Tag Archives: weather whiplash

Explaining The Recent Extreme Weather: Global Warming

The human release of greenhouse gasses has ultimately caused changes in weather patterns so that major storm systems in the Northern Hemisphere get wetter and move along more slowly, causing significant rainfall events to occur at a much higher rate than previously. This has become a nearly ongoing phenomenon, with major floods in Canada, Colorado, Texas, Western Europe, Texas again, various places in Azia, more in Europe, Texas again, and so on.

The short version of the story: The jet stream is often fairly linear, traveling around the planet at a high speed, but it can also get all wavy and those waves can become “quasi resonant” meaning that they sit in the same place for a long period of time. Also, they go slower and thus move weather patterns along more slowly. This can cause the aforementioned major rainfall events, as well as persistent droughts. And we’ve had plenty of both of those.

I have written quite a bit about this, but especially this item (but see also this). And now we have more research confirming the findings.

The same (or overlapping) team of researchers that did this earlier work has a new paper out in PNAS. Here’s the summary material from the paper:


Weather extremes are becoming more frequent and severe in many regions of the world. The physical mechanisms have not been fully identified yet, but there is growing evidence that there are connections to planetary wave dynamics. Our study shows that, in boreal spring-to-autumn 2012 and 2013, a majority of the weather extremes in the Northern Hemisphere midlatitudes were accompanied by highly magnified planetary waves with zonal wave numbers m = 6, 7, and 8. A substantial part of those waves was probably forced by subseasonal variability in the extratropical midtroposphere circulation via the mechanism of quasiresonant amplification (QRA). The results presented here support the overall hypothesis that QRA is an important mechanism driving many of the recent exceptional extreme weather events.

In boreal spring-to-autumn (May-to-September) 2012 and 2013, the Northern Hemisphere (NH) has experienced a large number of severe midlatitude regional weather extremes. Here we show that a considerable part of these extremes were accompanied by highly magnified quasistationary midlatitude planetary waves with zonal wave numbers m = 6, 7, and 8. We further show that resonance conditions for these planetary waves were, in many cases, present before the onset of high-amplitude wave events, with a lead time up to 2 wk, suggesting that quasiresonant amplification (QRA) of these waves had occurred. Our results support earlier findings of an important role of the QRA mechanism in amplifying planetary waves, favoring recent NH weather extremes.

The paper is: Role of quasiresonant planetary wave dynamics in recent boreal spring-to-autumn extreme events, by Vladimir Petoukhov, Stefan Petri, Stefan Rahmstorf, Dim Coumou, Kai Kornhuber, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.

Climate change: up close and personal in Missouri

This is a guest post by Larry Lazar.

If you have had the news on the last day or two you may have seen stories and images about the Missouri floods. Many of those images are from Eureka (where we live), Pacific (where my wife Kellie works) and Valley Park (which is on my commute to work). That picture of the submerged McDonald’s you may have seen on the news is in Union, Missouri, about 20 miles to the southwest of Eureka

IMG_0563We are dry, mostly, and doing okay. The basement was flooded during the initial 3 day rain event due to a failed sump pump and a couple downspouts that came unattached from the drain pipes during the heavy downfall. The hydrostatic pressure of the ground water on the foundation was simply too much to hold back. We fixed the drain spouts and had a new sump pump installed on Sunday and that stopped any more water from coming in. We are fortunate that we returned home from visiting my family in Michigan on Saturday instead of Sunday or the water would have been much higher.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take much water to ruin carpet pads and drywall. My son and I were able to get the carpets up and the pads out the back of the house with a lot of labor but not too much trouble. There are now 14 high powered and very noisy blowers and a super-sized dehumidifier running non-stop in the basement at a cost of $30 per day per machine (disaster capitalism is quite profitable). We are told everything will be dried out in 2 to 3 days.

We have learned a painful and expensive lesson about not having a sump pump rider on our home insurance. The rider would have covered damages from the failed pump. We also would have been covered if our dishwasher had overflowed but not from ground water. Fortunately, because we acted quickly, we didn’t have any significant content damage so the only costs will be drying the place out and installing new pads under the salvaged carpets. Kellie thinks she is getting some new furniture out of the deal. I have no idea how less fortunate folks that have far more damage are going to get through this financially.

IMG_0560Flood lessons to pass along: check your sump pump, downspouts and your insurance policy. Keep important stuff up off the basement floor. Purchase a generator to keep the sump pump running when the power fails.

Downtown Eureka is a true disaster. The sand bagging effort was futile against the record water levels as most of the businesses downtown have water over their front doors. O’Dell’s, our favorite Irish pub, will be out of commission for a long time so now we have to go across the freeway to have good beer from the tap. The businesses Eureka residents depend on will be out of commission for many months.

