Alarmist Ways Continue at New York Times

Damaging tornadoes? Yes. Overwrought headline? Absolutely.

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.

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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12 Responses to Alarmist Ways Continue at New York Times

  1. Anthony Watts says:

    Reblogged this on Watts Up With That? and commented:
    From Harold Ambler at Thinking About the Weather

  2. Reblogged this on contrary2belief and commented:
    Climate changes. Cool.

    Naturally, one could warm to that idea.

  3. Hans says:

    New York Times has a similar role in US as Dagens Nyheter has in Sweden.
    I get surprized every time I read a serious article about climate change written by a professional journalist. The “Daily News” is Sweden´s largest morning journal (liberal). It has a head “science” reporter named Karin Boys. She faithfully reports mainstream opinions (as found in Nature, Science etc) and is very important for building opinions in our country. I would call her a first class popagandist in the area of climate change when she adds her owns speculations, beliefs and scare inklings. When trying to inform her somje years ago about real climate change she didn´t respond until my third mail I and her answer was distinct and clear:
    “Stop spamming”.
    Her uncritical work as “science informer” has been rewarded by the the University of Stockholm which granted her a “doctorate of honour” for her unscientific work a few years ago. As a person who has worked hard to earn my doctorate title at the same university in the field of climatology I am just disgusted and feel close to womit.

    It is good to know that there still exists a common sense journalist such as Harold Ambler who knows what the task of investigating journalism includes.

  4. “Normal” does not sell newspapers. “Good” news does not sell newspapers. Dramatic headlines sell newspapers; always have, always will. Nothing remarkable here really, it is just what they do because we have all bought in to the need to be entertained and titillated 24×7.

  5. Mike Bromley the Canucklehead says:

    Pretty much says it in a nutshell. The increase in observations added to the agenda of the reporters to sensationalize the mundane (if tornado development could be considered such) makes for a sordid mix of fright and misinformation…as good a propaganda as Goebbels could imagine.

  6. Bloke down the pub says:

    One day they’ll find something else to wet their knickers over. Perhaps a good old alien invasion or the sun blowing up. Till then the msm will continue trying to scare the children and the non-sentient with cagw hyperbole.

  7. ozspeaksup says:

    It’s gotten to the point I now hear some weather event reported…
    and then
    I count down for 10 seconds before some fool manages to say climate change dun it:-)
    and yeah NYT never fails to disappoint:-)

  8. timg56 says:

    To add to Murry’s comment – these days the accounting and finance majors tend to have a bigger say than journalism majors.

    Still, one could wish that they required a modicum of science coursework in a journalism degree.

  9. LiesHurtMySanity says:

    Weather is by definition a cycle of change. So global climate change is *gasp! * normal.
    Alarmists annoy me and harm everyone.

  10. I have addressed the underlying process at work, in my view, at

    Strong and Growing Evidence of What?

  11. RayG says:

    Mr. Ambler, I regret to bring you the sad news that DSYC has failed to make the grade. Peter Gleick did not think that it was worth the effort to take time from his other pressing responsibilities to write a scathing review before your book even hit the streets. Oh the ignominy.

  12. John T says:

    As a kind of side note, I’d point out that part of the reason storm deaths have decreased since that 1908 tragedy is due to the extent of the warning systems and the advent of doppler radar to detect tornadoes as they’re forming and determine their paths. It takes a high-tech society with cheap, abundant, widespread and reliable energy to be able to accomplish such an amazing feat. That 1908 headline shows what the death tolls would be like if we cripple our capabilities.

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