Journalistic ‘high-pur-buh-lee’

Dear Editor:

Graham Thomson and the Calgary Herald (Sept 12) say that Alberta’s coal-fired electrical plants played a role in the recent hurricanes in the United States. They claim: “Climate change is… making hurricanes like Irma more powerful and more destructive.” The paper also affirms: “There is a connection between burning coal in Alberta… and [Hurricane] Irma.”
Where is the Herald’s evidence to support such claims? Hurricane Harvey’s Texas landfall broke a U.S. 4,323-day (142-month, 12-year) major hurricane drought record. And the reality is that comparing hurricanes century to century is pretty difficult because many of the most famous hurricanes were never scientifically measured. We do know there have been some doozies.
In 1559, Spain sent a fleet to establish the first European settlement in the continental U.S. (near Pensacola, Florida). A hurricane destroyed the settlement and the fleet. In 1635, 15 years after Plymouth Colony was established and long before coal-fired electrical plants were invented, a massive hurricane caused a 22 foot storm tide in Massachusetts.
In 1715, 11 of 12 ships of the Spanish Treasure Fleet were lost in a Florida hurricane, killing 1,000 sailors and passengers. In 1749, a hurricane literally reshaped Virginia’s shoreline. During that century, which was one of the worst storm seasons in the pre-recordkeeping era, a single Atlantic hurricane claimed 22,000 lives.
In 1886, a hurricane dumped nearly two feet of rain on Louisiana, and decimated Indianola, Texas. Indianola had been destroyed a few years earlier by a hurricane, then rebuilt, only to be destroyed a second time.
In 1893—years before Alberta became a province—four hurricanes occurred at exactly the same time. Shortly thereafter, the longest-lasting hurricane in history went on for 28 days. Caused by coal plants? Hardly.
Hurricane Irma made land as a Category four hurricane and soon dissipated over the southeastern United States. The recent Hurricane Harvey was also Category four, making landfall in Texas and then weakening to a tropical storm bringing enormous amounts of rain. Irma and Harvey had landfall wind speeds of 115 knots (kt) and barometric pressure of 929 and 938 millibars (mb) respectively. (The lower the mb the more intense the storm.)
Many past hurricanes have been more severe than Irma and Harvey. For example, the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane had wind speeds of 160 kt at 892 mb, and the 1886 Indianola hurricane was 130 kt at 925 mb.
Since 1850, Florida has had more than 100 hurricanes, yet according to Graham Thomson and the Calgary Herald, the severity of this last storm (Irma) is due to coal-fired electrical plants. Nonsense.
Where is the Herald’s evidence that coal-fired electricity has anything to do with hurricanes?
Former NASA scientist and climatologist Roy Spencer (whose Ph.D. was on the structure of these storms, and who published a satellite method for monitoring their strength) said the data indicates that major hurricanes occur when sea surface temperature over the Gulf of Mexico is below average and above average.
Graham Thomson and the Calgary Herald are engaging in alarmist fantasy. In future, perhaps the paper will better serve the public if it pays more attention to the facts and less attention to journalistic hyperbole.
Kevin Avram

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