 20 years ago. We lost 8 tall, shallow rooted Locust trees. Fortunately they all fell to the East, missing the house. Plus I have a water problem in the basement and a predicted possible 8″ of rain at 1″ per hour on already saturated ground plus a high potential loss of power to the sump pump has me plenty concerned. Would I evacuate with these same concerns – probably not since I rate my ability to mitigate the damage higher than any immediate threat. In short, one assesses the information that is available against what one personally knows and decide accordingly. Same as almost every other activity we undertake every day.

  19. Prof. Curry, thanks for an interesting post that should be of interest to 50+ million folks who reside on the eastern coast of the US. However, I have to ask, “Did you asked Joshua to host this post?” If not, IMO, Joshua appears to have hijacked the comments section of this post. I didn’t tally his comments and the responses to his comments but I became frustrated while scanning 91 comments searching for other POV’s.

  20. Sure, sure, we know that looking to GCMs for intelligence about the future is futile. We have known for long time why models are inadequate and we know even more now. Results from the latest research shows a negative feedback caused by cloud-seeding airborne particles.

    Still, global waming alarmists must of course blame humans for being responsible for these particles even if that possibility doesn’t exactly fit in with humans being the cause of global warming.

    Even so, the AGW True Believers simply cannot conceive of anything in nature that could possibly have more effect on our Earthly climate than the tailpipes of American SUVs, right?

    So, let’s try for a moment to think like the typical global warming alamists—e.g., what force of nature could possibly be responsible for producing aerosols if not evil business?

    Well… how about—e.g., Hurricane Irene and Typhoon Tyrone and Earthquake Sally and Volcano Eyjafjallajokull?

    “If they come from human activities, it raises the prospect of a new climate impact from humans. Alternatively, if they have a natural origin, we have the potential for a new climate feedback. What is clear is that the treatment of aerosol formation in climate models has to be substantially revised.” Jasper Kirkby

  21. If we can get back on track wrt Irene and risk perception, I just watched a Weather Channel report on Irene. I kid you not, the perfectly quaffed weather guy must have said “tremendous” a dozen times within a minute. He must have thrown in about a half-dozen “incredibles” for good measure.

    Hyperbole like this tends to desensitize folks toward real risk, or at a minimum, focuses them on how ridiculous the media can be rather than on evaluating the risks themselves.

  22. It’s people like Gore, McKibben, Hansen, Mann and Schmidt who have given climatology a bad name. Anyone who has spent any time looking at the evidence that is supposed to underpin the hypothesis of AGW ( and certainly CAGW ) is bound to come away thinking these folks are intentionally screaming “Fire” at the top of their lungs in the theatre in the desperate hope of panicing the patrons. The patrons, on the other hand, are increasingly nonplused.

    As a direct result of their irresponsible behavior, it will be decades before climatology regains credibility in the public’s mind.

    • Once it becomes impossible to continuing believing there are people smart enough to vote that are obviously too stupid to vote–but they’re a majority–it’s all over… We’ll soon see that in dead and dying Old Europe.

    • I have the opposite view. Their warnings are valid and based on science. Skeptics are simply being reckless because they think it won’t affect them personally.

      • Science?

        Scare tactic: 1000mm sea level rise by 2100!!!!!!!!

        Reality: 6mm sea level drop in 2010.

        (And really, the 6mm is probably an understatement but its the most the “scientists” will admit to)

        Scare Tactic: Worst drought ever in Texas!

        Reality: 1956 and 1934 were way worse.

        etc etc

        Was 1934 the warmest year in US history. Probably. Was it caused by CO2. No.

      • you confuse short term noise with longterm trend.

        The big picture is that we are raising CO2 levels at a rate which is, for all we know, unprecedented over Earth’s entire history. And we know this rate of CO2 will have has a significant radiative effect and a significant effect on ocean pH.

        It is this that skeptics are being reckless about when they just dismiss the issue with a wave of the hand.

      • You confuse lies with truth and downward trends with positive ones.

        In short, you and you ilk are liars, stupid or both. I vote both.

      • You are the one doing the equivalent of seeing a La Nina and thinking the world is now cooling. How many times do you guys need to be wrong until you realize? Weren’t you all claiming sea level had stopped rising during the last La Nina? Yes I remember it well it was around 2007/2008 time and you guys were claiming sea level had stopped rising.

        Next time I will be able to show how you were wrong both in 2007/2008 and 2011.

      • The prediction was 1000mm by 2100. 10mm per year.

        -6mm doesn’t get you closer to 1000mm

        Its gone up 20mm since 2001, 2mm per year.

        You and you lying comrades are 8mm per year short of your predictions.

      • The prediction wasn’t 1000mm by 2100. Nor does it have to rise anything near that high for there to be a problem.

