Story highlights

Trump says there have been "bigger storms" than hurricanes Irma and Harvey when asked about climate change

Administration officials have consistently declined to discuss global warming

CNN  — 

President Donald Trump, pressed on whether back-to-back deadly hurricanes have changed his views on climate change, dodged the question on Thursday by contradicting past comments he made about the size of storms that have rocked Texas and Florida.

Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday after touring damage from Hurricane Irma on Florida’s west coast, said “we’ve had bigger storms than this” when asked about climate change.

“If you go back into the 1930s and the 1940s, and you take a look, we’ve had storms over the years that have been bigger than this,” Trump said. “If you go back into the teens, you’ll see storms that were as big or bigger. So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms, but if you go back into the ’30s and ‘40s, and you go back into the teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, OK?”

Scientists say rising global temperatures are likely to increase the intensity and impact of major storms. Last year was the Earth’s warmest year on record for the third year in a row, NOAA reported.

RELATED: Climate report: Hottest year, highest greenhouse gas marks, record sea levels

In response to this story, a White House aide pointed CNN to a recent NOAA report that found that it is “premature to conclude that human activities … have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.”

That same report, however, found that human activity “may have already caused changes” and that global warming “will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average” and “lead to an increase in the occurrence of very intense tropical cyclone(s).”

Trump campaigned on a platform that rejected much of the scientific community’s findings on climate change, arguing that the Obama administration used climate science too often to restrict business growth. Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate accords earlier this year and had previously had called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.

Trump’s comments Thursday go against the hyperbolic language he used in the lead-up and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

“Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen,” Trump tweeted as Irma moved closer to Florida.

Earlier this month he tweeted, “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!”

And on Thursday in Florida, before his comments aboard Air Force One about climate change, Trump said the people of Florida experienced something “the likes of which we can say really say nobody’s ever seen before.”

“They’ve never seen a category like this come in because it came in really at a five,” he said.

Top Trump administration officials have repeatedly dodged questions about how climate change affected the damage done by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, saying the issue should be discussed at a later date.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said last week it was “insensitive” to address global warming at this time.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, told CNN that climate change is a “longer discussion on another day” and a “big topic for the media.”

And both FEMA administrator Brock Long and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke avoided explicitly answering when asked Tuesday whether the government needs to be more focused on climate change because of the storms.

Trump’s visit to tour hurricane damage on Thursday was his second trip in as many weeks. Trump toured the Houston area earlier this month after Hurricane Harvey brought massive flooding to the city. The storm and subsequent damage could end up being the costliest natural disaster in US history.

Tom Bossert 0911 screengrab
White House: Hurricane seasons are cyclical
01:57 - Source: CNN

CNN’s Miranda Green and Rene Marsh contributed to this report.