WELL, that didn’t take long! At the beginning of the month the Met Office launched a new Heat Alert system, and lo and behold, within days they issued an amber alert for last weekend, across most of southern England, where temperatures were forecast to rise into the high 20s:
BBC Weather Forecast, June 8
There is nothing remotely unusual about such temperatures in June. Oxford, for instance, regularly sees days of 29C and more:
The UKHSA published its usual nannying advice: stay out of the sun, use sun cream, wear suitable clothing, drink plenty of fluids and so on, as if we are all children. They might as well stick up signs all over the country on June 1 every year saying ‘Summer Alert’.
There is also the usual reference to over-65s and other vulnerable groups, with the Met Office claiming the new system is aimed at reducing illness and deaths among the most vulnerable.
Maybe somebody should tell them that mortality amongst the over 65s is always at lowest during summer months. In fact the 13-week average usually bottoms out in early September. (Last year the figures dipped in w/e September 23 (week 38) due to the Queen’s funeral – deaths are recorded on the date of registration, not occurrence, so a number of deaths that week were reported the following week.)
If they are so concerned about the elderly, why don’t they issue alerts every week in spring or autumn, when death rates are much higher?
BBC leading question (1) Are tornadoes in the US getting worse?
ALTHOUGH tornadoes can occur pretty much anywhere in the world, the US has always been hardest hit because of its geography, with the conjunction of moist Gulf air, cold Canadian air and dry air from the Rockies.
Every time there is a particularly devastating tornado there, the media rushes to blame climate change. Last week the BBC decided it was time to educate the public on tornadoes in the US with a video called ‘Are Tornadoes in the US Getting Worse?’
The video made the specific claim: ‘Greater warming is causing more severe storms, making tornadoes more likely to form on any given day’, implying of course that tornadoes are becoming both more frequent and severe.
It probably won’t come as any great surprise to learn that neither claim is true; indeed the opposite is the case. It is true that more tornadoes are reported nowadays, but this does not mean that more are actually occurring, merely that many were not spotted in the past. As NOAA, the Federal agency which monitors the climate, states: ‘Tornado reports have increased, especially around the installation of the NEXRAD Doppler radar system in the mid 1990s. This doesn’t mean that actual tornado occurrence has gone up, however. The increase in tornado numbers is almost entirely in weak (EF0-EF1) events that are being reported far more often today due to a combination of better detection, greater media coverage, aggressive warning verification efforts, storm spotting, storm chasing, more developmental sprawl (damage targets), more people, and better documentation with cameras (including cell phones) than ever.’
NOAA advise that the best way to make long term comparisons is to look at the stronger tornadoes, EF-2 and over, which probably would have been recorded in the past anyway. (There are six categories of tornadoes, from EF-0, which are the weakest, to EF-5.)
When we do that, we see that the number of tornadoes has fallen sharply since the 1970s, when formal monitoring of tornadoes in the US began. Moreover the frequency of the strongest tornadoes, EF-3, 4 and 5, has declined even more sharply.
There has not been a single EF-5 since 2013, when the Moore tornado hit Oklahoma, which is the longest such period on record.
The BBC report also claims that tornadoes are ‘becoming more impactful’, because they are increasingly hitting the southeast, where more people live in mobile homes, which the reporter says ‘don’t stand a chance against a powerful twister’. It turns out that is not true either, as the southeast has always the worst affected region, and the death toll has changed little in the last 30 years, apart from the dreadful tornado season in 2011.
The headline ‘Are Tornadoes Getting Worse?’ is a bit of a leading question; most readers will think they must be. Ironically, this is a classic example of Betteridge’s Law, as the BBC once explained.
So is this latest report lazy or just cynical, BBC?
BBC leading question (2) Is climate change fuelling Canada’s wildfires?
FOLLOWING on from the previous item, the wildfires in Quebec have been making headlines recently, and inevitably the BBC ran a piece last week with a headline in the same vein, ‘Is climate change fuelling Canada’s wildfires?’ It concluded, without the slightest evidence, that it is.
If the BBC had bothered to do any research, they would have come to a different conclusion.
For a start, the official data from Canada’s National Forestry Database offers no evidence that wildfires have been getting worse since the 1990s:
Scientists have also found that wildfire acreage in Canada was much more extensive prior to the 20th century than in recent decades. Not only are wildfires a perfectly natural event, but the indigenous people there used fire as a land and resource management tool, just as they are also known to have done in Australia and the USA.
Wildfires declined rapidly with the introduction of organised fire suppression in the mid-20th century. This has led to the build-up of fuel loads – overgrown forests, dead trees, undergrowth etc – which inevitably make wildfires much worse.
The latest fires in Quebec have led to smoke and haze blowing down over New York and other parts of the US Northeast. Again, there is nothing unprecedented about any of this. A New York Times headline in June 1903 read ‘Smoke and dust make a pall: yellow haze the result of the long drought and many forest fires’. A 1912 publication by the US Dept of Agriculture, ‘Forest Fires’, lists many ‘Dark Days’ in the US and Canada, all the result of fire. One of the most memorable was in May 1780, which the New England Historical Society described as follows:
‘The New England Dark Day was the darkest day of the American Revolution – a day as dark as night, a day when a candle was needed to see anything outside at noon. On May 19, 1780, the sun came up as usual, but then the skies over New England darkened as far north as Portland, Maine, and as far south as New Jersey. The Dark Day inspired terror, panic and puzzlement. Men prayed and women wept. Thousands left off work and took to taverns and churches for solace. Children were sent home from school. Bewildered chickens went to their roosts, frightened cattle returned to their stalls, the night birds whistled and frogs peeped as they did at midnight.’
The citizens at the time were entitled to think it was a judgement by the Almighty! But scientists have since discovered that it was the result of a massive wildfire in Ontario.
They blamed it all on the sins of mankind in 1780, and we still do the same now.