        Methinks you are trying to recklessly ignore the danger by erecting strawmen. A somewhat dishonest tactic.

      • “Global sea levels could rise much higher this century than previously projected, raising the threat level for millions of people who live in low-lying areas, new research suggests.

        Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen say changes in the polar ice sheets could raise sea levels by a metre or more by 2100.

        Prof Konrad Steffen, of the University of Colorado, said new studies of ice loss in Greenland showed it had accelerated over the last decade.

        “I would predict sea level rise by 2100 in the order of 1m,” he said. “It could be 1.2m or 0.9m, but it is 1m or more seeing the current change, which is up to three times more than the average predicted by the IPCC. It is a major change and it actually calls for action.”

        One meter is 1000mm.

      • sorry my bad I read it as 10 meters. I don’t see why you are so confident 1 meter of sea level rise can’t happen. How much do you think it could rise by tops then?

      • The discussion is about why “scientists” fabricate scary scenarios based on no evidence, and then don’t retract their crap predictions when evidence proves them spectacularly wrong.

        It has permanently destroyed their credibility.

      • You seem to think the only way to predict sea level by 2100 is by extrapolation of existing rates of increase. It isn’t.

      • If you claim that Greenland is melting at record rates NOW and sea level goes down you are either stupid or a liar. If you (lolwot) make excuses for stupid liars who predict record sea level rise TODAY, then you are dumber than they are.

      • A drop in sea level, or even a non-rise in sea level, during a La Nina does not mean Greenland is not losing mass.

        Also you talk about predicting sea level rises TODAY. The predictions are not for today, they are for 2100.

        Unless the prediction of sea level rise by 2100 also states that sea level will never fall by 6mm in a year, you can’t say a 6mm drop contradicts the prediction.

      • Are you suggesting alleged record melt water from Greenland is sitting around hiding somewhere just waiting to raise sea level in the future?

      • The trick is to understand why sea level rises faster during El Ninos and slows down, or even drops, during La Ninas.

        The answer will have nothing to do with greenland however.

      • Why do you go on on about La Nina.

        11th measurement in 2001 to 11th measurement in 2011.

        25.292 to 45.041 = 19.749 = 1.97mm per year.

        That is 8.03mm per year short of what is needed to reach 1000mm per century.

      • “That is 8.03mm per year short of what is needed to reach 1000mm per century”

        But then the prediction of 1m by 2100 isn’t predicting a linear rate of increase is it?

      • Considering all the claims of accelerated melting, the sea should have shown some rise of consequence by now.

        Instead it is farther and farther behind.

        The 1000mm prediction is now 80mm behind.
        The 1900mm is now 170mm behind.

        Let me know when to quit laughing at you lolwot.

      • lolwot

        you confuse short term noise with longterm trend.

        The “longterm trend” (HadCRUT3) shows us that global average temperature has increased by around 0.7C since the record started in 1850.

        This has happened in multi-decadal cycles of warming and slight cooling, each lasting ~30 years, with an amplitude of +/- 0.25C and an underlying warming rate of 0.042C per decade.

        At the same time CO2 has risen since Mauna Loa started at a fairly steady compounded annual growth rate of ~0.4% per year with no multi-decadal cycles at all. Prior to ML, Vostok ice core records cited by IPCC suggest a steady increase from around 280 ppmv prior to the Industrial Revolution to 315 ppm in 1958..

        Statistically speaking, the “longterm” temperature record is a “random walk”.

        There is no observed robust statistical correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature.

        Where there is no robust statistical correlation, the case for causation is weak, if not non-existent.

        Hope this takes out the “short term noise” for you.


      • “There is no observed robust statistical correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature.”

        correlation doesn’t equal causation pal

        The temperature record is entirely consistent with significant warming from rising CO2.

      • simon abingdon

        “correlation doesn’t equal causation”. We all know that. Max was talking about “no correlation”. Not much chance of showing causation without correlation, I shouldn’t think. Sorry Max, I butted in.

      • Indeed, Simon, while correlation is not sufficient to show causation it is generally considered to be a necessary condition. Lack of correlation implies falsification, unless a secondary hypothesis can save the original hypothesis. AGW proponents have scrambled to provide these so-called “theory saving” secondary hypotheses, but their proliferation in itself is evidence against the original hypothesis. An historic example is adding epicycles to keep the earth in the center of the solar system.

      • How does “entirely consistent” differ from “closely correlated,” which it ain’t? Does entirely consistent mean merely possible? It is a weasel word.

      • The cooling from 1998 to 2001 does not correlate with the rise in CO2.

        But it’s consistent with it.

        I mean sht people this is quite obvious stuff you seem to be all dancing in rings to not understand this.

