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Tropical cyclone frequency falls to centuries-low in Australia – but will the lull last?

The number of tropical cyclones hitting Queensland and Western Australia has fallen to low levels not seen for more than 500 years, new research published in Nature shows. But while that’s seemingly great…

Damaged boats smashed together at Port Hinchinbrook harbour, the day after category 5 tropical cyclone Yasi hit north Queensland. AAP/Dave Hunt

The number of tropical cyclones hitting Queensland and Western Australia has fallen to low levels not seen for more than 500 years, new research published in Nature shows.

But while that’s seemingly great news for people in cyclone-prone areas, our new research into Australia’s past cyclone records also highlights a serious risk.

Low-lying coastal areas such as Cairns, Townsville and Mackay in north Queensland have all been developed on the unproven assumption that the cyclone activity of the past 40 years will continue unchanged into the future.

The concern is that our new results closely matched several recent studies that have projected fewer – but increasingly intense – tropical cyclones for Australian region due to global climate change.

And if those projections prove to be right, we are taking a big gamble with existing homes, roads and offices, as well as threatening proposed developments such as the A$4.2 billion resort casino planned for low-lying coastal land near Cairns.

Cyclone Yasi hit north Queensland with devastating force in February 2011. NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

There is no such thing as a risk-free development, especially when building in cyclone-prone regions. However, being properly informed and cautious about developments in such regions is in all Australians' interests - because if we get it wrong, we all stand to pay through higher insurance premiums and largely taxpayer-funded disaster clean-ups.

Limestone cave time machines

Our study shows that current seasonal cyclone activity is at its lowest level in Western Australia since 500 AD and since about 1400 AD in Queensland. That decline began about 40 years ago.

While Australia’s official cyclone records only date back to 1906, we can track cyclones further back in time using measurements of isotopes housed within limestone cave stalagmites. Those stalagmites grow upwards from the cave floor as rainwater containing dissolved limestone drips from the cave ceiling.

Examining stalagmites in a cave in Cape Range, Western Australia. Jon Nott

A close up of a section of 2,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in Chillagoe, Queensland. Layers of calcium carbonate are laid down in the wet and dry season each year, and scientists can detect tropical cyclones in these layers from very depleted levels of oxygen-18. Jon Nott

The isotope chemistry of tropical cyclone rainwater differs from that of monsoonal and thunderstorm rainwater. As a consequence, it is possible to analyse the chemistry of each of the stalagmite layers, which are approximately 1/10th of a millimetre thick, and generate a record of cyclones over the past 1500 to 2000 years.

My colleague Jordahna Haig then matched the isotope records with the Bureau of Meteorology’s cyclone record over the past 40 years and generated a Cyclone Activity Index, which plots the seasonal activity of cyclones over the past 1500 years.

In the short term, the recent decline in tropical cyclone activity is good news for all those who live in and visit tropical north Queensland and Western Australia. However, there are some possible dark clouds on the horizon that we would be reckless to ignore.

Global trends

Several recent studies published in leading journals - including these papers involving the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - have all separately projected the frequency of tropical cyclones will decrease in the Australian region due to global climate change.

But while the number of cyclones is expected to decrease, the intensity of those cyclones that do occur is expected to increase.

Those previous studies have suggested we would see those changes occur towards the middle to the end of the 21st century. However, our new study suggests this decline in cyclone frequency is already occurring.

We cannot be sure that this current decrease in cyclone activity is due to climate change - but it is mirroring the forecasts.

Our results also confirm the conclusions of other studies into long-term cyclone behaviour, which show that the past 40 to 100 years of cyclone activity in Australia has been very low compared to times previous.

Planning based on a lull in the storm

The results of our study suggest that we may have a problem with coastal development in cyclone-prone regions, particularly in built-up parts of Queensland.

For many years, Western Australia had a more cautious approach on where coastal development was allowed, not allowing development any closer to the coast than where marine inundation occurs in a category 5 cyclone. However, this policy has now changed and is now more in line with Queensland coastal policy.

In northern Queensland, state and local government policies on minimum habitable floor levels for building within storm surge zones are only based on the history of cyclones over the last 40 years, and 100 years at best.

This period is unrepresentative of the natural variability of cyclones. So relying on this narrow window of time means that we are making risky assumptions about where it is safe to build homes, tourist resorts and vital public facilities such as hospitals.

The question can be asked as to why government policies do not base their minimum habitable floor levels on the studies of longer-term cyclone activity and a more comprehensive view of cyclone variability.

The reason probably lies in the different approaches used to derive these records.

The studies underpinning current planning policies are usually undertaken by practitioners who use only 40 years of actual cyclone records to generate long synthetic records, stretching out over thousands of years, up to 1.5 million years. The underlying assumption is that a short 40-year window of time is a true reflection of longer-term cyclone behaviour.

An alternative way to come up with a more conservative, long-term view of where cyclones could strike is by using geological or geochemical records, which register actual cyclone events.

Cyclone Yasi’s aftermath: the shredded asphalt of Bingil Bay Rd at Mission Beach in 2011. Flickr/Paul Toogood

Risky decisions

Our new research findings raise significant questions about how we plan for and develop cyclone-prone areas.

Consider these three scenarios.

The first - and luckiest - scenario would be for Australia to continue to have a low frequency of cyclones as we have in the past 40 years, with no increase in intensity when cyclones do hit. That’s the best possible scenario.