Many homes along the river have been lost and are now downstream. These homes are built on stilts and have survived many flood events in the past but stilts can only go so high. We can no longer use the climate of the past to guide our decisions on the future. The rules for the game of life have changed and we must adapt to those rules.

Eureka has now had two 500 year floods in the last 22 years. The increasing frequency of these “500 year” (or more) type events really brings home what James Hansen wrote about in “Storms of my Grandchildren”. I’m pretty sure these frequency estimates will be a meaningless descriptor in the future. It will be interesting to see what the spring brings as the climate change fueled El Nino really kicks in.

IMG_0559All the roads out of Eureka were closed except for one and that one was a parking lot most of the time. Semi tractors on curvy and hilly two lane roads are not a good combination. Many subdivisions in the area have been isolated for a couple days now. The river crested around 6 last night so water levels, and media coverage, are quickly receding and moving downriver. We are looking forward to returning to some type of normalcy, and increased urgency for action on climate change, in the New Year.

If you want to help the best thing to do is to demand increased action on climate change from your political leaders.

We will need a price on carbon (see Citizen’s Climate Lobby), increased investment in energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear, and adaptation plans for the climate changes that are unavoidable. The American Red Cross is doing great work in helping people get through these disasters. I’m sure they could use your support.

Weather, Climate Change, and Related Matters in 2015

I had considered writing an accounting of all the outlandish weather events of 2015, but that project quickly became a tl:dr list of untoward happenings which is both alarming and a bit boring, since it is so long. So, I decided to generate something less comprehensive, focusing more on the context and meaning of the diverse and impressive set of outcomes of anthropogenic global warming, an historically strong El Niño, and, well, weather which is already a pretty whacky thing.

See: Highlights of Climate Change Research in 2015

It should be noted right away that 2015 is the last year in which any human alive will see CO2 levels dip below 400 parts per million.

What is the biggest single weather related news of 2015?

Floods, probably. Around the world, there were a lot of floods, and a lot of them were very damaging and deadly. Also, many of these floods appeared with little warning, even in places like Texas, where the meteorology is pretty good. Those Texas floods were of special note, as were the floods in the Carolinas. But outside the US there were major floods in Asia, especially Vietnam and Myanmar, as well as Yemen. Alaska, Oklahoma, Atacama in South America, also saw severe floods.

Why were there so many floods?

I’m pretty sure it is accurate to say that there was more flooding, and more severe flooding, than typical for, say, 20th century climatology. We had many 1,000 year flood events, too many to assume that these events remain as 1,000 year events.

See: Global Warming Changing Weather in the US Northeast

There are probably two or three reasons for increased flooding, which of course is caused by increased and concentrated rainfall along with other factors such as land use changes that cause rainfall to result in more flooding. One is the simple fact that a warmer atmosphere, due to global warming, contains more water, and thus, we get more rain. How much more? Not a lot, but enough to make a difference. If you put together a bunch of weather data and plot the annual precipitation rate over the last century or so, and fit a line to the data, the line will look flat. It isn’t really flat, and in fact, a properly fitted line on good data will show a statistically significant upslope. But still, the total amount of extra precipitation is a small percentage of the usual amount of precipitation, so the slope is not impressive unless you draw it out using heavy-handed graphing methods.

A few other places are doing end of year reviews. Inside Climate is doing a series of 2015 retrospectives. Skeptical Science has an overview of the year. Environmental health news has a wish list pivoting on 2015 and a year in review. And Then There’s Physics summarizes 2015. Critical Angle takes a critical look at 2015 here. If you see any more out there in the wild, let me know. Media Matters has “The 15 Most Ridiculous Things Conservative Media Said About Climate Change In 2015.” Media Matters also has 5 New Year’s Resolutions For Reporting On Climate Change. HotWhopper has The Fake Sceptic Awards for 2015 here.

A second factor is a set of changes in how, when, and where the rain falls. Normally, in the temperate regions, rain storms move along with trade winds, guided or influenced by jet streams, fairly quickly. But if the jet streams slow down, the storms slow down, so we may see 4 inches of rain fall in one place that normally would have been spread out over a larger area, never exceeding half (or less) of that amount in any given area. The jet streams have slowed down and also become curvier, which both increases the amount of rain that falls in a give area but also may transfer moisture from and to places that are normally not involved as much in such a process. For example, the storm we are expecting today in the upper Midwest and Plains is not a typical Canadian Clipper, but rather a Gulf Coast storm related to the deadly blizzards and tornado swarms we’ve seen over the last few days to the south.

See: Does global warming destroy your house in a flood?

