Tag Archives: Severe weather

Hurricane Nate Updated

Update Thursday AM

As expected, Nate emerged as a named storm over night. The storm is now interacting withland in Central America and is therefore having trouble getting organized. And, as expected given the uncertainty this causes, the forecasts are unclear on future intensity. The most recent National Hurricane Center projection has Nate Maxing out as a much weaker storm than yesterday’s projection suggested. And, the center of the expected path of the storm has shifted west and is now centered roughly on New Orleans.

After leaving Central America, Nate is expected to pass just over the eastern Yucatan as a tropical storm. That’s thea rea of Cancune and the Maya Riviera, which has seen its share of bad storms. Nate will probably be departing that area and moving out over the Gulf, still as a tropical storm, early Saturday morning.

Between Saturday morning and Sunday Morning, Nate will have turned into an actual Hurricane, Category I, perhaps with maximum sustained winds of around 75 miles per hour. Then, during the day Sunday, the storm will come ashore with the center somewhere between a point west of New Orleans and a point west of Tallahasse. That would be the center of the storm, not the full effect.

The National Weather Service is not yet issuing information on storm surges.

When people hear about Nate they say, “Only a Category I, no big deal.” I was in a weak Category II/Category I hurricane once. I walked around in it. It seemed like a really strong Nor’easter, not much more. Meanwhile, some 60 miles away, my sister-in-law’s house, way up on a hill overlooking the ocean, was 100% covered with the sea. She had seaweed in her attic, crabs in her bathroom, and bluefish in kitchen. All I’m saying is that just because some hurricanes get called “major” does not mean that the other ones are “minor.”

Update Wed PM:

As expected, the intensification projected for this storm has been upgraded a bit but it still likely to stay in the Category 1 range, with landfall on the Gulf coast (tentatively) at around 5PM Sunday, so strong winds etc. affecting the coast starting any time over the weekend.

There are now some projected tracks that put the center of the storm right in New Orleans, others that keep it over the Florida panhandle. On one hand it is too early to say, but on the other hand, the storm is forming fairly quickly and will move fairly quickly to make a landfall in just a few days.

Original Post:

The next named storm in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin will be called Nate. There is currently a tropical depression located not far from Nicaragua that is expected to become a named storm pretty soon. It may pass over or interact with land between now and Friday, but if it does what the experts project, some time between Friday mid day and Saturday PM, it will be over very warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, heading mostly north, and turning into a hurricane. It will likely remain a Category I hurricane until making landfall on the Gulf Coast by the end of the day Sunday. Location of landfall of the center of the storm is between some point east of New Orleans and some point north of Tampa, with the general area of Tallahassee being the current, but subject to change, bulls-eye.

This is all fairly speculative at the moment. The track seems very likely but it can change. The most important change that could happen is that the storm turns out to be stronger than currently anticipated. I say this simply because unexpected strengthening seems to be association with warm deep waters, which is a fairly new phenomenon. As far as I know, meteorological science is silent on this issue, and this is just my gut feeling. But if a storm doing what this storm is doing is projected as having 80 mph winds near landfall, I’d leave open the possibility of stronger winds closer to 100 mph. If so, the storm would be a weak Category 2. Again, this is just a guess.

As indicated in the graphic above, an experimental NWS product, tropical storm force winds could arrive in the keys by late Friday PM, and along the gulf coast near NOLA and the panhandle overnight Saturday.

Puerto Rico Disaster Implications: Migrations, Politics, Cholera

Two or three thoughts about the current crisis.

When there is a major climate disaster in the US, people move. Since the US is big and has large gaps in population, it looks different than when a disaster happens in some other places. Five million (or more) Syrians leaving the Levant left a major mark across the globe. A half million leaving the Katrina hit zone was barely noticed on a global, or even national, scale, not just because it was one tenth the amount, but because of our size and space as well.

Something close to half the 400K or so displaced by Katrina (over half of them from NOLA) have returned to the vicinity they formerly lived in, and only a third to the same original location. The others are all over the place, distributed with a rapidly decreasing distance decay function. So these displacements, in the US, tend to be very long term and can thus affect demography and politics far afield.

An exodus from Puerto Rico will likely have a different decay function than seen for Katrina because it is, and apparently few people know this, an Island! But anyway, it is likely that there will be an exodus from Puerto Rico and it is starting to look like it will be sufficient to make Florida less Purple and more Blue, and specifically, more anti-Trump.

Note that in the past, New York was the most likely destination for a person from Puerto Rico to move, which is funny given Trump’s statements about all his Puerto Rican friends. For those not from that region, Puerto Ricans have long been hated by white supremacists in the greater NY metro area. But I digress. Anyway, over recent years, Florida has become a growing center of the US Mainland Puerto Rican community.

For context: There are about 3.5 million people living in Puerto Rico who identify as Puerto Rican, and about 5.3 million self identified Puerto Ricans in the lower 48. Currently there is somewhat under one million in Florida, somewhat over in NY, but Puerto Ricans are everywhere in the US, with the fewest in the upper plains and the most in the greater NY area (as far out as Penn) and Florida.

We are concerned that cholera will spread in Puerto Rico. You may remember the ca 2011 epidemic that mainly struck Haiti (see chart above). There was another ten years earlier. There is some interesting research out there linking cholera to climate change. The pathogen, Vibrio cholerae, lives in coastal waters where it has a keystone commensal relationship with copepods and other microinvertebrates. We think of cholera as a highly contagious pathogen among humans, but it starts from its natural reservoirs in water. In some areas of South Asia, cholera was significantly attenuated by the discovery that simply passing well water through common cotton cloth filtered out the disease enough to make a difference, at least in some contexts.

For historical context, there was a huge cholera epidemic in the Caribbean in the 19th century, and I understand this event, which killed something like 30,000 in Puerto Rico alone, is still a traumatic memory in the region. From a 2011 summary of the historic epidemic, written I suspect in response to the re-emergence of the problem about six years ago:

The Caribbean region experienced cholera in 3 major waves… The 3 periods of cholera in the Caribbean that we have identified are 1833–1834 (with, according to Kiple [6], possible lingering cholera in outlying areas until late 1837 or early 1838) in Cuba; 1850–1856 in Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Trinidad, the Bahamas, St. Vincent, Granada, Anguilla, St. John, Tortola, the Turks and Caicos, the Grenadines (Carriacou and Petite Martinique), and possibly Antigua; and 1865–1872 in Guadeloupe, Cuba, St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Martinique, and Marie Galante.

It is thought that Cholera is more likely to be abundant and to spread into human populations with warmer waters, and possibly the range over which cholera is a lingering constant threat in coastal waters is likely increasing. Also, increased air temperatures and rainfall can increase growth or spread of cholera in the wild. This is a relationship first identified in the 1990s, and that has been demonstrated through several studies. The next few weeks and months in Puerto Rico are an accidental and potentially horrific experimental laboratory to test the science that has been percolating along over the last 20 years.

Why is this year’s hurricane season so much worse?

It isn’t. Well, it is a little, but not totally. OK, it is, but actually, it is complicated.

First, you are probably asking about the Atlantic hurricane season, not the global issue of hurricanes and typhoons and such. If you are asking world-wide, recent prior years were worse if counted by how many humans killed and how much damage done.

With respect to the Atlantic, this was a bad year and there are special features of this year that were bad in a way that is best accounted for by global warming. But looking at the Atlantic hurricanes from a somewhat different but valid perspective, last year was worse (so far) and this year is ordinary, within the context of global warming. So, let’s talk about the global warming question first.

How Global Warming Makes Hurricane Seasons Worse

The effects of global warming on hurricanes in the Atlantic have two interesting features that must be understood to place this discussion in proper context.

First, we are having a bunch of bad decades in a row probably because of global warming. If we compare pre-1980, for a decade, with post 1980, or pre vs. post 1990, or anything similar, the more recent years have had more hurricanes than the earlier years. Comparing to even earlier time periods is tricky because of differences in available data (Satellites make a difference, probably, even with giant weather features like hurricanes). This is mainly due to increasing sea surface temperatures, but there are other factors as well.

Hurricanes are more likely to form when sea surface temperatures are higher. Higher sea surface temperatures can make a hurricane larger or stronger. Hurricanes will last longer if there is more, higher, hurricane-hot sea to travel over. If sea surface temperatures are high enough to cause hurricanes earlier in the year or later in the year, the hurricane season can be longer. Possibly, storms that in a non-warmed world would not have made it to “named storm” status are moved to that level of strength and organization because of the elevated sea surface temperature.

Sea surface temperature increases of small amounts cause large changes in hurricanes, and large changes in hurricanes cause larger changes in potential damage level. The increase in Atlantic sea surface temperatures over recent decades have probably been sufficient, according to my thumb-suck estimate that I strongly suspect is close to correct, to make about half the hurricanes that would have existed anyway jump up one category. Then, when hurricanes get stronger, the amount of damage they can do goes up exponentially. So the sea surface temperature increases we’ve see with global warming easily explain the fact that we’ve had more hurricanes overall, and stronger ones, over the last twenty or thirty years than during the previous years back to when the data are still pretty good.

Second, the science says this will get worse. There is one 2007 study (by Vecci and Soden, in Geophysical Research Letters) that suggests that maybe in the Atlantic, smaller size hurricanes will be less likely to form because of increased vertical wind shear, but that study does not mean much for larger or stronger hurricanes. This decade old study is constantly cited as evidence that global warming will not increase hurricanes in the Atlantic. Other studies show that the overall amount of hurricane activity, and the potential higher end of hurricane strength, and the size, and the speed at which they form, and the amount of water they can contain, and possibly the likelihood of a hurricane stalling right after landfall, go up. Up. Up. Up. One study says down and that word, “down” it resonates across the land like a sonic boom. The other studies say we can expect, and to varying degrees already see, up, up, up, up, up, and denial makes words like “up” and “more” and “worse” and “exasperated” dangerously quiet. Please don’t fall into that trap. Oh, by the way,the one study that says “down” has not been replicated and though experts feel it has some merit, it is far from proven and there are reasons to suggest it my be problematic.

Comparing the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season to Other Years

Funny thing about hurricanes: They exist whether or not they menace you. Every year a certain number of hurricanes (usually) form and wander about in the Atlantic ocean for a while, maybe hitting some boats, but otherwise doing little more than causing some big waves to eventually reach beaches in the Caribbean or the eastern US.

This year, we’ve had four major hurricanes so far. Harvey, which maxed out as a Cat 4, ravaged and flooded Texas and Louisiana. Irma, maxing at Cat 5, ravaged Florida after wiping out islands in the Leewards and doing great damage to Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Maria, maxing out as a Cat 5, did major damage in the Leewards and notably wiped out Puerto Rico. So, four Major Hurricanes formed in the Atlantic and hit something major.

Meanwhile, Jose, another Major hurricane at Cat 4 status, still spinning about in the North Atlantic, is one of those that hit nothing. And that’s all so far this year.

Last year, there were almost exactly the same number of named storms in total (so far) and just like 2017, 2016 had four major hurricanes.

You remember Matthew, which scraped the Atlantic coast and was rather damaging. But do you remember Gaston (Cat 3)? Nicole (Cat 4)? Otto (Cat 3)?

