Four hurricanes

Three fizzles.

Out of four named storms that are currently being tracked, only one – Florence – is actually making landfall, and it did so as a Category 2 rather than the Category 4 it had ramped up to a couple of days before.

Tropical Storm Gordon, of course, blew through here a week ago and dropped a lot of rain on us in the Midwest, which is why the “G” storm is missing from the list. Of the storms still running, Helene and Joyce are now downgraded to tropical storms, both heading away from North America (Helene toward Ireland, where its cone has it making landfall in five days, and Joyce likely to track more easterly tonight and dissipate within 3 days), and Issac is now a tropical depression in the Caribbean that’s expected to dissipate within three days.

There’s an area of convection in the northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico that’s been sitting there for several days doing nothing except pouring a bunch of rain, which it will continue to do as it moves onshore into Texas later today.

I will be the last person to claim the 2018 hurricane season seems like pretty much a bust, since the season runs through November and who knows what lies ahead, but all the panic over the last week about all these storms turning up at the same time seems to have been generally unwarranted.  Florence remains a dangerous storm, to be sure, but nothing like last year’s Irma so far as I can see.  Could things have been different?  Sure.  Weather is chaotic and very difficult to predict, which is why we’re lucky that the hurricane models we do have are actually as good as they are (regardless of the fact that there are always significant outliers that you can see in the “spaghetti plots”).

So once again, the climate crowd have all wet their panties over something that turned out not to be all that big of a deal.  Fact is, there are always going to be hurricanes.  The very nature of Atlantic hurricanes means that some of them will make landfall in the US, and some of those will be major storms.  But it has always been thus.  The fact that we moderns can now track every Atlantic storm from inception off the coast of Africa until landfall in the Western Hemisphere means only that we know about all of them in real time.

There were undoubtedly just as many hurricanes before modern meteorological methods and weather satellites; the difference was that humans didn’t know about the ones that never came near land.  And many storms that did make landfall were often more or less a surprise — the Galveston hurricane in 1900, for one, in which US Weather Bureau forecasters botched their prediction of the storm’s direction, thinking it would move east and go up the Atlantic coast.  (Cuban forecasters actually did a better job, insisting that the storm would continue west into the Gulf.)  Nobody in Galveston seemed to realize that what we’d call a Category 4 storm was bearing down on them, until it was too late; and an estimated 8,000-12,000 people died due to the winds and the storm surge, which was over 15 feet (the highest point in Galveston was only about 9 feet above sea level).  The Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest US hurricane in history.

The major question today is why in the hell humans continue to build homes and businesses on barrier islands and unprotected coastlines — and then expect the federal government to spend tons of money to rebuild for them after one of these big storms comes through.  The correct fix for this problem is, as Glenn Reynolds has suggested, to tax the blue zones.

If we’re seriously worried about flooding from higher sea levels, then we want to make sure that areas that will be flooded in the future won’t be developed now. We want to limit the investment in buildings that will be swamped, and we want to limit the number of people who’ll have to move. And we want to encourage people who live in those areas now to move away in the near future, before they’re flooded.

How do we do that? Well, we could do a lot of things: Limit construction in lower-lying coastal areas, ban rebuilding after hurricane damage, etc. But probably the favorite tool of politicians out to regulate behavior is to tax people for doing things the politicians don’t like. So that’s my proposal: Tax the blue zones. That is, put a large and steeply-increasing tax on property located in areas scientists say are likely to be flooded because of global warming.

But we all know that will never happen.