Saturday, August 12, 2017

The ‘Never Before’ Syndrome

When it comes to weather, most people have the memory of a goldfish. Dramatic pronouncements of “unprecedented” are routine whenever unusually extreme weather happens somewhere. There always seems to be another “never happened before” weather event lurking just around the corner. This is particularly true in today’s era of climate catastrophism. The Never Before syndrome is a handy propaganda tool for those hyping the myth of ever-worsening weather extremes caused by climate change.

Last September, Tropical Storm and former Hurricane Hermine threatened New Jersey. In Why Hermine could be such a 'freak show' of a storm for N.J., Stephen Stirling reported,

We've never seen anything quite like Hermine.

There's Sandy, of course, but that storm barreled into the coast with reckless abandon. There's Irene or Floyd, but those zipped through New Jersey leaving a greater mess inland than on the coast. Even the hybrid-hurricane monster known as the "Perfect Storm" back in 1991 doesn't quite fit -- it occurred two months later in the year, when ocean temperatures were not nearly as warm.

Hermine stands on its own because forecasters know things could be dire, but we really don't know how bad they could get.

"This is a tough analogue to find," said David Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University. "It may become tropical again, but it won't have a classic hurricane structure.  If it does, what do you call it? I just can't think of (a storm) that parked itself up here like Hermine is expected to."

I left these comments:

“We've never seen anything quite like Hermine.”

Not quite true. How about this: “The Jersey shore had never seen anything like it. . . . Weather experts said it was the worst storm recorded since Colonial times.” That was how the book Great Storms of the Jersey Shore described the Great Atlantic Storm, also known as the Ash Wednesday Storm. The year was 1962, March 6-8.

I disagree that we've never seen anything quite like Hermine. I remember. True, no two storms are ever exactly alike. Hermine has tropical origins. 1962 was a winter storm. But both are essentially nor’easters stalled off of the coast, feeding off of the Gulf Stream—not exactly unheard of.

“Forecasters expect each successive high tide through Monday morning to get progressively worse, with winds from Hermine spinning in off the ocean, not allowing water to retreat entirely each time.

“It's a creeping threat, one that experts say should be taken deadly serious and that the National Hurricane Center said could cause life-threatening storm-surge inundation up and down the New Jersey coastline.”

This forecast for Hermine is a precise description of what did happen in 1962. The Great storm stalled for 3 days off of the mid-Atlantic coast, blocked by a cold front to the North. It had 50-60 mph winds, gusting to 84. Long Beach Island was demolished. I remember it well. I was 13. My family had a summer house in the Gilford Park section of Toms River. That area was flooded. We had family friends that had to be rescued from Pelican Island. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Great Storms of the Jersey Shore depicts rescue operations up and down the Jersey Shore and is full of graphic pictures of destruction that are indistinguishable from Sandy. The book describes 5 successive high tides, each higher than the previous. Each more destructive.

As I’m posting this, it looks like the threat has largely abated, as Hermine seems to be tracking much farther East than forecast. Let's hope so. We don’t need a repeat of 1962.


Interestingly, Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, which was published in 1993, predicted 2012’s Superstorm Sandy in the last chapter, The Storm that Eats the Jersey Shore. Drawing on long-held fears of weather experts, the fictional chapter eight tells the story of an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that could cause a coastal hurricane to vere West into the Jersey shore, rather than East out to sea as is the norm in Jersey’s latitude. It’s a story eerily similar to Sandy.

Movie theaters in New Jersey have been running coming attractions featuring Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” sequel. The add opens with clips of Sandy and an “I told you so” from Gore. Sandy, Gore wants us to believe, was a Never Before event. But, in fact, expectations of a storm like Sandy had been around for a long time.

Always take with a grain of salt proclamations of “We've never seen anything quite like” this or that. When it comes to weather, if it happens now, it has happened before.

Related Reading:

Great Storms of the Jersey Shore—Larry Savadove and Margaret Thomas Buchholz.

The Heroes who Enabled Advance Warning of Sandy—My article for The Objective Standard

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