A second scenario - based on what we can see from our geological records - would be for this current calmer period to be simply a lull in the storm. If that’s the case, then we should be planning for a return to a higher, more historically “normal” number of tropical cyclones - meaning taking a more cautious, conservative approach in the way we develop tropical areas.

A third scenario - based on what we can see from our geological records, plus future projections that are in line with what we’ve seen in the past - would be that Australia may continue to see fewer tropical cyclones. However, when those cyclones do occur, they are more likely to be more intense, meaning greater risks to people and property. Again, this scenario would call for a more cautious, conservative approach in the way we develop tropical areas.

If either scenario two or three occurs, then many northern Australian coastal developments could be impacted by storm surge and inundations in the relatively near future.

Mission Beach in Queensland after Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Flickr/Michael Dawes

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Essentially, we are faced with a choice. Continue to hope and plan for the best, as if this current 40-year lull will continue. Or hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

It is also worth debating some of the ways in which state governments are ramping up coastal development, such as the Queensland government’s recent decision to remove a safeguard in state planning policy to consider future sea level rise (which could worsen storm surges in a cyclone).

The conservative approach that I believe is worth taking, based on our research and that of others, appears to be the opposite of what is now happening. So here’s hoping that Australia will continue to enjoy a relative lull in how often we have to face tropical cyclones.

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  1. Jim Inglis

    retired

    Thanks Jonathan. A very honest appraisal coming from someone at the coalface of cyclone activity.

    You only have to look at this washed away, worn down country to understand what incredible, extreme erosive forces there have been in the past and if our civilisation experienced even a fraction of that energy we would be in a lot of trouble.

    This seems to be a world wide phenomenon. Is Gaia looking after us or will it catch up soon?

    It's possible that a slightly warming world has some big advantages, after all.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Jim, I can't see how you draw the conclusion a warming world has any advantages from this article.

      While there's no conclusive evidence as to why we are in a 40-year frequency lull for cyclones, that would not be inconsistent with aspects of recorded climate change (David Arthur's longish post below addresses this question). Either way, it makes little difference to the very probable impacts of climate change on cyclone intensity.

      What it amounts to, surely, is that frquency is at a long-term…

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    2. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      I think it amounts to cherry picking when people focus only on the frequency of cyclones and ignore the evidence on intensity.

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    3. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Jim, I can't see how you draw the conclusion a warming world has any advantages from this article.

      You mean, Felix, admitting what's really happening and what this article supports isn't a rational conclusion?

      Many studies by hurricane researchers say exactly that and have been for decades.

      Here's one from a few days ago:

      http://www.gm.univ-montp2.fr/spip/IMG/pdf/Sabatier_QSRv2-3-1.pdf

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      How can you 'admit what's really going on' when nobody has ever been lying about it? Unless you want to advance some solid evidence, I'd request that you stop slandering scientists, even by implication.

      What is really happening is precisely what the article suggests and interpreting that as good news is insane.

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    5. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      This is from the 2007 IPCC report. More intense cyclones, weaker model evidence for less frequent.

      "Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones."

      http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

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    6. Peter Banks

      retired Civil Engineer

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Four bald, mostly unconnected statements, which are trying to interpret the article in a way sympathetic to your known denial of global warming beliefs.

      Jim, the article is, as you say, "A very honest appraisal coming from someone at the coalface of cyclone activity." If you really accept that it would be a remarkable volte face as Prof Nott is effectively saying that we should allow for the predicted effects of global warming in town planning.

      Jim, you seem to imagine that the washing away…

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    7. In reply to Jim Inglis

      Comment removed by moderator.

    8. In reply to Mike Hansen

      Comment removed by moderator.

    9. In reply to Jim Inglis

      Comment removed by moderator.

    10. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      I've reopened comments on this article as I feel it's one worth discussing. I expect things to improve if they're to stay open.

      Based on the article, conversation to be (loosely) based around:

      a) cyclones will be less frequent but more severe (as the article says), what are the issues around that and how can Australia manage it
      b) cyclones will be less frequent but *not* more severe, and here's some peer-reviewed research to back that up
      c) the article is completely wrong and here's some peer-reviewed research to back that up

      Keep it in the science.

      Finally, I'd like links to context-less graphs hosted on sites that can't be verified or interrogated to stop. The quality of these discussion, as with our articles, rest on the ability to interrogate the science behind the conclusions. Keep things as first hand as possible.

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    11. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Peter Banks

      "Jim, you seem to imagine that the washing away of this worn down country occurred over a relatively short time"

      Where did I mention a time period, Peter?

      If you paid attention in Geology class you'll know there are more catastrophic weather events in the past than we have ever experienced in our short history in this country.

      The world wide phenomenon is what this article is about:

      Reduced ACE [accumulated cyclone energy].

      And how is it unconnected when the author says that even…

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    12. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      @Inglis is one confused climate science denier.

      Here is what the article states
      "The concern is that our new **results closely matched** several recent studies that have projected **fewer** – but **increasingly intense** – tropical cyclones for Australian region due to global climate change."

      Inglis first comment praised the article.

      A few hours later he changed his mind stating "the author says that even though studies predict that we will see fewer but more intense cyclones, the last…

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    13. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      I suggest that you as usual are the confused one.

