Skip to content

Open peer review: The truth about weather extremes: What the past tells us

We are keen to receive review comments for our new report which is now available for open review here.

Ralph Alexander: The truth about weather extremes. What the past tells us

This report refutes the popular but mistaken belief that today’s weather extremes are more common and more intense because of climate change, by examining the history of extreme weather events over the past century or so. Drawing on newspaper archives, the report presents multiple examples of past extremes that matched or exceeded anything experienced in the present-day world. That so many people are unaware of this shows that collective memories of extreme weather are short-lived.

Submitted comments and contributions will be subject to a moderation process and will be published, provided they are substantive and not abusive.

Review comments should be emailed to:

The deadline for review comments is 30 October 2023.

Ron Ainsbury

The paper reads well and the data presented is impressive.

I suggest that there are two other factors which are overlooked when reporting on potential causes of the apparent increase in the toll on the population caused by extreme weather events.

First is the population. I believe that in the conclusion – this paragraph is a classic understatement.

“Population gain has also enhanced the perception of worsening extremes in other ways. The increasingly popular habit of building homes near water, either along rivers or on the sea coast, has greatly increased the property damage caused by major floods and hurricanes. Population expansion beyond urban areas has elevated the death toll and property damage from tornadoes and wildfires, although wildfires have also been intensified by poor forest management.”

Second, as a result of population increase, is the covering of natural, water-absorbing countryside with water-repelling concrete and tar surface – leading to less rainfall being absorbed by mother nature and more water being forced to seek its own level.

This comment on the recent floods in Beijing failed to make any of the prominent global media.

“One factor behind Beijing’s recent vulnerability to floods is its rapid development, says Shao Sun, a climatologist at the University of California, Irvine. Over the past three decades, the city’s population has almost tripled. The result is a concrete sprawl of buildings, roads and other infrastructure.”

Last, I commend this well-documented book: “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker.”

Prof Wade Allison, University of Oxford

This is a useful, persuasive and informative paper. The pictorial content overcomes the obvious difficulty of comparing evidence from different eras. Every news source describes its day’s shock horror in vivid terms – and that does not change. The paper errs on the side of copying inflated language sometimes. Differences of technology confuse comparisons. The serious questions are those of longer term drift that are drowned out by the short term headlines – the high frequency noise of interest to the media obscures the low frequency signal that determine our long term future, such as ice.

I am glad that I read this paper. Memory dulls early information, and there are always more people who were not alive at the time. This paper corrects the imbalance.

Prof Peter Ridd

An excellent overview. One event that might be useful to add is Tropical Cyclone Mahina, which was Australia’s most intense, and costly in terms of human life. It is generally agreed to be one of the most intense Cyclones/Hurricanes/Typhoons ever recorded. It happened in 1899. The tidal surge went kilometers inland.

Charlie Moncur 

An excellent review of frequency/severity of natural disasters.

One comment I have is in relation to fires. I am resident in Spain and subject to recurrent fires in the summer months.

Fire needs 3 elements – oxygen/combustible material and an ignition source. The triangle of fire.

There are limited natural sources of ignition – lightening, volcanoes. Other sources are all man-made – arcing electrical cable, glass bottle magnification, cigarettes, engine exhausts. Spontaneous ignition requires temperature above 200. Deg C for wood and grass. So ambient temperature of 40 deg C is not going to be a source.

Many fires in Spain are from arson for political and commercial reasons. In Greece, this year there have been circa 70 arrests for arson. Forest fires supports the climate hysteria as well.

I think this needs to be highlighted.

Michael Jose

General observation

It reads well for anyone highly literate and with a university science degree, eg myself. If this is the target audience, fine. For a more general readership shorter sentences would make easier reading with some paragraphs broken up with sub-headings.

Specific observations

It may be more impactful and attention-grabbing to start with hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms as they are relatively frequent and so often in the news, and affect all parts of the USA. Some will not read past the title, some will read the first page, so make the first page as widely relevant as possible to hook them. I would respectfully suggest a short, snappy title, something like: ‘Climate change is normal’.

