Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh offered a bold assessment of Hurricane Matthew on Wednesday: the category 4 storm was exaggerated by the Obama administration in order to validate climate change theories.
At the crux of Limbaugh’s argument was the so-called ‘hurricane drought’ in the United States, which ended when Matthew made landfall in Florida last week. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, former vice president Al Gore predicted that hurricane activity would increase as a result of man-made warming.
“And then what happened? We had 11 years of no hurricanes – 11 straight years of no major hurricanes striking land in the United States, which just bores a hole right through the whole climate change argument,” Limbaugh said on his talk radio show. “They want people to think this way: Hurricane reported. Must be climate change.”
Limbaugh is technically correct: no major hurricane system has made landfall in the US since Hurricane Wilma ripped through Florida in 2005. But he fails to mention Hurricane Sandy, which was the second most costly weather disaster in American history. Sandy is only absent from the list because it degraded to a category 2 storm just before slamming the New Jersey coast.
Due to the complexity of both climate and weather systems, it’s notoriously difficult to link natural disasters directly to climate change. But hurricane droughts notwithstanding, new research suggests that storm systems are worsening as a result of increased global temperatures.
In September, researchers from the University of North Carolina found that tropical cyclones in East and Southeast Asia have increased – both in strength and frequency – over the last 40 years. That trend could be attributed to warmer surface water, which can give tropical storms a boost just as they approach the coast.
Another study, conducted by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), found that major flooding is also a growing global issue. Floods like the one that devastated Louisiana in August, the study found, should only occur about once every 500 to 1,000 years. There have been eight in the US alone since May 2015.
Political affiliation plays a major role in the way Americans perceive climate issues, recent studies find. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, liberals tend to trust climate scientists and support political efforts to prevent further warming. Conservatives are generally more skeptical, and question the impact of political or personal action.
The disparity is compounded by a recent streak of good weather in the US. In April, researchers found that 80 percent of the country’s population is experiencing better weather than it did 40 years ago: That means fewer snowstorms in the winter and only small increases in summer humidity. The trend is great for US citizens, but it may also work against climate awareness.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Story Hinckley reported:
Twenty-five percent of Americans do not consider climate change a serious problem, according to Pew Research Center: the third highest rate of apathy behind Israel and Russia. So to successfully communicate the negative impacts of climate change to people enjoying its temporarily-pleasant effects, scientists need to call on more than just temperature data.