      The author is saying that computer predictions of scenarios of more intense cyclones don't bear out the historical fact of fewer, less intense, cyclones.

      My link shows that accumulated cyclone energy world wide is falling.

      Your link shows that when anthropogenic warming cannot be separated from natural variation, ACCI is a nonsense.

      The fact is also that habitable floor levels have been increased in height over the years to take storm surge into account.

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    14. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory,

      You deleted my comment with this link:

      http://jonova.s3.amazonaws.com/graphs/maps/australia-map-heat-waves.gif

      showing some of the old historic temperatures that the BoM has now removed from the record and homogenised.

      These are the best data we have for that period and while they may not be exact, they are far better than proxies that are used to replace them.

      Now you remove them too.

      Is this because they defy the AGW argument or just because they are not "scientific" enough?

      It looks like book burning to me.

      Please explain.

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    15. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Once again you show your inability to understand simple facts.

      That graph clearly shows that while more intense cyclones are increasing very slightly, the NET energy of ALL cyclones, or ACE, is reducing considerably more.

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    16. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      That post was deleted because it seem off-topic and didn't add anything constructive to the thread re: Hobart's past weather, the impact cyclones have on it and how that's changed.

      I assume that graphic was made by Jo Nova for a particular post and not released without context or argument. A link to that post so people can read her analysis/justification/ect. would be better data 'for that period' than a context-less image.

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    17. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory, I should have added that it was in response to John's comment below re temperatures in Hobart never reaching 40c in the past.

      I was suggesting that if those mainland temps can be removed, why can't Hobart's?

      Very much in context.

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    18. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      @Inglis continues to smear the BOM.

      His claim that the BOM has removed temperatures from the record is a lie.

      The BOM has created the ACORN-SAT temperature series to allow consistent comparison over time. With over a century of temperature measurement, it is inevitable that monitoring stations change location, stations that were once in the country become urbanised, the time of observations change, measuring techniques change. The homogenisation techniques used are extensively documented and…

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    19. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      @Inglis

      " the last 40 years are showing fewer and LESS intense cyclones."
      https://theconversation.com/tropical-cyclone-frequency-falls-to-centuries-low-in-australia-but-will-the-lull-last-20814#comment_299179

      When pointed out to him that his graph did not support that claim, Inglis who would struggle to lie straight in bed pretends he never claimed that.

      "That graph clearly shows that while more intense cyclones are increasing very slightly..."

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    20. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "I was suggesting that if those mainland temps can be removed, why can't Hobart's?"

      More lies and smears from @Inglis unsupported by a shred of evidence.

      The unadjusted data for Hobart can be obtained from here.
      http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/data/index.shtml

      The data for the Hobart (Ellerslie Road) station goes back to 1882 although the BOM cautions against its use for analysis because prior to 1910, the readings were taken in non standard shelters.

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    21. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory, following MH's unremoved, rantings below, can you now see the context?

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    22. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "you show your inability to understand"

      Once again Inglis is the master of irony.

      Since when does "frequency" mean the same as "accumulated energy"?

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    23. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Thanks for that link.

      It provides that "shred of evidence" you claim is lacking and validates exactly what I was claiming.

      It shows that 40c was exceeded a few times in their very limited records of the 19thc in Hobart, towards the end of the century when Stevenson screens were very likely in use:

      Hobart Ellerslie Rd 94029

      1897 40.6c 9 Jan
      1899 40.1c 12 Feb
      1900 40.6c 1 Jan

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    24. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mark Pollock

      I see you've decided to switch to vaudeville, Mark. To raise a pseudo scandal that has been repeatedly disproven by numerous professional, disinterested investigations merely demostrated your refusal to deal with evidence.

      Please at least waste our time with some novel nonsense.

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    25. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "showing some of the old historic temperatures"

      But that was during the Little Ice Age. How could records have been higher during the Little Ice Age? Unless you're denying the Little Ice Age and global warming.

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    26. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      "Since when does "frequency" mean the same as "accumulated energy"?"

      Still struggling I see.

      Perhaps when you are trying to assess the NET ACE, from cyclones of every level of energy, you have to be able to quantify them awa count them.

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    27. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "Still struggling I see."

      Still a master of irony.

      Not my fault if your cite uses the word "frequency". If you want to make assertions about ACE then provide citations to ACE. Or is that too much to ask?

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    28. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      So @Inglis now concedes that his claim about the BOM removing temperature data was a lie.

      No apologies to the BOM for his smear.

      He then proceeds to claim that the Stevenson screen was in use at the Hobart (Ellerslie Road) station in the 1800s again without any evidence.

      Climate science denial - the freedom to live in an alternate reality where facts are what you want them to be.

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    29. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Read what I said. SSs were in use from the 1880s so a capital city as progressive as Hobart was, VERY LIKELY had them by 1897.

      But that doesn't alter the fact that pre 1910 is no longer part of the "warming" data.

      It's too inconvenient and spoils the narrative.

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    30. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Not my fault if I can't understand.

      That's OK.

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    31. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "It's too inconvenient and spoils the narrative."

      Many posters have presented arguments to the alternative but the discussion never seems to evolve beyond "hiding data" and "no, here's the reason".

      I believe this repetition is officially in violation of two of our community guidelines linked below. Any comments that don't forward the conversation will be deleted. Any comments about BOM data that aren't directly and explicitly related to the article will be deleted.

