As Hurricane Ian began to pound South Florida last week, CNN anchor Don Lemon asked Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, about any connection between hurricanes and human-caused climate change. .
At first, Rhome resisted, saying during Tuesday’s televised 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 relented.
“I don’t think you can link climate change to any event,” he said. “Overall, cumulatively, climate change may be making storms worse. But to tie it to any one event, I would caution against that.”
Rhome’s remarks quickly became something of a rallying cry for people who disagree with mainstream climate science, as well as his media allies of the right. The nation’s top hurricane expert shared his view that climate change does not influence hurricanes, they concluded, and is therefore not the threat that so-called climate alarmists want the public to believe.
Fox News anchors piled up activated Lemon and gave time to a number of climate science non-believers, 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 did not provide information on scientific research on climate change and tropical cyclone activity.
Other points of sale he wrote that Llimona “plants her face” in the CNN footage and had been “educated” by Rhome. The newspaper that calls 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, arguably the leading climate non-believer organization in the nation, accused the media of “lying through their teeth” about hurricanes. The group applauded Rhome for “telling the truth instead of parroting the narrative and maintaining the cult.”
The truth, however, is that Rhome’s choice of words, that scientists cannot “link” climate change to any specific hurricane event, appears to be at odds with the science. Although climate change cannot be singled out as the singular cause of any given storm, and scientists are careful not to do so, there is little doubt about the link between rising global temperatures and more intense storms.
In other words, climate change does not cause a hurricane, a flood or a forest fire, but it has left and will continue to leave its mark on these events. A pair of studies in 2017, for example, found that Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was at least 15 percent heavier because of global warming.
“I think part of the problem is what we mean by ‘event’.” Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, told HuffPost. “Could there still have been a Hurricane Ian in the absence of human-caused warming? For sure. Would it have been as strong, or as much of a coastal and inland flood? Almost certainly not.”
Mann was among those who criticized Rhome’s comments on CNN. In a series of posts on Twitter, Mann accused Rhome to “provoke talking points about climate denial” and to go “out of their way to misrepresent the state of understanding of the impacts of climate change on these storms.” He later softened his criticism.
Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist at Texas Tech University and chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, he called Rhome’s statement “outdated message from a decade ago that ignores the rapid developments in the field of attribution.”
Among those who came to Rome’s defense it was Ryan Maue, a meteorologist who served as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under former President Donald Trump. Maue believes in human-caused climate change, but has a long history of downplaying the threat and its links to extreme weather.
If nothing else, the incident exposed how desperate the mainstream climate science movement has become. In this case, their leaders clung to a poorly worded statement and found their hero in a federal scientist who, it turns out, doesn’t share their vision.
In one interview Earlier this year, Rhome laid out clearly the ways in which planetary warming is and will continue to fuel more destructive tropical storms.
“Here’s the bottom line of what’s going on: If the planet is warming, and it is, it’s going to hold more moisture, right? It’s going to hold it better. And then a hurricane will come and take it all out. So that means it’s going to rain , it’s going to rain harder in future hurricanes,” he told News 6 WKMG in Orlando, Florida.
“I also don’t need to tell you that the sea level is rising. you can see it We can all see it. let’s go to the coast [and] the coast is changing. The sea level is rising. This is a higher base or base upon which future hurricanes will have to push the storm surge. So the storm surge will be deeper and will go further inland,” he added.
“If the [hurricane] numbers increase or not, the storms that are forming pack a bigger punch.”
Asked about the fallout from Rhome’s appearance on CNN, National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said Rhome “stated clearly that ‘on the whole, cumulatively, climate change may be making storms worse.’
“This comment is supported by overwhelmingly clear science about what climate change means for storms like Ian in general: more intense rain, possible slower movement that prolongs heavy rain and strong winds, and more flooding as the level of the sea is rising,” he said by email.
“With a major hurricane and catastrophic storm bearing down on Florida during the CNN interview, Jamie focused on the current and urgent impacts.”
Mann said Rhome should have used more nuance in his comments.
“I think it can be attributed [it] to a foolish answer to a question I didn’t expect to have to answer, rather than an intent to downplay climate change,” he told HuffPost.
Pressed about whether Rhome misspoke during the CNN interview, Buchanan told HuffPost that her colleague is “asserting that there are links between hurricanes and climate change.”
“At the time, their goal was to keep the focus on a deadly storm pouring in and the imminent public danger,” he said. “Researchers will quantify science-based links to climate change after an event, which is the right time for this conversation.”
This is already underway. Last week, a preliminary analysis by a pair of climate researchers found that Hurricane Ian’s rainfall totals were about 10% higher due to human-caused climate change.
Hurricane Ian had the makings of the type of storm that experts say will become more common in a warming world. It underwent what’s known as “rapid intensification,” going from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in just a few days. this dumped more than 20 inches of rain in areas of central Florida, and storm surge flooded coastal cities such as Fort Myers and Naples. Tuesday already had the death toll up to at least 102, according to CNN.
In one opinion In a piece in the Guardian last week, Mann and Susan Joy Hassol, the director of the non-profit organization Climate Communication, called Ian “a tragic taste of things to come” and threw cold water on CNN’s comments from Rome.
“Too often we still listen, even of government scientists, the old saw that we cannot link individual hurricanes to climate change,” they wrote. “There was a time when climate scientists believed this to be true. But they don’t anymore. We have developed powerful tools to attribute the degree to which global warming affects extreme events.”