Monthly Archives: September 2016

Hurricane Matthew: The Scary Clown of Hurricanes!


Update: Wed Mid Day

Matthew weakened, strengthened, strengthening

Matthew has interacted with land masses in Hispaniola and Cuba to the extent that the storm weakened quite a bit, losing its temporary Category 5 status.

But, now Matthew is already showing signs of strengthening, and is likely to grow back to Category 3 or 4 status as it moves over the Bahamas. How bad a hurricane is when it makes contact with land depends in large part on the angle of the attack, and Matthew will likely be affecting several spots in the Bahamas at a particularly bad angle.

Bahamas are in serious danger now

This is the current warning for the Bahamas:

At 200 PM EDT (1800 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Matthew was located
near latitude 22.1 North, longitude 75.3 West. Matthew is moving
toward the northwest near 12 mph (19 km/h), and this motion is
expected to continue during the next 24 to 48 hours. On this track,
Matthew will be moving across the Bahamas today and tomorrow, and is
expected to be very near the east coast of Florida by Thursday

Maximum sustained winds are near 120 mph (195 km/h) with higher
gusts. Matthew is a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson
Hurricane Wind Scale. Some strengthening is forecast during the
next couple of days, and Matthew is expected to remain at category 3
or stronger while it moves through the Bahamas and approaches the
east coast of Florida.

Rainfall in the Bahamas is likely to be 8-12 inches wiht up to 15 in isolated areas.

A huge risk in this area is overtopping land masses with what may be a 10 foot storm surge. There may be large areas where fresh water, and fresh water plant communities, are destroyed, and may be affected for months or years to come, depending on exactly how this plays out. Nassau, the largest settlement in the area, is facing away from the storm’s track, so it will probably be spared a serious storm surge.

Florida is most likely to be affected in the US

Matthew, as a Category 3 or Category 4 will be getting close to Florida during the day on Friday. Depending on exactly what the storm does, it may spend enough time over extra warm waters of the Gulf Stream where it may strengthen. The storm may or may not make landfall in Florida. If the storm does not technically make landfall, there is still a very high probability of serious effects on the coast, most likely near central Florida.

NOTE: This is a perfectly good storm to display stupidity about landfall. Please avoid doing that.

Matthew is the scary clown of hurricanes

Then comes the strange part. Jeff Masters of the Wunderblog writes:

Thanks to my advancing years and a low-stress lifestyle that features daily meditation, there’s not much that can move me to profanity—except the occasional low-skill driver who endangers my life on the road. But this morning while looking at the latest weather model runs, multiple very bad words escaped my lips. I’ve been a meteorologist for 35 years, and am not easily startled by a fresh set of model results: situations in 2005 and 1992 are the only ones that come to mind. However, this morning’s depiction by our top models—the GFS, European, and UKMET—of Matthew missing getting picked up by the trough to its north this weekend and looping back to potentially punish The Bahamas and Florida next week was worthy of profuse profanity. While a loop back towards Florida and The Bahamas next week is not yet a sure thing, the increasing trend of our top models in that direction is a strong indication that Matthew will be around for a very long time. Long-range forecasts of wind shear are not very reliable, but this morning’s wind shear forecast from the 00Z run of the European model does show a low to moderate shear environment over the Bahamas and waters surrounding South Florida late next week, potentially supportive of a hurricane–if Matthew survives the high wind shear of 50+ knots expected to affect the storm early next week. The bottom line is that it currently appears that Matthew will not recurve out to sea early next week, and The Bahamas and Florida may have to deal with the storm again next week.

At this partiuclar moment, the red line in this graphic is the best guess for what may happen:


There is a version of this where Matthew crosses Florida and ends up in the Gulf.

This scenario probably involves Matthew experiencing a lot of wind shear starting around the time it is near Florida and points north, and out at sea. This may actually make the storm a Category 1 hurricane or even weaker. But, if it makes this loop, the storm will be ina position to reform as a hurricane and menace the coast again.

I wrote a piece of fiction in which a hurricane in this general area finds a loop like this, but never stops. It just keeps going and going. In that story, Florida is mostly inundated by sea level rise, so it is actually a somewhat different configuration, but the same idea. I wonder….

Final point for now: Do not take your eyes off this storm.

I’m posting Climate Signals causality widget for this storm here, hope it works for you!

Update: Tuesday AM

Hurricane Matthew May Be One Of The Worst Hurricanes Ever

Such things are typically in reference to the region. There will always be Pacific hurricanes that are bigger than Atlantic hurricanes. Etc. But Matthew may be, for many years, on the list of the top few Hurricanes in the Caribbean region, in terms of strength and damage. The storm also has a number of odd features, some of which seem to be associated with anthropogenic global warming.

Hurricane Matthew will almost certainly end up being one of the worst weather disasters of the decade. It may end up being the worst storm to affect the region around Jamaica, eastern Cuba, western Hispaniola, and the Bahamas, but especially the island of Hispaniola, where an unusual feature of this storm (see below) is causing extraordinary rainfall. Haiti is more clearly in the path of the storm, but the Dominican Republic could end up experiencing a serious disaster (see below). (See: Matthew Hits Haiti, Their Strongest Hurricane in 52 Years)

In the end, it is likely that Matthew will be a poster child for social justice and climate change, since the storm is global warming enhanced and is affecting one of the most vulnerable populations in the world, in an area that is also geographically vulnerable.

Matthew’s Mysterious Blob

Also, Matthew has a strange new feature. A “mysterious blob” formed within the storm several days ago. The blob is probably going to end up being one of those interesting weather patterns that Rush Limbaugh and Al Roker do battle over. It is a complicated and mysterious phenomenon perhaps never before recorded with modern instruments but anticipated by meteorologists in the textbooks.

Hurricane Matthew's Mysterious Blob
Hurricane Matthew’s Mysterious Blob

Marshall Shepherd, of the University of Georgia (and former president of the American Meteorological Society) provides a discussion of the blob here. I’m not going to try to recreate his discussion here because it is very preliminary, but I note that Matthew is record breaking (nearly) in how far south if formed as a large storm. Matthew shouldn’t really have ever been born. But it was. And, the factors thought to be associated with Matthew’s Mysterious Blob might be more likely to occur in a south-forming hurricane.

The blob is basically a mini storm system, a small and quasi-independent tropical storm sort of, embedded within the larger hurricane. Like that birth mark that turns out to be your twin sibling. Maybe. Regardless of which metaphor works best, the blob could end up causing regions far to the east of the center of Matthew to experience rainfall of truly Biblical proportions. There are places on Hispaniola that may have rainfall amounts of well over three feet, and some wether stations near the blob have measured rainfall of well over 5 inches an hour. And, the storm is moving very slowly, so whatever the rainfall rate turns out to be at any given spot, it will add up to a large total, over rugged mud slide prone terrain occupied by under-built dwellings.