      There are thousands of places on the internet for stagnated debate. The Conversation isn't one of them.

      "But for the sake of robust debate, we will distinguish between constructive, focused argument and smear tactics."

      "We know some conversations can be wide-ranging, but if you post something unrelated to the original topic ("off-topic") then it may be removed to keep the thread on track."

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    32. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      It is your fault if you can understand.

      Obviously it's too much to expect citations to back up your assertions.

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    33. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Never mind. You just don' geddit.

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    34. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory, can we be specific.

      John Newlands said: " It means that Hobart gets 40C every summer which I understand never used to happen."

      So I said in my reply: "John, when the mainland commonly got these high temps in the past from those weather patterns, you can bet Tas reached 40."

      And linked to those high temps:

      http://jonova.s3.amazonaws.com/graphs/maps/australia-map-heat-waves.gif

      And it's TRUE. Hobart did achieve those temps in the 19th c.

      As per my later comment after discovering 3 examples from Mike Hansen's link.

      Now, please explain how that statement and that link is not following on and as relevant as any of the posts here.

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    35. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Judging that post purely on its own merits:

      The link provided makes no mention of Hobart's weather. You said "when the mainland commonly got these high temps in the past from those weather patterns, you can bet Tas reached 40." with no evidence that it did. Mike's *later* post with examples has no bearing on that.

      If you'd like to put it all together (new evidence via Mike included) and present a case for 'Hobart getting 40+ temperatures independent of cyclones' and argue it scientifically, you're more than welcome.

      I still have issues with the image (as explained above).

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    36. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Cory, What you aren't understanding is that Tasmania only gets heatwaves when the Northerlies arrive from a hot Australia.

      So that when Australia's southern areas are having a heatwave, it is the only time Tasmania can be too.

      It can't happen unless the mainland is hot.

      I simply showed that the mainland also got hot in the 19th c.

      That's all I had to do.

      The fact that Mike Hansen's link confirmed it, has nothing to do with my reply to John Newlands.

      It just happened to support it when Mike thought it would have refuted it.

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    37. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      My link shows you are an outrageous liar who has spent the last few weeks here smearing the BOM.

      It is your claims of a BOM conspiracy which are refuted. When shown that your claims are a total nonsense you refuse to concede the lie and simply move on to more.

      It is a disgrace that you are allowed to use this site to slander scientists.

      This claim for example ""I was suggesting that if those mainland temps can be removed, why can't Hobart's?"

      You are now using the data for a Hobart station that you suggested the BOM had "removed".

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    38. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      What I accused the BoM of was removing these historic data from their official list.

      How am I lying when this is exactly what they have done?

      How is it that you are allowed to lie, misrepresent and insult people on this sire with no correction or removal of comment when If I even post evidence from an unflavoured website I am deleted?

      It reflects poorly on the impartiality of the moderators here.

      Cory, please note.

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    39. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      @Inglis who has been smearing the BOM here for weeks essentially concedes that his accusations are baseless by retrospectively changing his accusation to the nonsense claim of "removing these historic data from their **official** list".

      The data is here. Only someone completely clueless about climate science could miss it or someone who only ever reads the conspiracy theories at climate crank blogs.
      http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/data/index.shtml

      Caught in a lie, Inglis adds another.

      With nowhere left to go, he now pleads for mercy from the moderators.

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    40. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Why don't you stop telling outright lies and give us all a break.

      But telling lies is one thing.

      Your farcical carrying on when you are so obviously full of bias, bigotry and bile towards anyone with a contrary opinion is sheer hysteria.

      I am doing what I have continued to do with the BoM and that is to criticize them for removing those pre-1910 data.

      And how is asking the moderators to take note of their acceptance of your puerile behaviour and check it against their standards, another lie?

      Or pleading for mercy?

      You really are a fabricator.

      Just because they have left them on their website doesn't exonerate them.

      They have discarded them from all consideration and calculation for climate change.

      Where have I ever said different?

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    41. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      You wouldn't have a clue CON.

      Like Hansen and his BoM link.

      I found only three places in the whole of Australia on that site that go back before 1910 with daily temperature data:

      Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart.

      Cloncurry goes all the way back to...wait for it...1978!

      So much for BoM releasing historical data on our old records.

      You make a great trio.

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    42. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike Hansen

      There appears to have been a problem with getting data from BOM for the last couple of months. I have been trying to download data for a long time and keep getting an apology saying the site is giving problems and they are trying to sort it as soon as possible. I don't know if that is a continuous problem for the present or whether it is just for the data I am looking for.
      John Nicol

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    43. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "You wouldn't have a clue"

      The irony.

      You keep lying about no warming in X,Y, or Z years when at best you cherry-pick a data set that only says there is a 50% chance of no warming over those years.

      You make the lying assertion of no warming and yet you have the hide to say put up or shutup.

      Your hypocrisy is utterly astounding.

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    44. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      "cherry-pick a data set"

      What a stupid remark!

      There's no data left to "cherry pick".

      That's the point.

      As per that link from Hansen, it's nearly all been wiped.

      Did you possibly do anything worthwhile like check it out?

      And you pair think that is 'science".

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    45. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      The above comment marked as personal abuse.

