Has There Been An Increase In the Number of Natural Disasters?
Is Global Warming Causing More Natural Disasters?
The 2005 hurricane season—and the many disasters reported on worldwide—left many people wondering if there has been an increase in the number of natural disasters.
Certainly radical environmentalists would like us to believe that human activity in general—and global warming, specifically—have increased the number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other tragedies. And many on the right wonder if it is a sign of the bibical apocalypse.
So have there been more natural disasters in recent years? In a word, NO.
What we have, rather, is an increase in our ability to detect hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.
Lets take a look at the most active hurricane seasons on record:
Year # of Storms # of Hurricanes
2005 22 12
1931 21 10
1969 18 12
1995 19 11
1936 16 15
While is is true that 2005 has been recorded as the worst year ever, 1931 and 1936 are not far behind. Furthermore, note that back then there were no weather satellites to track storms from above. If a storm formed out to sea and then blew itself out, no one noticed. If a hurricane formed but didn’t hit land, it wasn’t recorded.
Given that, its entirely possible—even likely—that the worst year ever was 1931. All it would take was to miss just two tropical storms and three hurricanes.
And that doesn’t even go to the question of whether or not there were worst hurricane seasons before records were kept. Hurricanes have only been seriously tracked since the 1850s.
In terms of the worst decades for hurricanes, the 1940s rank first. The 1990s rank 10th in the 15 decades for which records are available.
What about the increasing damage that hurricanes seem to cause?
That’s easy to explain. There are more people living on the coasts—and thus more damage. In 1920, there were just 500,000 people living in Florida’s coastal areas. Today, there are more than 13 million.
More people. More things to damage.
And how about tornadoes? The recent Evansville, Indiana tornado has been used as evidence of increasing tornado violence.
In the first place, the 22 dead in Evansville in 2005 pales in comparison to the 1925 Tri State Tornado’s 625 casualties. With no disrespect intended to the people of Evansville, it just doesn’t compare.
Further, because there are more people in the United States, it is only logical to expect that there are more places for tornadoes to touch down and do damage.
Interestingly, the US weather service HAS reported a slight increase in the number of tornadoes in recent years. But the increase is attributed to the establishment of the national Doppler Radar System. We simply are getting better at finding them. Prior to a national radar system, a tornado could form in the wilderness and no one would be the wiser. Now, we spot them.
A similar situation exists with earthquakes. The US Geologic Survey reports a slight increase in the number of earthquakes over the last few years. But, as with tornadoes and hurricanes, this is simply a matter of our increasing ability to detect them.
In 1931, there were only about 350 earthquake detecting seismograph stations in the world. Today, there are 8,000 stations. It only stands to reason that 8,000 stations are going to detect more seismic events.
Further, our equipment now is more sensitive. Quakes that were undetectable—either because of intensity or distance—now are recorded.
And finally, a major reason for the perceived increase in disasters is modern communications and media.
A hundred years ago, the terrible earthquake in Pakistan might not have been reported until weeks after the fact. By then, it would would simply be a couple of paragraphs in the major newspapers. Most would never note the event.
Today, the disaster is reported immediately, relayed around the world by satellites, and seen live in the living rooms of millions on television. It certainly looks as though things are getting worse, because we are seeing more of them.
It’s all a matter of perception.