Paul Hewitson

Fantastic paper. The author could include some references from antiquity such as those from Chinese records and their building of canals to prevent flooding and Egyptian references to the 7 year drought when the Nile ran low recorded on the Famine Stela around 300BC. There’s also the potential for older temperature records to be lower then modern ones exaggerating the myth of extreme temperature. This on the understanding that these modern temperature records are attenuated by the effects of dense urban areas and airports which are the source of many readings.

Geoff Bancroft

The report is interesting reading, and is suitable for the lay person to understand. I have been struggling to understand the WWA (World Weather Attribution) mathematics in Friedricke Otto papers. Maybe could add an appendix to the report to clarify that attribution theory is just another statistical trick.

Ray Schmitz

I understand that the emphasis of the paper is to refute that extremes are due to climate change by showing such extremes are normal. For at least some types of extremes, an important complimentary argument exists in the form of exogenous factors that can explain instances of extreme variation even in the case of no climate change.

Two examples come to mind: heavy rains and forest fires. Heavy rains subsequent to the most Tonga eruption’s explosion on 2022-01-15 can be attributed to the enormous quantity of water injected into the stratosphere. This water vapor is expected to precipitate out over a multiyear period. Seasonal forest fires in the American West the last few summers can be entirely attributes to changes in federal land management, especially the abandonment of controlled burns to keep the density of trees from getting too high.

Arguments such as these help strengthen the paper’s argument by going beyond explaining that climate is not the definitive cause by providing other evidence-based causal explanation for at lease some current occurrences. Even for effects where there isn’t a strong alternative causal explanation, these examples can still help refute climate change as the universal explanation for whatever extremes occur.

Peter Bayley, Peruibe, Brazil

Overall, a well constructed contribution. Just a few points:

The report is geographically widespread, but is largely limited to sources in English.

The 2022 Pakistan flood (or floods) could do with more details. Wikipedia quotes a 1739 death toll from a report on 18 Nov 2022, which may have been updated, but at least suggest it was a relatively moderate human impact since 1950, especially given the increase in population.

Is the top photo in Fig. 22 really from 1925?

A plot of drought frequency (or rainfall) in the US over as much of the 20th century as possible could be used to demonstrate how cherry picking of starting time (which has occurred, see Pielke’s Substack) – can suggest opposite trends.

Paul Kenyon

I’ve read the paper and have a couple of comments. One is that all in the paper seems carefully documented which is encouraging. Some things I find missing are associated statistics such as populations of places mentioned in the paper like Australia, China, the US and India at the times of the events cited. I find these indications broaden one’s perspective on the subject being discussed and gives the reader less of a sense of viewing a scene through a pipe. One wants to look around and get a broader feel for the place. Otherwise the feeling is of being overly guided and “pinched” in ones view.

A look at the population of the Maldives over time compared with the reported challenges and calamities of these islands especially as presented by the then president Mohamed Nasheed at the 2009 COP in Copenhagen is an example. The islands, though reported to be about to sink beneath the Pacific waves, have weathered a hugely expanding population, constant reports of impending exhaustion of drinking water and other problems, have nevertheless continued to exist as before. They remain above the waves as before.

Surely, too, there is data from further in the past of extreme weather events than is presented. Some are mentioned but many others not. The freezing of the Thames river in London during the LIA, for example, is missing but evidence is available, famously in this case in the form of paintings of the scenes from that time. Related question: what was the role of CO2 in the LIA? From data I’ve seen (Dr. Humlum) CO2 has played no part as is the case with other powerful climate changes like the LIA and the MWP.

Many instances are from a time that while not of this year, seem close enough to our time to be included in what most might see as current regarding climate related or forced events.

Also, I’d like to see a bio of the author included in the paper. Most of the papers I’ve read from GWPF include such information and I think it is if not imperative at least comforting for many to have available. This, I admit, is a weakness of my own. I do know that the data must stand on its own, the author or discoverer and presenter being immaterial to the value of what’s presented. I recognize the comfort authority offers and that it really must have no import. It’s a battle within me of which I am aware and to which I must remain alert.

Thanks as always for making this material available to us to keep us balanced in this storm of information vs misinformation.

John McBratney

I have just read your report, “The truth about weather extremes – what the past tells us”. In a word EXCELLENT!

I particularly liked the copies of newspaper articles of the times when disasters occurred, most convincing as it does not rely on someone’s text and cannot be construed as “opinion”, it is clearly historical FACT.

Well written and impossible to argue against.