Matthew Is Global Warming Enhanced

Matthew is large, has a very low pressure core, very strong winds, and is moving slowly over waters that are, on the surface, warmer than normal because of global warming, which has contributed to the storm’s strength. The Atlantic is expected (and observed) to have more vertical wind shear as an effect of global warming, which should attenuate the formation or strengthening of most hurricanes in the region, but Matthew formed and grew large anyway, somewhat baffling meteorologists. Perhaps, in the end, extremely warm water will trump wind shear in the formation of disastrous storms.

Bob Henson wrote about this a few days ago:

Vertical wind shear of up to 20 knots has plagued Matthew for most of the last two days, yet the storm has not only maintained its structure but grown at a ferocious rate. Dissertations may be written on how this happened! Working in Matthew’s favor has been a steadily moistening atmosphere along its westward path, which means that the shearing winds didn’t push too much dry air into Matthew. Once it developed a central core, Matthew was able to fend off the wind shear much more effectively.

But wait, there’s more.

The waters in this region are also warmer at depth (100-200 meters or so?) because of global waring.

Again, Bob Henson:

…water temperatures are unusually warm throughout the Caribbean (and the entire western North Atlantic), with an area of high oceanic heat content directly beneath Matthew’s path. Such deep oceanic heat allows a storm to strengthen without churning up cooler waters from below that could blunt the intensification.

The degree to which the ocean is heated not just on the surface, is reflected in this graphic from NOAA:

The ocean below Matthew is not just warm on the surface, but warm at depth, and very warm at that.
The ocean below Matthew is not just warm on the surface, but warm at depth, and very warm at that.

A hurricane can maintain strength by moving fast over warm water. The storm itself cools the surface of the water by using that energy in its own formation, and by roiling the surface waters, causing mixing from cooler water below. So, underneath a typical hurricane may be regions where the water is not really warm enough to form or sustain a hurricane. So, running fast avoids that. One might expect a slow moving hurricane to damage itself by using up some of this heat and dispersing it to depth.

But, sometimes the water is at “hurricane warmth” (about 80 degrees F) for many tens of meters of depth. This allows the surface waters to contribute to the hurricane’s maintenance, enhancing the overall strength of the storm. Katrina did this in the Gulf of Mexico (though that story is a bit complex so be careful what you infer here) and Haiyan did it in the Pacific.

And now, Matthew is doing it in the Caribbean/Atlantic.

My strong impression is that this warming at depth is an effect of excessive sea surface temperatures, and is an effect of anthropogenic global warming. It will take the meteorological research community a few years to catch up to this idea, but your dollars and my donuts are on the table on this one, and I’ll be taking your money. This, if confirmed, could be thought of as a qualitative change in the nature of storms caused by global warming.

Matthew may be, in a sense, a representative of a new kind of tropical storm. We’ve been seeing a lot of outlier storms lately. This includes storms that form really fast, like Patricia. Matthew did that to some extent as well. Matthew may be defying the effects of wind shear. Like Katrina and Haiyan, Matthew is feeding off of deep warm water. And, Matthew has this mysterious blob thing. Sandy was an outlier as well, a major hurricane that maintained strength way far north, then ate a Nor’Easter and became a Super Storm. Matthew is heading along a track similar to the one that took Sandy north (not uncommon, nothing odd about that). We don’t know what will happen. But, if storms had real personalities (which they don’t but this is a blog post, not a peer reviewed paper) I would expect Matthew to be on the hunt for a Nor’Easter to eat!

Please note that Climate Signals (BETA) has a page up now on Matthew, exploring the climate change connection.

Matthew may hit the US.

And, of course, Matthew may hit the US coast. This has always been a possibility, but now the chances are increased, with more models suggesting that the storm will track farther west than the previous models (on balance) suggested, with several models suggesting a US coast landfall.


Take your pick:


That graphic is from here.

Though it is hard to see in that depiction, it seems most likely that Matthew will skip Florida, but probably still hose it down and make waves. The more likely landfall scenarios are anywhere from the Carolinas north.

This is a storm to watch very closely, and in which we shall remain in awe.

Older updates:

Update: Monday Mid Day

Matthew is a major hurricane, and is just starting to affect the area of eastern Cuba and western Haiti. Jamaica has already been affected and there are two or more dead there.

Starting about now and over the next 36 to 48 hours, both countries will likely be seriously affected by this storm. I suppose three countries, technically, given that the US has a bit of territory in the region as well. Various islands in the Bahamas are also likely to be very strongly affected.

This is a major hurricane, fairly large, very strong, and it will be spending enough time over very warm water to maintain its strength as a Category 4 hurricane, or nearly so, during this entire time.

Most but not all models put the hurricane to the east of Florida, but not too far, and later, it is possible that it will strike the US east coast. The average of all the models says no, it will stay at sea, but there is not much certainty behind that prediction.

Meanwhile, there is a another storm, which has somewhat less than better than a one in three chance of becoming Nicole, is quickly spinning up out in the Atlantic.

Matthew will be a news maker and a disaster for a lot of people. But they are brown and not Americans, so few will take notice and science deniers will continue to say that nothing has happened in the Atlantic in years. But, Matthew is something, and it is a bigger something than it otherwise would have been because of increased sea surface temperatures caused by anthropogenic global warming.

Update: Friday Mid Day

Matthew seems to have had, as a key characteristic, the capacity for very rapid change. What just became a hurricane about 24 hours ago is either now, or about to be, a Category 2 hurricane, and may well develop into something close to a Category 3 before hitting Cuba in a few days. The storm is expected to cross Cuba and perhaps stay as a hurricane the whole way, or to reform quickly, where it will vis_lalo-animated heading north.

Vertical wind shear has been affecting the storm, which should be weakening it, but he weakening is not observed. Further wind shear is expected to slow rapid growth over the next day, but that may or may not happen. Then the shear lets up and strengthening begins. I have the sense that the predicted transition to ca 100 knot maximum sustained winds starting in about 24 hours is a bit conservative.

Some earlier models had this hurricane possibly crossing into the Gulf of Mexico, but now it seems that all the models are in aagreement on a course that will parallel the Florida Coast (possibly getting very lose to Florida, but probably not) then heading up the atlantic. (See graphic above, from Weather Underground.) Most of the models have Matthew staying out at sea, but a number have the storm coming ashore in any of several possible locations from North Carolina Through Buzzards Bay, Mass, or perhaps even farther north.

