The Life and Death of A Right-Wing Talking Point
CNSNews.com loved to suggest global warming doesn't exist by highlighting the amount of time between "major" hurricanes hitting the U.S. -- until Hurricane Harvey put an end to that narrative.
By Terry Krepel
See if you can detect a theme being pushed by CNSNews.com, mostly by reporter Barbara Hollingsworth, in these articles starting around mid-2015:
Since CNS is not normally interested in weather, there has to be a right-wing political angle to this. And there is, as Hollingsworth explained in that last article: "Many climate scientists have predicted that anthropogenic global warming caused by an increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere would result in an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes." The growing amount of time between "major" hurricanes, then, must mean that global warming does not exist.
What Hollingsworth is much less likely to promote: the "hurricane drought" doesn't really mean anything. As Jason Samenow. the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist, explained:
The major-hurricane metric both leaves out significant storms because of its narrow definition and is misleading as an overall indicator of storm activity.
Hollingsworth tried to play gotcha with a couple of climate scientists in that last article, but they both did a fact-slap on her:
“You and many other climate scientists have predicted an increase in hurricane activity due to anthropogenic global warming. But with carbon dioxide levels at a record high, why are we now seeing the longest major hurricane drought on record here in the U.S.?” CNSNews asked [MIT atmospheric science professor Kerry] Emanuel.
To counter that, Hollingsworth called in climate denier and non-scientist (and former CNS reporter) Marc Morano to assert that, in her words, "those who predicted more major hurricane activity due to climate change now want to change the definition of a major hurricane because their predictions have fallen short of reality." She doesn't discuss the narrowness of her own definition of a major hurricane.
Hurricane Harvey, and the end of a talking point
As the 2017 hurricane season arrived, this favorite CNS talking point returned as well. Intern Gage Cohen regurgitated it in a June 1 article, stating that "The 2017 hurricane season begins today, June 1--a record 139 months after the last major hurricane made landfall in the continental United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration." Cohen did a mild rewrite of the article on June 24, declaring that "Saturday, June 24 marked the completion of a record 140 straight months since the last major hurricane made landfall in the continental United States."
On Aug. 24, reporter Susan Jones invoked that longtime template one last time: "Thursday, August 24, 2017 marks a record 142 straight months since the last major hurricane made landfall in the continental United States. But that record major-hurricane drought may be coming to an end." She continued CNS' arbitrary designation of "major hurricane" as one being category 3 or higher.
The next day, as Harvey bore down on Texas, Jones seemingly contradicted this talking point by pointing out how hurricanes hit Texas seemingly all the time: "A total of 63 hurricanes have made landfall in Texas since record-keeping began in 1851, according to data posted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Harvey would be number 64." She also included a list of hurricanes that hit Texas, highlighting how many years it was between hurricanes.
That was followed a couple hours later by another Jones article, in which she flip-flopped again by downplaying how many "major hurricanes" there have been:
Major hurricanes, defined as Category 3 or higher, have made direct landfall in the continental United States in every decade since 1851, except for the present decade. That may change tonight.
A note at the end of Jones' article reminded readers just how narrowly she was defining things: "The 274 direct-landfall number excludes hurricanes that did not make landfall in the continental U.S. but may have produced hurricane-force winds on land from locations offshore; and it excludes four storms that made landfall in Mexico, producing hurricane-force winds in Texas."
Finally, when Harvey made landfall, Jones wrote a rare weekend article with a final talking-point body count, as it were: "Hurricane Harvey roared ashore near Corpus Christie as Category 4 storm late Friday night, breaking a record 4,323-day (142-month, 12-year) major hurricane drought." And, of course, more caveats about how narrowly she's defining things:
Since 2005, only nine relatively minor hurricanes (Categories 1 or 2 and yes, they can be damaging) have made direct landfall in the United States.
Jones concluded her article with a little Trump stenography, this time transcribing Trump's Harvey-related tweets.
And, thus, a right-wing talking point whimpers off into the night.