      • Let’s see, ‘con job’ & ‘insistent’ = ‘consistent’.

        See, I know maths. Wait, where’s the numbers?

      • Apparently consistent means it does not agree with the hypothesis but we are going to ignore that, in hopes that we will be able to explain it someday. This is exactly how Kuhn’s model predicts that scientists will ignore anomalies in order to protect the paradigm.

        The problem is that there are now so many anomalies that AGW falls of its own weight. This is also predicted by Kuhn’s model. We are witnessing the birth of a new paradigm of climate science, in which natural variation plays a dominant role. Bring it on.

      • David: What you are saying is factually nonsense. The climate models forced with steadily-increasing greenhouse gases do not show monotonic temperature trends and, in fact, negative trends over even a decade are not uncommon. You are just inventing what you think AGW does or should predict and using it as a strawman.

      • Joel,
        Face it: AGW is circular and non-falsifiable crap.

      • What a coincidence, hunter, you are saying that same thing the creationists say about evolutionary biology: , the other major subject where the non-scientific community thinks they understands science better than the scientists!

      • Joel,
        Are you saying that evolution causes global warming?
        I am confused. I thought it was tobacco.

      • “What a coincidence, hunter, you are saying that same thing the creationists say about evolutionary biology:”

        Uh oh, Joel went to the Evolution Magic Bag. I’m seeing Transitional Fossils dancing before my eyes. O_O


      • Joel, yours is a fine example of a secondary hypothesis designed to “save the theory,” as I have described above. AGW has a lot of these, one or more for every piece of contrary evidence. Enough in fact to make the basic hypothesis unfalsifiable, as Hunter notes rather rudely. This is why confidence in AGW is dropping steadily. It has run its course.

      • The bottom line is that CO2 rise not correlating with temperature does not falsify the AGW. I gave the example of the period 1998 to 2001. It saw a fall in temperature yet a rise in CO2. Complete lack of correlation. Yet to imagine that falsifies CO2 as a cause of warming is ludicrous.

        It has nothing to do with inventing secondary hypotheses and all to do with reality. The reality is that the temperature record does not falsify AGW.

        It is unwise to come up with arbitrary falsification criteria out of sheer desperation.

        I am glad Joel raised evolution as an example as it is another case where falsifiable predictions are not easy to come by. Science just doesn’t follow the toy examples of the scientific method that many people think. You have to apply common sense.

      • I never said that the temperature record falsified AGW. It is much more complicated than that, but it fits Kuhn’s model nicely. (Hardly a toy model by the way.) The temperature records (there are several) provide several kinds of evidence against AGW. These are called anomalies. Long periods with no warming but significant CO2 rise are among the strongest. This is not falsification, just evidence against the AGW hypothesis.

        AGW proponents have responded with purported explanations of these periods and how they can occur without falsifying AGW. Each of these explanations is itself a secondary hypothesis, of one form or another. Some are quite vague (aerosols, noise, etc.). There is nothing per se wrong with providing such explanations. However, their existence weakens the original hypothesis. The problem is that these secondary hypotheses have become so numerous and comprehensive that AGW appears to be unfalsifiable. That is fatal. You can only save a theory so many times.

      • David – just curious.

        In, again, participating in a discussion that isn’t directly related to the specific topic of the post, with multiple comments, are you “hijacking” the thread?

        Or is your definition of “hijacking” highly selective?

      • “The temperature records (there are several) provide several kinds of evidence against AGW”

        Creationists state that the fossil record provides several kinds of evidence against evolution. There are problems with the fossil record (eg scarcity of transitional fossils in places) and scientists have built what you would call “secondary hypotheses” to solve those problems too (eg punctuated equilibrium).

        Creationists complain similarly that these “secondary hypotheses” are arbitrary and scientist’s propensity to generate such secondary hypotheses rather than abandon the theory leaves the theory unfalsifiable.

        But really it’s just how science works. When there are problems with a theory scientists attempt to solve them. They don’t simply abandon the theory as the skeptics want.

        I am sure they would abandon the theory if it was clear that the data contradicted it. But there’s nothing compelling in the temperature records that even suggests AGW is unlikely to be true, let alone makes that clear.

      • The logic of theory succession is independent of the topic. It happens over and over, in all sciences. So your pathetic references to creationism are irrelevant. AGW is losing ground for good reason.

      • You haven’t explained why the creationism example differs from your argument against AGW though.

        Seems with evolution you want to call it “theory succession”, just part of good science, but when it’s AGW you want to label it as “second hypothesis” generation and some kind of bad practice.

