It turns out that there is an untold story behind the “discovery” of the famous Hockey Stick graph by Mike Mann and his colleagues. It is an excellent example of how science works, worthy of repeating, say, in a science classroom.
Anthropogenic Climate Change is very serious business. And, therefore, there has been far too little humor applied to communicating about this problem. Mike Mann and his co-author Tom Toles have started to backfill that gaping hole in the collective effort to bring the most important existential issue of our time to everyone’s attention.
Hurricane Matthew wasn’t just a storm enhanced by, or affected by, or influenced by, climate change. Matthew is the new poster storm for climate change and catastrophe, not because it Destroyed America (it didn’t, America got lucky, though Haiti did not) but because of several unique characteristics of that storm.
So, I did an interview with Mike Mann, even as Matthew was just about to pounce on Florida, in which we discuss various aspects of Atlantic hurricanes, and Matthew in particular.
We also discuss long term variation in the climate record, those squiggles in the surface warming trend on top of which regular warming is imposed.
We discuss Mike’s journey to the Hockey Stick, which I’m pretty sure is a story that has not been covered on a blog post or podcast or anything like that.
And, we discuss Mann and Tole’s new book, “The Madhouse Effect.”
This morning I was forced to do the “get off my lawn” thing with the kids at the bus stop. They were systematically destroying the pavement around the common mailbox area down the street from my house, throwing chunks in the street. I lined them up and read them the riot act. They are children, so they can be excused for bering a bit stupid about life, and the guy down the street telling them to get off the lawn is part of the learning process for them.
And now it’s your turn.
The right wing yahoos have already started yelling about conspiracies related to Hurricane Matthew. “They are telling us lies, that it will be a total disaster because of [some dumbass reason nobody quite understands]” This has lead, on the internet, to “don’t leave your homes, Obama and Shillary will be down here to take away your guns” (OK, I admit, that last one was me being sarcastic, but there are similar tweets out there.”
Let me explain something to you.
Matthew is a very large and dangerous hurricane that was predicted to go on a course the center line of which (where the eye would be, approximately) would parallel the coast, just off shore, for a long distance, for hundreds of miles. At any moment the eye could shift left or right, the predictions said. Also, the size of the hurricane force wind field could widen or narrow. Therefore, if the hurricane did as predicted, it could seriously affect the entire coast, knocking down power lines and trees, doing other damage.
So far, that is exactly what has happened. No deviation. You hear “the eye moved east.” Bullshit. There was never a line on which the eye was to move.There was a center line of a prediction cone, and the storm has stayed right in the predicted area. It was alway predicted to be about where it is, plus or minus. It is well within the plus or minus.
Every here and there, the predictions indicated, the hurricane could produce a dangerous storm tide. Each section of coast has a different potential for this because of its shape. The exact timing of high tide matters. The storm’s exact configuration and distance from the coast matters. So you can’t predict in detail what will happen, but what you CAN do is produce a likely scenario in the worst case. If all the factors come together, and you live in a house in this region, you are truly fuckered. The Hurricane turns left a bit, or a certain band of winds interacts with an embayment just right at high tide, or whatever. If you live in that house, and you do not act as though this may happen to you (i.e., evacuate), then you are a dumbass.
A maximum storm tide of something around 11 feet, sometimes more, sometimes only about 6 feet or so, was (and is for the next day or two) predicted for the entire coast from some point north of Palm Beach all the way up through Georgia and beyond.
This does not mean, and it never meant, that there would be an 11 foot flood covering the entire coast. No. It. Never. Meant. That. If most of the Atlantic coast from South Florida to Bogna Riva does not flood to 11 feet killing all the people and puppies and kittehs, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE PREDICTIONS WERE WRONG.
This morning NBC actually had a snarky local yahoo meteorologist on (the commenters and Al Roker were visibly embarrassed after the fact) who went through the whole storm chaser routine …
“… Here I am in my car. Here I am getting out of my car. Her I am cutting through the bushes, telling you breathlessly: wait ’til you see this, look at what Imma show you now’ etc. etc…..”
Then he brought the camera out on the beach and there was nothing there but some waves.
“See? They said there would be a storm surge. There is no storm surge. Nothing happened here.”
They cut away from that dude, I’m afraid because he was counter sensationalizing, not because he was being all Rush Limbaugh, though the latter was clearly true. Roker and the others hinted that the storm tide in that area, had there been one, would have passed hours ago so of course it is not visible. Etc.
This is a very smart thing on the part of the right wing. They were prepared for this hurricane in this manner. Somebody figured this out, got the word around, and they are pulling off an excellent and well designed public image manipulation event for Matthew. Here is what they figured out.
1) The hurricane is going to be near something close to 500 miles of coast.
2) There will be breathless yammering about the dangers along 500 miles of coast, recruiting perhaps 40 or more storm studs, national and local, and hundreds of tweeting meteorologists, etc. etc. going on about how bad it will be.
3) Even if the storm seriously damages one place, kills people in part of Georgia or whatever, it will not be 500 miles of 11 foot flood everywhere, like promised.
4) Therefore the storm was hyped, by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama flying overhead in their Black Helicopters, swooping in to take our guns and bibles.
5) In the end there will be 500 miles worth of things that were said would happen but never happened, and maybe five miles of real disaster in some feckless coastal town.
So that’s the real getting Matthew wrong. A public image coup for the right wing, the climate deniers. They won this storm.
Got it? Great. Now get the hell off my lawn. And get it right next time (giving stern look to the climate communicators).
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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:
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!
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.
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.
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 thanbetter 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 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:
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.