It is very likely that Matthew will have crossed Cuba and be north of the Island nation by around mid day next Wednesday, and it is certainly true that there will be a much better idea then as to where the storm will go next.


Update: Thursday Mid Day

The hurricane status of Matthew is so fresh that the NWS, at this moment, has a mixture of products that call it a tropical storm and products that call it a hurricane. To be a hurricane, a storm’s wind speed have to be 74 mph (64 knots) or more, and of course it has to be organized properly. The NWS Public Advisory and some of their graphical products call the storm a hurricane and the advisory indicates that maximum sustained winds are at 75 mph.

Interestingly, the “discussion” which is usually the best source of information, has the storm turning into a hurricane in several hours from now. I have gotten the impression all along that the strengthening of this storm has been a bit quicker than usual. This may be an example of that phenomenon.

The storm is expected to make landfall in a few days, as a hurricane, in Western Cuba, then head back out over the sea where it will likely strengthen owing to very warm waters.

It is hard to say what this storm will eventually do, but there is a non trivial chance that it will make landfall as a hurricane in the US, a better chance that it will stay out to sea but be close enough to the coast to be bothersome, and a very good chance that it will eventually wack into Canada or someplace as an extratropical storm. Very few models seem to suggest that Matthew will be one of those mid-Atlantic hurricanes that remains boring until it finally dissipates.

Update: Wed Evening:

Just a quick note to say that about a third of the forecast models suggest that Matthew could become a major hurricane, and a smaller number even suggest a category 5 hurricane.

Update: Wed PM:

Matthew has formed into a named storm, and continues to head westward across the Caribbean. This is a region sometimes called the “Hurricane Graveyard” because various effects tend to reduce the chance of hurricane strengthening, and increase the chance of weakening.

The storm is expected to upgrade to hurricane status by the end of the week, possibly late tomorrow. Later, it may make a right turn and head north toward Jamaica and eventually Cuba, or environs. Around the time the storm reaches Jamaica, it may be a Category 2 hurricane.

The chances of this storm, as a tropical storm or hurricane, striking or affecting the US coast is not insignificant. Keep an eye on it.

From Weather Underground, the “ensemble models” to give you an idea of what the computers are thinking:


Original Post:

The next named Atlantic storm will be Matthew. There is currently a well organized stormy blob in the Atlantic, heading for the Lesser Antilles, that has a very high probability of becoming a named storm, and that could happen by Wednesday or Thursday.

This seems to be a fairly fast developing storm. Also, though it is way to early to say much, its possible futures are interesting.

The storm could continue roughly westward and either encounter the Yucatan or western Cuba, then presumably on to the Gulf. But, it also seems very likely to make a hard right and squeeze between Cuba and Hispaniola, or perhaps traverse on e or the other, on the way to the Bhamas or Turkes and Caicos, then north into the Atlantic. This is not one of those storms with a near 100% probability of wandering out over the Atlantic until it dissipates. There is a reasonable chance that this could be a land falling storm in the US. Again, this is way too early to say but this is one to watch very closely.

Sea surface temperatures are plenty high in the waters over which this storm will track no matter which way it goes. Global warming enhanced anomalously hight. So, it is pretty much impossible for this storm to not be stronger than it otherwise would be owing to human caused global warming. Let us hope it doesn’t hit anything.


A Question For Next Debate: How Will the US Catch Up With the Clean Power Plan?

The US is already behind in its agreed to commitment to clean power

A study just out in Nature climate Change suggests that the US is already behind in its commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuel as an energy source, and the concomitant release of climate-warming greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

The paper, by Jeffery Greenblatt and Max Wei, says:

Current intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature change to between 1.5 and 2.0?C above pre-industrial levels, so the effectiveness of existing INDCs will be crucial to further progress. Here we assess the likely range of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2025 and whether the US’s INDC can be met, on the basis of updated historical and projected estimates. We group US INDC policies into three categories reflecting potential future policies, and model 17 policies across these categories. With all modelled policies included, the upper end of the uncertainty range overlaps with the 2025 INDC target, but the required reductions are not achieved using reference values. Even if all modelled policies are implemented, additional GHG reduction is probably required; we discuss several potential policies.

The authors note that we can reach the targets, if we do something about it soon. There is time. The main problem seems to be methane, emissions of which will be higher than previously estimated. Chris Mooney talked to the authors, reports that here, and notes:

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA increased its estimate for how much methane is being emitted by the oil and gas sector, and by the U.S. overall, in recent years. The new study has more or less done something similar.

“We made some corrections to the 2005 and 2025 estimates for methane,” says Greenblatt. In particular, he said, in 2005 these changes added 400 million additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted as methane.

Greenblatt emphasized that assumptions of higher methane emissions aren’t the only reason that the U.S. could miss its goals, but that it’s a significant one. “An increasing amount of methane emissions is part of the story,” he said.

Another problem, of course, is the yahoos who live in conservative states, the self-interested fossil fuel industry, and presidential candidate Donald Trump. These nefarious actors are trying to force the US EPA Clean Power Plan out of existence because, well, I guess they want to see all of our children grow up in a post apocalyptic world.

John Upton at Climate Central notes:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has embraced the fight against global warming started by President Obama. Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to end it, such as by disbanding the EPA and abandoning international commitments.

Polluting industries and conservative states are suing the EPA in an attempt to overturn its new power plant rules, arguing that the agency overstepped its legal boundaries. The rules haven’t taken effect yet, but they’re the linchpin of American climate policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear opening arguments in the case Tuesday, with an eventual ruling likely from the Supreme Court. A judicial appointment by the next president could tip the Supreme Court against or in favor of environmental regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan.

So, the question I’d love to see asked in the next Presidential Debate is this: “A recent peer reviewed study indicates that the US is not on target to meet the promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is mainly due to methane release being greater than previously thought, but other factors matter as well. What will you do as President to get us back on track?”

More about the Clean Power Plan:

Who won the first presidential debate?

It was a tossup, but in a rather complicated way.

Even the regular commenters with major network news, and PBS, clearly indicated that Hillary Clinton won this debate. And she did. She not only had better answers, but actual answers. Trump acted very poorly and Clinton acted presidential. Trump got caught in several lies, and made several more lies that were to be caught later. He made a fool of himself and Clinton did very well.

