Catastrophes — How Many More?

Many people have already seen a version of this graph from Munich Re, one of the giants of the re-insurance industry:

It’s their accounting of the number of natural catastrophes due to weather-related phenomena each year from 1980 through 2011. They even account separately the meteorological (storms), hydrological (flood and mass movement), and climatological (heat waves, drought, forest fire) events.

The most obvious thing — visually obvious, and yes it’s statistically significant — is that the number of weather-related catastrophes has increased. A lot.

One might wonder, “By how much?”

The clearest indicator — again, visually obvious — is that in just 30 years the number of catastrophes has more than doubled.

To get a better handle on the numbers, I digitized this graph, then analyzed the data. First: for all three categories, the increase in the number of catastrophes is statistically significant. These are very real trends. Of course from one year to the next the numbers fluctuate, but year after year, decade after decade, the trends have risen inexorably. More storms. More floods. More heat waves/drought/forest fires.

More damage, more cost — it’s hard to count the billions of dollars. What do you think this is doing to our economy? To the economies of other nations?

More deaths.

The trends show that catastrophic storms have increased by about 7 per year. Catastrophic floods/mass movement by about 8 per year. Heat/drought/fire catastrophes about 3 per year. That’s an extra 18 catastrophes per year.

18 more catastrophes per year, per year.

What if these trends continue? Then by mid-century, the number of weather-related catastrophes will have nearly doubled again. By century’s end, we’ll have increased from about 300 catastrophes per year in 1980, to over 2400.

I’ve warned against the uncertainty in extrapolating trends far into the future. There’s no guarantee (thank goodness) the future trends will be as fast. But there’s no guarantee they won’t be even faster. It could be even worse than this dire outlook. A lot worse. Uncertainty is not our friend.

This is the future we’re headed for. Many of us have children who we hope will still be alive then. That’s the world we’ll be leaving our children — one in which nature’s wrath is no longer a rare disaster, but an all-too-common occurrence. A world in which nature is less the beautiful home of life in its infinity variety, but has become something to be feared.

Our children, and our grandchildren, will lose more than a hospitable planet. Catastrophes affect more than just human beings. So many other forms of life, so many species, will be lost to the ravages of destruction, and that too will be an irreversible loss to our posterity.

This is not some distant, future threat. This is already happening.

We know the reason. It’s global warming, stupid.

We can do something about it. We can stem the tide — at least partly. There’s no way to avoid that what’s in store is dreadful, but we can avoid the worst. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to life itself.

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76 responses to “Catastrophes — How Many More?

  1. While the focus is on the economics I think that the psychological damage to people from repeated disasters will be the ‘tipping point’ so to speak. People are remarkably resilient to a single event or even a number of events if there is time to recover between them. If, however, there are a sequence of events with little time to recover then you start to see even the strongest individuals start to buckle under the worry of the uncertainty.

    I suspect this is what will happen in the mid west were the triple punch of droughts, floods, and tornadoes will just keep on coming quicker and quicker.

  2. But, but Roger Jr. says we are OK….. ;) (/sarc)

  3. MapleLeaf beat me to it. The Pielkization of Bloomberg is a classic of political misdirection.

  4. There really needs to be some perspective on this sort of stuff (with the caveat that I have not yet read the study itself, which I gather is over 200 pages. Unfortunately, with AGU only a month away, that will have to be on the back-burner)

    Whether or not the statistics are significant is irrelevant for attribution. Much of this signal is very likely dominated by the simple fact that there is “more stuff” in the way of “weather catastrophes” (however this happens to be defined in the study, which itself will involve some sort of subjectivity), and so one would expect an upward trend even in a stationary climate. And any component that is “climate trend” related will have an anthropogenic signal, as well as decadal variability signals, and the relative impact of those signals will vary depending on whether one is interested in extreme weather (usually not much evidence of big changes), or hydrological and extreme drought (very good evidence of change) events.

    All of this is very hard to convey to the public. The “normal distribution” or “changing dice” analogies that Hansen has been using is a good start, but much of the discussion on Sandy and extreme events in general is just as much over-played by those worried about global warming as those intent on denying it.

    [Response: Note that the doubling of weather-related catastrophes has occurred quite recently -- since 1980. The idea that it's only due to more "stuff" being in the way, defies belief. Attribution is a more difficult issue. But the signal is so strong, incredibly so, that natural variation is also implausible.]

    • One way to cross-check for the “stuff” in the way (increases and changes in the development and location of infrastructure affected by catastrophies), and in addition to remove the influence of technology/policy changes (better warnings, better building codes) is to look at non-climate catastrophic events as a scalar for development, exposure, and mitigation.

      Munich Re’s information includes geophysical events (, page 4) such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanos, which affect insured infrastructures. Those events show no apparent trend over the 1980-2011 timeframe (although that begs for a statistical analysis), certainly nothing like the increases in climate events, and demonstrate that changes in exposure (“stuff”) are not the sole cause of the significant trends in climate events. The ratio between geophysical and climate events to a very large extent removes any exposure or technology effects.

      Tamino – I would suggest adding that more complete graph to the post, with geophysical as well as climate events. That would address this rather common ‘skeptic’ objection to the Munich Re data.

