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Katharine And Extreme Weather

November 29, 2011
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In that interview, Katharine Hayhoe, Associate Professor of  Atmospheric Sciences at Texas Tech University, tells us that “our weather (in Texas) is becoming much more extreme”. As we have already seen, century long temperature, rainfall and drought records in Texas do not support this assertion. Indeed, they actually show the opposite in that Texas weather is still pretty much the same as it was during the 20th Century. ( For those who needing to catch up, the story so far is here).

 

So what else might Katharine be referring to? Tropical Storms, maybe?

There is an interesting paper put together by David Roth of the National Weather Service and published last year, entitled “Texas Hurricane History”. The paper gives the following analysis of Tropical Strikes in Texas.

 

Tropical Cyclone Strikes By The Decade

Decade Hurricanes Tropical Storms Total
1850’s 3 1 4
1860’s 4 1 5
1870’s 2 4 6
1880’s 8 3 11
1890’s 3 3 6
1900’s 4 2 6
1910’s 7 1 8
1920’s 2 3 5
1930’s 5 4 9
1940’s 8 6 14
1950’s 2 5 7
1960’s 3 3 6
1970’s 2 7 9
1980’s 5 4 9
1990’s 1 4 5
2000’s 5 5 10
       
Total 64 56 120
Annual Average 0.4 0.4 0.8
Clearly the last decade shows nothing out of the ordinary, although the average is slightly higher than that of the long term. Interestingly, though, the report goes on to state :-

Studies were made back in the 1950’s by Dr. W. Armstrong Price on hurricane incidence along the Texas coast and the sunspot cycle. Regardless of whether this pattern exists because of sunspots or some other interannual climate cycle, using data back to 1829 there are periods in the hurricane climatology that have greater activity than others. These periods were defined as being “hurricane-rich” or “hurricane-poor”. Hurricane-rich periods last, on average, 11 years with an average of 8 landfalls in their midst. Hurricane-poor periods last, on average, 14 years and only 2 landfalls usually occur.
We are currently in a hurricane-rich period which began in 2003. This is expected to last
until around 2014, plus or minus a few years. Texas will be extremely prone to hurricane landfalls during the time frame. Whether or not we should expect as few as two or as many as 8 storms in the next decade, all it takes is one to make life miserable for residents along the coast.

In other words the slightly higher than average of the 2000’s is just a part of the same cycle that produced a low number in the 1990’s.

Texas has been described as a land where droughts are occasionally interrupted by floods. David Roth touches on this when he says :-

 

Of the 122 storms chronicled in this survey, 11 are credited with alleviating drought conditions across the Lone Star State. Without tropical storms and hurricanes moving into Texas, summer rainfall would be about 10% lower than what currently falls across eastern Texas. This could be disastrous for cotton, corn, and rice grown statewide, as they are highly dependent on this added rainfall contribution.

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/lch/tropical/txhurricanehistory.pdf

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