Gaston and Nicole wandered about in the Atlantic and hit nothing. Otto was for real, it hit Central America, but not the US, so from the US perspective, it counts as a non-hitting hurricane. Also, it was only barely cat 3 and weakened quickly.

From 2000 to 2016, inclusively, we have had an average of 15 named storms per year, with a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 28, with most years being between 10 and 16. So far 2017 has had 13 named storms. We may have a couple more. So, likely, we will be right in the middle.

For the same period, the number of hurricanes has ranged from 2 to 15 with an average of about 7. This year, we have had … wait for it … 7. We may or ma not get another one, not very likely two more. In other words, this is an average year for the number of hurricanes.

For the same period, the number of major hurricanes ranges from 0 (though only one year ad zero, it is more typical to have 2 in a low year) to 7, but again, 7 is extreme. It is usually from 2-5. The average is just over 3. This year, we have four. That’s pretty typical.

So, within the context that the last couple of decades has had a somewhat higher than average frequency of hurricanes, and probably more strong ones than previous decades, this we had a typical year this year.

Why does it feel different? Why is it in fact difference, with respect to the horror of it all? Because we had more landfalls, and more serious landfalls.

Keep in mind that Harvey could have hit Houston differently and done more damage. Keep in mind that Cuba beat up Irma, then Irma failed to strike Florida in just the right way to do maximum damage. Keep in mind that after wiping out Puerto Rico, Maria swerved quickly out to sea. In other words, keep in mind that this year could have been much worse than it was.

This is the point that you must understand: Any year can be like this year, or worse. And, with increasing sea surface temperatures and other global warming related factors, worse still.

Hurricane Maria

As you already know, Hurricane Maria is a Category 5 storm menacing the Leewards, and heading, likely, for Puerto Rico.

Please avoid making the mistakes that were made in talking about Irma. There will probably be no Category 5 storm hitting Puerto Rico. The storm will probably be a Category 4 before it hits. So, reporters will sloppily declare that “a category 5 storm is heading for Puerto Rico” then later Rush Limberger will say “Look there was never no such storm, see?” and so on.

But, a Category 4 storm is still nothing to sneeze into, and Puerto Rico and the other island in this storm’s path are in big trouble.

As we wait for that to develop further, let’s talk a bit about predicting hurricane seasons. A lot of people are arguing about whether or not global warming means more, or bigger, or whatever, Atlantic hurricanes. (Short answer: there are probably already more hurricanes in the Atlantic, and bigger ones, but they are hard to count because they are in fact rare events, and science says that there will likely be more in the future). One of the dumber counter arguments to science suggesting that there may be bigger storms, or more of them, is this: You can’t even predict the weather for next weekend, so what the heck, right?

The counter argument to that is this: Ok, fine, we don’t know very accurately what the weather is going to be like next weekend, but what would you say if I told you that we can do a pretty good job of telling, before the hurricane season starts, how many named storms there will be? Huh? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Turns out we can. And the fact that we can suggests that we should be trusting the models, generally, and therefore, expecting more and bigger hurricanes.

I looked at the predictions made in several recent years by several groups that do this prediction, and found out that the total average wrongness averaging across all of them is down near one hurricane, with the range of wrongness being between -8 and 4, but with most of the predictions being within just a few one way or another.

First, a quick look at the number of named tropical storms in the Atlantic per year:

People will tell you there is no trend here, but as you can see, about 44% of the variation seen in the number of storms over time is accounted for by year, so there is a good argument that there is an increasing trend. One might argue that back in the 70s we missed some Hurricanes. That, I do not buy, but if you need to believe that, you can see there is still a trend from 1980 on. So there is an increase.

But I digress. Here’s the point I wanted to make with this graph. The number of hurricanes in a given year varies quite a bit, from 4 to 28 over this time period (and less over the most recent years). So, a method of prediction that gets within two or three in either direction is pretty good.

The number of named storms (many, usually most, of which will be hurricanes) that will happen in a give season in the Atlantic is predicted with reasonable accuracy by several groups. Here’s a chart showing several different prediction groups compared to reality.

The light blue line is the actual number, and you can see that except for 2011 and 2012, the number of storms predicted by various groups, and the number that occur, are very similar. Let’s assume 2011 and 2012 are strange years and arbitrarily ignore them (I know, this would normally be cheating but we’ll come back to that in a minute).

Looking only at those years, one prediction undershot by 4, one prediction undershot by 3, and 7 overshot by 3 or 4. The other 20 predictions were off by no more than two storms.

So, why is it OK to fudge the data like that? Well, it isn’t really, but the last two years of predictions have been off by one or fewer storms on average, and I’m assuming the predictions are getting better and better. In other words, if I were to lay odds on predicting three years in a row a few years in the future, I’d bet that the average difference between all the predictions an the actual observations would be less than one named storm, and I’d win that bet. For this reason I don’t care so much about older data.

Notice that I’m only using predictions made prior to the start of the season, not later updates which some groups do provide.

For this year, we’ve had 13 named storms so far, and all the various groups predicted 14. There is plenty of time to have a couple more storms, so likely, this year will be a bit more active than expected, but just by a couple of storms.

Back to Maria for a moment, you may be wondering if this storm will hit the coast along the lower 48. It is possible, it is too early to tell, but history and the models that exist so far both suggest that it probably will not, but stay tuned.

New Research on Assessing Climate Change Impact on Extreme Weather

Three statisticians go hunting for rabbit. They see a rabbit. The first statistician fires and misses, her bullet striking the ground below the beast. The second statistician fires and misses, their bullet striking a branch above the lagomorph. The third statistician, a lazy frequentist, says, “We got it!”

OK, that joke was not 1/5th as funny as any of XKCD’s excellent jabs at the frequentist-bayesian debate, but hopefully this will warm you up for a somewhat technical discussion on how to decide if observations about the weather are at all explainable with reference to climate change.


We are having this discussion here and now for two reasons. One is that Hurricane Harvey was (is) a very serious weather event in Texas and Louisiana that may have been made worse by the effects of anthropogenic global warming, and there may be another really nasty hurricane coming (Irma). The other is that Michael Mann, Elisabeth Lloyd and Naomi Oreskes have just published a paper that examines so-called frequentist vs so-called Bayesian statistical approaches to the question of attributing weather observations to climate change.

Mann, Michael, ElisabethLloyd, Naomi Oreskes. 2017. Assessing climate change impacts on extreme weather events; the case for an alternative (Baesian) approach. Climate Change (2017) 144:131-142.

First, I’ll give you the abstract of the paper then I’ll give you my version of how these approaches are different, and why I’m sure the authors are correct.

The conventional approach to detecting and attributing climate change impacts on
extreme weather events is generally based on frequentist statistical inference wherein a null hypothesis of no influence is assumed, and the alternative hypothesis of an influence is accepted only when the null hypothesis can be rejected at a sufficiently high (e.g., 95% or Bp = 0.05^) level of confidence. Using a simple conceptual model for the occurrence of extreme weather events, we
show that if the objective is to minimize forecast error, an alternative approach wherein likelihoods
of impact are continually updated as data become available is preferable. Using a simple proof-of-concept, we show that such an approach will, under rather general assumptions, yield more
accurate forecasts. We also argue that such an approach will better serve society, in providing a
more effective means to alert decision-makers to potential and unfolding harms and avoid
opportunity costs. In short, a Bayesian approach is preferable, both empirically and ethically.

Frequentist statistics is what you learned in your statistics class, if you are not an actual statistician. I want to know if using Magic Plant Dust on my tomatoes produces more tomatoes. So, I divide my tomato patch in half, and put a certain amount of Magic Plant Dust on one half. I then keep records of how many tomatoes, and of what mass, the plants yield. I can calculate the number of tomatoes and the mass of the tomatoes for each plant, and use the average and variation I observe for each group to get two sets of numbers. My ‘null hypothesis’ is that adding the magic dust has no effect. Therefore, the resulting tomato yield from the treated plants should be the statistically the same as from the untreated plants. I can pick any of a small number of statistical tools, all of which are doing about the same thing, to come up with a test statistic and a “p-value” that allows me to make some kind of standard statement like “the treated plants produced more tomatoes” and to claim that the result is statistically significant.

If the difference, though, is very small, I might not get a good statistical result. So, maybe I do the same thing for ten years in a row. Then, I have repeated the experiment ten times, so my statistics will be more powerful and I can be more certain of an inference. Over time, I get sufficient sample sizes. Eventually I conclude that Magic Plant Dust might have a small effect on the plants, but not every year, maybe because other factors are more important, like how much water they get or the effects of tomato moth caterpillars.

In an alternative Bayesian universe, prior to collecting any data on plant growth, I do something very non-statistical. I read the product label. The label says, “This product contains no active ingredients. Will not affect tomato plants. This product is only for use as a party favor and has no purpose.”

Now, I have what a Bayesian statistician would call a “prior.” I have information that could be used, if I am clever, to produce a statistical model of the likely outcome of the planned experiments. In this case, the likely outcome is that there won’t be a change.

Part of the Bayesian approach is to employ a statistical technique based on Bayes Theorem to incorporate a priori assumptions or belief and new observations to reach towards a conclusion.

In my view, the Bayesian approach is very useful in situations where we have well understood and hopefully multiple links between one or more systems and the system we are interested in. We may not know all the details that relate observed variation in one system and observed variation in another, but we know that there is a link, that it should be observable, and perhaps we know the directionality or magnitude of the effect.

The relationship between climate change and floods serves as an example. Anthropogenic climate change has resulted in warmer sea surface temperatures and warmer air. It would be very hard to make an argument from the physics of the atmosphere that this does not mean that more water vapor will be carried by the air. If there is more water vapor in the air, there is likely to be more rain. Taken as a Bayesian prior, the heating of the Earth’s surface means more of the conditions that would result in floods, even if the details of when, how much, and where are vague at this level.

A less certain but increasingly appreciated effect of climate change is the way trade winds and the jet stream move around the planet. Without going into details, climate change over the last decade or two has probably made it more likely that large storm systems stall. Storms that may have moved quickly through an area are now observed to slow down. If a storm will normally drop one inch of rain on the landscape over which it passes, but now slows down but rains at the same rate, perhaps 3 inches of rain will be dropped (over a shorter distance). What would have been a good watering of all the lawns is now a localized flood.

That is also potentially a Bayesian prior. Of special importance is that these two Bayesian priors imply change in the same direction. Since in this thought experiment we are thinking about floods, we can see that these two prior assumptions together suggest that a post-climate change weather would include more rain falling from the sky in specific areas.

There are other climate change related factors that suggest increased activity of storms. The atmosphere should have more energy, thus more energetic storms. In some places there should more of the kind of wind patterns that spin up certain kinds of storms. It is possible that the relationship between temperature of the air at different altitudes, up through the troposphere and into the lower stratosphere, has changed so that large storms are likely to get larger than they otherwise might.

There is very little about climate change that implies the reverse; Though there may be a few subsets of storm related weather that would be reduced with global warming, most changes are expected to result in more storminess, more storms, more severe storms, or something.

So now we have the question, has climate change caused any kind of increase in storminess?

I’d like to stipulate that there was a kind of turning point in our climate around 1979, before which we had a couple of decades of storminess being at a certain level, and after which, we have a potentially different level. This is also a turning point in measured surface heat. In, say, 1970 plus or minus a decade, it was possible to argue that global warming is likely but given the observations and data at the time, it was hard to point to much change (though we now know, looking back with better data for the previous centuries, that is was actually observable). But, in 2008, plus or minus a decade, it was possible to point to widespread if anecdotal evidence of changes in storm frequency, patterns, effects, as well as other climate change effects, not the least of which was simply heat.