      • There is no evidence that AGW is “losing ground” in the scientific community. What’s happening in the larger community is, of course, the same thing that happens with evolution and creation, which is that many people make their decisions based on ideology or religious belief and the arguments attacking the science are really more honestly just wanting to justify what they want to believe.

      • lolwot,
        So skeptics are selfish basta**s who don’t care?
        What a maroon you are.
        You are far beyond the frontier of clueless and well established in the land of ignorance.

  23. “… Major Hurricane Irene?” I thought hurricanes were ranked by category rather than having rank. ;-)

  24. “Joe Bastardi has been predicting a New York landfall in 2006, 2007, 2008. Did he give up and actually miss it this year? or did he forecast a new york landfall for this year in a pre-season forecast?”

    Dr. C, this isn’t quite fair if I’m understanding your intent. He doesn’t, and of course can’t predict landfall in any particular area months in advance. I don’t recall any such predictions about NY or anywhere else in my years as a subscriber.

    He assesses overall patterns and draws on analogue years (that is, years in which similar patterns prevailed) to make educated guesses as to what’s more or less likely to happen in various regions. His track record in my estimation has been extraordinarily good. He and Joe D’aleo were both in agreement starting back last winter that this was going to be high likelihood
    year for the northeast.

  25. Joshua
    Please do me a favour and rename yourself sleeping bag. The reason being is that when you turn up here we all will need one.
    Take care

    Now about risk is it a board game or was Irene just a storm in a tea cup. Without knowing was there an aftermath were the predictions of civilisation ending yet again completely accurate?
    Whenever I encounter someone talking about risks more often than not they have no professional capability regarding the subject they are discussing.
    I hope I am right and that Irene was a good girl?

    • Stacy –

      Perhaps you could explain your logic to me?

      Apparently you think that my posts are boring. If so, then why do suppose commenters read them, reply to them, reply to my replies to their replies, etc?

  26. And here’s a little number dedicated to numbnut –

    • Chief –

      I’m so glad that you came back to play after having a tantrum and taking your ball and going home.

      Apparently, despite your best intentions, you’ve realized that you just can’t stay away.

      I mean with insightful comments like that one, it”s obvious that we were all impoverished by your 10 minutes of staying away before changing your mind.

      • Just to clear up one more of your errors Joshua – it is only you with your boorish and bullying behaviour who I have decided to ignore as a general rule. Obviously, before you say it, I am a ‘descriptivist’ like yourself and avoid consistency as a matter of principle. Although – even saying that I am embarrassed at applying such trivial ideas even in jest.

        But then that is what you are good at – the trivial, the boorish, the bullying.

      • it is only you with your boorish and bullying behaviour who I have decided to ignore as a general rule.

        Ok, it seems that you have now learned meaning of descriptivist – that’s progress; now let’s start working on the meaning of “ignore.”

  27. I think the point of Dr Judith’s post was to highlight risk as a concept for discussion in the context of climate change, decsion making under uncertainty and the potential negative impacts of inaction. Whether the use of a seasonal hurricaine is a sound basis for this discusion is very much a moot point although this seems to be the good doctor’s implication. As I understand it, there are studies showing that hurricaine activity has decreased during recent warming. We have discussed this on previous threads.

    Risk is the product of the likelihood of an event mutiplied by the impact.

    Setting aside weather issues (like hurricaines), the extent of future global warming seems low to me and the likely impacts similarly unimpressive. Risk is therefore low and does not justify spending our cash on expensive mitigation. Adaption against bad weather through sensible land use, construction and engineering seems the way ahead. There is simply not the cash for grand schemes.

    • You probably also need to discount the future impact cost to present value, when justifying current expenditures. But that is economics. David Ropeik’s catalog of psychological reasons why people underestimate or over estimate risk seems irrelevant to me, as far as the climate debate is concerned. People make mistakes, but that is not going to change.

      However, at this point Irene seems to be a case of overestimating risk, or at least over-hyping it. The news says two million people are being asked to evacuate, which has its own risks.


  28. Judith,

    This is another situation for politics of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Individuals will have their own take on what should have been done.
    The unknown is what damage will occur to the risk of peoples lives considering each year is a larger population and more dispersed population.

    • I agree, Joe.

      The sad fact is just this: Politicians know too well the psychology of controlling voters.

      Unfortunately that has become their dominant theme over the past sixty years, since a mere Harvard graduate student named Henry Kissinger worked at the US Psychological Strategy Board.

      Those who controlled the scientists manipulating temperature data were not half so dumb as the poor chap seeking more research funds.

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel

      PS – I’ll be there tomorrow, Judith

    • Joe that is the biggest issue with perceived risk. Warnings are always for the worst case and the reality is almost always less. So whether it is hurricanes or global warming we are conditioned perceive risk based on recent results. The Japanese of this generation did not expect a tsunami that large, but there are monuments to past tsunami that were as large or larger. Someone said people tend to forget after about three generations. In the Keys we have a monument for the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 that had a storm surge of around thirty feet. I am well aware of that, but in a few generations?

