Journal: Agency Blocked Hurricane Report
by: Randolph E. Schmid 29 September 2006
A government agency blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disputed the Nature article, saying there was not a report but a two-page fact sheet about the topic. The information was to be included in a press kit to be distributed in May as the annual hurricane season approached but wasn't ready.
"The document wasn't done in time for the rollout," NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John said in responding to the Nature article. "The White House never saw it, so they didn't block it."
The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration part of the Commerce Department in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.
According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.
In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.
Leetmaa, head of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher is currently out of the country, but Nature quoted him as saying the report was merely an internal document and could not be released because the agency could not take an official position on the issue.
However, the journal said in its online report that the study was merely a discussion of the current state of hurricane science and did not contain any policy or position statements.
The report drew a prompt response from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., who charged that "the administration has effectively declared war on science and truth to advance its anti-environment agenda ... the Bush administration continues to censor scientists who have documented the current impacts of global warming."
A series of studies over the past year or so have shown an increase in the power of hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a strengthening that many storm experts say is tied to rising sea-surface temperatures.
Just two weeks ago, researchers said that most of the increase in ocean temperature that feeds more intense hurricanes is a result of human-induced global warming, a study one researcher said "closes the loop" between climate change and powerful storms like Katrina.
Not all agree, however, with opponents arguing that many other factors affect storms, which can increase and decrease in cycles.
The possibility of global warming affecting hurricanes is politically sensitive because the administration has resisted proposals to restrict release of gases that can cause warming conditions.
In February, a NASA political appointee who worked in the space agency's public relations department resigned after reportedly trying to restrict access to Jim Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who has been active in global warming research.