I recently watched the documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” This is a fairly misunderstood film. It is not really part two of Al Gore’s original “An Inconvenient Truth.” The latter was really Al Gore’s argument about climate change, essentially presented by him. “An Inconvenient Sequel” was made by independent film makers with no direct input by Gore with respect to contents and production, though it is mostly about him, him talking, him making his point, etc. But I digress. Here is the salient fact associated with these two movies.An Inconvenient Truth came out in May 2006, so it is based mainly on information available in 2005 and before. In it, there are examples of major climate change effects, including Katrina, but it seems like the total range of effects is more or less explicated almost completely. When An Inconvenient Sequell came out a few weeks ago, a solid 10+ years had passed and the list of actual climate effects noted in the movie was a sampling, not anything close to a full explication, of the things that had happened over recent years. Dozens of major flooding, storming, drying, and deadly heat events had occurred of which only a few of each were mentioned, because there was just so much stuff.

My point is that there is a reasonable hypothesis based on anecdotal observation (at least) that many aspects of weather in the current decade, or the last 20 years, or since 1979 as I prefer, are different in frequency and/or severity than before, because of climate change.

A frequentist approach does not care why I think a certain hypothesis is workable. I could say “I hypothesize that flies can spontaneously vanish with a half life of 29 minutes” and I could say “I hypothesis that if a fly lays eggs on a strawberry there will later be an average of 112 maggots.” The same statistical tests will be usable, the same philosophy of statistics will be applied.

A Bayesian approach doesn’t technically care what I think either, but what I think a priori is actually relevant to the analysis. I might for example know that the average fly lays 11 percent of her body mass in one laying of eggs, and that is enough egg mass to produce about 90-130 maggots (I am totally making this up) so that observational results that are really small (like five maggots) or really large (like 1 million maggots) are very unlikely a priori, and, results between 90 and 130 are a priori very likely.

So, technically, a Bayesian approach is different because it includes something that might be called common sense, but really, is an observationally derived statistical parameter that is taken very seriously by the statistic itself. But, philosophically, it is a little like the pitcher of beer test.

I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll refresh your memory. Consider an observation that makes total sense based on reasonable prior thinking, but the standard frequentist approach fails to reject the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is that there are more tornadoes from, say, 1970 to the present than there were between 1950 and 1970. This graph suggests this is true…

Annual number of tornadoes for the period 1916-1995; the dashed line connecting solid circles shows the raw data, the red heavy solid line is the result of smoothing. Also shown in the green light solid line is the number of tornado days (i.e., days with one or more tornadoes) per year.

… but because the techniques of observation and measuring tornado frequency have changed over time, nobody believes the graph to be good data. But, it may not be bad data. In other words, the questions about the graph do not inform us of the hypothesis, but the graph is suggestive.

So, I take a half dozen meteorologists who are over 55 years old (so they’ve seen things, done things) out for a beer. The server is about to take our order, and I interrupt. I ask all the meteorologists to answer the question … using this graph and whatever else you know, are there more tornadoes in the later time interval or not? Write your answer down on this piece of paper, I say, and don’t share your results. But, when we tally them up, if and only if you all have the same exact answer (all “yes” or all “no”) then this pitcher of beer is on me.

Those are quasi-Bayesian conditions (given that these potential beer drinkers have priors in their heads already, and that the graph is suggestive if not conclusive), but more importantly, there is free beer at stake.

They will all say “yes” and there will be free beer.

OK, back to the paper.

Following the basic contrast between frequentist and Bayesian approaches, the authors produce competing models, one based on the former, the other on the latter. “In the conventional, frequentist approach to detection and attribution, we adopt a null hypothesis of an equal probability of active and inactive years … We reject it in favor of the alternative hypothesis of a bias toward more active years … only when we are able to achieve rejection of H0 at a high… level of confidence”

In the bayesian version, a probability distribution that assumes a positive (one directional) effect on the weather is incorporated, as noted above, using Bayes theorem.

Both methods work to show that there is a link between climate change and effect, in this modeled scenario, eventually, but the frequentist approach is very much more conservative and thus, until the process is loaded up with a lot of data, more likely to be wrong, while the bayesian approach correctly identifies the relationship and does so more efficiently.

The authors argue that the bayesian method is more likely to accurately detect the link between cause and effect, and this is almost certainly correct.

This is what this looks like: Frank Frequency, weather commenter on CNN says, “We can’t attribute Hurricane Harvey, or really, any hurricane, to climate change until we have much more data and that may take 100 years because the average number of Atlantic hurricanes to make landfall is only about two per year.”

Barbara Bayes, weather commenter on MSNBC, says, “What we know about the physics of the atmosphere tells us to expect increased rainfall, and increased energy in storms, because of global warming, so when we see a hurricane like Harvey it is really impossible to separate out this prior knowledge when we are explaining the storms heavy rainfall and rapid strengthening. The fact that everywhere we can measure possible climate change effects on storms, the storms seem to be acting as expected under climate change, makes this link very likely.”

I hasten to add that this paper is not about hurricanes, or severe weather per se, but rather, on what statistical philosophy is better for investigating claims linking climate change and weather. I asked the paper’s lead author, Michael Mann (author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change), about Hurricane Harvey specifically. He told me, “As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, I’m not particularly fond of the standard detection & attribution approach for an event like Hurricane Harvey for a number of reasons. First of all, the question isn’t whether or not climate change made Harvey happen, but how it modified the impacts of Harvey. For one thing, climate change-related Sea Level Rise was an important factor here, increasing the storm surge by at least half a foot.” Mann recalls the approach taken by climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, who “talks about how warmer sea surface temperatures mean more moisture in the atmosphere (about 7% per degree C) and more rainfall. That’s basic physics and thermodynamics we can be quite certain of.”

The authors go a step farther, in that they argue that there is an ethical consideration at hand. In a sense, an observer or commenter can decide to become a frequentist, and even one with a penchant for very low p-values, with the purpose of writing off the effects of climate change. (They don’t say that but this is a clear implication, to me.) We see this all the time, and it is in fact a common theme in the nefarious politicization of the climate change crisis.

Or, an observer can chose to pay attention to the rather well developed priors, the science that provides several pathways linking climate change and severe weather or other effects, and then, using an appropriate statistical approach … the one you use when you know stuff … be more likely to make a reasonable and intelligent evaluation, and to get on to the business of finding out in more detail how, when, where, and how much each of these effects has taken hold or will take hold.

The authors state that one “… might therefore argue that scientists should err on the side of caution and take steps to ensure that we are not underestimating climate risk and/or underestimating the human component of observed changes. Yet, as several workers have shown …the opposite is the case in prevailing practice. Available evidence shows a tendency among climate scientists to underestimate key parameters of anthropogenic climate change, and thus, implicitly, to understate the risks related to that change”

While I was in contact with Dr. Mann, I asked him another question. His group at Penn State makes an annual prediction of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and of the several different such annual stabs at this problem, the PSU group tends to do pretty well. So, I asked him how this season seemed to be going, which partly requires reference to the Pacific weather pattern ENSO (El Nino etc). He told me

We are ENSO neutral but have very warm conditions in the main development region of the Tropcs (which is a major reason that Irma is currently intensifying so rapidly). Based on those attributes, we predicted before the start of the season (in May) that there would be between 11 and 20 storms with a best estimate of 15 named storms. We are currently near the half-way point of the Atlantic hurricane season, and with Irma have reached 9 named storms, with another potentially to form in the Gulf over the next several days. So I suspect when
all is said and done, the total will be toward the upper end of our predicted range.

I should point out that Bayesian statistics are not new, just not as standard as one might expect, partly because, historically, this method has been hard to compute. So, frequency based methods have decades of a head start, and statistical methodology tends to evolve slowly.

Hurricane Irma: Important changes in intensity, changes in track


Note that tropical storm force winds may start hitting southern Florida around 1 or 2 PM today, Saturday, and will reach central Florida by about 8AM Sunday.

The eye of the storm should be abreast southern Florida at around sunup on Sunday. The storm may remain a major hurricane as it moves all along the west coast, reaching south of Tallahasse, still as a major hurricane, Monday morning.

Irma has interacted with Cuba more than previously expected. The storm also seems likely to move farther west than previously expected.

Moving over very warm waters over the next several hours will strengthen the storm. If it does move along the west coast of Florida the focus now shifts to different communities, such as the Cape Coral / Fort Myers area.

As a rule, storm surge risks on the west coast are greater than the east coast. The west coast has a broader shallow shelf, and since the hurricanes rotate counter clockwise, there is a greater chance of a direct hit. Correspondingly, the following storm surge map (most current version HERE), which has inundation of over 9 feet if conditions pertain in a given spot, is what we should be paying attention to:

It also seems to me that the keys are in more danger with this track than with the central track.

Here is a reasonable likely scenario, WHICH IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE based on current consensus.

Over-simply put, there are two things that determine the future location of a hurricane. One is the simple long distance movement of the major air mass that is our lower atmosphere. The hurricane is like a cork floating along in a stream. If the stream flow is steady and straight, the cork will be just down stream from where it is now, moving alongat an easily discernible rate, so the distance over a fixed time interval is easy to calculate.

The other factor is all the other stuff. The complex movement of other low pressure systems and ridges of high pressure, all that. The land and the ocean have their own things going with respect mainly to high and low pressure, so as a hurricane moves from being out at sea to being on or near land, these interactions grow increasingly complex. Over the next several hours, this second factor (everything else) takes over and this is where the prediction gets complicated. How much exactly will the storm change its angle of movement, and exactly at what hour will that occur and how long will it take?

So, the tack above looks pretty solid but it may in face be off by a hundred miles or even more before the storm is abreast of southern Florida. That difference will make all the difference in the world.

Update based on NWS advisory Sept 7, late PM

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from Cabo Frances Viejo to the northern border
with Haiti
* Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le
Mole St. Nicholas
* Southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
* Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, and
Villa Clara
* Central Bahamas
* Northwestern Bahamas

Maximum sustained winds remain near 175 mph (280 km/h) with higher
gusts. Irma is a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson
Hurricane Wind Scale. Some fluctuations in intensity are likely
during the next day or two, but Irma is forecast to remain a
powerful category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from
the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185
miles (295 km).

The combination of a life-threatening storm surge and large breaking
waves will raise water levels ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS by the
following amounts within the hurricane warning area near and to the
north of the center of Irma. Near the coast, the surge will be
accompanied by large and destructive waves.

