Climate change deniers find unlikely hero in Joe Biden’s top hurricane expert

As Hurricane Ian began to hit South Florida last week, CNN anchor Don Lemon asked Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, about the links between hurricanes and climate change in Florida. human origin.

At first, Rhome resisted, saying during Tuesday’s TV interview that “we can come back and talk about climate change later” and that he wanted to “focus on the here and now.”

Pressed a second time, Rhome gives in.

“I don’t think you can tie climate change to any particular event,” he said. “Overall, cumulatively, climate change could make storms worse. But to tie it to a specific event, I would caution against that.

Rhome’s remarks quickly became something of a rallying cry for climate change deniers and their right-wing allied media. The nation’s top hurricane expert has shared his view that climate change does not influence hurricanes, they concluded, and therefore is not the threat that so-called climate alarmists want to make. believe in the public.

Fox News anchors Stacked on Lemon and gave airtime to a number of climate contrarians, as documented by Media Matters for America. Fox also published an article on Wednesday stating that President Joe Biden’s NHC chief had “close” Lemon, but it offered no information on scientific research on climate change and tropical cyclone activity.

Other points of sale wrote that Lemon “faced plants” in CNN footage and had been “schooled” by Rhome. The daily caller accused “liberal media” of “desperately trying to score political points by linking the near-Category 5 storm to man-made global warming.”

And the Heartland Institute, a libertarian Illinois think tank with a long history of peddling climate misinformation, accused the media of “lying between their teeth” about hurricanes. The band applauded Rhome for “telling the truth instead of just repeating the narrative and keeping the cult going”.

The truth, however, is that Rhome’s choice of words – that scientists cannot “link” climate change to a specific hurricane – is apparently at odds with science. Although climate change cannot be singled out as the sole cause of any given storm – and scientists are careful not to – there is little doubt surrounding the link between rising global temperatures and more intense storms.

In other words, climate change cause a hurricane, a flood or a forest fire, but it has and will continue to leave its mark on such events. A pair of studies in 2017, for example, found that rainfall from Hurricane Harvey was at least 15% heavier due to global warming.

“I think part of the problem is what is meant by ‘event'” Michael Mann, a climatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told HuffPost. “Could there still have been a Hurricane Ian in the absence of human-caused warming? Sure. Would it have been as strong, or as many coastal and inland floods? Almost certainly not.

Mann was among those who criticized Rhome’s comments to CNN. In a series of Twitter posts, Mann accused Rhome to “spout talking points about climate denial” and go “out of his way to distort the state of understanding of the impacts of climate change on these storms. He later softened his criticism.

Katharine Hayhoe, climatologist at Texas Tech University and chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, called Rhome’s statement “an outdated messaging from ten years ago that is unaware of the rapid developments in the field of attribution”.

Among those who came to Rhome’s defense was Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who served as chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under former President Donald Trump. Maue believes in man-made climate change, but often downplays the threat and its links to extreme weather.

If nothing else, the incident exposed just how desperate the climate denial movement was became. In this case, its leaders clung to a poorly worded statement and found their hero in a federal scientist who, it turns out, doesn’t share their views.

In a interview earlier this year, Rhome made it clear how global warming is and will continue to fuel more destructive tropical storms.

“Here’s the gist of what happens: if the globe gets warmer – and it does – it will hold more moisture, right? It will hold better. And then a hurricane will come and everything So that means it’s going to rain — it’s going to rain harder in the next few hurricanes,” he told News 6 WKMG in Orlando, Florida.

“You don’t need me to tell you that the sea level is rising either. You can see it. We can all see it. We go to the coast, [and] the coastline changes. The sea level rises. It is a higher base or foundation upon which future hurricanes will have to push storm surges. So the storm surge will be deeper and go further inland,” he added.

“If the [hurricane] the numbers increase or not, the storms that form are more powerful.

Asked about the fallout from Rhome’s CNN appearance, National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said Rhome “clearly stated that ‘overall, climate change could make storms worse’.”

“This comment is backed up by the overwhelmingly clear science on what climate change means for storms like Ian in general: heavier rainfall, possible slower motion that prolongs heavy rain and high winds, and more flooding. as sea levels rise,” she said by email.

“With a major hurricane and catastrophic storm surge rolling into Florida during the CNN interview, Jamie focused on the ongoing and urgent impacts.”

Jamie Rhome (right), acting director of the National Hurricane Center, provides an update on Hurricane Ian September 26 in Miami.

Mann said Rhome should have used more nuance in his comments.

I think we can attribute [it] to a clumsy answer to a question he didn’t expect to have to answer, rather than an intent to downplay climate change,” he told HuffPost.

Asked if Rhome misspoke during the CNN interview, Buchanan told HuffPost that her colleague “states publicly that there are links between hurricanes and climate change.”

“At that time, his focus was to stay focused on a deadly storm and the impending public danger,” she said. “Researchers will quantify scientific links to climate change after an event ends, which is an appropriate time for this conversation.”

It’s already underway. Last week, a preliminary analysis by two climatologists found that the total rainfall from Hurricane Ian was about 10% higher due to human-induced climate change.

Hurricane Ian had the characteristics of the type of storm that experts say will become increasingly common in a warming world. It underwent what is called a “rapid intensification”, going from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in just a few days. This abandoned more than 20 inches of rain in parts of central Florida, and the storm surge inundated coastal towns like Fort Myers and Naples. On Tuesday, the death toll had climb to at least 102, according to CNN.

In a opinion article in the Guardian last week, Mann and Susan Joy Hassol, the director of the nonprofit Climate Communication, called Ian a “tragic taste of things to come” and threw cold water on the comments by Rhome on CNN.

“Too often we still hear, even government scientists, the old idea that we cannot link individual hurricanes to climate change,” they wrote. “There was a time when climatologists believed it was true. But they don’t anymore. We have developed powerful tools to determine how global warming affects extreme events. »

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