‘Natural Cycles’ Blamed for California Drought Instead of Climate Change

When scientists blame other things, suddenly science is not 'settled’ according to media.

Climate science is “settled” according to the news media, that is, unless scientists conclude climate change is not connected to a specific climate occurrence.

That was precisely the conclusion of a team of federal scientists came to when they studied California’s three-year drought. They determined “natural cycles” and “sea surface temperatures” were “main drivers” of that ongoing dry spell. NBC’s website responded by saying the science wasn’t settled about the cause of the drought. The New York Times buried the news far back in its A section and none of the broadcast networks news programs mentioned the findings on Dec. 8 or Dec. 9.

In 2014, the broadcast networks repeatedly called the California drought “historic,” unprecedented and the “worst” on record, and connected “periods of severe drought” to climate change. But the new report contradicted the networks’ narrative.

"It's important to note that California's drought, while extreme, is not an uncommon occurrence for the state. In fact, multi-year droughts appear regularly in the state's climate record, and it's a safe bet that a similar event will happen again. Thus, preparedness is key," said Richard Seager, the lead author and professor with Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

The New York Times mentioned Seager’s report for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a story buried on page A23 in its Dec. 9, edition.

The Times acknowledged, “Scientists who have analyzed California’s extreme drought have concluded that it is a result of natural climate variability over the past three years and that climate change caused by humans has played little role.”

Of course, the Times and other news outlets couldn’t admit that without defending the climate alarmist agenda, so they turned to scientists including Michael E. Mann of Penn State who was critical of the new report. Mann was upset that “the authors pay only the slightest lip service” to higher temperatures, according to the Times.

NBCNews.com reported the study on Dec. 8, and also made sure to defend its position on global warming. They turned to well known climate alarmists Mann and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

NBC also quoted NOAA’s meteorologist Marty Hoerling. They used Hoerling’s statement that the report was “by no means a final analysis, or final word, about the California drought” to argue “the science is far from settled.”

Hoerling wrote an editorial for the Times on March 8, saying the California drought “resembles the droughts that afflicted the state in 1976 and 1977,” in contrast to the networks’ claims that the drought was unprecedented.

USA Today did a better job digging into the study and actually pointed out on Dec. 8,  that the high-pressure ridge that has blocked precipitation from getting to California, “is almost opposite to what computer models predict would result from human-caused climate change.” USA Today also mention Mann and Trenberth’s criticism of the report’s methods and conclusions.

— Julia A. Seymour is Assistant Managing Editor for MRC Business at the Media Research Center. Follow Julia A. Seymour on Twitter.