Extreme Meteorological Events


A Global Perspective on Storms

Pielke and Roger Pielke Sr. (Colorado State U) were invited to co-edit a volume on storms for Routledge Press as part of a nine-volume series on natural disasters. The series is to be published in FY99 and is a contribution to the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The volume is scheduled to have more than 50 contributors from around the world, discussing the science and impacts of and responses to storms (which we are discussing as tropical cyclones, extratropical cyclones, and mesoscale convective systems). The authors are using the theme of "vulnerability" to integrate the science and social science aspects of storms. The manuscript was submitted to Routledge in 1998.

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Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society

Pielke collaborated with Pielke, Sr. on this book, which was published in October 1997 by John Wiley & Sons Press. Losses as a result of hurricanes in the 1990s total more than those incurred in the 1970s and 1980s combined, even after adjusting for inflation. This has led many to mistakenly conclude that severe hurricanes are becoming more frequent. In fact, according to recent research, the past few decades have seen a decrease in the frequency of severe storms, and the period from 1991 to 1994 was the quietest in at least 50 years. The greater amount of losses in the 1990s does mean, however, that the world today is more vulnerable to hurricane impacts than it has ever been, which represents a serious policy problem.

The book defines and assesses the hurricane problem, focusing primarily on the US, in order to lay a foundation for action. The concept of vulnerability is used to integrate the societal and physical aspects of hurricane impacts. The book is unique in that it seeks to address both the scientific and societal aspects of hurricanes. While it focuses on the US, it is intended to illustrate weather-related impacts assessments that could be applied in other areas, and for phenomena other than hurricanes. More broadly, this book seeks to illustrate the beneficial uses (as well as limitations) of hurricane science to society. Explicit consideration of the relationship between science and society is much needed in an era when scientific research is under public and political pressure to demonstrate a better connection with societal needs.

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Economics of Hurricane Damages

As a contribution to an ongoing research project on "Climate Variability of Tropical Cyclones around the World" at the NOAA/Hurricane Research Division, Pielke has collaborated with Landsea on a ongoing project to "normalize" the costs of US hurricane damages to present values. Hurricanes are the most costly natural disasters in the US. Understanding both how hurricane frequencies and intensities vary from year to year and how this is manifested in changes in damages that occur is a topic of great interest to meteorologists, public and private decision-makers, and the general public.

Previous research into long-term trends in hurricane-caused damage along the US coast had suggested that economic damage has been rapidly increasing within the last two decades, even after considering inflation. However, to best capture the year-to-year variability in tropical cyclone damage, consideration must also be given to two additional factors: coastal population changes and changes in wealth. Both population and wealth have increased dramatically over the last several decades, and these factors act to enhance the recent hurricane damages preferentially over those that occurred previously. More appropriate trends in US hurricane damages can be calculated when a normalization of the damages is done that takes into account inflation, changes in coastal population, and wealth. With the normalization factored in, the trend of increasing damage amounts in recent decades disappears. Instead, substantial multidecadal variations in normalized damages are observed: the 1970s and 1980s actually saw less damages incurred than in the preceding few decades. Only during the early 1990s does damage approach the high level of impact seen back in the period from the 1940s through the 1960s, showing that what has been observed recently is not unprecedented. Over the long term, the average annual impact of damages in the continental US is about $4.8 billion (1995 $) -- substantially more than previous estimates. Of these damages, over 83% are accounted for by hurricanes classified as intense (Saffir-Simpson Category 3, 4, and 5), yet these make up only 21 percent of the US-landfalling tropical cyclones.

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Chapter for Wilhite Drought Volume:

Drought Follows the Plow: A Cautionary Note

Glantz prepared this contribution for the Drought volume edited by Donald Wilhite (U Nebraska) in the nine-volume series entitled Hazards and Disasters: A Series of Definitive Major Works, to be published in FY99 by Routledge Press (London), to mark the end of the IDNDR). The attempt to cultivate border lands tends to marginalize both land and people. As populations continue to grow in Third World countries, the natural per-capita resource base decreases. The premise of Glantz's paper is that the drought-follows-the-plow idea is based on the belief that increased pressures on currently used agricultural areas cause population movement into less productive, often marginal, areas. Agricultural production failures are likely to increase in frequency and location, accompanied by a tendency to blame nature rather than population shifts.

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