      Your cherry-pick that you conveniently ignore above but you keep going on about ad nauseam elsewhere is to pick RSS from a cherry-picked date starting within 1996 and then claim that its trend proves there is no global warming. This is just a lie. It's the same as proving the null hypothesis. Please stop the lies.

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    46. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      To think you've got the audacity to complain about abuse when it is all you ever do.

      What a pathetic hypocrite.

      Plus you deny that our historical records that are being wiped from memory don't feed into your alarmist philosophy of catastrophic warming.

      Plus you deny that starting from today and going back as far as possible with a measuring system that avoids UHIE, and showing 17.3 years of no warming is not "cherry picking".

      You are not only telling lies, your mental faculties are questionable as well.

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    47. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      And I suppose Cloncurry didn't exist prior to the airport.

      What a dismal dissembler you are.

      After claiming all those historic records were intact on that site, it turns out that only 3 locations go back beyond 1910.

      Bourke goes all the way back to...wait for it...1998!

      What a data bank!

      And what a liar you are.

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    48. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Abuse is one thing. Pointing out a lie is another.

      "17.3 years of no warming"

      You have not proven this null hypothesis. No-one has ever proven a null hypothesis. Stop telling the lie that you have.

      By the way, I haven't noticed any evidence that you even know what a null hypothesis is.

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    49. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "I suppose Cloncurry didn't exist prior to the airport."

      Another pathetic strawman argument.

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    50. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      And what NH would that be CON?

      There is no GW?

      There is no AGW?

      There is no CGW?

      There is no CAGW?

      The fact that there has been no warming from a system that excludes UHIE for the last 17.3 years is pretty galling, hey?

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    51. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Our intrepid conspiracy hunter @inglis says "Bourke goes all the way back to...wait for it...1998!"

      Hilarious.

      The Bourke Post Office station (048013) opened in 1871 and closed on the 15 August 1996.

      The Bourke Airport station (048239) opened in 1994 and closed in July 2009.

      The current station, Bourke Airport AWS (048245) opened in 1998.

      The data for the closed stations remains available. All this information is available on the BOM's data site.

      All you have to do to find it is to take off the tinfoil hat.

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    52. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      "The data for the closed stations remains available."

      And how far back did it go?

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    53. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "The fact that there has been no warming"

      It's not a fact. It's a null hypothesis. Stop lying that it's a fact.

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    54. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      The measurement does not show no warming. The measurement has noise which obscures the warming signal.

      "But if it was warming it would be a fact?"

      Spare us the red herrings.

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  2. John Newlands

    tree changer

    I've wondered if there is a cyclone connection to the heat bands that cross south eastern Australia. It means that Hobart gets 40C every summer which I understand never used to happen. The heat band starts in the Pilbara and extends south to Adelaide.. Then a cyclone off WA seems to push that heat band eastwards. The cyclone fizzles out but in the southern cities where the population live there are fires, blackouts and health emergencies. When the band passes the temperature drops up to 20C. Good news for those who coped.

    The phenomenon seems to be associated with short lived and mostly unnamed cyclones off WA. If the last culprit had a name I can't recall it. In dollar terms the heat band does more damage than the immediate landfall of the cyclone.

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  3. Victor Jones

    Freelance

    I guess if there is a positive to come out of more destructive cyclones is that those who contributed to global warming the most, the rich, will be hit hardest in first world coastal areas.

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    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Victor Jones

      Well, alongside Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, and impoverished Caribbean residents.

      I don't think there's too much retributive justice going to come out of this.

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    2. Victor Jones

      Freelance

      In reply to David Arthur

      I know. I just tell myself these things to try to suppress my anger over humankind's laziness and greed.

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    3. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to David Arthur

      David, how is lack of cyclones, hurricanes etc. bad for those people?

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    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Thanks for the question Mr Inglis, I'm glad you asked.

      My remark about cyclonic events affecting impoverished regions was premised by the impicit assumption in Mr Jones's "if there is a positive to come out of more destructive cyclones" that there will be at least some more destructive cyclones.

      This, incidentally, is entirely plausible; se my reply to Alice Kelly's response to a comment of mine elsewhere on this page.

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  4. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " Tropical cyclone frequency falls to centuries-low in Australia – but will the lull last? "
    Just how much of a lull there will be does not change that the fact that longer term records and research will always show just how cyclical the climate can be and how any climate change research needs to account for that.
    As for damage to all manner of structures and agriculture, that will likely always increase consistent with population/development increasing.
    Bitumen on roads such as the Bingil Bay Road at Mission Beach can be shredded just by flood waters which will also have the capacity to do immense structural and agricultural damage just as droughts will also do for the latter.
    The love affair with the coast and more marina developments will also likely see more damage to those areas.
    Rather than all Australians paying heftier insurance premiums and taxes going towards clean-ups, there should be premiums developed for riskier environments just as there is for activities.

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  5. Will Hunt

    Farmer

    'The first - and luckiest - scenario would be for Australia to continue to have a low frequency of cyclones as we have in the past 40 years, with no increase in intensity when cyclones do hit. That’s the best possible scenario."
    From the point of view of people living off the coastal fringes, and even those living in the south who rely on the tail end of cyclones for their summer rainfall, I fail to see how this is either 'best' or 'luckiest'. For those of us living inland and relying on the rain depressions that cyclones bring, its a bit of a bugger.