  29. There is a lot of alarmist coverage of Hurricane Irene, but the storm may change its course, weaken over the cooler ocean waters off the middle of the east coast, and come ashore, if at all, as a weaker storm — still dangerous, but short of Stormageddon.

    The news reporters always report in a surprised way that a hurricane has reduced its intensity when it comes ashore. They report this in such a way that suggests that we have dodged a bullet, even though a hurricane always reduces its intensity on coming ashore, totally explainable because it can no longer feed off of warm ocean waters. So they will say that a hurricane has dropped from a Cat 2 to Cat 0 after it moves inland, implying almost that we were fortunate that it didn’t stay at Cat 2!

    This kind of reporting is bad because it gives people the wrong perception of the risks and the nature of predictive behavior. Not a big thing but one of those pet peeves of mine, similar to when weathercasters report that a temperature was not the “normal” temperature expected for the day.

    • John Carpenter

      I’m in Connecticut and hope that by the time it reaches here it will be a tropical depression. We’ll see by tomorrow.

  30. I think the natural tendency to deal with risk sets an increasingly high bar for explicit proof of direct negative repercussions to weigh with increasing costs of direct counter-measures.

    If a hurricane is swirling in the Atlantic, the costs are catastrophic but diffusely potential, and prescription is vigilance… you will get large-scale compliance compared to the call to go to the store and purchase supplies to board up all the windows– for that, you’d require more explicit proof.

    I think in climate science risk management, there are some parallel’s. The need to spend a certain %of GDP on counter-measures against the effects of climate change engenders a requirement for a certain amount of explicit proof. To the extent that one agrees this proof has been given is the extent to which they will encourage compliance. The ability to demonstrate this proof (or not) will only become more clear in future times, but so too would the potential catastrophic effects (as currently communicated)…AND the recommended counter-measures required to mitigate loss. It could just be that achieving global warming counter-measures to the degree recommended by those currently most convinced of the threat magnitude given the current suite of evidence might always lie beyond the acceptability window of the larger populace. This means (a) either those that are convinced must occupy the majority of positions of authority to legislate/adjudicate/regulate the counter-measures into being above the cries of the larger populace of regular folks; or (b) the only strategies with a wider opportunity for success require a more pragmatic approach that places itself closer to within the acceptability window. Education/media strategy can also move that window for the general public, but this is not always achievable if there is dissenting thought within the same sphere. Controlling the existence of thought and ideas is problematic, but people will always gravitate towards perspectives that minimize the movement of their acceptability window, and/or that merely confirms their agreed-upon course of action as reasonable and justifiable.

    • Is it even appropriate for *climate scientists* to be involved with public policy regarding a *weather event*?
      When I get sick, I do not call my friendly neighborhood actuary to deal with the illness. I call my doctor.
      If I am in a car wreck, I do not call NHTSA statisticians to get my car towed or to do the field report on who was at fault. I call a local law enforcement officer, a tow truck and, if needed, an ambulance and my insurance company.

  31. “As Major Hurricane Irene . . .”

    Say what? Are there now Major and Minor Hurricanes? Does this replace the Cat 1-5 system and the ACE measurements?

    How about a “Major Hyped and Exaggerated Hurricane” category?

    Or a “Significant Opportunity for Publicity Seeking Politicians to Get a lot of Free TV Time Peddling Fear and Hysteria” catgeory?

  32. WTF are you even talking about? This hurricane is a serious threat.

    Oh I forgot you are part of the reckless boys brigade that is scared of nothing that might affect other people.

    • that was in reply to Bad Andrew | August 27, 2011 for claiming calling this a major hurricane was just sensationalism.

    • lolwot,

      Of course it’s a serious threat. So are tornadoes, automobiles, spolied food and drinking too much. I’m talking about presenting info about a threat vs. hyping the threat. You do know there is a difference, right?


  33. Lol, middle name “Climate Change” is so appropriate.

    I wonder what Bill’s middle name is?

  34. “This technique is the same used in AGW hype. Sensationalize the weather in order to scare people. Anyone who engages in or enables this stuff is not a scientist. (ahem)”

    You’re conflating two different things, and I don’t buy the premise in this particular anyway. Irene had all the elements of a major disaster. As it is, it’s going to affect millions of people given its track. Major flooding. AC will catch the brunt as I understand it…If anything, the media here in Boston underplayed the threat for days, only waking up on Wednesday. Nor is this tropical season close to being over. Bastardi sees another possible impact around the 10th of next month in the SE. With more fun after that a high probability.