Turks and Caicos Islands…15 to 20 ft
Southeastern and central Bahamas…15 to 20 ft
Northwestern Bahamas…5 to 10 ft
Northern coast of the Dominican Republic…3 to 5 ft
Northern coast of Haiti and the Gulf of Gonave…1 to 3 ft
Northern coast of Cuba in the warning area…5 to 10 ft

RAINFALL: Irma is expected to produce the following rain
accumulations through Saturday evening:

Northeast Puerto Rico and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands…
additional 1 to 2 inches
Much of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos…8 to 12 inches, isolated
20 inches
Andros Island and Bimini, Bahamas…12 to 16 inches, isolated 25
Northern Dominican Republic and northern Haiti…4 to 10 inches,
isolated 15 inches
Southern Dominican Republic and southern Haiti…2 to 5 inches
Eastern and central Cuba…4 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
Southeast Florida and the upper Florida Keys…8 to 12 inches,
isolated 20 inches
Lower Florida Keys…2 to 5 inches

Update Sept 7, PM

Everything I said in the last post applies now except the chances of the storm making landfall on the Florida Peninsula, and even the chances of a fairly direct hit on Miami and surrounding areas, is much higher than it was this morning. But we are still talking about something that will happen in the middle of the weekend, and this is still Thursday.

Also, repeating, note that if this storm makes landfall at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, it is expected to move north very quickly (about twidce as fast as it is moving now) and reach southern Georgia WHILE STILL BEING A HURRICANE. A land hurricane, if you will. Except of course huge parts of it will be handing out over the very warm Atlantic.

I heard a guy on the news today saying the only ticket he could get out of Florida was a one way flight to Memphis. The hurricane will be in the vicinity of Memphis, or at least central Tennessee/Kentucky, Tuesday. It will be a big wet storm at that time, but that is an area that floods so take it seriously.

This might be a good time to read this post if you haven’t already: Hurricane Landfall: What is it and don’t be stupid about it.
Update Sept 7, Mid Day

Storm surge watches have now been issued for South Florida. The experimental storm surge system of NWS suggests storm surges of up to 6 feet or so in a few places. But, the details of where storm surges may happen and how high they might be will probably sharpen a great day between now and Friday late PM.

Mean while, do the same with storm surge information as I asked you to do with the overall Hurricane information below. Recognize how this information is produced and what it means. There will NOT be a storm surge of the maximum amount indicate on the maps in all the areas covered by the map. The way to use the map is this: If you are in a particular spot with a possible storms surge, the map tells you your local worst case scenario, the scenario you should be prepared for even though something less is probably what is going to happen. If you assume less will happen and are washed out to sea and never seen again, don’t come complaining to me, because that is NOT what I said. If you are in a place where it says 6 foot surge, and you get a 3 foot surge, that is normal. Hopefully, though, you are no where hear the south Florida coast, right?

You can see the storm surge maps here.

Update Sept 7 AM

I want you to look at this graphic and understand its meaning:

There is about a 70% chance that the CENTER of Irma (the eye, approximately but not exactly) will remain between the two blue lines between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday as it first interacts with Florida. In other words, between those two “m” markers. So, you have to start out by imagining the hurricane’s eye in the Gulf over by Cape Coral, and think about that for a moment. Then, you have to imagine the eye out near Freeport and think about that for a moment. With each of these scenarios, understand that the Miami and Miami Beech area is in a bad storm, windy, lots of rain, probably flooding, etc. but not Houston and not Andrew.

Now, look at the black line with the “M” markers on it. As you move from either blue line towards the black line, there is an increasing chance of the center of the storm being there. It is a bell curve, where the high point of the curve holds that black line. So there is a better chance that the center of the storm will be near Miami than Tampa or Freeport.

Now let’ consider the structure of the storm itself. Catastrophic sustained winds and gusts extend out from the center of the storm about the same width ad Florida itself, but as the storm approaches Florida it will weaken. The strongest wind and most severe storm tides are in the front right quadrant. So, if the storm comes on land in Florida along the southwest tip of the peninsula, that front right punch is going to only graze Miami but will obviously be very meaningful in the keys and everglades. If the center of the storm passes to the right of Miami about the same distance, perhaps Grand Bahama is toast, but Miami and Miami Beech is hit hard but it is a mere bad disaster.

What are the chances that the storm will essentially ride this black line all the way? Low. Maybe 10% chance. But if it does, or does something close to that, what happens?

There are three things to know, one of which I’ve already mentioned. That is that the front right is the most important part of the storm. So, if the storm is close to riding the line, but off to the right 10 miles, that is hugely different from if the storm is close to riding the line but off to the left 10 miles. The difference is in the survival of this urban area, potentially.

Second: Note that there is an M on the track south of Miami, and another one north quite a distance. The lower M corresponds to sustained winds of about 150mph, the upper M to sustained winds of 120 mph. So, as the storm moves over the area, it will weaken but it will be very strong anyway.

Third: The shape of the coastline, as discussed and depicted below, in an earlier update, means that the storm surge coming up into the Miami Beach area could be very high. The Hurricane Prediction Center has not posted storm surge estimates at this time, but depending on the exact path of the storm there could be many many feet of flooding over a very large area in and around Miami.

Or, again, the storm may be nothing more than a bad day for the Magic City. Remember that. We still do not know.

Beyond this, there is other complex bad news. Even if Irma scrapes the Atlantic coast of Florida, it may remain a hurricane all the way up to the Carolinas. If it misses Florida, it may go north and then hit the Carolinas with more force. Or it could go into the gulf, or miss everything. Still too early to tell, but Florida looks to be in some sort of trouble.

Remember, mainly, that despite what the news agencies are saying, there is currently no valid prediction of what Irma will do over the weekend. So, if it does something that you were not expecting, that’s you. You don’t get to say “but they said yada yada” because they are saying nothing more specific than the vague and rambling things I said above.

Update Sept 6, late AM

Just hours after the NWS five day put Irma dead in the middle of Florida’s south coast, the newest estimate is quite different. I point this out to underscore what I’ve been saying all along (and I hope you have not been ignoring): Five days out is too far to be accurate. Look:

Update Sept 6, AM

I keep seeing news phrases like “Irma has Puerto Rico in her sights.” Puerto Rico will have some very bad weather, but the main path of the storm has never crossed the island, and there is probably a less than 10% chance of a direct hit there, or less. The small islands of the northern Leewards have been hit directly or close to it, and more are in trouble. It seems most likely that the first larger body of land Irma might strike is Cuba, which has is almost entirely within the cone of probability, but south of the central line of expected movement. If the storm interacts a lot with Cuba, or turns into the island nation, that will be bad for Cuba, and Irma will weaken considerably. Meanwhile, the Bahamas and islands between Irma and the Bahamas are likely to get hit hard.

The more accurate three day forecast puts Irma as a Major Hurricane between Cuba and the Bahamas, or hitting Cuba or the Bahamas. The much less reliable five day forecast has Irma then curving north and striking the very tip of Florida and moving, as a major hurricane, onto the peninsula.

However, as a target, Florida is small compared to the cone of uncertainty Look:

Given this, it is distinctly possible that Irma will pass to the right (east) of Florida and head up the Atlantic. If that happens, it may then strike the mainland somewhere else, or not. Or, given this probability map, it is possible that Irma will pass to the left (west, gulf-side) of Florida, and go into the Gulf, then it will be pretty much impossible for the hurricane to not hit something.

The fact that the middle of this forecast graph is centered on Florida does not mean that it is more likely that the storm will hit Florida head on than not, given the wide margin of error and the relative narrowness of the state from this angle. I am emphasizing this because I don’t want to hear any bellyaching later if Irma skips Florida and hits Louisiana or South Carolina or something.

Either way, Irma is expected to be making whatever northerly turn it is going to make during the night time hours between Saturday and Sunday, and the current (but too far out to be certain of) projection is that Irma will be a Category 4 hurricane at that time. By Sunday night, Irma will have hit Florida, dead on, or not, and is expected to be a Category 3 hurricane on land and inland a ways, if that happens. In other words, worst case scenario includes southern Florida suffering a major hurricane for over 24 hours straight.

It has been said over and over again that the real risk of death in a hurricane is inland flooding that often happens after the hurricane has come ashore, and not so much from the coastal flooding and the winds. I’m not going to exactly dispute that but I want to complexify it a bit. If we count all the hurricane dead in the US, the most people who have died of hurricane effects were killed in the coastal storm surge of one single storm. That is not an outlier in the classic sense (i.e., a number that is so out of whack that something must be wrong with the number). It is a real number but an extreme one, however, and meaningful averages should probably ignore it.

But I bring this up now because it might be that a catastrophic hurricane will come ashore in an area where a lot of people live on low ground. There could be a storms surge that is substantial relative to the topography, and there could be winds strong enough to flatten homes and buildings and, generally, structures previously thought to be storm shelters. In other words, a worst case version of Irma would have a deadly storm surge and a deadly wind, more so than Atlantic hurricanes tend to have. Then, of course, the inland flooding as well, maybe quite substantial.

Storm surges are more extreme when there is focusing terrain, like a bay flanked by high hills leading to a town or city. In such environments, however, the storm itself is likely to suffer attrition from the nearby mountainous topography. In the case of Florida, the good news is that there are not hill flanked embayments, and the bad news is that florida is as flat as a pancake, so the storm will not be reduced from that sort of friction.

There are some potentially very uncomfortable scenarios. Look at a map of the Miami and Everglades area.

Now imagine a counter-clockwise spinning storm, centered close to the very southern tip of the state. Besides sweeping high winds along teh keys, it may also force a storm surge up the lagoonish area west of Key Largo, up into the northern part of Biscayne Bay, and right up into the waterways of Miami. I would not want to be on Dodge Island if that comes through. Also, northern Biscayne Bay could be flooded and the outlets to the south blocked, so any of several smaller low spots or outlets in Miami Beach may volunteer to be the new channel connecting the bay to the sea. That would be locally very very bad.

Miami is thought to be less vulnerable to storm surge than other cities, because the sea deepens fairly quickly off shore, which decreased the amount of surge that is possible. But, this particular hurricane, coming from the south and being large, obviates that benefit because the storm surge could be coming through the zone behind the Keys, which is very very shallow. Even if Miami itself is spared, the areas around the keys themselves, and the everglades, are pretty vulnerable.

Or, Irma may do nothing like this, and go somewhere else. We’ll soon find out.

Update Sept 5, evening

In the fairly current infrared image below, Irma is clearly bearing down on some land masses. The twin (double) blobs south of the eye just being engulfed by read is Guadeloupe, and the largish two islands south of that are Dominca and Martinique. The several tiny dots right in the path of the eye or near it are Antiqua and Barbuda, Monserrat, St Kits & Nevis, and Anguilla. You probably recognize Puerto Rico; the tiny dots in the blue specked area between Puerto Rico and Irma are the British and US Virgin Islands.

These island are on the elbow of an ark that runs from Grenada to the Greater Antilles. This mostly volcanic island arc, rimming a small continental plate, would be a large arm of much more land and much less sea during low sea level stands of the Pleistocene.

(I just thought I’d mention that because you probably want to know some things about these islands that are about to get blottoed.)

It is still too early to predict what Irma will do when it is nearing the end of its path along the Greater Antilles and Leeward Islands, i.e., when it is nearer the US mainland. To give you an idea of how uncertain all this is, the average of all the models had Irma striking Florida at the end of the peninsula, but now, hours later, there are other models that tend to be pretty reliable showing Irma not hitting Florida at all, and rather, striking land in the Carolina region.

What this means is this: If you are in Florida and preparing for a hurricane, continue to prepare. If you are in South Carolina and thought you dodged a bullet on this one, don’t assume that.

The one thing we are 70% sure of: Late PM on Friday, Irma will be somewhere between eastern Cuba and the Bahamas. Probably. But possibly not.

Update Sept 5, mid day

We have been back and forth on Irma all along, with the possibility of a landfall in the US being very uncertain.