    • Considerably more information on the Munich Re natural disaster numbers (including some individual charts for different types of catastrophies) can be found at

      Again, geophysical event counts show essentially no trend, while climate-related event counts are all trending upwards over the last 30 years. Global losses due to catastrophies also appear to have an upward trend (a factor of 4 or so over the last 30 years?), contrary to claims by Dr. Pielke Jr. and other deniers.

  5. Just to play devil’s advocate — because I know this is what some will say — do we know whether this graph takes into account the increasing population density (making the impact of extreme events worse) and inflation (increasing the apparent cost of extreme events)?

    Evidence from New York over the last day or so — fighting over fuel, etc — suggests that as life becomes technologically more ‘sophisticated’, resilience reduces. I heard an interview with one taxi driver who was saying many people were incommunicado because they had lost power for their digital equipment. He had managed because he owned a wind-up radio. I don’t know whether that’s true but it certainly seems that many people become less able to cope physically and mentally the more disconnected they have become from the real (natural) world. I remember being in a serious flood (Tewkesbury, UK, 2007) and meeting a posh young woman in an SUV who had become limited to uttering, “this is ridiculous!” as we tried to help people stuck in deep water.

    [Response: Note that this doesn't track the impact or cost of extreme events, just the number of occurrences.]

    • Munich Re provides similar graphs on the costs, both overall and on the insured share. That data has also a clear trend, but is much more variable than the number of events.

      Another interesting graph is on great natural catastrophes from 1950. Those were more common from 1985 to 1998 than either before or after that period. These great catastrophes affect also the data on costs.

      All this is available with a free registration but I have been unable to find anything detailed on their methods and in particular on their approaches in reducing bias from changing reporting practices. On that the note only that the data on great catastrophes is easier in that respect and that this fact allows for presenting data since 1950.

      The data is dramatic and interesting but I remain worried about the potential biases.

  6. What is the definition of a “catastrophe” that gets included in the graph? In other words, what is this graph counting exactly?

    [Response: You can find more information at the website of Munich Re.]

  7. I too, would like someone who has read the report to explain how “catastrophe” is defined. The possibility that this could be due to more “stuff” (or even people) in the way does not defy logic if their definition of a catastrophe includes some kind of threshold for damage or injury/death. No one else is publishing a graph that shows a doubling of anything since 1980. I’m not saying I won’t believe it. I’m just saying I find it hard to accept this graph at face value – especially when it doesn’t make clear how the key value is quantified.

  8. Don’t worry, if you ask a “skeptic”, they will tell you that the insurers are in on the scam…

  9. According to the press release by Munich Re:

    their study has adjusted the losses used to define catastrophe for inflation, value and population increase, and the trends they are describing are climate/weather related.

  10. A previous graph from Munich Re compared climate/weather disasters to geophysical disasters and showed that the climate/weather impact was increasing rather more quickly. IIRC John Cook has used the graph in a talk, although I haven’t found the source yet.

  11. Horatio Algeranon

    Bob Dylan was definitely an instrumental part of the AGW song genre/conspiracy:

    How many levees must a storm knock down
    Before you call it AGW?
    How many cities will you have to bail
    Before you admit “I believe you?”
    Yes, how many times must the carbon balls fly
    Before they’re forever banned?
    The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
    The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

    Yes, how many years can a city exist
    Before it’s washed to the sea?
    Yes, how many years can some people exist
    Before they are all forced to flee?
    Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
    Pretending he just doesn’t see?
    The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
    The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

    Yes, how many times must a man look up
    Before he can really see the sky?
    Yes, how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?
    The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
    The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

  12. It is great to see interest in the science of disasters, fortunately there is a growing number of empirical studies of this subject. Here are a few:

    recently, Munich Re provided a large grant to LSE to examine the reasons for the trends in its catastrophe database. The resulting analysis was published in GEC last year. Here is what they found:

    “Independently of the method used,we find no significant upward trend in normalized disaster loss.This holds true whether we include all disasters or take out the ones unlikely to be affected by a changing climate. It also holds true if we step away from a global analysis and look at specific regions or step away from pooling all disaster types and look at specific types of disasters instead or combine these two sets of dis-aggregated analysis. Much caution is required in correctly interpreting these findings. What the results tell us is that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters.”

    E. Neumayer and F. Barthel, Normalizing economic loss from natural disasters: A global analysis, Global Environmental Change, 2011, ISSN 0959-3780, DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.10.004.

    This Munich Re-funded study is of course consistent with the broader peer-reviewed literature, recently summarized by L. Bouwer in BAMS:

    “Economic losses from various weather related natural hazards, such as storms, tropical cyclones, floods, and small-scale weather events such as wildfires and hailstorms, have increased around the globe. The studies show no trends in losses, corrected for changes (increases) in population and capital at risk, that could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Therefore it can be concluded that anthropogenic climate change so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters.”

    Bouwer, L. M., 2011: Have Disaster Losses Increased Due to Anthropogenic Climate Change?. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 92, 39–46.

    The peer-reviewed literature on this topic was recently summarized also by the IPCC SREX which concluded:

    “Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement). . . The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados. . .The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”


    [Response: How interesting that this post isn't about economic losses but about the number of disasters, yet you've said not one single word about that. I'm hardly surprised that you changed the subject, because I count you not as a skeptic but as a denier.