Therefore, it was a tossup. It was a tossup because a couple percent of the populous are former Bernie Sanders supporters with so much butt hurt that they will not vote for Clinton and may even vote for Trump, not because they like Trump, but because they want to punish the rest of us by supporting Trump since they did not get their way. A few percent of the votes are Special Snowflakes who know that the only way to advance civilization is if they vote for a candidate that can’t win in a single state and that no one will remember exists in two years, even if that mans Ralphing the election. It was a tossup because the worse Trump preforms the more his Deplorables love him, and the more likely they are to go out and vote.

Everybody who already supported Secretary Clinton thinks she won the debate, and now they are going to vote for her, just like they already were going to vote for her. Everybody who doesn’t care which of the two major candidates will win saw what everyone else saw, but they have been reminded that there is an election coming up, and are now more likely to either not vote for either candidate, or to vote for Trump out of spite. Everybody who was already supporting Trump was already going to vote for Trump, if they showed up at the polls, are now slightly more likely to show up at the polls.

So, perhaps, Trump won by a percentage point or two, with respect to how this debate will affect the outcome at the voting booth.

So, that’s what happened last night.

New Paleoclimate Paper: Longest detailed reconstruction plus possible bad news

You’ve probably already heard about his paper because everyone is all a tizzy about it. There is a fundamental complaint being made about one of the paper’s conclusions. I’ve been paying careful attention to what my colleagues are saying about that one aspect of the paper, and I get their point but I’m not sure if they are right. I’ll explain that later.

What everyone so far has almost entirely missed, though, is the actual point of the paper, and that is important and while I’m sure it could be improved with further work, this is good stuff and important.

One of the major contributions people like Michael Mann and Malcolm Hughes and others made some years ago now, to the understanding of climate science, was the extension of the paleoclimate record back far enough to truly contextualize current global temperatures, and to meld that record with more recent instrumental records. There have been other attempts to put together paleo records as well. But this latest attempt is the first time anyone has reconstructed the global average surface temperature (GAST) for about two million years.

This is roughly the same time period as what is known as “The Pleistocene” or, if we want to put this in cave man journalistic terms, “The Ice Age” or slightly more correct “The Ice Ages.” The latter terms are misleadning and muddy, so please lets not us them (by those terms we are in the “ice ages” right now, but not in “an ice age.” See how annoying that can get, and for no good reason?)

The Cenozoic, roughly 65 million years long, is a time of general cooling across the Earth, and the Pleistocene, the most recent sizable period of time, a part of the Cenozoic, is the period when extra cooling seems to have occurred, and during which, there are a couple of dozen or so swings between relatively warm (like we have now) and relatively cool, with some of those cool periods, the most recent half dozen or more, being really really cool, with the big giant glaciers covering Canada, etc. etc. You knew this already.

For this period, we have a pretty good climate reconstruction, or least one that has been slowly building, that uses two sources of data from sea cores. One is the so called “delta-18” curve, and the other is the foram reconstruction.

The delta-18 curve simply measures oxygen isotopes in sea water, indirectly, and uses this to estimate how many cubic gigantometers of the planet’s water is tied up in ice, mainly in glaciers. (Some help on that here.) Examination of this curve starting in the late ’60s, but mainly in the ’80s, confirmed an old and zany theory that the Earth’s climate is controlled by the orbital geometry as our planet goes around the sun. Eventually it would come to be understood that cycles in how exactly the sun hits the Earth, called Milankovitch cycles, are a factor (but not the only factor) in global climate, and that this effect was very weak in the distant past, got stronger about 2 million years ago, and then perhaps got stronger again more recently.

The foram reconstruction is a bit more difficult. Here, fossilized remains of communities of a significant part of what we call “plankton,” which had settled to the bottom of the sea, are interrogated to estimate the sea surface temperature at that location. Certain forams prefer certain temperatures.

The new research, by Carolyn Snynder, published in Nature as “Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years” uses, mostly, this foram data to estimate sea surface temperature, and then, uses this to extrapolate to GAST, for the last two million years.

The result looks like the graphic above.

That, right there, that graph, is cool. It puts the modern world in context, and provides a good look at the Pleistocene.

The graph is not perfectly accurate and it is hard to say how inaccurate it is, given the paucity of data.

I asked the author about the possible limitations of this reconstruction. She told me, “this reconstruction is only as good as the proxy reconstructions and other assumptions it is based on (it is useful to note that three different SST proxy methods were included in the dataset). The more reconstructions available, the better the GAST reconstruction can be. That is why a significant amount of this research was focused on quantifying how large that uncertainty may be so that it was reflected in the final GAST reconstruction.”

Only sea surface temperatures are used, and there are strong seasonal effects in how foram communities form and are deposited. But, any ancient reconstruction is going to have problems, and this appears to be an excellent result. Dr. Snyder told me, “one of the major challenges of creating a global average surface temperature is that the primary reconstructions available over the past 2 million years are of sea-surface temperature. Available terrestrial temperature reconstructions are too infrequent and limited in spatial distribution to be used for a global reconstruction at this time. Therefore, I scale the average sea-surface temperature for 60ºN-60ºS to global average surface temperature using results from climate model experiments from 9 climate models. The scaling factor is necessary to address the fact that land surfaces and the poles tend to have larger temperature changes than the oceans. That assumption also drives a large fraction of the overall estimated uncertainty in the final GAST reconstruction.”

One of the most useful applications of this kind of information is placing modern global average surface temperatures in context. You can do that by looking at the graph, but I went ahead and asked the author how she would characterize modern temperatures vis-a-vis this reconstruction. She told me, “this is what we can say from this reconstruction: The only time periods in the temperature reconstruction when the estimated most likely global temperature change from the past 5,000 years was greater than 1 degree Celsius was during the last interglacial period (around 120,000 years ago) and then not previously until 1.77 million years ago. However, that is a summary of the “most likely” GAST estimate, and the uncertainty ranges are large, especially farther back in time. Also, the GAST reconstruction is relative to average temperature over the past 5,000 years, not directly to preindustrial temperature (due to the resolution of the reconstructions used), and so that is why I am not able to word this as a comparison relative to present temperatures.”

Now, on to what turns out to be a highly controversial result.

Snyder claims, using part of the Abstract of the paper to represent her finding, ” A comparison of the new temperature reconstruction with radiative forcing from greenhouse gases estimates an Earth system sensitivity of 9 degrees Celsius (range 7 to 13 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) change in global average surface temperature per doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide over millennium timescales. This result suggests that stabilization at today’s greenhouse gas levels may already commit Earth to an eventual total warming of 5 degrees Celsius (range 3 to 7 degrees Celsius, 95 per cent credible interval) over the next few millennia as ice sheets, vegetation and atmospheric dust continue to respond to global warming.”