I’m here to tell you that it is still uncertain. There are still some models that show the storm curving north and becoming one with the Atlantic.

However, most models are showing Irma hitting the continental US, and of those, Florida seems to be a favorite spot.

Several models indicate that Irma will interact with Cuba before heading north and running into Florida. It will not cross Cuba on the way north, but rather, veer into Cuba from the North and maybe not even make eyewall landfall there. It is hard to say what this will do but likely the storm will weaken before hitting Florida.

Also, generally, reports of the storm’s strength are exaggerated. It is now a very powerful storm and it could become more powerful but there is almost no way Irma will not decrease in strength, down to a Category 3 or even Category 2 before hitting the US, if it hits the US. There are reasons that Atlantic hurricanes are not as big, not as powerful, and not as persistent as many Pacific storm, and those reasons have not applied to the storm in recent days, but will start applying to the storm now and onward.

Nonetheless, it is very likely true that somewhere in the US there will be a serious hurricane, possibly a major hurricane, hitting something.

Meanwhile Irma is starting to impact land and will continue to do so for several days, mainly on islands.

So, here is a reasonably likely scenario for the next several days, in DECREASING order of certainty as you go down the list.

1) Certainly: Irma is at the moment impressing the heck out of weather watchers. It has a very clear and distinct eye with interesting features. The winds are very very high, and it is classed as a Category five hurricane. At this point, Irma is not merely a major hurricane, but rather, a catastrophic hurricane (that’s not an official word, but it is a word that will be used on the Leeward Islands … there is a good chance the name Irma will be retired).

There are hurricane warnings in effect for Antiqua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Monserrat, St. Kitts, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other locations. Between Wednesay AM and early morning Thursday, approximately, Irma will bear down on locations between St. Johns and Puerto Rico. It will likely hit the first islands more directly with the center passing north of Puerto Rico, but it will affect everything in that area and this is going to be a disaster. A direct hit on Puerto Rico is in the range of possibilities.

2) Probably: Between perhaps Thursday AM and Friday mid day the storm will weaken slightly. It may pass north of Hispaniola and eastern Cuba, but a direct hit on DR and Cuba is well within the range of possibilities. If so, it will weaken more, if not, it will weaken less.

3) Maybe, maybe not: Between 4 and five days out, so starting in the middle of the weekend, the storm, still weaker but still possibly a major hurricane, will either be interacting with Cuba or staying north of Cuba, and poised to hit, possibly, Florida. Or not.

If you live in Florida, it would be good to assume you need to react to a major hurricane. If you live in the keys, south of Miami, or the Miami area or the southern Gulf area, and this storm hits Florida, you will need to be paying close attention.

By Thursday it should be a lot easier to say if Floridians, or some other group of people on the US Mainland are in trouble. Whatever you can do to be ready for a Hurricane that is non-committal and reasonable, do now, and you should probably have done that at the beginning of the season.

Update Sept 2, PM

Underscoring the futility of making projections of a hurricane’s path beyond five days out, the bulk of the models now show Irma hitting the East Coast or sliding around Florida and hitting the gulf. One puts it through the Louisiana-Mississippi border, one has it heading for Halifax, and then all the others are in between.

What does this mean? In terms of projecting the hurricanes ultimate path or chance of landfall, and location of any landfall, it means nothing yet. However the fact that this category 2 storm is likely to become category 3 storm over the next few days, and then will head in the general direction of land, means, well, that it gets its own blog post (this one) for now, if nothing else.

Update Sept 2 AM

The latest models, still too early to tell but there they are, mostly have Irna going off to sea. A couple have the storm hitting the east coast. None have the storm in the gulf.

Updated Aug 31 Mid Day

Two new developments in expectations about this storm, but all very provisional.

First, the storm is intensifying more quickly than expected, and it is expected to become a very powerful storm, ultimately.

Second, while earlier projections from many models allowed for a very wide range of possible paths, the models, still being worked far too out in time but also converging significantly, are starting to suggest that Irma’s most likely course will be to curve up the Atlantic. This involves the possibility of landfall anywhere from the middle sates north to Canada, or no landfall at all. It is still too early to say, but it is looking unlikely for this storm to go into the gulf, but at least one or two models do allow for that.

Updated Aug 31 AM:

Here’s a tweet that shows the current range of model projections for this storm (Note it is way to early to actually predict this far out, but this gives an idea of the range of possibilities):

The National Huricane Center originally suggested that Irma was going to remain relatively low grade for a while as it crossed the first part of Atlantic. However, it is rapidly intensifying and is already on the verge of being a major hurricane. That was not expected. So, this may be an interesting storm.


I’ve been putting comments on, or links to posts on, the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Here, but I wanted to start a thread on Irma, which just now became a named storm. Irma is way out in the Atlantic, and its formation is so early that the NWS doesn’t have any significant information on it as of this writing. But, it is heading roughly west.

Stay tuned.

Is Harvey a failure of the assumption that we’ll adapt to climate change?

There are two reasons that it is fortunate that the death toll for Harvey is very low, compared to similar size storms at other times and at other places (zero at the time I first wrote this, a few confirmed, maybe ten or so suspected three days after landfall).. One is that all those people didn’t die! (Obviously.) The other is that we can ask honest questions about this event, while the event is still fresh in our minds (and, at the moment, actually happening) with the intent of eventually seeking some clarity, without concern trolls biting at our ankles and telling us that we must wait until the hurt wears off before discussing the thing that hurts.

Harvey was windy and there was a storm surge. Anything that got knocked down in the Cat II or above winds, and anything destroyed by storm surge, was pretty much doomed or near-doomed, and we simply hope and perhaps assume that insurance covers that, and insurance rates would not be affected by such damage given that this insurance was sold in a hurricane zone, and thus properly priced. Right?

But the flooding related damage may require some ‘splaining. Harvey is producing what is being referred to as unprecedented rain, and Harvey is staying in place for an astonishing and unbelievable amount of time, and this is causing some areas to be flooded with many feet of rain because the rain came out of the sky and caused a flood.

However, that is not really what happened. First, there have been rainfall amounts greater than anything we’ve seen with Harvey before. Second, hurricanes and tropical storms are known to stall, in fact, they do so fairly often. Third, beyond the empirical fact that such high rates of rainfall have happened before, science knew all along that a scenario like this was not only possible but given a reasonable amount of time, inevitable, because climate scientists can run models that are very good at informing us about possible futures.

So what, you may say. It is still a disaster and it is no one’s fault that this happened. To that, I say, sure, whatever you want to believe to get you through the day, I’m fine with that. But, notice that flooding requires two things. One is water in, i.e., from the sky or from upstream. The other is an inability for the water to leave. The first factor is an act of the (human-changed) weather. The second factor is often very directly human. Humans can do two things. They can build drainage systems (or fail to do so) that can handle the very rare but very large flood, and they can avoid hardening the landscape into solid form (rooftops and parking lots, etc.) in a way that changes flooding patterns to make floods much more likely. It is my understanding that the latter happened in Houston.

Which brings us to the key question: What caused this area of Texas to get stupid about floods? Did everyone decide a long time ago to ignore science? Did everyone decide to spend their money on candy and gum instead of infrastructure? Did the good people of the Lone Star State and its various counties and cities implement reasonable science based policy, then elect a bunch of officials who took bribes or other emoluments to provide exceptions to those policies?

Or, maybe, we’re talking Canadian Province here. None of it. Maybe Texas did all it could, decreased the likelihood of flooding rather than increasing it, and everything is fine. That’s not what I hear, but maybe what I hear is wrong. That is why these are questions, not answers. I hope that we eventually get the answers.

In the end, will it turn out that Harvey is an example of failure of the assumption that we’ll adapt to climate change?

Added: This conversation is now beginning to happen more broadly, with major news outlets noting that Houston is proud of it’s Libertarian zoning laws.

Harvey’s effects on petroleum pricing and related things

The following information is cribbed (with permission) from a FACTBOX produced by S&P Global Platts. Petroleum companies in the Gulf, especially around Houston, are are responding to likely shutdowns or possible damage due to the strengthening Hurricane, which is expected to have its largest impacts over the next 36 hours or so (longer for some flooding).

Before giving you these details, I also saw this: A map being circulated around energy industry folks showing the amount of land in Houston that has been made impermeable (by construction of things and surfaces) since the last big Hurricane. It is a HUGE amount. It seems that over time, Houston has made the prospect of bad flooding given a certain amount of rain worse rather than better (individual cities can make that choice, they may have failed to choose widely).

OK, her is a selection of facts form the FACTBOX:

* In the afternoon, the NYMEX RBOB crack spread against WTI was $1.91
higher at $17.67/b, boosted by supply concerns. NYMEX September RBOB settled
up 4.52 cents at $1.6641/gal. Physical gasoline prices were higher as well.
S&P Global Platts assessed Gulf Coast conventional gasoline at NYMEX October
RBOB plus 12 cents/gal, a 5.89-cent/gal climb and its highest assessment since
August 13, 2015.

* Platts assessed benchmark Gulf Coast jet fuel on the first day of
trading for Colonial Pipeline’s prompt 50th cycle at the NYMEX October ULSD
futures contract minus 3 cents/gal, after it traded at that level in the
Market on Close assessment process. That was up 4 cents from Wednesday, and
its highest level since October 1, 2014.

* In natural gas, TGP Zone 0 was the largest mover in the region, with
prices jumping almost 6 cents to $2.816/MMBtu. There was a force majeure
issued on Tennessee Gas at 11:30 am CDT time that will impact flows involving
Station 1 and Station 9 near Agua Dulce, Texas. NGPL was evacuating personnel
from Compressor Station 300, and TGP had evacuations at Stations 1 and 9 near
Agua Dulce.

* In shipping, Aframax freight rates rallied with charterers seen working
narrow fixing windows. The east coast Mexico-USGC route climbed 20 Worldscale
points from Wednesday after Chevron took the Bonita for an east coast
Mexico-US Gulf Coast run at w112.5 loading a 70,000 mt cargo with August 27-29
dates. An expectation of potential delays after the hurricane fizzles out and
shipowners heard to be looking for a “hurricane premium” on bookings kept the
market elevated.

Do you know what all that means? Good, let me know in the comments below. I suppose that where pries may be going up, there will be less of an up-going in the event of disaster.

Oil refineries are making some adjustments right now:

* Flint Hills Resources is shutting both the East and West plants of its
296,470 b/d Corpus Christi, Texas, refining complex ahead of Hurricane Harvey,
the company said.

* Other area refiners, such as Valero, Marathon, Phillips 66 and Shell,
said they were monitoring the storm. “We will continue to monitor the storm
and make decisions about refinery operations, especially for our Corpus
Christi and Three Rivers locations where the storm is currently projected to
make landfall,” Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said.

* The Texas Gulf Coast is home to 4.944 million b/d of refining capacity,
while the Louisiana Gulf Coast is home to 3.696 million b/d of capacity,
according to the US Energy Information Administration.

I suppose that is the part where our entire economy is affected by a hurricane in Houston. Since the hurricane is steering south of Houston this may not be as big a deal, with the direct effects of flooding being the real problem. I assume these plants are all designed to handle pretty much any amount of flooding because they were built in a Hurricane zone by non-idiots. Right?

