As Hurricane Ian was starting to pummel southern Florida final week, CNN anchor Don Lemon requested Jamie Rhome, the appearing director of the Nationwide Hurricane Heart, about any connections between hurricanes and human-caused local weather change.
At first, Rhome resisted, saying throughout Tuesday’s TV interview that “we are able to come again and discuss local weather change at a later time” and that he wished to “concentrate on the right here and now.”
Pressed a second time, Rhome gave in.
“I don’t assume you’ll be able to hyperlink local weather change to anybody occasion,” he mentioned. “On the entire, on the cumulative, local weather change could also be making storms worse. However to hyperlink it to anybody occasion — I might warning in opposition to that.”
Rhome’s remarks rapidly turned a form of rallying cry for local weather change deniers and their allied right-wing media. The nation’s high hurricane professional shared their view that local weather change just isn’t influencing hurricanes, they concluded, and that it’s subsequently not the risk that so-called local weather alarmists need the general public to consider.
Fox Information anchors piled on Lemon and gave airtime to a variety of local weather contrarians, as Media Matters for America documented. Fox additionally published a piece Wednesday declaring that President Joe Biden’s NHC chief had “shut down” Lemon, however it supplied zero details about scientific analysis into local weather change and tropical cyclone exercise.
Different retailers wrote that Lemon “face-plants” within the CNN footage and had been “schooled” by Rhome. The Daily Caller accused “liberal media” of “desperately attempting to attain political factors by linking the near-Class 5 storm to man-made world warming.”
And the Heartland Institute, a libertarian assume tank in Illinois with a protracted historical past of peddling local weather misinformation, accused the media of “mendacity via their enamel” about hurricanes. The group applauded Rhome for “saying the reality as a substitute of simply parroting the narrative and holding the cult going.”
The reality, nonetheless, is that Rhome’s selection of phrases — that scientists can’t “hyperlink” local weather change to any particular hurricane occasion — is seemingly at odds with the science. Whereas local weather change can’t be pointed to because the singular explanation for any given storm — and scientists are cautious not to take action — little doubt exists across the linkage between growing planetary temperatures and extra intense storms.
In different phrases, local weather change doesn’t trigger a hurricane, flood or wildfire, however it has and can proceed to go away its mark on such occasions. A pair of studies in 2017, for instance, discovered that rainfall from Hurricane Harvey was at the very least 15% stronger because of world warming.
“I believe a part of the issue is what one means by ‘occasion,’” Michael Mann, a local weather scientist on the College of Pennsylvania, informed HuffPost. “Might there nonetheless have been a Hurricane Ian within the absence of human-caused warming? Positive. Wouldn’t it have been as robust, or as a lot of a coastal and inland flooding occasion? Nearly actually not.”
Mann was amongst those that criticized Rhome’s feedback to CNN. In a collection of posts to Twitter, Mann accused Rhome of “spouting local weather denial speaking factors” and of going “out of his way to misrepresent the state of understanding of local weather change impacts on these storms.” He later softened his criticisms.
Katharine Hayhoe, a local weather scientist at Texas Tech College and the chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, called Rhome’s assertion “outdated messaging from a decade in the past that’s unaware of the fast developments within the discipline of attribution.”
Amongst those that got here to Rhome’s protection was Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who served because the chief scientist of the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration underneath former President Donald Trump. Maue believes in human-caused local weather change however usually downplays the risk and its hyperlinks to excessive climate.
If nothing else, the incident uncovered how determined the local weather denial motion has develop into. On this case, its leaders latched on to a poorly worded assertion and located their hero in a federal scientist who, it seems, doesn’t share their view.
In an interview earlier this 12 months, Rhome clearly laid out the methods by which planetary warming is and can proceed to gasoline extra damaging tropical storms.
“Right here’s the underside line of what’s taking place: If the globe is warming — and it’s — it’s going to retain extra moisture, proper? It’s going to carry it higher. After which a hurricane goes to return and extract all of it. So it means it’s going to rain — it’s going to rain more durable in future hurricanes,” he informed Information 6 WKMG in Orlando, Florida.
“You additionally don’t want me to let you know that the ocean stage is rising. You’ll be able to see it. We are able to all see it. We go to the coast, [and] the shoreline’s altering. The ocean stage is rising. That may be a increased base or basis upon which future hurricanes should push storm surge. So the storm surge shall be deeper and go farther inland,” he added.
“Whether or not the [hurricane] numbers are growing or not, storms which can be forming are packing an even bigger punch.”
Requested concerning the fallout from Rhome’s CNN look, Nationwide Climate Service spokesperson Susan Buchanan mentioned Rhome “clearly acknowledged that ‘on the entire, on the cumulative, local weather change could also be making storms worse.’”
“That remark is supported by the overwhelmingly clear science on what local weather change means for storms like Ian basically: heavier rainfall, potential slower motion which prolongs heavy rain and battering winds, and extra inundation as sea ranges rise,” she mentioned through electronic mail.
“With a significant hurricane and catastrophic storm surge bearing down on Florida in the course of the CNN interview, Jamie’s focus was on the continued and urgent impacts.”
Mann mentioned Rhome ought to have used extra nuance in his feedback.
“I believe one can attribute [it] to an inartful response to a query he didn’t anticipate to must discipline, quite than an intention to downplay local weather change,” he informed HuffPost.
Pressed about whether or not Rhome misspoke in the course of the CNN interview, Buchanan informed HuffPost that her colleague is “on file affirming there are linkages between hurricanes and local weather change.”
“In that second, his purpose was to maintain the concentrate on a lethal storm bearing down and the approaching public hazard,” she mentioned. “Researchers will quantify science-based linkages to local weather change after an occasion is over, which is the suitable time for that dialog.”
That’s already underway. Final week, a preliminary analysis by a pair of local weather researchers discovered that Hurricane Ian’s whole rainfall was roughly 10% increased because of human-caused local weather change.
Hurricane Ian had the traits of the kind of storm that, in line with specialists, will develop into more and more widespread in a warming world. It underwent what’s generally known as “rapid intensification,” rising from a tropical storm to a significant hurricane in just some days. It dumped upward of 20 inches of rain in areas of central Florida, and the storm surge inundated coastal cities like Fort Myers and Naples. By Tuesday, the dying toll had climbed to at the very least 102, in line with CNN.
In an opinion piece within the Guardian final week, Mann and Susan Pleasure Hassol, the director of the nonprofit Local weather Communication, known as Ian “a tragic style of issues to return” and threw chilly water on Rhome’s CNN feedback.
“Too usually we nonetheless hear, even from authorities scientists, the outdated noticed that we can not hyperlink particular person hurricanes to local weather change,” they wrote. “There was a time when local weather scientists believed that to be true. However they don’t any extra. Now we have developed highly effective instruments to attribute the diploma to which world warming impacts excessive occasions.”