If you have been following the climate science literature, you may see that range as incredibly high. It isn’t actually as high as it looks, because most discussions of “climate sensitivity” refer to the metric “Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity” which is both shorter term and lower (and different in other ways) compared to Earth System Sensitivity. The difference may be as much as 100%. The ECS estimates are all of the map but, nobody believes the number can be below 3 (except a few odd balls), most think 3.5 is a good estimate, but most say it could be as high as 6. So, doubling the ECS to get the ESS (which is probably not appropriate but hell, this blog post is not being submitted to peer review, so complain in the comments if you like) we get 7.0 – 12. In other words, saying that ECS is about 3-6, likley 3.5 and that ESS is 7-13, most likely 9, are not quite as dramatically different as they seem.

But still, the implication is that sensitivity is higher than people have been thinking. And this is where lots of people don’t like the research. Not because of the finding, but because of the effort to calculate this number itself. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt has been circumspectly tweeting about this for several days, and just wrote a blog post at Real Climate on it. He notes,

Nature published a great new reconstruction of global temperatures over the past 2 million years today. Snyder (2016) uses 61 temperature reconstructions from 59 globally diverse sediment cores and a correlation structure from model simulations of the last glacial maximum to estimate (with uncertainties) the history of global temperature back through the last few dozen ice ages cycles. There are multiple real things to discuss about this – the methodology, the relatively small number of cores being used (compared to what could have been analyzed), the age modeling etc. – and many interesting applications – constraints on polar amplification, the mid-Pleistocene transition, the duration and nature of previous interglacials – but unfortunately, the bulk of the attention will be paid to a specific (erroneous) claim about Earth System Sensitivity (ESS) that made it into the abstract and was the lead conclusion in the press release.

The paper claims that ESS is ~9ºC and that this implies that the long term committed warming from today’s CO2 levels is a further 3-7ºC. This is simply wrong.

That post is here, go read it.

Meanwhile, I’ll be happy to have a go at explaining this complaint as clearly as I can without using math or physics. I’ll use dogs.

When I leave my house, my dog is always looking out the living room window. When I come home, the dog is always by the front door. The distance between the living room window and the front door is ten meters. Therefore, I can estimate that the final net change in dog location, as a result of whatever movements my dog is making all day, is 10 meters.

Now, I’m going to try to model your dog and see how that goes. That’s where I run into problems. This forces me to generlize the problem by getting much more specific about what the actual dog is doing during any given point in time. I don’t know anyting about you, your dog, or your house, so I need a model that takes all the different factors into account, then I predict what your dog will do. Should be easy, right?

When dogs are left alone, they do several things. They sleep in a few locations, they look out various windows, they visit their food bowl to sniff at it a few times. But what exactly they do is different depending on if the time one leaves the home is in the evening or morning, because of light outside, changing the nature of the window visits. Was the toilet bowl left up or not? Is there a treat hiding under the couch? The complexity is enormous, and you really can’t say much about the movements of the dog all day. Then, when you get home, will your dog, or anyone’s dog, automatically go to the door to wait for you? What if your dog hates you? What if your dog has lousy hearing and you walk home quietly, as opposed to a dog with great hearing, and the owner drives a motorcycle?

While correlation between dog’s position at my house over time works well, and allows me to accurately characterize dog position over time as recorded for the past at my location, it does not take into account the fact that some variables may act differently than the correlation implies.

That’s the argument that Snyder can’t say what she says. GAST responds to dust, albedo, which relates to ice distribution and amount, and that is determined by various climatic factors, etc. etc. As long as everything is the same from glacial cycle to glacial cycle, more or less, we can use a set of glacial cycles to emperically estimate what happens for any other glacial cycle. But if they don’t, then forgetaboutit.

The dog actually did move NET 10 meters every day, no matter what happened in between. But, the correlation is either spurious or at least, underdetermined. The ESS estimate is about how things settle down in the end, not about what happens during a unique period of dramatic climate change.

And this is why the criticisms are both correct and incorrect. I thing the criticisms by Gavin Schmidt and others are not especially relevant or interesting when asking this question: “What is the ESS value controlling Pleistocene climate change (with changing CO2 and GAST) over the last 2 million years?” The answer to that question is 9 (but see Schmidt’s commentary, he has other issues). If you don’t like 9, do your own study, change the way you handle the data, get more data, get an arguably better GAST curve, get better CO2 estimates, and recompute.

However, the answer to the question, “What is the ESS or ECS value governing anthropogenic climate change at present, and over the next few decades, based on Snyder’s temperature curve?

Answer: The dog died. Or it ran out the door in the middle of the day. Or some other doggy metaphor indicating a dramatic gap between expectation and reality, because of humans.

Human impacts on the climate over the last two or more centuries, and especially over recent and upcoming decades, via land use changes and greenhouse gas release, are not the same as what happened during previous interglacials. So, really, while this new work places the entire question in historical context, perhaps it doesn’t actually answer the question, because the house we left the dog in is totally different than it ever has been before.

And the author seems to be saying something roughly along these lines. Snyder told me that she followed prior work that had already “… defined the correlation relationship between global temperature and greenhouse gas radiative forcing changes as ESS as a way to summarize patterns in the Earth’s past climate. This is a useful metric that summarizes a combination of interactive feedbacks in the climate system. This does include changes in longer timescale feedbacks, such as ice sheets, vegetation, and dust, within the ESS metric. It is not ECS, as that is defined as explicitly not including those changes as internal feedbacks, but rather as external forcing that need to be explicitly accounted for separately.” She went on to tell me that the ESS is “a useful reference as a way to summarize past relationships from the paleoclimate record. But again, it is a correlation observed in the past, not a test of causation.”

So, in essence, Snyder is only talking about the dog’s past repeated behavior. ESS, she says, “… is likely state dependent, and thus I focused on comparing my new estimate to estimates from previous research on the late Quaternary. I also was able to investigate the state dependence of the metric within the last 800,000 years and found that it was lower in deep glacial states. This is an interesting finding, as some people have assumed that the ESS metric would be higher at the glacial maxima (e.g., the LGM) than during interglacials. That is not what the data shows.”