    This is not a forum for denier propaganda. Should I ever post specifically about your statements or publications you will be free to respond unhindered. Until then, you will not hijack my threads. I suggest you use your own blog.]

    • Roger Pielke Jnr is careful not to quote Neumeyer and Barthel on defensive measures:

      “Independently of the reason behind the strong increase in the frequency count of weather-related disasters over our period of analysis, how can this be reconciled with our finding of no upward trend in normalized damage from natural disasters? There are three possibilities. First, there could be an opposite reporting bias in terms of damage caused such that economic loss is over-estimated in the early years of our study period and under-estimated in the later years. Second, weather-related natural disasters could have become less intensive over time. Third, weather-related natural disasters have not become less intensive, but defensive mitigating measures have prevented increasingly frequent weather-related natural disasters from causing an upward trend in normalized natural disaster loss. Since there is little reason to presume that loss has been systematically over-estimated in the past or that weather related natural disasters have become less intensive, the third explanation presents a distinct possibility.”

      Pielke’s persistent myopia on the impact of defensive measures on damages amounts to the axiom that defensive measures are never effective, and reduces his output to a persistent attempt to avoid the obvious by apparently deliberate inadequate analysis.

      • Thanks Tom Curtis, so yet another example of Roger cherry picking and misrepresenting the facts. How many are we at now just from from those few posts he made here? How would Roger characterize someone doing what he just did? I have no doubt that he would call them a liar.

      • I raised the question of defensive measures a couple of days ago over at Roger’s blog. After assuring me that he has controlled for that variable, he went on to point out that some defensive measures can have an effect opposite that desired.

        Seemed like a weak response to me.

        I am also interested in the impact of better forecasting on damages. It would seem that the effects of better forecasting may not be that great – but then again consider as an example how airlines take quite extensive measures to make sure that their airplanes aren’t on runways when severe weather hits. I would imagine that their reduction in loses – isolated to that particular economic sector – due to better forecasting is not insignificant. I have to wonder whether better forecasting might not affect other sectors as well.

        Have you seen anything related to the economic impact of better forecasting of severe weather events?

    • This sentence is also interesting: ““Independently of the method used,we find no significant upward trend in normalized disaster loss.This holds true whether we include all disasters or take out the ones unlikely to be affected by a changing climate.”

      I note that given climate-related disasters (A) and climate-unrelated disasters (B) it is possible to look at three different “normalized” trends:

      A+B, normalized
      A, normalized
      B, normalized

      If A>>B, then A+B, normalized, is approximately equal to A, normalized.

      It is interesting that the study looked at A+B and A, but did NOT look at B, normalized… and I have a suspicion that B, normalized would actually show a DECREASING trend, attributable to better technology and adaptive capacities (speaking of adaptation… why is it that certain individuals talk a lot about how adaptation will help us in the future, but seem to forget to take it into account in normalizing the past?).

      (another minor note: if earthquakes are the major non-climate-related phenomena, then it may be relevant that we have no earthquake disaster warning systems anywhere near as effective as weather-disaster related warning systems)

      • “…it may be relevant that we have no earthquake disaster warning systems anywhere near as effective…”,/>

        That’s quite true. Any difference between geophysical warnings (not much change over the years, except for tsunamis) and weather warnings (steadily getting better) means that the trends in weather related catastrophies are underestimates – if weather warnings had only improved at the rate of earthquake warnings we would have more weather related catastrophies.

        I would, in addition, note that the nearly flat geophysical count indicates that Munich Re has done a reasonably good job of normalizing their data for economic development and technological advances.

    • Given that Roger is so fond of SREX, here is the full text from SREX (Chpt 4, pg. 269). The highlighted text is what Roger Pielke Jnr. left out for some reason.

      “The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses (Pielke Jr. and Downton, 2000; Downton et al., 2005; Barredo, 2009; Hilker et al., 2009), although some studies did find recent increases in flood losses related in part to changes in intense rainfall events (Fengqing et al., 2005; Chang et al., 2009).”

      From page 9, Summary for Policymakers:
      “There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale. It is likely that there has been an anthropogenic influence on increasing extreme coastal high water due to an increase in mean sea level. The uncertainties in the historical tropical cyclone records, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking tropical cyclone metrics to climate change, and the degree of tropical cyclone variability provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences. Attribution of single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change is challenging.”

      As for economic losses, also on page 9:
      “Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (high agreement, medium evidence). These conclusions are subject to a number of limitations in studies to date. Vulnerability is a key factor in disaster losses, yet it is not well accounted for. Other limitations are: (i) data availability, as most data are available for standard economic sectors in developed countries; and (ii) type of hazards studied, as most studies focus on cyclones, where confidence in observed trends and attribution of changes to human influence is low. The second conclusion is subject to additional limitations: (iii) the processes used to adjust loss data over time, and (iv) record length.”

      There you have it, warts and all. Do people still find Roger Pielke Jnr’s un-nuanced assertions to be as cut and dried as he pretends they are? Not in my humble opinion, not by a long shot.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Here’s something on the topic that RPJr has claimed elsewhere (Is Extreme Weather linked to global warming” Jun 2, 2011):

        “It is true that overall damage from tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes has been increasing in recent decades. A recent literature review of extreme event impacts around the world found that everywhere that researchers have looked, this increase can be entirely explained by increasing value of property at risk and increasing exposures to these hazards.

