Frozen in Time
Oct 08, 2017
What made this hurricane season so active in the Atlantic?

Joseph D’Aleo

What a hurricane season! It started very early with Arlene in April but the real action held off until the last week of August when Hurricane Harvey flooded Texas and Louisiana.. Harvey was the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas since Ike in 2008 and Category 4 hurricane in Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961.

Irma, the 11th strongest Atlantic storm on record (using central pressure, the most reliable measure) had major impacts on Islands like Barbuda and St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos and southern Bahamas. Then crossing northern Cuba it curled back into Florida. It was the first landfalling hurricane and major hurricane in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

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Jose too became a major hurricane, but never made landfall though it created large swells along the eastern seaboard and pounded southeastern New England, Cape Cod and the islands with tropical storm winds and coastal flooding as it stalled for days.

Maria was the third major Hurricane, the 10th strongest Atlantic storm, crossed the northern Leeward Islands and plowed through Puerto Rico, doing catastrophic damage to the island.  It then moved north into the Atlantic, close enough to pound the Atlantic coast with large swells from Florida to New Jersey.

And then Hurricane Nate avoided another ‘Katrina moment’ for New Orleans but produced storm surge damage to southeast Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

Before the landfall of two major storms on the U.S. we had gone just short of 12 years without a major hurricane landfall, the longest such lull since the 1860s.

The quiet period came after three big years. Isabel made landfall on the Mid Atlantic in 2003, Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004 and Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005 all made landfall on the mainland.  Emily in 2005 was another major hurricane but turned west into Mexico. 2005 holds the record for 5 category 4 or greater and 4 category 5 impact storms. Some speculated this was the new norm for the Atlantic before nature gave us that 12-year break.

So what causes long quiet spells and then big years like 2004 and 2005 and now 2017?

Nothing is new in weather. Great Colonial hurricanes in the northeast with storm surges up to 20 feet occurred in 1635 and 1675. A Katrina like storm made landfall in Louisiana in 1722 with major flooding and damage in Louisiana.  The Great Chesapeake storm in 1769 like Isabel in 2003 brought major flooding to North Carolina and Virginia.  In the Caribbean, the Great Hurricane of 1780 killed an estimated 27,500 people while ravaging the islands of the eastern Caribbean with winds estimated to top 200 mph. It was one of three hurricanes that year with death tolls greater than 1000. 

1893, had at least 10 hurricanes. Of those, 5 became major hurricanes. Two of the hurricanes caused over two thousand (2000) deaths in the United States; at the time, the season was the deadliest in U.S. history.

1886 came close with at least 10 hurricanes, 7 making landfall.  4 of the hurricanes were major hurricanes.

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The Galveston Hurricane in1900 killed at least 8,000 people with some estimates as high as 12,000, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Ok, major hurricanes have occurred even during cold periods but is there a trend in the modern record?

ACCUMULATED CYCLONE ENERGY INDEX A MEASURE OF SEASONAL TROPICAL ACTIVITY

The Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index which takes into account the number, duration and strength of all tropical storms in a season. The ACE index is a wind energy index, defined as the sum of the squares of the maximum sustained surface wind speed (knots) measured every six hours for all named storms while they are at least tropical storm strength.

The Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index for the Atlantic shows a cyclical behavior with no long term trend but with spikes in 1893, 1926, 1933,1950 then again in 1995, 2004 and 2005. 2017 ranks 8th now with still weeks to go this season.

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So what causes long breaks and then big years like 2004 and 2005 and now 2017?

OCEAN TEMPERATURE AND PRESSURE PATTERNS

The North Atlantic like the Pacific undergoes multi-decadal changes in ocean temperature and pressure patterns. It has long been known, when the Atlantic is in what is called its’ warm mode, there are more storms.  Since 1995, when the current warm Atlantic mode began, we have average 14.6 named storms per year, more than 5 more than the long-term 1851-2017 average.

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An important factor that affects whether hurricanes affect the United States is El Nino and La Nina. When El Ninos develop, more storms develop in the eastern and central Pacific threatening Mexico, Hawaii and sometimes in weakened forms Arizona and California.

These storms enhance high-level winds that cross into the Atlantic. These winds produce shear that disrupts developing storms causing them to weaken or dissipate and/or turn harmlessly north into the North Atlantic. Storms can still develop near the coast where the water is warm like in the Gulf and near the Gulf Stream off the southeast coast.

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Image courtesy of climate.gov based on originals by Gerry Bell

When La Ninas develop there are usually fewer storms in the eastern Pacific and less shear to disrupt the Atlantic storms.