    • pokerguy, I hate to tell you but… you gotta Big Tell. We can all see it, can you too? Don’t tell me I’m ‘conflating two different things’, Ok? I wasn’t even here, yet. Time to rest now after that big storm what’s her name. O I remember now, Irene over…

  35. “You’re conflating two different things”

    pokerguy, sensationalizing hurricanes and sensationaling AGW are both instances of…



  36. Irene is not even technically a hurricane at this point.
    Once again the climate fear mongering industry has over sold a perfectly typical weather event as *proof* of a CO2 caused cliamte crisis.
    Irene does have a middle name. It is ‘normal’.

    • But hunter, as Joel points out, being wrong is not inconsistent with Climate Change or climate science so we shouldn’t criticize it

  37. Andrew, the difference has to do with the nature of the sensationalizing, who’s doing it and why…

    Generally speaking, media outlets hype events because if they don’t, they’ll lose ground to the outlets that do. Granted, there’s some of this at work when it comes to AGW.

    But the important, primary sensationalizing with respect to AGW is coming from the players themselves, that is the establishment climate scientists. Of course they do this to further their professional agendas.

  38. “But the important, primary sensationalizing with respect to AGW is coming from the players themselves, that is the establishment climate scientists. Of course they do this to further their professional agendas.”

    I totally agree with this.


  39. Climate scientists aren’t hyping events. Climate scientists are reporting worst-case scenarios and trying to convey the danger in raising CO2 levels so fast.

    • lolwot,

      I’ve read my share of Forest and Trees comments over the years. But you may have taken the prize with this one. OMG


    • lolwot,
      Any climate scientist doing what you claim they are doing should be fired and sued for the added costs their hype imposes.

  40. Dr Curry
    hype => disbelief
    Whether the former comes from warmistas or the MSM or Fox News or the Mayor of Noo York (or any selected Governor).

  41. “JC comment: Hurricane Irene has been an exceptionally predictable storm, we saw this coming weeks in advance.”

    This statement begs for further elaboration.

    • I know, i am too swamped tho at the moment. I will do an irene forecast postmortem, including our prediction of genesis before the AEW even left africa. but this will have to wait for a few weeks.

      • Dr Curry
        Please, in your analysis, consider the cultural memes of ‘The boy who cried wolf’ and ‘Chicken Little’.
        You might also think along the lines of ‘clothes’, ‘Emperor’ and ‘new’,

      • There was zero chance for a major landfall anywhere in the Middle Atlantic states with this coast-hugging track. Just too much dry air involved to maintain the inner core. The shabbiest of short-wave troughs had no trouble imparting SW shear on that flank of Irene and eroding the eyewall convection. No way for it to recover with the relatively cooler August SSTs.

        However, it stretches the imagination to say that this aspect of Irene was predictable “weeks” in advance. Even the ECMWF ensembles were out to lunch on several of the pre-recurvature 5-day forecast runs.

        It’s fine to say that we can predict AEW genesis before the wave moves out over the Atlantic. Statistics and current numerical weather prediction models help you with that. But without the benefit of hindsight 2-weeks ago, the precise landfall location is probabilistic not deterministic and one should be more precise when saying “we saw it coming”.

      • Ah, we have a proprietary track model and do substantial statistical adjustments, so our ECMWF tracks have been quite good. All of our forecasts are probabalistic beyond two days. As early as Aug 10 (5 days prior to the wave actually leaving Africa), we predicted a tropical cyclone to form (with 30-60% probability) close to the observed time and location of its eventual formation on the 20th. Our tracks have been good (in terms of hugging the mid atl coast up to Maine with a narrow cone of uncertainty) since Aug 23, decisively curving into the Atlantic on Aug 21 (a broad cone and some flickering prior to that date). On the 21st, we gave major hurricane status a probability of 30-60%.

        So I define that as “we saw it coming.” I only consider these things in probabalistic terms, which is the appropriate way to consider any weather forecast.

      • How well did it do with the intensity?

      • Actually, we’ve made a big improvement this year to our intensity forecasts. However, we only do major/minor discrimination. We did predict it to reach major hurricane status, and the timing was pretty good.

      • In re the thread on related topics over at RPJr’s blog… if it hadn’t happened, would you have been wrong?

      • our genesis forecasts verify statistically, so you need to consider the verification stats over an entire season. Once a tropical cyclone forms, we have not had a storm yet that eventually tracked outside of our dynamic cone of uncertainty (which sometime is very broad, and sometimes very narrow). Our intensity forecasts have not done well, but we have a new intensity model that is doing much better. So probabilistic forecasts are verified statistically over a number of events.

        and i am planning an ink blot post related to RPJ’s issues with verification.