Which brings me to a couple of other observations, which may be a bit esoteric but if you think about it, are really quite interesting. Remember above when I said that Milankovitch cycles have varied quite a bit in the past as to whether or not they had a big influence on climate? Snyder confirms or proposes that there was an increase in influence about half way through this time period. She also shows that the Pleistocene cooling continued only up to a certain point, then stopped. And, this research appears to elucidate the relationship between the Arctic and Antarctic, and the rest of the world, a phenomenon known as polar amplification, which is the increase in temperature change at the poles compared to the rest of the planet. Cribbed and reworded a bit from the abstract:

<li>Global temperature gradually cooled until roughly 1.2 million years ago and cooling then stalled until the present. </li>

<li>The cooling occurred, then stalled, before the increase in the maximum size of ice sheets around 0.9 million years ago, so global cooling is shown to be a precondition for a shift in Milankofitch effects to the more recent pattern of ~100,000 year cycles.</li>

<li>Over the past 800,000 years, polar amplification has been stable over time.</li>

<li>Global temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have been closely coupled across glacial cycles. </li>

This may be an evolving situation. I asked Carolyn Snyder a few questions about her research after reading Schmidt’s first post, but before his second was posted, and I do not know if she had read either at that time. So don’t take her quotes from above as addressing his questions. They are merely clarifying remarks. Also, frankly, I’ve not heard the opinions of any of my colleagues who are on the higher end of sensitivity estimates. They may show up tomorrow and get in Snyder’s trench.

Yes, it is true that climate change is controversial. But not whether or not climate change is human caused, real, or important. It is all those things. But within the field itself, the scientist are busy fighting it out, as well they should. I’ll keep you posted.

Trypanosomiasis Discovery: An Argument for Basic Research

One of the differences among the current four candidates for POTUS is the recognition, by only one of them, of the great importance of basic research. By that, I mean, give the scientists funding to pursue the questions that interest them. A sort of free market of ideas driven not by profits of the Bayers, Koch Borthers, and Cargils of the world, but rather, by how cool stuff is and how much untethered knowledge is advanced each time something else cool happens.

Tsetse fly
Tsetse fly
Trypanosomiasis is a terrible disease. I know only one person who had it, he was treated, survived, but his brain did get fried, at least for a while, and since that was a key asset for him, that was very sad. I did work extensively in a region that had been made into the world’s largest contiguous parkland, spanning three countries, because much of it had been depopulated due to a major epidemic of trypanosomiasis. And, the insect carrier of the disease, the tsetse fly, was there in abundance.

For those who have not met a tsetse fly, think of it as a tropical version of the Horse Fly, that large black thing that looks like a house fly on steroids with the bite that hurts like hell. They are very distant relatives, but have a similar love of human flesh and similar approaches to getting it.

The disease affects both humans and cattle, and has a very high mortality rate, so cattle keeping people such as the BaHama and others who lived in that area were very seriously affected.

Trypanosomiasis is caused by a protozoan, Trypanosoma, which has phylogenetically obscure associations and is probably polyphyletic. There is almost no recent research on the evolution of this protozoan, that I know of, yet it is probably very interesting, being found in both the old and new world, and probably having differentiated a very long time ago. Given the very interesting ways that protozoans reproduce, this would likely be a massively difficult project, above the PhD level. But if you are interested in making a contribution …

You know of trypanosomiasis as “sleeping sickness.” Africanists, trapped between the silliness of the common name and the tongue twistiness of the scientific name call it “tryps.” You don’t want tryps.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Despite major efforts, the disease was never eradicated. It would be totally gone in a region, impossible to find blood samples with the parasite in the sample, and then suddenly re-emerge. Nobody knew where it was hiding.

It turns out that where it was hiding, just discovered, is in retrospect totally obvious, and the kind of thing that, in my view, would have either been thought up or observed by accident, as happened here, had there been more basic research on all the different elements of this sad story of disease and death.

Annette MacLeod of the University of Glasgow was working on related matters, when (to oversimplify and shorten the story a bit) she discovered that the tryps parasite can hide in the skin, staying out of the blood supply and thus off the blood test radar. This may say something of our heavy reliance on blood tests as a sort of Ultimate Truth when it comes to infectious disease. Anyway, the tryps protozoan can remain in the skin, where, possibly, it gets picked up by a biting tsetse, and the, if all goes well for the protozoan, gets spread into the bloodstream of a downstream victim, and the whole things starts over again.

The story is written up here in Science.

Will other researches, working on other diseases, even those thought to be entirely blood borne, have a look in alternative tissues from now on? They should. Adding a sort of “look both ways” rule to the study of disease may not be a bad idea. Don’t assume the typically focal tissue is the only place a microbe of some sort carries out its activities. Check around. Look in the closet. Behind the door. Under the bed. You never know what will be lurking.

This seems to be unpublished research, but The research is here, and you can check out MacLeod’s publications to get a bead on this, and perhaps keep an eye out for the work in print.

AGU Throws Science, Climate Under The Bus

The American Geophysical Union just lost whatever remaining credibility it had as a scientific society earlier today when it announced no change in policy regarding taking money from ExxonMobil.

We talked about this before, here.

Margaret Leinen, the AGU president, issued a communication today that says this:

Last week the AGU Board of Directors discussed the organization’s April decision to continue engagement with ExxonMobil after receiving additional information from several sources. The Board maintained its original decision after another careful and systematic review of hundreds of pages of both newly provided and previous documentation and a thoughtful and comprehensive discussion. We thank all those who made their voices heard.

AGU has always valued open dialogue and exchange of ideas, and we believe this decision best reflects AGU’s unique value to the scientific community: our ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries. With membership spanning all Earth and space sciences, AGU has an increasingly important role to play – building on our recognized convening power – in providing a space for active, vibrant dialogue that advances collective scientific understanding of the world and our place within it. This is an important function and strategic goal of our organization as scientific issues continue to be top-of-mind for the public and legislators alike and as places for thoughtful discussion of diverging viewpoints become increasingly rare. We remain, as always, committed to cultivating a space that is inclusive to scientists working across all sectors of society in service of exceptional scientific research and discovery.

We welcome your questions and comments via comments on this blog post or by direct email to

See the key part? This: ” ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries. With membership spanning all Earth and space sciences, AGU has an increasingly important role to play – building on our recognized convening power…”

The AGU is pretending that the range of normal activities among its lovely power giving constituency includes nefarious acts, paying for anti-science activities, and so on. They are not arguing that ExxonMobil is in the clear. They are arguing that it doesn’t matter.

The word “power” here is a clear — well, ok, veiled — dog whistle. Someone in the organization wanted us to see that word in this context. The real power in power companies is not the gas or electricity.

So, that’s it for the AGU. What’s next?

