I would say that The New York Times has jumped the shark, but you have to separate from the shark first in order to jump it. The Times has been grasping the shark in a death-embrace for years now, when it comes to both weather and climate journalism.
I can barely stand to report how bad it has gotten, but will do my best. Let’s start with the Times‘ headline: “Storm System Crushes Midwestern Towns.” This plays on the pervasive sense, for which the Times itself is largely responsible, that weather and climate have gone to Hell. What were headlines like for weather stories at the Times before the advent of “climate change”?
Here’s one: “TORNADO DEATH LOSS 350 IN EIGHT STATES.” The year was 1908. Today, which would normally be March 1 but this year happens to be February 29, tornadoes were spawned by early-spring storms cutting through the midwest. In Harrisburg, Illinois, the devastation was especially serious. During the course of the day, in various locales, nine people were killed by twisters. So, at the risk of sounding coldly objective, we had nine killed (each a tragedy), and the headline gives a sense of mind-bogglingly widespread damage. Like I said, and I need to insist upon it, violent weather that claims human life is inherently tragic, and inherently unimaginable. What it is not, however, is weird, or strange, or new. The midwest and American Plains spawn more tornadoes per year than the rest of the world combined. The area is a manufactory of tornadic super cell thunder heads. This has been true for thousands of years, at a minimum. Tornadoes sometimes cut through uninhabited country, and sometimes through neighborhoods. With increased population, the likelihood of the latter increases.
Don’t tell that to A. G. Sulzberger, the writer who typed the Times article on today’s events in states ranging from Kansas to Kentucky. Said he, with grim aplomb: “A powerful storm system tore through parts of the Midwest … marking the acceleration of another deadly tornado season.”
Well, yes, last year’s tornadoes killed more people than usual, and the twisters themselves were more numerous than usual. But that followed what is considered the greatest “tornado drought” in U.S. history, extending from 1999 to 2007, a period without a single F5 twister. Alarmists, including at the Times, had been warning of increased tornadoes since the late 1980s, but averaging out the last decade and a half or so, it appears to be business as usual in the America’s heartland. Which is to say very rough indeed. There’s a reason that tornado sirens were installed throughout the region decades ago, many years before anyone had ever heard the words “climate change.”
It’s not nice to scare people, including young people, with the unproven idea that the ocean-atmosphere system has changed in any kind of meaningful way. The global mean temperature is one to two degrees Celsius lower than 6,000 years ago, even after the recent mild warming about which the Times likes to get worked up. Is the Times intention to communicate that in 4012 B.C. tornadoes in the central portion of North America were worse than now, because of the higher global mean temperature? I’m asking a serious question here. Were the good old days truly golden, climatologically? I’m not sure they were.
In the meantime, for about a third the price of a single month of a digital subscription to the New York Times, you can buy a book about climate change that you’ll have for the rest of your life. Kindle version here.