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Image courtesy of climate.gov based on originals by Gerry Bell

In warm Atlantic years, that means trouble as the storms can track the entire Basin with more time to turn into major hurricanes. Even the east coast is more vulnerable to a landfalling hurricane. We had 8 high impact east coast hurricanes from 1938 to 1960 and 9 from 1988 to 2012.

The last important La Nina stretch was in 2010/11 to 2011/12. We avoided a major hurricane hit, though major hurricanes at sea made final landfall in the NYC metro - Irene (as a tropical storm) in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 (as a post tropical cyclone).

They caused massive flooding (from rains with Irene in upstate NY and Vermont and from a storm surge with Sandy in New York City and New Jersey).

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We are still in the latest Atlantic warm period. This year, a spring attempt at an El Nino failed a La Nina like conditions developed. Had El Nino succeeded we may have had Harvey, which developed near the Texas coast and Nate which came out of the bath water in the western Caribbean but maybe Irma and Maria would have been weakened or deflected.  But with La Nina conditions developing, no shear and warm Atlantic water we saw a return to big storms just as we saw in 2004 and 2005. 

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It may not be over as in 2005, we had Wilma come out of the Caribbean in late October.

At Weatherbell, Joe Bastardi led the team in the tropical outlook and correctly called for a big season. When the water in the Main Development Regions warmed further, Joe upped the ACE forecast and the team began alerting that come mid-August, big things would happen.

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So when we get a year like 2017 or back-to-back bad years like 2004 and 2005, we have to accept that is how the weather works. Permadroughts ended with record wet years for Texas and California this decade. The record nearly 12 year major hurricane ‘drought’ ended with 2017. 

BTW, when the Atlantic is active, the Pacific usually is less so. See how the western Pacific and Indian Ocean activity averaged 50% of normal and the eastern Pacific 20% below normal while the Atlantic activity (ACE Index as 236% of normal.

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Joe D’Aleo is currently a Senior Co-chief Meteorologist with WeatherBELL Analytics. Joe is a CCM, Fellow of the AMS, former chair of the AMS Committee on Weather Analysis and Forecasting. He was a college professor of Meteorology/Climatology, the co founder and first Director of Meteorology at The Weather Channel and Chief Meteorologist with 3 companies the last 30 years. He has been the Executive Director of Icecap.us since 2007.

Oct 02, 2017
Corrupt Climate Science Discredits NASA

By Larry Bell

Lots of global warming alarmists are hyperventilating over President Donald Trump’s pick of U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla. a “climate change denier,” to head NASA.

Hopefully, he will give them good reason for cold sweats by ending the agency’s politically corrupt and embarrassing role in perpetuating history’s arguably most costly fraud.

Harsh words? You bet!

Lest there be any confusion, I am referring here to a tiny politically-protected group of climate model theorists called the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) operating above a restaurant in a midtown Manhattan office building nowhere near a major NASA facility. Ironically, GISS has virtually nothing to do with studying space, much less honoring its legendary namesake, Dr. Robert H. Godard, who is widely recognized as the father of American rocketry.

Instead, NASA GISS is far more publicly associated with its long-time head Dr. James Hansen, who is appropriately recognized as the godfather of a global warming alarm syndicate. Hansen even retained his position following four handcuffed arrests for noncompliance with police orders during eco-activist anti-fossil energy demonstrations.

GISS is well-known for headline-grabbing media claims that “NASA warns hottest day, month or year.” They have a long history of “tuning” global temperature data and abbreviating recorded timelines to make the past colder in order to have recent temperatures appear remarkably warmer.

Dr. Reto Ruedy of GISS once confessed in a Climategate e-mail that GISS had inflated its temperature data since 2000 on a questionable basis, whereby, “NASA’s assumption that the adjustments made the older data consistent with future data ... may not have been correct.”

Nevertheless, we’re supposed to accept that this information is still good enough for government work. As Reudy explained in a memo to USA Today’s weather editor, “We are basically a modeling group… for that purpose what we do is more than accurate enough [to assess model results].”

My highly concerned friend Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham doesn’t accept this as good enough for NASA. He wrote, “Those of us fortunate enough to have traveled in space bet our lives on the competence, dedication, and integrity of the science and technology professionals who made our missions possible… In the last twenty years I watched the high standards of science being violated by a few influential climate scientists, including some at NASA, while special interest opportunists have dangerously abused our public trust.”

GISS’s shoddy performance shouldn’t be good enough for Jim Bridenstine either. Whereas he doesn’t question the reality that climate changes, he has very good reasons to challenge lousy pretend science… particularly when it is purported to represent the best research and thinking of an agency which has accomplished legendary scientific and technological progress.

Speaking on the U.S. House floor in 2013, Bridenstine said, “Mr. Speaker, global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles. During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 A.D. - long before cars, power plants, or the Industrial Revolution - temperatures were warmer than today. During the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1900 A.D., temperatures were cooler. Neither of these periods were caused by any human activity.”

Incidentally, Bridenstine also believes in a need for good weather research. He even co-authored H.R. 353, the Lucas-Bridenstine Weather Research and Forecasting Act which was recently signed into law.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has argued that Bridenstine’s “ . . .doubt that humans contribute to climate change - a research area in which NASA is intimately involved” and lack of “experience in scientific research or academia” should disqualify him from heading the agency.

Yet if having academic credentials in climate science is important, one might imagine that it would be doubly so for anyone heading NASA’s climate research activities. Gavin Schmidt, Ph.D, a mathematician who now heads NASA GISS holds no climate or Earth science degrees either.

Duane Thresher, a former GISS employee for seven years, posted a letter to the prospective new NASA administrator in his Sept. 8 Real Climatologists blog titled, “Bridenstine, Climate Scientists Are Not Noble, Stop Paying Them.”

Thresher, who is highly critical of the abysmal lack of GISS science competence and integrity, wrote that when bureaucrats decided that global warming was the next big thing, there was a huge influx of money and unqualified people who spent it including opportunists, carpetbaggers… the corrupt and ignoble.

It is tragic to see the agency that applied solid science to put humans the Moon become publicly identified with and misrepresented by a junk science-premised climate alarm propaganda machine. While no one I know denies that natural climate changes, it’s high time for a political climate change that gets NASA back to doing reliable science we can once again trust.

Duane Thresher’s advice should be heeded, “NASA GISS is a monument to bad science that truly should be torn down. Take the money and buy a rocket.”

Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of “Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom” (2015) and “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax” (2012).

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See Tony Heller attack on the Obama era NCA hoax study which Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech who promised permadrought in Texas just before the wettest year on record and then Harvey. No surprise she is a cherry picker cheer leader, as she was a student of the equally climate illiterate or at least misinformer Donald Wuebbles, who with Katherine were co-lead authors of the shelved corrupt CSSR report.

Sep 14, 2017
Despite Harvey and Irma, science has no idea if climate change is causing more (or fewer) storms

By Ross McKitrick

Update: WeatherBELL video on why this season was so active

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After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, it didn;t take long for climate alarmists to claim they knew all along it would happen. Politico’s Eric Holthaus declared “We knew this would happen, decades ago.” Naomi Klein stated “these events have long been predicted by climate scientists.” Joe Romm at ThinkProgress wrote, “the fact is that Harvey is exactly the kind of off-the-charts hurricane we can expect to see more often because of climate change.”

According to these and other authors, rising greenhouse gas levels are at least partly to blame for the occurrence and severity of Harvey, and probably for Hurricane Irma as well. But after-the-fact guesswork is not science. If any would-be expert really knew long ago that Harvey was on its way, let him or her prove it by predicting what next year’s hurricane season will bring.

Don’t hold your breath: Even the best meteorologists in the world weren’t able to predict the development and track of Hurricane Harvey until a few days before it hit.

This is why the idea of climate science being “settled” is so ludicrous, at least as regards the connection between global warming and tropical cyclones. A settled theory makes specific predictions that can, in principle, be tested against observed data. A theory that only yields vague, untestable predictions is, at best, a work in progress.

The climate alarmists offer a vague prediction: Hurricanes may or may not happen in any particular year, but when they do, they will be more intense than they would have been if GHG levels were lower. This is a convenient prediction to make because we can never test it. It requires observing the behaviour of imaginary storms in an unobservable world. Good luck collecting the data.

Climate scientists instead use computer models to simulate the alternative world. But the models project hundreds of possible worlds, and predict every conceivable outcome, so whatever happens it is consistent with at least one model run. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, some climate modelers predicted such storms would be more frequent in a warmer world, while others predicted the opposite, and still others said there was no connection between warming and hurricanes.

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What ensued was an historically unprecedented 12-year absence of major (category 3 or higher) hurricanes making landfall in the United States, until Harvey, which ties for 14th-most intense hurricane since 1851. The events after 2005 were “consistent with” some projections, but any other events would have been as well.

The long absence of landfalling hurricanes also points to another problem when opinion writers connect GHGs to extreme weather. Science needs to be concerned not only with conspicuous things that happened, but with things that conspicuously didn’t happen. Like the famous dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, the bark that doesn’t happen can be the most important of all.