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  6. Max Beran

    Retired hydrologist

    I had understood that a purpose of "The Conversation" is to provide an academics balanced assessment of a current issue to the media and the public. So I am surprised that there is no mention of the more quantitative approaches to making decisions. Engineering projects and flood defence policies are normally informed by established decision making techniques in which the assessed probabilities of damaging events and their costs are balanced against the benefits of development. You might still advocate overriding these with your "conservative" approach but you would at least be doing so in the light of an objective assessment.Either way, they ought to get a mention in such an article.

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Max Beran

      "to provide an academics balanced assessment of a current issue to the media and the public"

      Well you are mistaken, if an author merely ticks all the boxes they will give them a platform to say almost anything

      The only criteria is that they have a University Email address and have undertaken some sort of study in an area that might be relevent to the topic - if they meet that criteria they will publish anything

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    2. Hugh McColl

      Geographer

      In reply to Max Beran

      Max, I suspect the reason "quantitative" assessments are not connected to the actual statements of government is that government never wants to be so hamstrung. For example, the quantitative assessment of the impact of climate change on sea levels is that there is likely to be a half metre rise in sea levels this century. This would suggest that no government should allow any on-coast development (except perhaps, ports) in cyclone prone areas in Queensland. But the Q. government has, over the…

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Max Beran

      Max, I think that criticism is unfair. Any article has to have limits and must reflect the expertise and/or recent research of the writer. No article could possibly cover every facet of a complex issue like this.

      For example, he also fails to consider engineering/architectural questions of building cyclone resistant infrastructure. Nor does he consider the oceanographic/biological and related issues of things like mangroves, which can help to reduce damage.

      What this article does provide is some new and very interesting information which can and should be input to the total risk-management process.

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    4. Max Beran

      Retired hydrologist

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      What you say about other aspects is quite correct but the article purported to give guidance on a fairly specific matter which was what should be taken into consideration in planning decisions. Costs and benefits certainlly figure large in such policy areas so a reader would be partially informed if the only focus was on the putative future damage stream.

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    5. Max Beran

      Retired hydrologist

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Well, I'm sure I read something along those lines when I first signed up.

      But you are right, and would add that a goodly dose of the bien pensants never comes amiss here.

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    6. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Max Beran

      Look, I'm sort of with you, that an editors job should involve sorting through the nonsense, not just allowing anyone to say anything but it is what it is

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    7. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Max Beran

      No, Max, it never claimed to cover EVERYHTING that should be taken into consideration - it raised a new piece of data as an ELEMENT that should be taken into consideration, as indeed it should - particularly because, as the article points out, most previous cost/benefit analyses were done on the basis of what may in fact be abberant data.

      This was crystal clear throughout the article.

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    8. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Max Beran

      Max Beran

      I agree and have commented elsewhere here on the need for numbers and the odd graph for the material suggested in this article to come to life.

      There are many things which are done in a community, city, state, nation etc, where there are known risks and one generally has a very approximate understanding of the magnitude. and those of the likely benefit which lead people to take a gamble.

      Those living in cyclone areas as I have done for more than thirty years, know what the risks are but make the decision that these are out weighed by the benefit of circumstance and without any expectation that the government will help you up if a cyclone or other natural disaster does hit. Being in these areas does not provide any concern except perhaps when a cyclone is very close, and even then no one gets really concerned and just waits to see what happens. Life goes on and people pick up the pieces as necessary.
      John Nicol

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    9. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Hugh McColl

      Hugh McColl

      It would be interesting to know how many of the buildings you cite as being in flood prone areas in Townsville, would still be left standing in 100 years time when the sea rises as suggested, even in the case where no such rise took place as seems increasingly likely. I don't think many people want tpo plan on speculation of what might happen even in twenty years time. Things will change, circumstances will be different from `now. One of those new circumstances just might be that…

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    10. Max Beran

      Retired hydrologist

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      I sense the prick of the goad stick from Felix and trust he's not going to push this along the same path as the "debate" about poor old Tasmania temperature data.

      The Conversation sets out to be expert speaking unto layman in language the layman can understand. Here we have a case where the writer is spelling out a counterintuitive message - the hazard appears to have reduced but the response to the hazard ought to remain as it was or even intensify. I do not think the lay reader is well served by a focus purely on one side. Felix thinks he is so let's just agree to differ.

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  7. Chris O'Neill

    Retired Way Before 70

    "we are making risky assumptions about where it is safe to build homes, tourist resorts and vital public facilities such as hospitals"

    e.g. Cairns hospital. What a massive mistake that was.

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  8. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Thanks for this article, Prof Nott.

    I understand cyclonic storms are initiated when heat is transferred from very warm sea and ocean surface waters to the atmosphere. If this is so, then the cyclone season will be in the late summer and autumnal months, when atmosphere is starting to cool once more after the summer maximum and sea surface temperatures are at their highest.

    Further from this, we might suppose that early season cyclones will be of relatively low intensity, when there might still…

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    1. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to David Arthur

      David, during elnino events rain moves in an easterly direction away from the Qld coast. We get more cyclones during La Nina conditions, also a longer phase, the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation also impacts their formation and has been in a 'positive' phase since the 1970's limiting rainfall during La Nina events. A brief description is on page 2.
      http://www.csiro.au/en/Outcomes/Environment/Australian-Landscapes/Tropical-cyclones/Frequently-Asked-Questions-FAQs.aspx
      Hurricanes form more when the Sahara stops blowing dust into the Atlantic. This interests (me) also
      http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2719.htm

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Thanks Ms Kelly. This is more or less as might be expected if my initial remarks have any plausibility.

