The Category 6 hurricane: Al Gore misquoted according to his staff

Correction, 3:25 p.m. Friday: According to Ezra Klein, who interviewed Al Gore, he may have inaccurately transcribed Gore’s comments pertaining to hurricane categories. Gore’s staff said the former VP did not say: “The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6.” Rather, Gore (according to his staff’s transcript) told Klein : “The scientists are now adding category six to the hurricane….some are proposing we add category 6 to the hurricane scale that used to be 1-5.”

It would seem (assuming his staff has an accurate transcript) Gore at first misspoke and immediately corrected himself. Thus, I retract the balance of my criticism – although his characterization of the links between hurricanes and climate change could have been more precise.

Original post – headlined “The Category 6 hurricane: Al Gore’s science fiction” from August 22 at 1:11 p.m., Thursday

51NNJCGAA6LIn 2004, CBS aired a two-part sci-fi flick on a new class of end-of-the-world hurricanes, with the apt title “Category 6: Day of Destruction“.  (Watch the preview here).

If you believe former Vice President Al Gore, global warming is morphing science fiction into reality.  In his exclusive interview with the Post’s Ezra Klein published Wednesday, Gore says (bold text indicates my added emphasis):

The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.

But Gore’s statement about this new breed of hurricanes is patently false. There’s no new  hurricane category in the works.

Just to be sure, I contacted Chris Vaccaro, director of the National Weather Service’s office of public affairs, and asked him whether the National Hurricane Center is about to unveil the doomsday Category 6.  In less than 10 minutes, he fired back this response:

No, we’re not pursuing any such change.  I’m also not sure who VP Gore means by “they.” I’d also point out that the top rating, Category 5, has no ceiling: it includes hurricanes with top sustained winds of 157mph and higher

Generally, Gore’s characterization of the links between global warming and hurricane intensity is a bit fast and loose.

Whereas Gore tells Klein hurricanes are “stronger now” due to manmade warming, the freshly leaked United Nations climate assessment is much more equivocal.  Although the assessment says hurricane activity has become more intense in the Atlantic since 1970, there is “low confidence” of a human contribution.

Or to quote the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin:

According to the latest science, in most cases (outside of extreme heat waves) the connections between today’s extreme weather events and human-driven climate change range from weak (hurricanes) to nil (tornadoes) — and the dominant driver of losses in such events is fast-paced development or settlement in places with fundamental climatic or coastal vulnerability.

It’s unfortunate Gore doesn’t take more care in his climate science communication as there are legitimate reasons for concern (I presented 10 of them from the leaked UN report Tuesday). For the most part, his interview with Klein is a good read, and he makes some insightful points on climate policy.

But with his penchant for overstatement, Gore will continue to be a divisive and less than credible voice in climate change discourse.

“Global warming has sure as hell changed the rules,” says one of the characters in the Category 6 film.  Too true in the case of our former VP.

Post script, 10:15 p.m. update:  The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Gretchen Goldman weighs in on the Gore matter: Al Gore, Climate Science, and the Responsibility for Careful Communication and, at the opposite side of the spectrum, Anthony Watts comments: Al Gore makes a Category 6 level blunder.

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