        Apparently, that “review” (and reviewer) missed the SREX quoted studies bolded above:
        although some studies did find recent increases in flood losses related in part to changes in intense rainfall events (Fengqing et al., 2005; Chang et al., 2009).”

  13. Concerning the catastrophes, NW China is hit by a sandstorm right now:

    and global occurence of floods is documented by Dartmouth Flood Observatory since 1985 here:

  14. Thanx Tamino. Another consideration is that these types of events do not have to rise to the level of “catastrophes” to impose continued risks and costs to society. The continued use of outdated NOAA Storm Atlas numbers that reflect a climate from over 50 years ago in some cases will result in continued infrastructure failures at all levels, ranging from simple road washouts to bridge and dam failures. Chris Colose’s discussion regarding “more stuff in the way” is a consideration but the increase in precipitation falling as intense precipitation events (Karl et al 2009) is one of several metrics that collectively suggest this is a minor factor.

  15. Thanks for the reply.

    The graph that you show at the top of this post is in fact a count of “catastrophes” which are defined by Munich Re as disasters which exceed a certain economic threshold of loss. So my comment is in fact directly responsive to the topic that you have raised.

    As far as the name-calling, you can call me whatever you’d like, but perhaps we might choose to focus on the science instead?


    [Response: Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. I'm happy to discuss the science with those who are able to do so honestly. I do not count you among them.

    As for the term "denier," I will not refrain from calling you what you really are. If the term offends you, somehow that news fails to disquiet me.]

    • Susan Anderson

      I have to thank Tamino for making explicit the problem with all this temporizing in the facing of mounting trouble.

      As one who has just survived the fringes of Sandy after the October storm and Irene last year, while caring for my parents in New Jersey, and tracking the mounting death toll and destroyed lives around the globe, I find contemptible the effort to continue to pretend reality ain’t true.

      I also followed the Arctic storm this summer. I am a visual artist and while being ravished by regular views of water vapor, I have to tell you that the global patterns have changes, and are changing ever more rapidly, and while this may be normal for the planet it is not hospitable to mankind.

  16. Does “adjusted for wealth and population increase” mean that by normalizing to two growth trends we can claim something else is not growing? What happens if the two growth trends flatten to zero? Do you then get to finally understand whether the signal of interest is actually changing, and in which direction?

  17. Thanks for your further response. Again, I really don’t mind if you think I’m dishonest or if you’d like to call me names, that is your prerogative, no worries.

    However, whatever your views about me, it is hard to connect that to your characterization of the peer reviewed research I have cited (one study funded by Munich Re to look at the dataset you posted at the top) as “denier propaganda.”

    Rather than engaging me, perhaps you might engage the actual science related to the Munich Re catastrophe dataset found in the peer reviewed literature? Here is a hint to better understanding the trends you see — the threshold for inclusion on the list is a function of economic losses and is not a constant value.


    [Response: Here's a hint for all readers: the threshold for economic losses is "normalized" by Munich Re to reflect the demographic and economic changes which you so desperately hope to blame for the trends. In spite of the imperfection of any such attempt, the disparity of the trends between geophysical and weather-related catastrophes puts the lie to your implication that the trends are merely artifacts of demographics. Pielke fail.

    It's also revealing that you could seriously claim that your failure to say one single word about the number of catastrophes (in your first comment) is somehow "directly responsive to the topic ..." It isn't -- but it's a clever argument and typical of your level of dishonesty. So too is your accusation that I have characterized the peer-reviewed literature, or publications from Munich Re, as "denier propaganda." I have, so far, reserved that term for you.

    And now, since you seem too dense to get the point, I will be explicit: you are not welcome here.]

    • I asked Roger at his site about his characterization of people who use the term “climate chickens” (a term he has used) when debating science .

      I will be interested to see how he responds. I have to wonder if he considers such engagement as “classy” and/or “dignified” – attributes he implies are not what he expects from “climate change people.”

    • I think the case that Roger is making is that the peer-reviewed literature for normalized losses shows no statistical trend. On the other hand the graph at the top of the post (which I presume is not in the peer-reviewed literature) implicitly uses normalized losses to determine the “number of catastrophes”, and it contradicts the peer-reviewed literature. That seems like a reasonable issue to discuss and try to get to the bottom of.

  18. He’s a climate rooster. It’s a dominance kind of thing.

    • Heh. No response yet. I won’t hold my breath waiting for one. Roger likes to dish it out and then pretend he’s above it all.

  19. Re: “Don’t worry, if you ask a “skeptic”, they will tell you that the insurers are in on the scam…”



  20. Tamino, Munich re defines a natural disaster (or catastrophe) as a natural hazard causing more than a certain number of deaths, or more than a certain value in damage. The mortality threshold is constant across time, so Munich re’s figures are not normalized for population growth. The threshold for economic loses increases for each successive decade, but is constant within each decade. As such it is very crude. Consequently it is not true to say SFAIK, that the data is normalized for population increases, although it is crudely normalized for GDP growth. It is also, of course, not normalized for improved defensive measures.

    • With weather related disasters, the deaths have decreased over time, even in the face of population growth, as we are now very good at forecasting.
      Imagine Katrina without the evacuation.
      You’d imagine that improved building practices would have decreased deaths from seismic events, at least in developed countries.
      So in terms of deaths, I’d think Munich re would have to steadily decrease the number required for an event to be classified as a disaster.

  21. Funny that, at the slightest indication of some perceived wrong-doing, Roger Pielke Jr. calls people liars on his blog, as well as engaging name calling. Yet, here he is astoundingly trying to claim the “high” road. He lost that role a long time ago (if he even ever held it), so what he is doing here is being a concern troll (not to mention being duplicitous) and as Tamino has noted, is not being entirely honest.

    While characterizing Roger as a denier might be debatable (IMO, he seems more intent on feeding doubt to the deniers and downplaying the mess we are in and facing), he did not gain his reputation for being dishonest by chance. So what would one do if in Roger’s shoes when referring to such a person? I know what Roger would do, he would loudly proclaim that person to be a LIAR. As I am sure he is considering doing right now on his blog.

    Anyhow, we can focus on the science, although strictly speaking such studies are social science or economics, not physical science, non of which are good news for Pielke. You see, providing a citation may impress or deceive some, but it will not impress or deceive people who actually bother to read the entire abstract or paper. Here are some examples that elucidate how Roger Pielke’s deception gig works.

    Odd that Roger forgot to mention the other finding by Neuymayer and Barthel (2011), namely:

    “Due to our inability to control for defensive mitigation measures, one cannot infer from our analysis that there have definitely not been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural hazards over the study period already. Moreover, it may still be far too early to detect a trend if human-induced climate change has only just started and will gain momentum over time.”

    Now why did Roger Pielke Junior decide to exclude that part of the abstract? Roger has also cherry-picked from SREX before, as he has done again here.

    Odd that Roger forgot to mention another (more) recent study by Barthel and Neumayer (2012),

    “We find no significant trends at the global level, but we detect statistically significant upward trends in normalized insured losses from all non-geophysical disasters as well as from certain specific disaster types in the United States and West Germany.”

    Schmidt et al. (2010) did find evidence of an increase in adjusted losses from climate change,
    “The findings show the increase in losses due to socio-economic changes to have been approximately three times greater than that due to climate-induced changes.”

    To get back to physics. Does Roger deny the recent findings made by
    Elsner et al. (2012), summarized here by Elsner on his webpage:
    “While the SSTs did not proximally cause Sandy to curve into New Jersey, they quite likely caused Sandy to be stronger. Our new research shows that the limiting intensity of hurricanes (how strong hurricanes can get as a statistical limit) relates to SST at about 8 m/s/C. With SSTs in the path of Sandy that were 2-3 C warmer than is typical, we predict strong hurricanes like Sandy to be twice as strong on average. Obviously a 45 mph Sandy at landfall would have been considerably less destructive.”

    Additionally, and Murane and Elsner (2012) find,
    “Here we show that the relationship between wind speed and loss is exponential and that loss increases with wind speed at a rate of 5% per m s−1″,


    “The exponential relationship suggests that increased wind speeds will produce significantly higher losses; however, increases in exposed property and population are expected to be a more important factor for near future losses.”

    That is just one aspect, we have not addressed flooding from increased rainfall from global warming, or the increase in storm surges (e.g., Grinsted et al. 2012) associated with warming.

    So despite what Roger Pielke Jnr. would like to believe and would like others to believe, there is already evidence of an increase in adjusted losses from human caused climate change, and it is very likely only going to get worse.

    Does CIRES know that Roger is being so deceptive in public?

    • MapleLeaf -

      I took the liberty of re-posting much of your comment – minus some of the more personally-directed comments – over at Roger’s blog. I had raised some of the issues contained in your post (lack of control in his “normallization” for mitigation and the non-linear relationship between growth in hurricane attributes and damage) and not been particularly impressed with his response. I’ve also asked him about controlling for increased forecasting capabilities and more specifically, a potential a non-linear relationship between rise in sea surge and damages with a similarly non-comprehensive response.

      Look at his blog for a response to the issues raised in your post.

      • Joshua,

        Thanks. I think you should expect to see much tap dancing, moving of goal posts and attempts to divert the discussion ;) He will probably concede little if anything.

        Does Roger allow for the benefits of improved forecasts (the costs of implementing such improvements; see Letson et al. (2007)) and the benefits of improved building codes (and associated costs of implementing them) and emergency response (again with associated costs)? Not only do those actions reduce losses, but they are expensive to implement.

      • David B. Benson

        I never go over there any more.

      • I’ve asked about the impact of forecasting but basically all he’s said in response is that it isn’t a bias in his analysis — without much explanation.

        At first he just similarly said that he controls for improved infrastructure and that I could look at the research in more detail if I wanted to know how. Just now he has gone into some more detail. On a quick glance, I have more questions (e.g., it looks like he’s extrapolating from data that only consider home construction, also, he normalizes damages going back to 1900 but seems to not consider the gains going forward from improvements in housing stock resulting from improvement in construction from 1926-1950) – but you might want to check out his response.

      • Actually, now that I think about it, he discounts any benefits realized from improved building practices up through 1970. It’s as if he thinks that the improved building from, say, 1926-1970 would not be realized post 1970.

      • Tamino, sorry for this, but Pielke’s wrong doings do need to be called out.


