A week after a punishing heat wave torched the eastern two-thirds of the country, setting numerous records, AccuWeather chief executive Joel Myers cast doubt on the scientific finding that heat waves in the United States and elsewhere are worsening because of climate change. This point of view, at odds with peer-reviewed research, is reminiscent of the contrarian position AccuWeather took on the climate change issue in the 1990s, which historical documents recently obtained by The Washington Post shine light on.
Both then and now, AccuWeather has landed on the wrong side of the science.
Myers’s essay “Throwing cold water on extreme heat hype,” published online Wednesday, attempts to debunk the scientific finding that heat waves in the United States are becoming more severe, but he cherry-picks data and shows an incomplete understanding of the drivers of temperature change.
“[A]lthough average temperatures have been higher in recent years, there is no evidence so far that extreme heat waves are becoming more common because of climate change, especially when you consider how many heat waves occurred historically compared to recent history,” Myers writes.
In saying this, he ignores the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment, published in 2018 and signed off on by 13 federal agencies, which flat out states — with very high confidence — that the frequency of heat waves has increased since the mid-1960s.
Myers relies mostly on historical data from the 1930s to make his case that heat waves haven’t gotten worse. “Here is a fact rarely, if ever, mentioned,” he writes, “26 of the 50 states set their all-time high temperature recordsduring the 1930s that still stand (some have since been tied).”
He concludes: “Given these numbers … it cannot be said that either the frequency or magnitude of heat waves is more common today.”
But there are problems with this argument that have been addressed in the scientific literature and independent analyses.
The heat waves of the 1930s were exacerbated by land mismanagement tied to the Dust Bowl. A combination of springtime drought and farming practices left fields bare of vegetation, which allowed summer temperatures to skyrocket. In other words, the extreme heat of the 1930s is a reflection of specific circumstances in that decade and does not invalidate a link between today’s heat waves and climate change.
Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist for Berkeley Earth, which specializes in temperature data, points out that although the heat waves in the 1930s may have had higher daytime temperatures, present-day nighttime temperatures are much higher. This is an expected outcome of climate change as the atmosphere responds to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.