      • I like the idea of a cone that shows more of the uncertainty. It is pretty frustrating down here in the Keys because we have to evacuate non-residents 72 hours before TC winds.

      • The NHC cone is based upon statistics of past hurricanes. We use a dynamic cone of uncertainty that is based on the actual predictability of the individual storm, based on the ensemble spread. We’ve presented these ideas to NOAA, but we have been ignored.

      • That’s a shame, the county has to use the NHC forecast.

      • The NHC does make available the spaghetti plots of various models, and the GFS ensemble, so you can do your own cone, if you don’t like their official cone.

      • Jim D said “you can make your own cone” I do for figuring out what I need to do. The big issue in the Keys is the mandatory evacuation of non-residents, the tourists that drive our economy, is three day before tropical storm force winds. So the county has to plan the start of the evacuation about four days before hurricane force winds are possible, and they have to use the NHC forecast. We have a lot more needless mandatory evacuations than most of the country because the accuracy is just not there three to five days out with the NHC models for both track and especially intensity. The poor accuracy is quite the topic in the Keys, since an early season forecast miss can reduce business by 20%, that is a large chunk of change. Incorrect forecasts of the gulf oil spill reduced our business that year by 30 to 40 percent.

        So incorrectly perceive risk may not have a cost in lives, but it costs livelihoods.

      • Yes, the spaghetti plots don’t say much about intensity. It has limited use in that regard, and you would have to go by the official NHC intensity forecast that takes the models into account with known biases.

      • How do you interpret a 30-60% probability range, given that 30% means pretty unlikely and 60% means somewhat likely?

      • We’ve picked these probability ranges based on what the NHC uses, and also on post analysis assessment/verification of our previous forecasts. Note we used to have a threshold cut at 50%, but psychologically the forecasters ended up biasing low. Given that most waves don’t develop into tropical storms and most tropical storms don’t develop into majors, our probabalistic forecasts verify quite well. overall the forecasters tend to be too conservative, where a 30%-60% call nearly always materializes.

        Our clients are energy traders, they make use of these probabilities in their trading. Our clients involved in the safety aspects perk up their antennae when they see a 30-60%, which is orange alert. So for people who need extended range probabilistic info for whatever reasons, we give a longer time horizon with greater accuracy than anyone else in the market (let me know if you need such forecasts!) of course these forecasts aren’t useful for evacuation for local places, and we don’t do any better than the NHC in terms of tracks inside 2 days.

      • Actually I think that David’s question is much more important than it might appear. A forecast of a range of probabilities isn’t at all easy to interpret. In part because of the NHC categories, people have taken this “orange” range to mean “moderate” risk, and for practical purposes that may be the critical point. In terms of post-hoc evaluation, it would seem like you’re suggesting that, on a seasonal basis, you would consider your forecasting methodology to be “accurate” if event X happened somewhere between 30 to 60% of the time that you predicted 30-60% likelihood. But from the perspective of someone planning for risk, what would they put into an expected-value calculation? 45%?

      • Well an energy trader might do one of several things:
        1. If the market is undersupplied and there are buy signals, a probability at this level might convince them to take and chance and buy, with the hope that production will be hammered and gas prices will spike, and then they can sell high
        2. If the market is oversupplied, then they might be contemplating selling, and wait and see if there is any runup at all of prices, and they may not act at all.

        The rig operators look at a 30-60% as “heads up”, they need to pay attention and need to begin formulating their what if scenarios.

        So this kind of information is useful for some people. These decision makers are not making a formal expected value calculation.

    • Ryan,

      In the meantime, I suggest that you look at this link that I provided to the NHC evolving predictions: Admittedly, the early path predictions as it neared Florida were off…but once they settled on a path up North Carolina and up the Eastern Seaboard several days ago, it has stay quite constant.

  42. Yes, but all predictions were alarmist. ‘We saw this coming ….’ – what, Cat 3 in NooYuk; Cat 4 for NC?
    Again, the warmistas control the dialogue.
    Even Judith’s and Ryan’s.

  43. @lolwot
    “Unless we predict catastrophes … ”
    There are many more quotes. (Don’t ask for provenance – a minute’s Googling … )

  44. “Yes, but all predictions were alarmist. ‘We saw this coming ….’ – what, Cat 3 in NooYuk; Cat 4 for NC?
    Again, the warmistas control the dialogue.
    Even Judith’s and Ryan’s.”

    This is just as wrong as wrong can be. Again, the same conflation of media outlets and meteorologists with respect to “hype.”