The Argument Against Anthropogenic Climate Change Is On Drugs

First, a note on Lewis Carrol, Alice and Wonderland, and drugs. The current revisionist version of that work is that Carrol was not referring to drugs when he has Alice or other characters imbibe or smoke various substances (including ‘shrooms) and in so doing experience dramatic changes in reality. Uh huh, sure. The argument is based on the belief that Lewis Carrol did not do drugs. That argument is absurd, of course, because Alice in Wonderland and related works ARE FICTION. If these stories can only involve thematic metaphor to drug use by the author actually being on drugs while weaving the yarns, then what exactly do we expect Stephen King’s life to be like? But, I digress and we shall now get on to the point of this post.

There is a new paper by the Conspiracy and Consensus team exploring how climate science deniers, in a conspirational mode, are, essentially, on drugs. Not real drugs, just the metaphorical ones invoked when we think or utter, “What did he say? Man, he must be on drugs.” To be clear, this paper does not actually make the drug connection directly. The connection to the Alice down the rabbit hole metaphor is in the great disparity and incongruence among ideas proffered or claimed simultaneously by the deniers of climate science.

Here’s the details on the paper: Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. Synthese (2016). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6.

Click the link to get your free copy.

The authors make two key observations, and then explain them. First observation: The climate change denier community is capable of saying, seemingly at the same time, completely different things that contradict each other. Second observation: Same as the first one, but this also applies to individuals. In other words, the internally conflicting disparity of ideas does not solely represent heterogeneity in the denier community. It indicates a lack of need or desire for consistency or internal coherency. Science deniers do not care that they, as a group or as individuals, saying that even though paleo-temperature data from proxies are unreliable, a claim (which is incorrect) can be made that the middle ages were warmer than today. They can say that we can’t really measure atmospheric CO2 levels in the past, but they were higher in the past at particular points in time. And so on. The paper provides numerous examples.

The authors explain this lack of coherency by the fact that there is coherency, but at a different level. Given (or, as an assumption) that this is conspiratorial ideation in action, the deniers know (but are wrong) that there is a conspiracy at a higher level to obscure or hide the truth, or to make stuff up, etc. Therefore, any given idea, no matter how much conflict it implies with other ideas, is acceptable as long as it doubles as a finger pointing to the man behind the curtain, the deep and high level conspiracy. If an idea supports the idea that there is a conspiracy (any conspiracy, or just an unspecified conspiracy of some sort, not a particular one) then it is an OK idea.

I would either mildly disagree with this explanation, or take it one sept further and fully agree with it. I’m still thinking about it.

In dueling with deniers, one thing that very quickly becomes apparent is an utter lack of concern for honesty. One could ask the question, was honesty absent from the beginning, as a character trait of these individuals, or was it sacrificed in service of strong conspiratorial ideation? I think the lack of honesty is critically important, because this is what make it impossible, in a conversation, for the interlocutors to agree on what we are all getting at, or to acknowledge when we are going in a good vs. bad direction with intermediate conclusions or provisional ideas, or to in any way come to any kind of understanding about pretty much anything.

An honest conversation moves towards something, and that something is defined and redefined, and increasingly better understood, as part of the conversation itself. Deniers are not even moving towards a better and more coherent conspiracy. They are, rather, denying every aspect of the mainstream, coherent, consensus-seeking conversation, no matter what it is. You can test this, by engagement in comment sections of newspaper articles and blog posts. You can trick these folks into saying something that favors a normal interpretation of climate science, by simply letting them know that you are agin’ ’em, and then stating the opposite of what you want them to say. In the trenches, detailed positions are not necessarily developed and framed just in reference to the conspiracy by a higher power (the government, the academics, etc.), but also (or maybe mostly?) in simple opposition to whatever a scientist, climate change “believer,” etc. is saying.

That applies, by the way, to about everything one might talk about. On this blog, several folks who showed up as science deniers discovered a conversation about firearms, and engaged fully. And, the same tactics prevailed. I’m not sure how important that is, but those conversations might be worth a look.

This could be all about the Ultimate Conspiracy, and the dishonesty simply arises from the incoherence of the necessary arguments. Or, the Ultimate Conspiracy could be the final (and ultimate) excuse when everything else fails, and fail it must if ever the conversation goes on long enough for everyone to understand that the deniers have contradicted themselves and each other on everything they’ve said.

Either way, the utter lack of honesty must matter. The adherence to honesty in the normal, honest conversation about policy or science, or science policy, is critical. When that breaks down, and people involved in the conversation are working with other objectives, that is when you get serious problems (including post-modernism within academia, damaging political positions in state houses and national capitols, and utter craziness on the internet.) I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that disregard for honesty, or the inability to grok honesty, or something, is associated with a range of pathologies. I’d love to see this explored more.

<li><a href="">ClimateDenierRoundup has more on this paper, here.</a></li>

<li>Graham Readfearn has this: <a href="">How climate science deniers can accept so many 'impossible things' all at once</a></li>

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper has this: <a href="">Climate Science Denial: A rational activity built on incoherence and conspiracy theories</a></li>

And, now, a musical interlude.

What we need to do to stop global warming

Obviously, we need to stop the human enhanced extra greenhouse effect. There are a number of ways to approach this. Let me say right away that taking CO2, the main greenhouse gas of concern long term, out of the atmosphere is NOT one of the ways. Here’s why: It takes energy to put Carbon into solid or liquid form. You get energy back when you move the Carbon into a gas form (as CO2). That is something of an oversimplification but long term, large scale, it is correct. Since, for the most part, the greenhouse effect is caused by the the generation of energy for use, which causes the movement of solid or liquid Carbon compounds in fossil sources to gas Carbon compounds (CO2), it is not possible to solve this problem by adding energy demand to the system to put that Carbon back. Again, I oversimplify, but that is the big picture.

One approach may be to increasingly use “clean energy” such as nuclear, solar, wind, and so on, while we otherwise allow the fossil fuel industry to do whatever it needs to produce our energy, either in support of electricity generation or as stuff we burn directly in vehicles or buildings. That, however, is also NOT a viable approach.

There has been a sense among experts for quite some time now that there is only one way to address climate change: Keep the Carbon in the ground. We need to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep the Carbon currently in solid or liquid form, or as gas trapped in the ground, in place.

So, the very first thing you need to do that is to NOT build more pipelines NOT drill more wells, NOT start up new coal mines.

Check out: The IKONOKAST Science Podcast. Excellent interviews with top scientists.


At the same time the other first thing you need to do is to STOP building any sort of new electricity generating plant that uses fossil fuels. No more coal plants, no more methane plants.

At the same time the other other first thing you need to do is to NOT build any more infrastructure that processes fossil fuel into usable products. No more refineries, etc.