Meanwhile, the actual production of Texas T is being affected already:

* Some 9.56%, or 167,231 b/d, of US Gulf of Mexico oil output was shut-in
due to Hurricane Harvey as of 11:30 am CDT (1630 GMT) Thursday, the US Bureau
of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. In addition, some 14.66%, or 472
MMcf/d, of Gulf of Mexico natural gas production was shut-in, BSEE said.
Personnel have been evacuated from 39 production platforms, or 5.29%, of the
737 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the agency said. Personnel have
been evacuated from one of the 10 non-dynamically positioned rigs currently
operating in the Gulf.

* Shell shut operations at its Perdido facility in the Gulf of Mexico
late Wednesday. Shell’s Perdido is one of the world’s deepest floating oil
production platforms, moored at 8,000 feet of water. It is a production hub
for three fields in which Shell has a stake: the Great White, Tobago and
Silvertip fields. Production is about 100,000 b/d.

* ExxonMobil has begun to curtail oil and natural gas production from the
Galveston 209 platform and is preparing the facility for evacuation, a company
spokeswoman said Thursday.

* Anadarko Petroleum has shut production at four fields offshore Texas.
The company said late Wednesday that it had not only removed
all personnel but temporarily shut production at its operated Boomvang,
Nansen, Gunnison and Lucius facilities. Boomvang and Nansen are sited in the
East Breaks area of the Gulf, nearer the Texas coast than the other two
fields, while Gunnison is located in Garden Banks further west and Lucius is
in southeast Keathley Canyon, sited south of Garden Banks.

* ConocoPhillips has evacuated non-essential personnel from its Magnolia
offshore US Gulf of Mexico producing platform, the company said. Magnolia’s
gross production in 2016 was 4,000 boe/d, of which 3,000 boe/d was net to

* Statoil, which operates two rigs in the Eagle Ford play of South
Texas, said it was securing its rigs and wells and evacuating rig personnel as
well as suspending all non-essential activities.

* ConocoPhillips has suspended drilling and completion activities in the
Eagle Ford Shale and moved non-essential equipment off the six drilling rigs
it is running in the South Texas play.

Seaports and transport terminals are going to shut down or are starting to shut down, and this of course will affect things other than bublin’ crude.

* NuStar Energy is preparing to shut its Corpus Christi crude oil and
refined products terminals in Texas ahead of the storm, spokesman Chris Cho
said Thursday. He did not give a specific timeline for completing the
shut-down process, but said the company has activated its emergency response
plans and will continue to monitor the storm to determine its next course of
action. NuStar’s North Beach Terminal at Corpus Christi in southern Texas
includes a 1.6 million-barrel crude facility, and 10 storage tanks with a
combined capacity of 327,000 barrels for gasoline, distillates, xylene and

* Magellan suspended operations early Thursday at its crude terminal and
condensate splitter in Corpus Christi, Texas, in response to the incoming
storm, said spokesman Bruce Heine. The midstream player operates a 3.5
million-barrel crude and condensate storage storage and a 50,000-b/d
condensate splitter at the facility, Heine said in an email. However, the
company’s refined products and crude oil pipelines in the Houston Ship Channel
area are operating normally at this time.

* Port condition Yankee was set for the Texas ports of Houston, Texas
City, Galveston, Freeport and Corpus Christi. Port condition Yankee is when
hurricane force winds are possible within 24 hours, closing inbound traffic.
PIRA Energy Group estimates Texas’ total crude export capacity to be 2.5
million b/d. PIRA, which is part of S&P Global Platts, has arrived at that
data using available public data.

* A source with a shipowner engaged in the US Gulf Coast oil lightering
market confirmed ship-to-ship operations were suspended through the end of the
weekend. “I can confirm that lightering, everywhere from Corpus to Southwest
Pass, is suspended as of today until at least Sunday.”

Thanks very much to the staff at the SPG Global newsdesk, and editor Lisa Miller.

Harvey The Hurricane Is A Significant Event UPDATED

Harvey the Hurricane will hit Texas roughly between Corpus Christi and Victoria (but stay tuned for exact details).

Harvey is passing over water that is significantly warmer than usual, owing to global warming. This storm was too disorganized to even, under normal conditions, to have a name, just a day or so. But, when this storm hits Texas late this week (maybe by the time you are reading this) it is likely to be a Category III storm.

Then, after landfall, the storm will hang around that area for a while dumping huge amounts of rain on the Texas flatness.

The target area may have 15 inches of rain or more over fairly large areas. There may be spots with more than 25 inches. This is one of those storms that requires the weather forecasters to add new colors to their usual maps.

The last “major hurricane” (Category 3 or larger) to hit the US was Wilma in 2005.

This is an area with abundant oil extraction and processing facilities which are subject to damage from large storms.

Since the ocean has risen since the last major storm surge in this area, local residents and businesses need to make an adjustment in their expectations. If you are in the area look at the National Weather Service’s science based information on storm surges. They have some new tools available. Good thing they have not been removed yet!

For more on the link between this storm and climate change, see THIS.

Added Aug 24 9:30PM

This is probably not going to happen, but …

We don’t know how strong this storm is going to be, but a lot of experts are saying they are above average worried.


Despite rumors of weakening, the storm continues to strengthen. The main change in forecast is that the center of the storm’s expected landfall is father south than expected, away from Houston, but Houston will still receive a great deal of rain, maybe most of the high rainfall amounts.

Storm surges of up to 9 feet or more are possible around Victoria and Corpus Christi.

Atlantic Hurricane Season 2017 (frequently updated)

UPDATE (Aug 30th)

Irma is a new named storm in the Eastern Atlantic. See this post for details, eventually.

UPDATE (Aug 29th)

There is a system currently raining on Cabo Verde, off the West Coast of Africa (nee Cape Verde) that is expected to develop. It is on the verge of becoming a tropical depression. The National Hurricane Center has estimated that there is a high probability of this stormy feature becoming a tropical storm in a couple of days or so. If it gets a name, it will be Irma, unless some other large rotating wet object takes that name first.

UPDATE (Aug 29th)

How is the Atlantic Season doing so far, in relation to most hurricane seasons?

Using data from NOAA, we can say that on average (using the 1966-2009 baseline) we reach the eight named storm in the Atlantic (Harvey is the eighth) on September 24th. So, we’re having more named storms than average.

This year so far we’ve had 3 hurricanes. Normally one reaches that number of hurricanes on September 9th. That’s a week and a half from now, so we can declare this year a bit above average in this measure, but not spectacularly so.

So far this year we’ve had one major hurricane (Category 3 or above). There are some years with zero major hurricanes, but on average one major hurricane occurs by September 4th. So, we’re close to average now.

UPDATE (Aug 29th)

The following posts discuss various aspects of Harvey

Harvey The Hurricane: Truly Climate Change Enhanced

Is Harvey a failure of the assumption that we’ll adapt to climate change?

Harvey’s effects on petroleum pricing and related things


I’m writing up Harvey here on its own post. This is going to prove to be an important hurricane. If you are in Texas get caught up right now.


Well, finally, something interesting happened in the Atlantic! Tropical Depression Harvey is heading for Texas and in a very short amount of time is going to whip up into a hurricane and hit the Lone Star State right on the coastline.

From the NWS HPC:

1. Harvey is likely to bring multiple hazards, including heavy
rainfall, storm surge, and possible hurricane conditions to portions
of the Texas coast beginning on Friday.

2. Heavy rainfall is likely to spread across portions of eastern
Texas, Louisiana, and the lower Mississippi Valley from Friday
through early next week and could cause life-threatening flooding.
Please refer to products from your local National Weather Service
office and the NOAA Weather Prediction Center for more information
on the flooding hazard.

3. A Storm Surge Watch is in effect from Port Mansfield to High
Island, Texas, indicating the possibility of life-threatening
inundation from rising water moving inland from the coast during the
next 48 hours. For a depiction of areas at risk, see the Storm
Surge Watch/Warning Graphic at hurricanes.gov.

4. The Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map is available on the NHC
website. This product depicts a reasonable worst-case scenario –
the amount of inundation that has a 10 percent chance of being
exceeded at each individual location. Because the Flooding Map is
based on inputs that extend out only to about 72 hours, it best
represents the flooding potential in those locations within the
watch area.

We still hear the yammering that climate change has not affected storms. “They said there would be more storms. There’s no more storms,” they say.

They are wrong in so many ways. For example, the total energy observed in tropical storms around the globe is up. There have been several big huge scary storms in the tropics in recent years, some of which are unprecedented in their size, strength, rapidity of forming, when they formed, where they went, and what they messed up. Other types of storms show either likely increases or, if not clearly increased yet, still show strong liklihood of increasing in the future based on models. Models that are good.

This is from Emannuel 2005, showing his “Power Dissipation Index” over time and sea surface temperatures.

Smoothed Power Dissipation Index (dotted line, a measure of hurricane intensity) versus Tropical Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature (solid black line)

This shows the long term up and down swings in total tropical storm activity, and an overall upward trend exactly as expected with effects from global warming.

This is from “Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years” by Kerry Emanuel, Nature 436:686-688.

See also this post for more details.

Roger Pielke Jr. is one of those yammering fools (I used to try to be nice to him until he accused me of horrible things a few months back and almost none of them were true!) who will tell you this. Roger says, there have bee no more landfalling Atlantic Hurricanes in the US recently than ever before. But trying to figure out what is occurring on the Earth by only considering what the smallest of the Hurricane basins produces, and only counting the small subset of those hurricanes that hit the US (and, by thew way, ignoring some of them such as Hurricane Sandy in order to fudge the numbers) is like trying to get a handle on the frequency of major train derailments by watching the 100 mile length of track you drive along five times a year on the way up north fishing. Nobody would do that. Except Roger.

The normal number of named Atlantic storms is 12.1 of which 6.4 are hurricanes, and 2.7 major hurricanes, in a given year. The record high is 28 named storms, and the record low, is 4.

There have been various predictions for how much storm activity we expect this year. The predictions that are most recent and most reliable call for 11, 12, 11-15, 14, 11-17, and 15.3 storms. So, generally, close to average plus.

The prediction I watch most closely is from PSU’s Earth System Science Center. PSU has been making very accurate predictions for a number of years. For this year, they predict 15.3 +/- 3.9 named storms this year (i.e., about 11 to 20 with the best guess being 15). Their prediction will drop a little if there is a mild El Niño this year, but that seems increasingly unlikely. Also, PSU has a second alternative model that produces a lower estimate, of around 12.4.

So, in short, barring an El Niño, we can expect a near average but slightly above average year for Atlantic hurricanes. And no, that does not mean that global warming is not happening. It means that no derailments are expected along a particular section of recently maintained rail track.

Anyway, for the second year in a row, IIRC, we got cheated on our A storm. Below, I’ve put the official list of storm names for the Atlantic 2017 season (as headings, we’ll fill in info as the year progresses), but the first tropical storm to talk about today, 19 days into the season, is Bret (one ‘t’). Arlene happened last April.

Tropical storms don’t happen in the Atlantic in April. ‘Cept for Arlene. Generally, it seems like the boundaries are becoming enfuzzied. Expect more “extraseasonal” storms over the next few years, and expect eventually, perhaps a decade from now, for the National Hurricane Center crew to be asked to start watching year round, because a tropical storm that hits your fleet in April is still a tropical storm. Even if Roger says it doesn’t exit.