      Perhaps a Cyclone Propensity Index could be devised, based on propensity for heat and mass transfer from ocean surface to atmosphere in cyclone-forming regions such as the Coral Sea.

      The unprecedentedly rapid rise in lower troposphere temperatures over the last 40 years should result in low values for such a Cyclone Propensity Index, but for ENSO. During El Niño events, waters off Eastern…

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  9. Tony Simons

    Director at Bedlam Bay Pty Ltd

    Excellent piece. We should look at the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines where 10 million people were affected including the devastating storm surge. Australia has been lucky that storm surges have not occurred in living memory. If a cyclone hits at high tide a storm surge will occur. Also with rising sea levels all new building should be well set back. Cairns is a sitting duck with emergency services exposed. Campbell Newman as former Lord Mayor was never held to account for the flooding of police HQ and new office buildings and apartments in Brisbane.

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    1. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Tony Simons

      "Australia has been lucky that storm surges have not occurred in living memory."

      Short memory or short life?

      Our last storm surge was with ex TC Oswald, a year ago.

      Moreton Bay's biggest S/S was in the 1930s.

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    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      Jim, really? odd dates have nothing to do with the discussion, nor have long or short lives. What is normally missed in all your opinions are bodies of evidence and trends. chucking supposed grenades into every conversation and using non peer reviewed science to do it just means despite your age you've learned little about how to construct a scientific argument. Do you think any science essay would pass any test in an Australian University today using JoNova as a reference? The answer is no, for a reason. I personally have asked for a new report option...spurious sources.

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    3. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Denying the inconvenient facts again, I see, Alice.

      When you have a sea surge that is washing you away, Alice sez, "this is not happening until I see a peer reviewed paper on it".

      Peer/pal review is not necessarily the real world, you may come to believe in time.

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    4. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Jim Inglis

      "Denying inconvenient facts"

      What facts?

      You rarely provide references for you "facts" and when you do they are links to climate crank blogs.

      Of course you hate the peer reviewed science literature. It excludes cranks.

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    5. Jim Inglis

      retired

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Do you deny that we have had storm surges too?

      Or do you need peer review to confirm what happens with every cyclone that occurs at high tide?

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  10. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Alice Kelly

      Comment removed by moderator.

    2. In reply to Alice Kelly

      Comment removed by moderator.

  11. Steve Gleeson

    Project Manager

    How much more of a nanny state do we need? I live in Cairns and have done so for the last 37 years. Cyclones cause very little loss of life in Australia due to the already strict building and planning regulations. The issue with cyclones is primarily a cost and inconvenience issue that Insurance companies are happy to exploit. Although very dramatic there was not a great deal of damage to all those boats shown piled up in the photo. Only a few had severe damage or sank. Neither was there much damage…

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    1. Hugh McColl

      Geographer

      In reply to Steve Gleeson

      It's a bit rich to state that there was little real damage at Keith William's Port Hinchinbrook near Cardwell (boats piled up) when the reality is that through atrocious planning and organisation that place is now almost uninhabitable. You must know that residents there are desperate for local or state government assistance because the pathetic (now broke) organisation that ran the joint was not properly insured, had cut corners to the bone and like so many other get-rich-quick schemes, expected…

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    2. Steve Gleeson

      Project Manager

      In reply to Hugh McColl

      Not rich at all to say that. The damage was to old infrastructure and in Port Hinchinbrooks case to marine infrastructure for those who chose to live in that very expensive area.

      What is a bit rich is to say loss of life is no longer the main issue and the dollars take precedent.

      Contrary to what you said, there has been a direct hit on Cairns since Althea albeit a cat 1 cyclone. I was on my roof clearing debris when the eye passed through. Why did Townsville receive the millions after Yasi…

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Steve Gleeson

      Steve, can you give me the name of your insurance company? I'd like to avoid helping to fund your foolishness.

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    4. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Steve Gleeson

      Stave Gleeson

      Well said. We lived in Townsville for about 30 years from 1966 so have seen a few cyclones go by including Althea. Rather than the older houses being damaged, most of the problems were with mid century buildings from just after the war when shortcuts were inevitable.

      The older houses were mostlyt buil;t to withstand a severe blow with appropriate steel bindings between the floor and the top plates, with connections also to all of the stumps which were well in the ground. Our…

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  12. Geoffrey Sherrington

    Surveyor

    The reality is that modelling of cyclone frequency and severity is in its naïve infancy. It is a subset of larger climate models that are evaluated from time to time by processes abbreviated CMIP, with #5 being the latest.
    The average of the CMIP models (such an average being questionable methodology in any case) has been systematically in disagreement with observations as the years have rolled on and reality has been compared with prediction. There is no way that modelling is sufficiently mature…

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Geoffrey Sherrington

      Exactly Geoff Sherrington.

      As I said before, the IPCC Report AR5 2013, Chapter 9, admits that none, NOT ONE, of their 120 models has yet been able to reproduce a known climate for any of the past years. There is thus NO experimental test which can verify their models on any climate parameter. The most sought after feature, the global temperature, has also eluded them over the last 16 years.