And now, there is a current report that backs up this sense, and tells us how important it is to NOT do these things.

The rpeport is by “OilChange” but produced in cooperation with, Amazon Watch, APMDD, AYCC, Bold Alliance, Christian Aid, Earthworks, Équiterre, Global Catholic Climate Movement, HOMEF, Indigenous Environmental Network, IndyAct, Rainforest Action Network, and Here are the bullet points (summarized here):

Key Findings:

  • The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.
  • <li>The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.</li>
    <li>With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.</li>

    Key Recommendations:

    <li>No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.
  • Some fields and mines – primarily in rich countries – should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.
  • This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.
  • I am being told by experts that I trust that these findings are probably substantially correct. These are experts who have made similar studies and are now reviewing this important report. If they produce any posts or articles about this, I’ll insert them here.

    <li>Ashley Braun  at DESMOGBLOG writes: <a href="">As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set to Exceed its Goals</a>

    Meanwhile, you can download the report here, and read it for yourself. Pick it apart, tell us what you think.

    The most important single act you can carry out period.

    This is it. Don’t mess this up.

    It isn’t that common that a single event can have a cascading effect on so many things. And if it does, such an event would not be that likely to have an entirely negative effect on all it touches. But, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States would be such an event.

    Therefore, in turn and in opposition, your vote this November 8th matters as much as his presidency would matter. So, you must vote. (And please remember to NOT VOTE FOR TRUMP. That’s the point. Do not vote for Trump.)

    Also please, make sure that if you intend to vote for a third party candidate because you have calculated that “my vote doesn’t matter in my state because my state bla bla bla” that you aren’t wrong. You might be wrong. A lot of people will be wrong this year because of the simple fact that the electorate is behaving differently than it has behaved in decades, so expectations that allow you to feel safe are not valid.

    For example, if you live in Minnesota, and you think it is safe to vote for Stein or write in Bernie, you should know that there will not be helpful polling in this state, and Minnesotans tend to vote very conservatively, suddenly, and surprisingly, an din groups, now and then. This could be such a year. We sent the Worst Senator in the World to the US Senate, twice, because the other side violated a fundamental law of Minnesota culture, even though the DFL candidate was already widely recognized as the best candidate in all of the Senate races that year. We elected Jesse Ventura as governor. No, Minnesotans, your vote is not “safe.” Vote for Hillary Clinton. Anything else you do IS a vote for Tump.

    This applies as well to all of the battleground states. Too much is at stake for you to let your special snowflake voting status, your own personal feeling of wanting to do the “right thing,” lead you.

    Meanwhile, for those who have actually been paying attention to the careers and policies of the candidates for many years, Hillary Clinton is a great candidate, and it is a shame that so many of the smears against her, perpetuated by Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and the GOP, have convinced so many otherwise smart people that she is not. Sure, disagree with her on any issue you like, and advocate and activate on behalf your positions. But do recognize that she is a legit candidate and none of the others are.

    Anyway, this all comes as introduction to the following video. Which, by the way, includes a LOT of people who supported Bernie in the primaries, but who are now warning of the dangers of Trump. Please pay attention to this. Special bonus appearances for West Wing fans. And, Mark Ruffalo, naked. Full Monty. But only if you do the right thing.

    If you are not a voter in the United States of America you may disregard this message.

    Here’s the link mentioned.

    Hat tip: Julia

    How Far Can You Drive With An “Empty Tank” Warning?

    So, many years ago, Amanda and I got a new car. The first thing we did was to switch get rid of my old Rodeo, and I took her old Subaru sedan, and she drove the new Forrester. So, thereafter I drove her old car, and she drove our new car.

    One day I was on my way back home, and I noticed that the gas gauge needle was on E, but the Empty Tank Warning Light was not on. So I figured I’d get gas at the place near home, rather than stopping sooner.

    Driving down the highway, the car sputtered and stopped working. I got it over to the side of the highway. Knowing that it was not out of gas, because the warning light was not on, I opted to be towed to the station, just a half mile away (I was almost home!) rather than to try fixing it on the road.

    By the end of the day, I learned that the problem with the car, the reason it stopped on the highway, was this: Out of gas!

    Later, I mentioned to Amanda that her former car’s gas tank warning light didn’t seem to be working any more, and I thought there was 20 miles or so before it went empty! Her response: “It has never worked, since I bought the car. You are thinking of the other car, dummy!”

    Well, she didn’t say “dummy” but she should have. And, the answer to the question at the top of this post, with respect to that particular car, is: Undefined.

    Much more recently, we were driving our Prius back from a visit up north. We passed the gas statin in Rice, but shouldn’t have, because we were almost out. Coming down into Saint Cloud, the warning light came on. Then, we hit a major traffic jam. There was no way we were going to make it to the gas station.

    But, we were going down hill in stop and go traffic in a Prius. So, we switched to “Battery Mode” and stopped using gas for the next 10 minutes. No problem.

    The point is, the answer to the question is necessarily imprecise. The best strategy is to avoid letting the light go on. Which, by the way, brings up an important digression into another myth: How empty should you let your car’s gas tank get?

    It has long been thought that letting your car get too empty is a bad thing. For modern cars, this is a myth. It may always have been a myth. But today, all the reasons ever cited to avoid this are wrong except two. So, the rule that you should fill your tank when it is one quarter full is incorrect, ignore that. It doesn’t matter when you fill your tank.

    But, this part is true: You don’t want your car to run out of gas. Why? Well because then it won’t go! Obviously. But there is another reason. It is actually possible that parts of your system, such as the catalytic converter, will be damaged or stressed by the process of zero-fuel-engine-stoppage. I’m not sure how that happens, but it can happen.

    Also, it is a myth that you should not fill the tank on a hot day. You should, actually, never “top off” the tank. Just fill it until the hose clicks you off and leave it at that. Modern cars are designed to handle gas expansion, modern cars in combination with modern gas, are designed to handle moisture in the tank, etc. etc. These various rules about gas are either no longer valid because of changes in technology, or were never true, and merely part of Car Lore.

    Anyway, back to the point. Your Mechanic web site has put together a table showing how long you have to drive, estimated and on average, and depending, for each of several makes and models of car, when the emergency fuel light goes on.

    I’ve pasted it below, but first, I am reminded of a second myth. Sometimes the out of fuel light is in the form of a tiny gas tank, with the hose on one side. It is said that the side that has the hose on it (see illustration above) indicates which side of the car your filler hole is, which is handy if you are driving a borrowed or rented car.

    It doesn’t. Well, maybe about half the time it does, but no, this is not a thing.

    Here’s the chart: