Is NOAA Misleading the Public by Including Tropical Cyclones in its 2012 Climate Extremes Index Ranking?


The Summary Information of the NOAA State of the Climate report reads with respect to extremes:

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation. The index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998. To date, 2012 has seen 11 disasters that have reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, to include Sandy, Isaac, and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley.

This gives the reader the impression that landfalling tropical cyclones were a contributor to the high ranking. They were not. NOAA fails to note in the summary that the landfalling tropical cyclones were so low that NOAA lowered the ranking on its Climate Extremes Index by including them. That is, without landfalling tropical cyclones, 2012 would have ranked number one on Climate Extremes Index.

Using the drop-down menu on the NOAA Climate Extremes Index graph webpage, we can plot NOAA climate Extremes indicator graphs. Figure 1 is the NOAA Climate Extremes Index graph for landfalling tropical “systems”. 2012 was extremely low, far below average. I included this data through November in my Video: Drought, Hurricanes and Heat Waves – 2012 in Perspective. I was therefore surprised when NOAA included tropical cyclones in their 2012 State of the Climate summary.

Fig 1 Climate Extremes tropstorms

Figure 1

If we plot the NOAA Climate Extremes Index for 2012 with landfalling tropical cyclones, Figure 2, 2012 does in fact rank number 2 behind 1998. This confirms NOAA’s statement in their summary.

Fig 2 Climate Extremes w tropstorms

Figure 2

But if we exclude landfalling tropical cyclones from the Climate Extremes Index, Figure 3, 2012 rises to a ranking of number 1.

Fig 3 Climate Extremes w-o tropstorms

Figure 3

Therefore, by including landfalling tropical cyclones in the Climate Extremes Index for 2012, NOAA lowered the ranking, but gives the public the impression that landfalling tropical cyclones contributed to the high ranking—when, in reality, tropical cyclones lowered the 2012 ranking.

About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
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12 Responses to Is NOAA Misleading the Public by Including Tropical Cyclones in its 2012 Climate Extremes Index Ranking?

  1. Read this and found it interesting. I had mentioned in one of my classes how Ozone depletion would lead to more UV radiation hitting the surface of the Earth which should cause warming (all the textbooks say it causes cooling) and she was unable to explain to me why it was, and continued to say that the textbooks are right, accept them. So it was interesting to see this and learn that UV increases with the solar cycle and that it does indeed have an impact on climate.

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    Richard, it seems to me they can’t make up their minds about UV.

    But I enjoyed the teacher’s/professor’s response, “…the textbooks are right, accept them.” Science would be at a standstill if everyone accepted the consensus.

  3. slimething says:

    John Cook has a new video out. Didn’t you critique the written version? I always enjoy your thorough analysis.

  4. Bob Tisdale says:

    Hi Slimething: I don’t recall a written version of their new video. So I can’t say I’ve responded directly to it. The video makes the typical misrepresentation of ENSO, though.

    One thing I do have to commend them for are their graphcs. Unfortunately for them, slick animated graphics do not mean they’re presenting reality.

    Afterthought: Oops, forgot to say thanks for the link, Slimething.

  5. slimething says:

    Isn’t it similar to Tamino/Rahmstorf’s rendition? Anyway, it is starting to make the rounds in the blogosphere. If you find the time and care to do so, point out the major flaws. I think I have it figured out, but don’t want to insert foot.

  6. Bob Tisdale says:

    slimething: The post on the 2012 Rahmstorf and Foster paper is precisely the one to use, starting at THE MYTH CONTINUED:


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  8. Yes, Bob, I think NOAA is trying to mislead the public and ruin their reputation. So sorry.

  9. higley7 says:

    First, considering that the loss of ozone is over an already very cold region, there will not be much of an impact.

    Second, the UV blocked represents radiation blocked that can do tissue damage because of its frequency/energy per photon, not because of the number of photons. We are not talking about a big change in energy flux, just the selective removal of biologically damaging frequencies.

    Remember, the ozone layer is very high in the atmosphere and necessarily quite rarified or “thin” or low density.

  10. Bob Tisdale says:

    higley7, I’ve let your off-topic comment through this one time. One time.


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  12. tomwys says:

    Of course, the graphics used in the Cook videoclip are those after 1934 was pulled down from its “warmest year of the century” perch after “adjustments.” Kinda like “Cooking the Books” (couldn’t resist)!

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