It is natural to consider a hurricane a disruptive event that demands an explanation. It is much more difficult to imagine nice weather as a disruption to bad weather that somehow never happened.

Suppose a hurricane would have hit Florida in August 2009, but GHG emissions prevented it and the weather was mild instead. The “event,” pleasant weather, came and went unnoticed and nobody felt the need to explain why it happened. It is a mistake to think that only bad events call for an explanation, and only to raise the warming conjecture when bad weather happens. If we are going to tie weather events to GHGs, we have to be consistent about it. We should not assume that any time we have pleasant weather, we were going to have it anyway, but a storm is unusual and proves GHG’s control the climate.

I am grateful to the scientists who work at understanding hurricane and typhoon events, and whose ability to forecast them days in advance has saved countless lives. But when opinion writers tacitly assume all good weather is natural and GHGs only cause bad weather, or claim to be able to predict future storms, but only after they have already occurred, I reserve the right to call their science unsettled.

Ross McKitrick is a professor of economics at the University of Guelph and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

Aug 30, 2017
Texas Major Hurricane Intensity Not Related to Gulf Water Temperatures

Dr. Roy Spencer

August 29th, 2017

As the Houston flood disaster was unfolding, there is considerable debate about whether Hurricane Harvey was influenced by “global warming”. While such an issue matters little to the people of Houston, it does matter for our future infrastructure planning and energy policy.

Let’s review the two basic reasons why the Houston area is experiencing what now looks like a new record amount of total rainfall, at least for a 2-3 day period over an area of tens of thousands of square miles.

1) A strong tropical cyclone, with access to abundant moisture evaporated off the Gulf of Mexico, and

2) Little movement by the cyclone.

These two factors have conspired to create the current flooding catastrophe in Houston. Now let’s look at them in the context of global warming theory.

1. Are Texas major hurricanes dependent on an unusually warm Gulf?

I examined all of the major hurricane (Cat 3+) strikes in Texas since 1870 and plotted them as red dots on the time series of sea surface temperature variations over the western Gulf of Mexico. As can be seen, major hurricanes don’t really care whether the Gulf is above average or below average in temperature:

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Red dots indicate years of major hurricane strikes in Texas, plotted on average SST departures from normal by year over the western Gulf of Mexico (25-30N, 90-100W).

Why is that? It’s because hurricanes require a unique set of circumstances to occur, and sufficiently warm SSTs is only one. (I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the structure and energetics of incipient tropical cyclones, and have published a method for monitoring their strength from satellites).

The Gulf of Mexico is warm enough every summer to produce a major hurricane. But you also usually need a pre-existing cyclonic circulation or wave, which almost always can be traced back to the coast of Africa. Also, the reasons why some systems intensify and others don’t are not well understood. This is why the National Hurricane Center admits their predictions of intensity change are not that accurate. Lots of thunderstorm complexes form over warm tropical waters, and we still don’t understand why some of them will spontaneously form a cyclonic circulation.

2. Does global warming cause landfalling hurricanes to stall?

I don’t know of any portion of global warming theory that would explain why Harvey stalled over southeast Texas. Michael Mann’s claim in The Guardian that it’s due to the jet stream being pushed farther north from global warming makes me think he doesn’t actually follow weather like those of us who have actual schooling in meteorology (my degree is a Ph.D. in Meteorology). We didn’t have a warm August in the U.S. pushing the jet stream farther north.

In fact, I dare anyone to look at the August temperature anomalies to date in the U.S. (courtesy of Weatherbell.com) and tell me, exactly what pattern here is due to global warming?

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Enlarged August 2017 (through Aug. 28) surface temperature anomalies around North America (NCEP CFSv2, courtesy of Weatherbell.com).

The flooding disaster in Houston is the chance occurrence of several factors which can be explained naturally, without having to invoke human-caused climate change. We already know that major landfalling hurricanes in the U.S. have been less frequent in recent decades. But once one forms, if it stalls near the coast (a rarity), it can be expected to cause a flooding disaster… especially in a flood-prone area like Houston.

NOTE: If you like my writing on this subject, please check out my new e-book, An Inconvenient Deception: How Al Gore Distorts Climate Science and Energy Policy.

Aug 28, 2017
Why Houston Flooding Isn’t a Sign of Climate Change

August 28th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

In the context of climate change, is what we are seeing in Houston a new level of disaster which is becoming more common?

The flood disaster unfolding in Houston is certainly very unusual. But so are other natural weather disasters, which have always occurred and always will occur.

Floods aren’t just due to weather

Major floods are difficult to compare throughout history because the ways in which we alter the landscape. For example, as cities like Houston expand over the years, soil is covered up by roads, parking lots, and buildings, with water rapidly draining off rather than soaking into the soil. The population of Houston is now ten times what it was in the 1920s. The Houston metroplex area has expanded greatly and the water drainage is basically in the direction of downtown Houston.

There have been many flood disasters in the Houston area, even dating to the mid-1800s when the population was very low. In December of 1935 a massive flood occurred in the downtown area as the water level height measured at Buffalo Bayou in Houston topped out at 54.4 feet.

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Enlarged Downtown Houston flood of 1935.

By way of comparison, as of 6:30 a.m. this (Monday) morning, the water level in the same location is at 38 feet, which is still 16 feet lower than in 1935. I’m sure that will continue to rise.

Icecap note: it reached 39 feet dipped then rose before declining.

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Are the rainfall totals unprecedented?

Even that question is difficult to answer. The exact same tropical system moving at, say, 15 mph might have produced the same total amount of rain, but it would have been spread over a wide area, maybe many states, with no flooding disaster. This is usually what happens with landfalling hurricanes.

Instead, Harvey stalled after it came ashore and so all of the rain has been concentrated in a relatively small portion of Texas around the Houston area. In both cases, the atmosphere produced the same amount of rain, but where the rain lands is very different. People like those in the Houston area don’t want all of the rain to land on them.

There is no aspect of global warming theory that says rain systems are going to be moving slower, as we are seeing in Texas. This is just the luck of the draw. Sometimes weather systems stall, and that sucks if you are caught under one. The same is true of high pressure areas; when they stall, a drought results.

Even with the system stalling, the greatest multi-day rainfall total as of 9 a.m. this Monday morning is just over 30 inches (Dayton 39.72 inches), with many locations recording over 20 inches. We should recall that Tropical Storm Claudette in 1979 (a much smaller and weaker system than Harvey) produced a 43 inch rainfall total in only 24 hours in Houston.

Was Harvey unprecedented in intensity?

In this case, we didn’t have just a tropical storm like Claudette, but a major hurricane, which covered a much larger area with heavy rain. Roger Pielke Jr. has pointed out that the U.S. has had only four Category 4 (or stronger) hurricane strikes since 1970, but in about the same number of years preceding 1970 there were 14 strikes. So we can’t say that we are experiencing more intense hurricanes in recent decades.

Going back even earlier, a Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston in 1900, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people. That was the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

And don’t forget, we just went through an unprecedented length of time - almost 12 years - without a major hurricane (Cat 3 or stronger) making landfall in the U.S.

So what makes this event unprecedented?

The National Weather Service has termed the event unfolding in the Houston area as unprecedented. I’m not sure why. I suspect in terms of damage and number of people affected, that will be the case. But the primary reason won’t be because this was an unprecedented meteorological event.

If we are talking about the 100 years or so that we have rainfall records, then it might be that southeast Texas hasn’t seen this much total rain fall over a fairly wide area. At this point it doesn’t look like any rain gage locations will break the record for total 24 hour rainfall in Texas, or possibly even for storm total rainfall, but to have so large an area having over 20 inches is very unusual.

They will break records for their individual gage locations, but that’s the kind of record that is routinely broken somewhere anyway, like record high and low temperatures.

In any case, I’d be surprised if such a meteorological event didn’t happen in centuries past in this area, before we were measuring them.

And don’t pay attention to claims of 500 year flood events, which most hydrologists dislike because we don’t have enough measurements over time to determine such things, especially when they also depend on our altering of the landscape over time.

Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center was asked by a CNN news anchor whether he thought that Harvey was made worse because of global warming. Read’s response was basically, No.

“Unprecedented” doesn’t necessarily mean it represents a new normal. It can just be a rare combination of events. In 2005 the U.S. was struck by many strong hurricanes, and the NHC even ran out of names to give all of the tropical storms. Then we went almost 12 years without a major (Cat 3 or stronger) hurricane strike.

Weird stuff happens.

I remember many years ago in one of the NWS annual summaries of lightning deaths there was a golfer who was struck by lightning. While an ambulance transported the man to the hospital, the ambulance was stuck by lightning and it finished the poor fellow off.

There is coastal lake sediment evidence of catastrophic hurricanes which struck the Florida panhandle over 1,000 years ago, events which became less frequent in the most recent 1,000 years.

Weather disasters happen, with or without the help of humans.

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