    In any case, I don’t see that this was hyped at all. It’s still a major, very dangerous storm with pressure as low as a cat 3. Second, If you think Joe Bastardi who’s been pushing the most dire predictions out there concerning Irene, is an AGW alarmist, you couldn’t be more wrong. He is in fact a rabid skeptic. Your world view is depressingly simplistic.

  45. “UKMET and GFS had some significantly poor forecasts.”

    No surprise there I don’t think…

  46. Everyone is apparently being fooled by this central pressure being 950 mb — but only a category 1. Joe Bastardi is the number one proponent of the “Bastardi” power scale which somehow incorporates his feelings about overall storm impacts. The low central pressure is a product of Irene’s large size and the environment within which it is embedded. Without considerable vertical shear, the barotropic vortex slowly spins down and eventually the pressure would rise. But, it is in a quasi-tropical environment that is supporting plenty of convection, so 950 mb is probably going to be maintained for a while as it moves toward lower background pressure.

  47. MSNBC gets the award for having Ray Nagin on to talk about storm evacuation/preparation. As he was talking, footage of the flooded school buses stretched across the screen. Vintage liberal media rehabilitation of failed politician.

  48. The cost of the misapplication of the precautionary principal can be high.
    When Rita formed a few weeks after Katrina and aimed for Texas is a great example.
    It was clear by then that New Orleans had been a major historical disaster.
    The leadership of the Houston/Galveston region, not to be caught flat footed, used fear to motivate area residents to flee.
    They succeeded.
    The local media simply repeated the dire warnings with little or no critical review. Even when it was clear Rita would not strike the Houston area, the breathless fear mongering continued.
    The result was that much of Houston was evacuated. Even people in the far western and northern suburbs who could never suffer from a storm surge or flood.
    The highways became gridlocked for 100 miles and more in nearly every direction away from Houston.
    It became known as the “Texodus”
    As a result of this, some 70 or 80 people died in auto accidents while attempting to evacuate. Houston, already struggling to accommodate ten’s of thousands of Katrina evacuees, was disrupted further.
    Rita, beyond giving a few hours of power outages in limited parts of Houston did little or extremely minor damage in the Houston area. Where it did make landfall, over 100 miles away at the Louisiana/Texas state line, the disruption in the Houston/Galveston region left fewer resources to evacuate and prepare those residents.

    • Oh Hunter. At that time my brother-in-law was staying with us while he underwent cancer treatment at MD Anderson. The doctors emphasized the importance of him staying on schedule, so we decided to stay in place. The models indicated Houston was the bullseye. Theoretically we had a small window after his last treatment in which we might get out of town, but we concluded we would most likely be trapped in Houston. So when he finished we contemplated making a last-second getaway, but concluded we were likely in the safest place to be: Houston.

      It wasn’t just local officials. Austin wanted to show they knew how to handle a hurricane evacuation far better than that black mayor in Louisiana.

      It was great. We got to drive around sci-fi city: Houston with no people. Very weird. I had a t-shirt made that had a menacing hurricane coming out of a TV. The caption: I Survived the Media Frenzy Over Hurricane Rita.

      • JCH,
        Good story.
        I hope things went well for your brother-in-law.
        Yes, Houston was briefly in the bulls-eye.
        But the hype from Katrina and the climate catastrophe mythos led to some very irresponsible policy.
        Many in our little neighborhood near M.D. Anderson decided to stay.
        We had some great (marga)Rita parties, helped our elderly neighbors and watched over things for the few hours that things were wet and windy.
        It was the irresponsible and historically ignorant claims made about the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons that made me start paying close attention to AGW in general.
        What I saw then and continue to see is an out of control social movement that wraps itself in sciency sounding claims and fear mongering.
        Other than the AGW community losing a lot of credibility in the following years nothing much has changed.

  49. Hype sells.

    • What do you think a TV station should report when this storm was heading straight at a city of millions:

      Lt. Col. Warren Madden, a Hurricane Hunter and meteorologist for The Weather Channel, recorded a peak wind gust of 235 mph (380 km/h) while flying in the eye of the storm, and called Rita “the strongest storm that I’ve ever been in.” Rita’s intense winds destroyed or disabled several buoy-based weather stations. …

  50. Just back from Revkinland where Bill McKibben has hysterically asserted that “Irene’s got a middle name and the name is Global Warming.” This stuff used to make me furious, but now I like it. These folks just can’t see how foolish they look, and what a grave disservice they’re doing to their own cause…

    I don’t think skeptics have any better friends than guys like Bill McKibben and Al Gore…

    Meanwhile, with tropical storm Irene still raging pretty good around here it’s like being in a battle with tree sized bullets whizzing by. Just have to hope none hit us. We’ve had several near misses already. The back yard is a mess, and our fence along the east side of our house has been damaged,,

  51. It’s not a prediction, it’s a scenario:

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