      Why should we think that predictions regarding the increased severity of cyclones will be any where near correct?
      John Nicol.

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  13. Comment removed by moderator.

  14. trevor prowse

    retired farmer

    To Jonathan Nott-----the caves in the south west of Western Australia (Yallingup) have had the water levels going down over the last 40 years. Some scientist think that the planting of pines and blue gums is fairly certain to cause the lower water levels in this cave. The drop of 10-15% of rainfall has also contributed to the lower levels. If the lower flow of water through the roof of the cave picks up less limestone, then would it make the predictions made from the build --up a poor indicator of rainfall

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    1. Eddy Schmid

      Retired

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Your dead right Trevor. There is another issue at play here as well with the W.A. situation. The Southwest of W.A. is blessed with many creeks and some rivers that "USED" to flow all year round.
      Over a hundred years ago, the W.A. Government bent over back wards in their efforts to establish the state introduced a scheme where migrants from the U.K. were encouraged to come to W.A. and develop a dairying industry. After much tribulation, it was successful and sustained and assisted in opening up the…

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    2. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor Prowse

      One might suggest that provided no one was planting pine trees above the caves between 300 and 200 years ago, the information in the stalgmites may be fairly reliable.
      John Nicol

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  15. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    This newspaper article shows the power the real estate industry has over councils.

    In this case, 196 homes were approved to be built on a flood plain.

    http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/council-approves-196-homes-for-flood-plain/1739349/

    While cyclones may not affect areas in southern QLD or northern NSW, they can develop into rain depressions that move inland, and also move parallel to the coast, bringing flooding to southern areas.

    With a projected doubling of our population within 50 years as a part of ponzi demography, there will be increasing pressure to build in unsuitable areas.

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    1. Eddy Schmid

      Retired

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I don't believe that's a real issue Dale. In the days gone by, house were built in such areas that CONSIDERED the environment, thus they were built on stilts, and when flooding occurred, there was minimal disruption to homes and life.
      Sadly, today the opinion is we know better, and do not have to consider nature at all, WE ARE THE MASTERS, and arrogantly build accordingly, then when nature turns around and smacks us all under the ear, we whine and complain.
      Who are the mugs in this ????

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Eddy Schmid

      High blocked houses would be best, but flood plains are also important for the health of estuary systems, and should be left uncleared and in their natural state.

      Where I am, there will be a small cyclone cross the coast in a few hours.

      Currently there are gusty winds with tree branches breaking and all the backpackers think it exciting (and are having cyclone parties), although the worry is not the winds but the flooding.

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    3. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Interesting that we have had fewer Cyclones in the last 40 years.
      About 45 years ago our Council began spraying herbicide beside
      the road which runs along our beach front. Before then, the tangle of grasses,shrubs and trees which grew on the beach head was persistent regardless of the amount of punishment delivered to it by those of us who launched boats, or otherwise used the beach.
      Shortly after the herbicide came the regular mowing. Then posts to
      "Protect the beach head from erosion".Now…

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      I thought today completely surreal.

      The radio was blaring out emergency alerts, cyclone warnings, storm surge warnings and flood warnings, and then there were forced evacuations of people from some grey and purple zones.

      But while this was going on, the real estate industry was simultaneously running ads on the radio and in newspapers to sell more real estate.

      The ponzi demography industry (of which the real estate industry is a part of) has Australia totally in its grip, and overrides anything else that may be occurring in the country.

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  16. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    This is an interesting article and one which should be looked at in a more quantitative way. The possibility of cyclones being more intense, but there being fewer of them, may not lead to any more serious damage than when there were more cyclones which were generally less intense.

    However, it seems unlikely that the increase in temperature will mean that cyclones develop into higher categories - say 6 when the maximum rating given at present is 5. Thus what constitutes reasonable caution based…

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  17. Brian Westlake

    Common Sage

    It is interesting that these same stalagmites that tell us of past cyclones can also tell us of past climate. For example, studies conducted on stalagmites in cave in New Zealand reveal a warm period that corresponds with the period known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This evidence strongly suggests that the MWP was a global event and was due to (currently unexplained) natural variations.

    http://www.co2science.org/articles/V11/N53/C2.php

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    1. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Brian Westlake

      "the MWP was a global event and was due to (currently unexplained) natural variations"

      There is an explanation for the MWP. Astronomical forcing.

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  18. Des Stackpole

    Post hole Digger

    I've been trying to get at the Nature article, but can't open it. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime I am curious if the authors could post a sentence or two for these:

    i. In what way, and why, is the isotope chemistry of tropical cyclone rainwater different from that of monsoonal and thunderstorm rainwater?

    ii. What period is typically represented by each 0.1 mm segment of stalagmite?

    iii. How did you line up the stalagmite dates with the existing cyclone records?

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    1. Des Stackpole

      Post hole Digger

      In reply to Des Stackpole

      I think I got it now, I've googled up some notes on O18-16 physics and ratios (ca 0.5-0.1%), typical stalagmite growth rates, and the contribution of cyclones to annual rainfall in FNQ, and it all starts to sound...plausible.

      Best.

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  19. Des Stackpole

    Post hole Digger

    thanks, erm, still not working. Must be my machine, or location (SEAsia)

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