Bret formed near the very southern edge of the Atlantic Hurricane basin.

This is the earliest far south forming hurricane in the Atlantic Basin. So, our first storm of the season happened months early, the second storm hundreds of miles south, compared to normal. Roger that.

Bret will menace the northern edge of South America, then in a few days from now it will be gone. Bret is not expected to strengthen and will not be a hurricane. Nor will it hit the United States of America. Therefore, according to Roger, Bret, as novel as it is, does not exist.


The next storm, to be named Cindy, is very likely to form from a disturbance now seen in the south-central Gulf of Mexico. This is fairly typical place to see a tropical storm or hurricane form this time of year. Cindy will likely become a north-moving tropical storm, and will likely stay just at tropical storm strength, coming ashore somewhere between Houston, Texas and Morgan City, Louisiana. The chances of Cindy wetting down NOLA is very good, but again, this will not be a hurricane. This will happen some time late Wednesday, most likely.

While possible-Cindy would transform from a tropical storm to a depression with landfall, the storm will track up the Mississippi and cause lots of rain.



















How Global Warming Causes Extreme Weather: New research

I want to tell you about what may be the most important research result in the area of climate change in recent years. First, a little background.

We know from paleoclimate studies that the Earth’s climate system changes from time to time enough to leave a mark. For example, it is widely thought that during the “ice ages” (periods of extensive or moderate glaciation) over the last couple of million years, areas that are currently very dry had a lot more water. Some combination of rain and evaporation (more rain and less evaporation) conspired to fill playas (dried up lakes) or salt lakes (like the Great Salt Lake in Utah) with so much fresh water that inland basins filled and started to drain out to the sea. It is hard to imagine how the weather would have been so different to make the arid regions of the American West into very wet places, long term, but it happened.

As we head towards a warmer and warmer planet, one would think that whatever happened during the ice ages would be the opposite of what we would expect in the future. To some extent that is almost certainly true, as certain regions will likely be much dryer in a heated up world than they were during the cooler ice ages. But some patterns of climate change are not simply characterized by temperature. The pattern of movement of air, and the pattern of moisture in the air, can be different from one climate system to another in very complex ways. Perhaps (this is very conjectural) the recent intense rains we see in the American West would be a common phenomenon in a warmed world. Perhaps the phenomenon of ARkStorm, a very rare situation where several “pineapple express” style storms happen over a single winter, large ones, in rapid sequence, filling the dry valleys of the American West with giant lakes and wiping out low lying villages and most of the crop land. That kind of feels like the Pleistocene when the great inland deserts were converted int great inland lakes! Or, perhaps the multe-year california drought that we experienced up until just a few months ago will become the “normal” situation.

Don’t get me started, but it is not difficult to imagine a world in which the American west has 4 to 10 year long droughts punctuated with a couple of winters in a row sufficiently wet to fill those lakes, so we get both!

ADDED: Jet Streams, Extreme Weather and Other Things with Stefan Rahmstorf

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Here is the point of all this: Back in the 1950s through the early 1980s, by my estimation, North America (and probably many regions in the world) experienced stereotypical storm patterns that were like storm patterns seen over many centuries, though with the occasional interruption for something strage for a few years. 1860 – 1861 were strange years out west. The 1930s were strange in a lot of places. But what happened startomg around 1980 or so was different.

Prior to 1980s, storms in North America came from certain directions, were more common during certain times of years, dropped a range of precipitation amounts on the ground, and rarely were severe in the amount of rain that occurred. After 1980, the timing and various aspects of the physical nature of those storms including their apparent directionality and the speed which with they passed through, changed.

For example, in Minnesota, at the Twin Cities airport, there was an average of about 1.64 above 2 inch rainfall events per year for the hundred years of record keeping before 1971. In the time following, to the present, that number went up to about 2.7. Since about 2000 that number has gone to close to 3.5. Meanwhile, out east, the frequency of large blizzards has gone from one every few years to at least one in most years.

Putting this a slightly different way, the chance in a given year of having a major storm around these parts has more than doubled, with that doubling happening well within the lifetime of most of the people who live in the region.

I’ve written before about a special class of research on climate change that I have always regarded as among the most important. The authors of that earlier work overlap with the most recent work, with a key player being Stefan Rahmstorf. Rahmstorf and his colleagues, a few years ago, tackled an interesting problem that others had also noticed, and for which a number of explanations were floating around. Speaking of floating, this work surfaced and got some real traction when the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, and up near Calgary, were each hit by a really bad and very special kind of storm.

In each case, the storm system was trained along a very curvy and slow moving jet stream. When the jet stream slows it curves, or when it curves, it slows, or, really, kinda both. When that happens, if there is a big wet storm following along in the air system that itself creates/is created by the jet stream, that storm also slows. Fed by a more or less unending supply of moisture, such a storm can drop a lot of rain on a given region. We tend to think of the most severe storms as being fast moving, and they often are. Hurricanes can be pretty darn fast. Rapidly moving fronts coming off a dry line are associated with either tornado outbreaks or derecho storms. But these big and slow jet stream mediated storms are very very wet. Calgary was badly flooded, like no one has seen before. Boulder was very badly flooded more than in anyone’s memory.

Storms like this happen now and then, and can be found in historical records, and may have even happened in or near Calgary or Boulder at some time in the past. But since Calgary, we have had many many more such storms. Here in Minnesota, we’ve had a few. St. Louis had one. Texas had had a bunch of them. They’ve happened in China, Japan, all across Europe.

These storms, which are associated with a jet stream that is curvy and slow, are now common, and they were once rare.

What is the climate change connection? How do we know that global warming causes this?

There are a couple of different lines of evidence. First, as noted by the earlier work, and exemplified in the graph I put at the top of the post, which I made a couple of years ago, researchers have noticed that these curvy jet stream are more common. Another reason to think this is that curvy jet streams are expected to be associated with an Arctic that is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet.

How does that work? I can explain it in general terms that will probably make some atmospheric scientists yell at me, but that I think is close to reality and also understandable by the average science-savvy civilian.

The big features of the weather system on a planet with an atmosphere have to do with heat reaching equilibrium across the planet. There is more heat near the equator, less near the poles, so it is all about heat moving from the equators to the poles, but also, hot stuff, water or air, making that journey. This hypothetically sets up an interesting phenomenon in the atmosphere that can be thought of as a giant twisting donut — a plain round donut shaped donut, not some hipster cream filled donut — just north of the equator, and another donut just south of it. Air is moving up in altitude at the equator, cools and spreads away from the equator, then drops back down to the surface, and heads back to where it was originally heated to get warmed up again.

This pair of giant twisting donuts of air helps set up another giant twisting donut of air to the north and south, and those donuts can, in turn, set up another, and so on. On a small planet like Mars, with a thin atmosphere, there may be one single donut per hemisphere. On giant heavy atmosphere planets like Jupiter and Saturn, you get many such donuts, and an overall striped appearance from a distance.

On earth, you get one really well defined donut (in each hemisphere) then a poorly defined donut, then another donut that is fairly well defined but that is also rotating in a circle, around the pole, much like a donut that got partly stepped on, rolled out the door of the donut shop, and his heading down the street.

Now here’s the thing, the explanation you can understand once you rap your head around these donuts: If the difference in heat at the equator vs. at the poles is great, the donuts are well defined and energetic. If the difference in heat between the equator and the poles is less, the donuts become less well defined, wobbly, and curvy.

The upper atmosphere region between adjoining donuts and the jet stream are more or less the same thing. So, as the arctic warms faster than the rest of the planet, the donuts change their configuration and you get curvy jet streams that can set up to remain in the same location over long periods of time.


There was, however, a major missing part of this theory, and Michael Mann, climate scientist, joined the Rahmstorf et al team to fill in that blank. It is very difficult to be sure that a climatic phenomenon is either a) for real or b) characterizable as you’ve witnessed it, when you are looking at it for just a few years. If there is a change in climate because of the above described effects, there are not too many years of data allowing us to track it, observe its variations, or to figure out exactly how it works. This is complicated by several factors. For example, an alternate but similar explanation for the waves themselves, and the weather that comes with them, is the warming of the North Pacific. Hell, it could be both factors, because both factors may reduce the heat differential between the midriff and heads of the planet.

There are two obvious solutions to this problem. One is to sit back and wait a hundred years or so and collect data then consider the problem with a lot more information at hand. I’m sure climate scientists are busy doing this as we speak, but it may take a while! The other is to use climate modeling to simulate long periods of time, and see if quai-resonant waves and changes in the weather pattern are associated with anthropological global warming.

Michael Mann told me “that there is now a detectable influence of anthropogenic climate change on jet stream dynamics associated with extreme, persistent weather events like the 2010 Russian heat wave/wildfires, 2011 Texas heat wave/drought, 2013 European floods, etc. This is the first article, in my view, to demonstrate a robust such connection.”

This research involved combining some 50 climate models that comprise the CMIP5 project, and historical observations of climate over time. They found that under conditions of a warming Arctic, “standing waves” (quasi-resonant waves in other parlance) formed, just as we’ve seen during recent bad weather events. Above, I focused on rainfall events, but drought, extreme fire conditions, etc. are the other side of the coin, or rather, the other side of the jet streams. A persistent standing wave in a jet stream can cause a few nice and sunny days to transform into several years lack of rain, and a drought.

“Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability. We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events,” said Mann.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been shown to be associated with the presence of high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves within a particular wavelength range (zonal wavenumber 6–8). The underlying mechanistic relationship involves the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of synoptic-scale waves with that wavenumber range becoming trapped within an effective mid-latitude atmospheric waveguide. Recent work suggests an increase in recent decades in the occurrence of QRA-favorable conditions and associated extreme weather, possibly linked to amplified Arctic warming and thus a climate change influence. Here, we isolate a specific fingerprint in the zonal mean surface temperature profile that is associated with QRA-favorable conditions. State-of-the-art (“CMIP5”) historical climate model simulations subject to anthropogenic forcing display an increase in the projection of this fingerprint that is mirrored in multiple observational surface temperature datasets. Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability.

Historical data and cutting edge modeling and analysis strongly indicates that global warming, caused by human release of greenhouse gas, is increasing the frequency of persistent weather extremes such as very wet or very dry conditions. This paper looked at the northern hemisphere summer.

We have long passed the point where you can say with a straight face, “you can’t attribute a given weather event to global warming.” Climate change is change in climate; weather is climate today, climate is weather long term. Weather generally carries the climate change signal, and some of the weather is very different than it was prior to recent decades because of that change. You can’t separate a given weather event from global warming.

Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller & Dim Coumou, 2017, Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events.

The Great March Storm of 2017 (updated)

The Key for the above graphic:


Donald Trump’s FEMA is not ready for this storm. The entire federal government is understaffed, and there are funding problems, and this applies to FEMA as well.

So, if you are anywhere in the area to be affected by this storm (the weather channel calls it Stella, I call it Trump’s Storm One because it is the first big storm on his watch) you need to know that the usual help is not necessarily going to be available.

Maybe we should call it the Ides of March Storm.

A very large area will probably get a very large amount of snow. Keep up with your local NWS forecasts, which are still available and still useful. (Don’t expect that to be the case this time next year. Those reports and forecasts require funding that is being cut by the Trump Regime as we speak.)

Where will the storm hit hardest? Don’t assume anything, but Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England are in the main target zone. There will likely be some snow in Maryland, DC, and that area.

How much snow will fall? Anywhere from zero to about two feet, depending on where you are.

What is the most accurate forecast for this storm? This:

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 8.40.01 PM

I give you this highly accurate but not at all precise forecast with a bit of snark because I’m actually a bit tired of the bullshit that accompanies storms like this.

Remember, a couple of years ago, a big storm was predicted to hit much of New York and New England, with the possibility of significant snow in New York City? Hardly any snow fell in New York City. This caused the weather deniers (not just the climate change deniers, but the larger group of people who practice studied ignorance when it comes to weather) to insist that the blizzard had never happened.

This is what happened:


Yeah. This big giant storm came along, with the possibility that it could extend across The City, but it didn’t. So, that one little thing was different about the storm, and this caused all these people to go full apoplectic. Having had enough of that, see my forecast above. There is a whopping big storm coming, we really don’t know how big it will be or where it will drop the most snow or do the most damage. But …

  • there will be snow, some deep
  • there will be flooding somewhere on the coast
  • <li>there will be big ass winds</li>
    <li>there will be loss of visibility in blizzard zones, wherever they happen</li>
    <li>power lines will go down</li>
    <li>roads will close</li>
    <li>various services and schools and such will close</li>

    If you are a long term denizen of the region from just outside of New York City all the way down east, you know what to do. If you live in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you may have to search your memory for a bad storm experience, but I’m sure you can think back to one. If you live along the coast down towards Washington, prepare yourself for one of those annoying snow storms that no one believes can happen but that in fact happen every year, under the currently changed climate. Might be time to start getting used to that!

    And yes, there is a climate change connection. More than one, actually. This is a Global Warming Enhanced Storm (GWES).

    Good luck everybody. Report in if you have an interesting story to tell! Also, drop the White House a line and ask them how they are doing staffing up FEMA.

    Earliest Tornado in Minnesota

    It is now verified that the earliest 2017 tornados — first tornados of the season — struck several communities in east-central Minnesota (a few miles north and south of me). So what you say? Especially because it was a mere F1 and didn’t hurt anyone!

    This is an important event because the earliest recorded tornado of the year in Minnesota was previously March 18th, and that was in 1968. This tornado, striking on March 6th (confirmed yesterday by the NWS) is way earlier than that!

    One tornado, near Zimmerman went for nine miles.

    A second tornado appears to have passed through the community of Clark’s Grove as well. That one may have been on the ground for over 12 miles.

    Neither tornado was large, but there was a lot of damage to property and trees.

    Needless to say, the frequency of storms in general, and their severity, are expected to rise with climate change. Part of that seems to be the lengthening of the storm seasons. More time, more storms.

    The local reports:

    Climate change is real, it is a problem, and it is getting worse

    The year 2016 was messy and expensive and full of climate change enhanced weather disasters. There were, according to Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, over 30 billion dollar disasters last year.

    This is the fourth-largest number on record going back to 1990, said insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report issued January 17 (updated January 23 to include a 31st billion-dollar disaster, the Gatlinburg, Tennessee fire.) The average from 1990 – 2016 was 22 billion-dollar weather disasters; the highest number since 1990 was 41, in 2013.

    The frequency of flood disasters in Europe have doubled over 35 years.

    The number of devastating floods that trigger insurance payouts has more than doubled in Europe since 1980, according to new research by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company.

    The firm’s latest data shows there were 30 flood events requiring insurance payouts in Europe last year – up from just 12 in 1980 – and the trend is set to accelerate as warming temperatures drive up atmospheric moisture levels.

    Globally, 2016 saw 384 flood disasters, compared with 58 in 1980, although the greater proportional increase probably reflects poorer flood protections and lower building standards in the developing world

    As I’m sure you’ve heard, he year 2016 was the hottest year on record, and 2017 is also going to be hot. (I personally doubt 2017 will be hotter, but then again, I was thinking that 2016 might not break the 2015 record.)

    Mark Bgoslough as an interesting piece here on how global temperature records are made, analyses, and reported. I recommend reading that. Here, I want to use a graphic he made for that item to point something outI’ve added the green lines. I’ll just leave it here without comment.


    People in the northeastern US should be about 50% more concerned about global warming than everyone else, because new research suggests that this region will warm about 50% faster than the globe in coming years.

    The fastest warming region in the contiguous US is the Northeast, which is projected to warm by 3°C when global warming reaches 2°C. The signal-to-noise ratio calculations indicate that the regional warming estimates remain outside the envelope of uncertainty throughout the twenty-first century, making them potentially useful to planners. The regional precipitation projections for global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C are uncertain, but the eastern US is projected to experience wetter winters and the Great Plains and the Northwest US are projected to experience drier summers in the future.

    John Abraham summarizes and interprets the results here.

    Regardless of the so-called temperature target, what this study shows is that even if we do keep the globe as a whole to a 2°C temperature increase, some regions, like the Northeast United States will far exceed this threshold. So, what is “safe” for the world is unsafe for certain regions.

    A recent poll tells us that 90% of rural Australians are concerned about the impacts of climate change. Most were concerned about drought and flooding. Fewer than half this coal fire power stations should be phased out.

    I think that if you did a similar poll in the US, you would find that most rural Americans don’t are about climate change, and even fewer think coal should be phased out. Since all rural people, Australians or Americans and everyone else, have already been affected to at least some degree by climate change, and since the science strongly suggests that things will get much worse for them in the future, all of these folks should be concerned and all of them should be for doing something about it. The good news is that the cognitive dissonance we see in the Australia between climate change and concern may be a harbinger for future changes in American attitudes. Australia has probably been affected by severe weather caused or enhanced by climate change to a much larger degree than has Rural America. In short, I expect disdain for coal to catch up to concern about climate change in Oz, while in America, eventually, people will get more and more on board with both.

    Americans are more concerned about not offending farmers than they are about saving them. In American farmlands, we expect climate change to reduce staple crop production substantially by the end of the century. The farmers need to get on board more quickly if they want their grandchildren to be able to be farmers too.

    A question on everyone’s mind: “Is the California Drought over and what does this mean?”

    It looks over. Reservoirs are filling, snow is piling up in the mountains, everything is wet.

    However, there are several things still to consider. For one, the recharging of water supplies is not complete, and if near-zero-rain conditions return right away, the drought will slowly return. This is of course always a concern, but right now we have a slightly different question to ask for California. Is it the case that the conditions that led to the California drought are the “new normal” (a phrase I’m not really happy with) I the sense that from now on, there will be less snow pack, less rainfall, etc. In other words, is it the case that the future of California is generally much dryer all the time with the occasional drenching rainy season, because of climate change?

    We don’t know yet, but there is one fairly obvious area of concern: Snow pack. Snow pack plays a role in watering California. Snow pack forms during the rainy winter, and slowly melts thereafter. If that precipitation wasn’t temporarily stored up as snow, the winter rains would be more flooding, and there would be less water retained in the system for the rest of the year. Increasing warmth, due to global warming, has caused more of the precipitation that falls in the mountains to be rain rather than snow, and it has caused the snow to melt more quickly.

    Warmer temperatures also mean more evaporation, so getting everything all wet and squishy for a few months during the Winter may mean less a few months later when a warm and dry atmosphere starts to drunk the moisture out of the ground and off the reservoir’s surfaces at an accelerated rate.

    This piece by Andrea Thompson at Climate Central does a great job of summarizing the current situation in California.

    I have been noting for years (well, for a couple of years) that the best available paleo data suggest that the current levels of CO2 and/or temperature, protracted over a reasonable amount of time, should be associated with sea levels of about 8 meters. In other words, if you are worried about sea level rise, and you should be, the amount of sea level rise that we are currently locked into is enough to inundate much of Southeast Asia’s rice growing land, large parts of various US states such as Louisiana and Florida, and to cause retreat from many of the world’s most densely settled cities.

    Over recent months the interface between the scientific research and journalism has started to squeeze out the occasional example of this startling fact, one we’ve known for years but have been afraid to say about else we be considered non reputable. From the Independent:

    The last time ocean temperatures were this warm, sea levels were up to nine metres higher than they are today, according to the findings of a new study, which were described as “extremely worrying” by one expert.

    The researchers took samples of sediment from 83 different sites around the world, and these “natural thermometers” enabled them to work out what the sea surface temperature had been more than 125,000 years ago.

    How long will this take? Nobody knows. This depends on how fast the major glaciers melt.

    Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami, is already rolling up his pants:

    “Let’s be clear, sea-level rise is a very serious concern for Miami-Dade County and all of South Florida,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the crowd Wednesday morning at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center during his annual State of the County address. “It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. We live it every day.”

    Read more here.

    The British Antarctic Survey is abandoning its Halley Base, in Antarctic, because the ice shelf on which it is located had developed a huge crack, so it is no longer safe to be there. They’l be out by the end of March. The crack is known as the “Halloween Crack.” Here’s a short video:

    In the Arctic, sea ice growth so far this year is below any previously observed year. From the National Snoe and Ice Data Center:
    Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 12.08.19 PM

    About Bangladesh:

    Along the coast lies Kutubdia, an island in the Bay of Bengal where lush green rice fields give way to acres and acres of flat fields. Consisting of small rectangles of varying hues of brown, they are salt fields. The encroachment of saline water from rising tides has made rice farming impossible.

    They now “farm” salt. That is not euphemism for farming in salty conditions. They take salt out of the water. That is not a business that will have a lot of future when everybody else along the coasts of low lying countries are doing it as well.

    At the end of 2015, it looked like the negative effects of climate change were accelerating. That turned out to be true, and acceleration of the effects continues. This is probably not a good time to official deny the reality and importance of climate change, but that seems to be what we are doing in the United States.

    Chile’s Devastating Fires: Another Climate Change Story

    There have been significant wildfires in Chile since November, and they continue. These are the worst fires Chile has seen in known history, and Chile has been keeping track of its history for quite a while.

    Are these fires climate change caused? Apparently so. Chile has had a rain deficit for well over a decade, though it as been extra dry for about five years. Drought experts call it a “mega-drought.” Droughts tend to have climate change links, and this one is no exception. A study from just one year ago links anthropogenic climate change to the drought.

    Within large uncertainties in the precipitation response to greenhouse gas forcing, the Southeast Pacific drying stands out as a robust signature within climate models. A precipitation decline, of consistent direction but of larger amplitude than obtained in simulations with historical climate forcing, has been observed in central Chile since the late 1970s. To attribute the causes of this trend, we analyze local rain gauge data and contrast them to a large ensemble of both fully coupled and sea surface temperature-forced simulations. We show that in concomitance with large-scale circulation changes, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation explains about half of the precipitation trend observed in central Chile. The remaining fraction is unlikely to be driven exclusively by natural phenomena but rather consistent with the simulated regional effect of anthropogenic climate change. We particularly estimate that a quarter of the rainfall deficit affecting this region since 2010 is of anthropogenic origin. An increased persistence and recurrence of droughts in central Chile emerges then as a realistic scenario under the current socioeconomic pathway.

    Heat on top of the drought adds to the likelihood of fires. Decreased snow pack from reduced rainfall and increasing temperatures at altitude also contribute.

    Here is the Climate Signals attribution schematic for this event. Click through to climate signals for more.