        The quote that I provided above was from Schmidt et al. (2010). If one Googles the quote that Pielke Jnr. claims to have come from that paper I cited, one gets two hits. One for Schmidt et al. (2009) who conclude in their abstract that,

        “No trend is found for the period 1950–2005 as a whole. In the period 1971–2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum. This increase must therefore be at least due to the impact of natural climate variability but, more likely than not, also due to anthropogenic forcings.”

        The other is from a doctoral thesis by Schmidt, and it is here on page 55 where we find the sentence that Roger Pielke cherry-picked, please note the context,

        “Despite these limitations, there is at least evidence to suggest that climatic change as a whole, due to both natural variability and anthropogenic forcings, does have an impact. For example, annual adjusted losses since the beginning of the last “cold phase” (1971) show a positive trend, with an average annual rise of 4% that cannot be explained by socio-economic components. This increase can at least be interpreted as a climate variability impact. There is no evidence yet of any trend in tropical cyclone losses that can be
        attributed directly to anthropogenic climate change. But the study advances the premise that if losses are affected by natural climate fluctuations, they are also likely to be affected by additional global warming due to anthropogenic climate change. This premise is supported by indications that the intensity of tropical cyclones is affected by anthropogenic climate change. The destructive force of tropical cyclones has been increasing globally since the mid-1970s. This increase correlates very closely with the sea surface
        temperature (cf. Emanuel, 2005a, Hoyos et al., 2006, IPCC, 2007a, Webster et al., 2005).”

        So it is not clear what game Pielke Jnr. is trying to play, I am losing count of how many times his attempts at deception have been caught out. No nuances, just blatant misrepresentation.

        I would advance the thesis that he is not being honest with you, and that he is not accurately representing the work in Schmidt’s thesis. Again, I am confident that had someone else done what he has, that Roger would not have hesitated to call them a liar. UofC must be so proud…. ;)

        My advice to everyone would be to take everything that Roger Pielke Jnr. authoritatively claims with certainty with a pinch of salt!

      • MapleLeaf -

        Thanks. Honestly, I think the whole argument is suspicious to begin with. The question to be determined is whether these storms are more frequent or more intense – and if so, to what degree ACO2 is causative. Trying to make that determination by looking at economic damages is ass-backwards, IMO. The methodology is too indirect and too fraught with potentially confounding variables that can’t be effectively controlled. The data might be worth looking at, but trying to draw conclusions from those data seems to me to be a mistake.

  22. It seems obvious that the sea-level rise and the size of the storm are related to the energy humans are adding to the system by burning fuel and releasing millions of tons of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases into the atmosphere. That’s high school science and as obvious as plate tectonics. Remember when that was a controversy? Or that seat belts in cars, or helmets for bikes save lives? Asking if climate change has something to do with Sandy is like asking if smoking has something to do with lung cancer. Remember when people could say with a straight face that it didn’t?

    Having said that, there is a very large story that isn’t being reported which has little to do with climate change although it derives from the same processes.

What is being ignored in this storm (and Irene as well) is the real source of the massive power outages that are so disruptive – which is all the trees that are falling on the lines. Trees didn’t used to fall with regularity on power lines – or people, cars and houses. The winds in both those storms were not extraordinary, nothing that a healthy tree shouldn’t be able to withstand.

    Why are they falling now? 

The answer is pretty obvious if you trouble to actually LOOK at them. They are all dying. Every species, every age, every location. They have obvious symptoms – broken branches, cankers, splitting bark, holes, thin crowns, early leaf drop, lack of autumn color, yellowing needles, bark covered with lichens and fungus. You can’t find a healthy tree anymore.

    So the question becomes, why are they dying? Most foresters and scientists will say, climate change and/or invasive pests. But those explanations don’t fit the empirical evidence which is that even native pests and diseases have run amuck, and even young trees grown and watered and fertilized in nurseries exhibit the identical symptoms of decline. Even annual, tropical ornamentals in enriched soil in pots that like heat, and aquatic plants in ponds have injured foliage and stunted growth.

    What do all of these plants have in common? 

The answer is, the composition of the atmosphere. Most people don’t realize it, because it’s invisible, but the background level of tropospheric ozone is inexorably increasing. Precursors from Asia travel across oceans and continents, and the persistent concentration has reached a threshold that is intolerable to the plants that absorb it when they photosynthesize. Agricultural yield and quality are reduced, and especially trees that are exposed to cumulative damage season after season are universally – around the world – in decline.

This process has been well known to foresters and agronomists for decades, and demonstrated in field observations and controlled fumigation experiments. They just don’t want to publicize it, or even admit it, because the source is the emissions from industrial civilization itself. They would rather point to drought, insects, fungus and disease EVEN THOUGH it is well known that ozone debilitates plants causing their root systems to shrink as they allocate more energy to repairing damaged foliage, rendering them more vulnerable to drought and wind…AND impinges on their natural immunity to attacks from insects, disease and fungus, which exist precisely to break down dying trees, not destroy healthy trees.

    Most of the trees that fell during Sandy were rotted inside. New Jersey looks like the ecopocalypse has arrived. Photos here:

  23. Horatio Algeranon

    The science (eg, Hansen et al, PNAS) says that global warming (shifting of the mean temperature upward) tends to increase the frequency of extreme weather events.

    It certainly seems plausible that global warming would also tend to increase the frequency of “disasters “ caused by such extreme weather events (at least if everything else were equal).

    To what extent that has happened so far may be in question, but that it will happen (and with increased frequency) with continued global warming would not seem to be particularly questionable.

    The focus by folks like Pielke on “economic losses” — with all the extraneous (non climatalogical) factors (increased population, increased building on the beach, possible increased reporting, etc) — seems to be little more than misdirection, not unlike the focus on short term temperature trends (while totally ignoring the physics of increasing atmospheric CO2) by those intent on claiming that global warming has “stopped” or “slowed”

  24. The real cost is in planning. It is difficult to plan and engineer infrastructure for weather conditions that have never been previously observed. We have to start engineering for “100,000-year storms” because in 15 years those might become “20-year storms”

    And, it is very hard to do economic discounting of future weather damage when now NYC is having “hundred-year storms” every 2 years.It gets hard to calculate the economic damage of storms larger than “hundred-year storms because we do not have an experience baseline to understand the possible damage in such a large storm. In ten years, we will be having larger storms every 2 years, and those old “hundred-year storms” will be more frequent. At that point, economic discounting is non-sense.

    Planning, and building for the future is the essence of civilization. Weather disasters of a class that we have never seen before makes it difficult.

  25. Tamino, make this next statement from these grounds of being:
    -I fully understand this is your blog, your party, your ball;
    -I am fully on-board with the scientific view of all this, i.e., a fully-invested and proud “warmist;”
    -As equally dismissive about deniers/lukewarmers, *especially* ones who hide behind non-related degrees, such as we have seen so often in the denialists’ camp.
    -Finally, one who feels your treatment of the subject is as fair and comprehensive as found almost anywhere else on the Intertubes.

    That said, I’d like to gently offer this suggestion up: Rather than hand the other side” more bullet(point)s, in order to loudly, chicken-shitiy,( but still ‘audible’ to those on the fence, as it were) use against “our” side, maybe a better offer (one that’s been offered him here, on other blogs, magazine and newspaper articles) is to say, “either debate honestly, within the science itself, not cherry-picked, easily- and numerously-refuted faux points” (as you have abundantly done before with RPJr), or “you are not welcome here.”

    As a scientist, who is as frustrated as you are, with the deniers and lukewarmers, maybe more, it does ‘our side’ no good to appear too churlish. Honestly, I really do get your utter frustration–god knows, I’ve fallen off the reasonable wagon MANY a time myself– but this issue is getting so very critical, in timing and future import, that we, as rational scientists and interpreters of the science, have to, IMHO, remain calm, cold, and dispassionate, in the face of the sheer venality and mendacity of the likes of the deniers. If RPJr gets refuted, often enough, widespread enough (and I’m beginning to see that happen, even at WTFiUWT), and by using rational and logic, he’ll take his ball and slink away, all on his own, to the safety of a denier echo chamber, where fewer and fewer will pay attention to his ilk and his flawed conclusions.

    Thanks for the blog you provide, and the service is does, and I hope you accept these comments in the spirit in which they are offered. Heat but not light, shed from either side, still cooks our collective goose.

    • Susan Anderson

      I think Stephan Lewandowsky goes a bit of a way to answer what is on its surface a reasonable comment, though I presume to much in answering at all, due to the aforesaid ownership of Open Mind and my lack of expertise. The problem is that the Pielke Jr’s of this world are not operating in good faith. They hijack the discussion with apparent reasonableness and spread blizzards of plausible words all over the discussion. I include what some might regard as a bit much of the article because it might help:

      But is it really a matter of mere “stupidity” to deny the link between climate change and Sandy’s fury — a link that has been drawn carefully but quite explicitly by scientists around the world, including in Australia?

      No, it is not a matter of stupidity.

      On the contrary, it takes considerable, if ethically disembodied, intelligence to mislead the public about the link between climate change and Sandy as thoroughly as our national “news”paper has done for the umpteenth time.

      It is not a matter of stupidity. It is a matter of ideology.

      People who subscribe to a fundamentalist conception of the free market will deny climate change irrespective of the overwhelming strength of the scientific evidence. They will deny any link between climate change and events such as the unprecedented Frankenstorm Sandy, or the unprecedented Texas drought, or the unprecedented series of Derechos, or the unprecedented flooding in Tennessee, or the unprecedented Arctic melt, or the unprecedented retreat of Alpine glaciers, or the unprecedented tripling of extreme weather events during the last 30 years.

      There is no longer any reasonable doubt that climate change is happening all around us. There is also no doubt that ideology is the principal driver of climate denial.

      So what effect will Sandy have on public opinion?

      On the one hand, the deniers will likely double down and their claims will become ever more discordant with the reality on this planet. Their denial will continue even if palm trees grow in Alaska and if storms such as Sandy — or far worse — have become commonplace.
      However, people’s propensity to learn from specific events rather than scientific data and graphs can also be beneficial. For example, a national survey in the UK revealed that people who personally experienced flooding expressed more concern over climate change and, importantly, felt more confident that their actions will have an effect on climate change. Similar data have been reported in Australia. Respondents who attributed salient events to climate change were found to be better adapted to climate change, they reported greater self-efficacy, and they were more concerned with climate change.

      • Of course, my response has been to simply redefine stupid. Stupid is not a mere lack of intelligence, but rather the active use of one’s intelligence to avoid learning and understanding. It is hard work. However, I think my theory may explain the many furrows and crevasses in the human brain–they are there for dropping inconvenient facts into and then sealing them off.

      • Ersatz ignorance, so to speak. Speculative fiction: “let’s make a narrative wherein we ignore certain things we know.”

    • Susan Anderson

      You might also consider that while in many places excessive courtesy prevents a frank response, it gives comfort to the exhausted first responders to climate nonsense to hear the truth stated baldly.

  26. Do you have the tables available anywhere? I’m especially interested in the one on drought, of course.

  27. Harry Wiggs, I have to say that I am of two minds about whether to allow denialist stupidity. The thing is that denialist trolls hijack many of the threads at blogs like the Rabbett and Realclimate. It is just nice sometimes to have a stupid-free zone. It would be one thing if I had any hope of Roger the Dodger actaully adding anything to the discussion, gut if he really had anything to say, wouldn’t he have frigging published it in a peer-reviewed journal. I’ve made the mistake of reading Roger and Judy on occasion. I always come away stupider than I started.

  28. Eli sees nothing different here than in every other set to with Roger Pielke Jr. however, it is useful to point out that calling him silly is more effective than calling him stupid.

    Roger is consciously using his platform (Andy Revkin’s Rolladex) to shape the debate about global climate change. Eli and a few others (hi Dano) did yeoman work in the past to point this out and draw his poison.

    Those who disagree with his policy goals and the assumptions from which they precede need to recognize that his playbook is political not scientific. Trying to meet him on the basis of science alone will, in the long run, be a losing game. In other words, the issue is not only the science, but the tactics.

    Prof. Pielke uses a number of tricks which can only be dealt with if they are recognized. Among them are “working the refs”, complaining that he has been ill dealt with when, in fact he has not. His “work the refs” technique is awesome. And of course, there is the two step, the ever so sweet comments elsewhere and the diatribes at his home base.

    One can reply to his jeremiads with a polite but firm pot kettle black. The other way of doing this is to respond to Prof. Pielke’s ad hominums with cries of pain and demands for apology.

    He gets a red card for diving. Pretty good acting tho.

    • Susan Anderson

      Funny how great minds think alike. I too had Andy’s rolodex in mind. Sad when a good reporter lets himself be hijacked by “pleasant” nonsense clothed in fancy dress.

      A good metaphor is “flexible (or somesuch word) with the truth”. Sounds polite but it ain’t.

    • Eli, this science-bunny agrees with your observations, particularly referencing RPJr as ‘silly,’ rather than stupid. One attacks the ideology, while one attacks the man, and yes, RPJr is *ALL* about ideology over science. I also get to wear the *ignominy* of him being a faculty member at me alma mater…;(

      RPJr is well-versed in how to strum the harp of incessant, ideologically-driven drivel, so yes, I wholly support all who attack that siliness. Science is indeed a contact sport, but it can be waged non-personally…so long as the opponents work within the same framework of rules of engagement, which they often do not. When they don’t?

      Pot. Kettle. VERY black.

  29. David B. Benson

    As always, refreshing here @ Tamino’s after traversing several blogs.

  30. An assurance company has a vital interest in the presentation of present/ possible future risks. That doesnt mean that there is anything wrong with this graph but it needs certainly some critical review. Where has this results been submitted?

  31. Horatio Algeranon

    “My lies obscured ya”
    – Horatio’s parody of Frankie Valli (My Eyes adored ya)

    My lies obscured ya
    Though I never laid a trend on you
    My lies obscured ya
    With a million denials from me you know they couldn’t see how I obscured ya
    So cold, so cold and yet so warm

    Curried the favor of fools
    Playin’ “make-believe you’re flat-line to me”
    You were reality, I was denial
    When we came to be
    Bloggin’ bull every day about hurricane loss and pay
    Till you surged into the York that’s New
    Went your submarine ways

    My lies obscured ya
    Though I never laid a trend on you
    My lies obscured ya
    With a million denials from me you know they couldn’t see how I obscured ya
    So cold, so cold and yet so warm

    Headed for blogging rights
    Climbed the ladder up to fortune and fame
    Worked my mouse-hand to the bone
    Made myself a name
    Funny I seemed to find
    That no matter how the years unwind
    Still I reminisce ’bout the trend I dissed
    And the science I left behind

    My lies obscured ya
    Though I never laid a trend on you
    My lies obscured ya
    With a million denials from me you know they couldn’t see how I obscured ya
    So cold, so cold and yet so warm

  32. Your best yet, Horatio-san.

  33. How do you do that Horatio?

  34. The OP stated “I digitized this graph, then analyzed the data. First: for all three categories, the increase in the number of catastrophes is statistically significant.” Significance is better illustrated by comparison with earthquake data, as in Munich Re Graph cited at×416.jpg

    Adding the earthquake comparison makes normalisation irrelevant because the data within each year is comparable, and the trend of climate events (tripling since 1980) contrasts with the trend of non-climate events (stable). But how significant? Numbers of events for each category are needed to quantify. This is simple statistics, and rather compelling evidence for global warming, but I have not seen the numbers.

    This blog was mentioned at

    • Excellent points, Robert: Perhaps you should write a parer challenging Pielke’s assertions. I’m certainly not qualified to do so, but even with my dodgy understanding of stats, Pielke’s paper seems….*odd*.