This clumping of rain in smaller areas also means that other areas that would normally have received some rain don’t, causing what my colleague Paul Douglas refers to as “flash droughts.” These are dry periods that don’t last long enough, and are not severe enough, to register on any official drought-o-meter, but nonetheless stress local water systems (such as farming) enough to be a nuisance.

A third factor is sea surface temperature. This really relates to, and is probably one of the main causes, of the first factor (increased precip overall), and feeds into the second factor (clumping of rain) but deserves its own consideration. Elevated sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic off the US coast last winter caused a lot more moisture than normal to feed into nor’easter storms, which in turn have become more common (because of increased sea surface temperatures and other factors), thus dumping large quantities of snow in the US Northeast. The same thing dumped lots of extra snow in a region that normally gets very little snow, the US Southeast, the winter before.

See: A selection of books on climate change

These changes have been happening for decades, and are due to global warming. The warming caused by the human release of extra greenhouse gasses, and other human effects, increase the warmth, thus the evaporation, thus the precipitation. Part of this warming trend involved increasing the warmth of the Arctic at a much higher rate than most of the rest of the planet. This, in turn, seems to have caused the jet stream to become wavy and slow down. The jet streams and trade winds are ultimately caused and controlled by the Earth spinning, which has not changed, and the temperature differential between the warm equator and the cold poles, which has changed quite a bit.

See: Weather Whiplash Is Like My Old Broken Sprinkler

But what about El Niño?

Didn’t El Niño cause these changes, and thus, aren’t these weather events unrelated to global warming?

No, and for two reasons.

First, many of these events happened during the first half of the year, before the start of the current El Niño, which is in fact the strongest El Niño so far observed directly, and possibly the strongest El Niño in millennia.

The second reason is that the heat released by the El Niño (the release of heat stored in the Pacific Ocean is what an El Niño is, in functional terms) is added to an already warmed world. It may even be that the extra severity of this year’s El Niño is upscaled by anthropogenic global warming. In any event, any records we set during the current El Niño exceed earlier El Niño years because the El Niños we experience are shorter term warming events on top of a steadily increasing global warming phenomenon.

We had a lot of fires

Last year and this year, or really, the last few years, have seen excessive, above normal rates of forest and brush fires in various regions. We have seen major fires in Australia, North America, and Southeast Asia during this period, with North America breaking several recent records this year.

See: Forest fires in Indonesia choke much of south-east Asia

These fires are caused by a combination of factors, but ultimately heat increasing evaporation, prior rainy years increasing available fuel, and warm winters increasing tree death to parasites (thus increasing fuel), all have contributed.

North America, in the old days, had much more fire-heavy years than anything recent because we were busy cutting down the forest, piling up “slash” (left over tree parts) and running sparky old fashioned coal-driven railroad engines up and down between the slash piles, catching them on fire. In addition, just burning the slash on purpose contributed to the overall amount of fire, especially when the slash fires got out of control.

We also saw some pretty impressive fires a couple of decades ago because of what we now know were bad fire management practices, which had actually grown out of those earlier decades of logging related fires. In other words, the frequency and distribution of forest and brush fires is complex. During aridification, probably global warming related, in Africa during the 70s and 80s, vast areas started to burn more regularly than usual. In those days, I would fly at night over Libya, Chad and the Sudan a couple of times a year, and could observe the entire region was burning all the time, easily visible from 26,000 feet.

The bottom line: The frequency and extent of fires is variable and chaotic, but anthropogenic global warming seems to have contributed significantly to us having more of them.

Were there more storms in 2015?

Record breaking tropical storms occurred in 2015. All of the tropical cyclone/hurricane basins saw interesting activity, with the Atlantic being the most quiet, and the Eastern Pacific, possibly, being the strangest.

There were 22 Category 4 or 5 storms this year in the Northern Hemisphere, a record number. The last record year was recent, 2004. Studies have shown overall that the total energy that forms up in tropical cyclones has increased with global warming, though the actual total number of storms is highly variable.

It is reasonable to expect an increase in the frequency and severity of tropical storms with global warming, while at the same time, in some areas, smaller storms may become less common. This is partly because smaller storms are more readily abated by some of the global-warming related changes in weather systems such as increased wind shear and increased dust in the tropical atmosphere. At the same time, extremely high sea surface temperatures, and also, high water temperatures as depth (100–200 meters) increase the potential strength of storms that do get past that initial formation.

Hurricane Patricia, in the Eastern Pacific (landfall in Mexico) was an especially important storm. It was a physically small storm, but had more powerful winds than ever seen in a tropical storm. The storm went from nothing to a full hurricane in several hours (instead of several days).

The significance of this can not be underestimated. We have a situation where the conditions that might cause a hurricane to form are extreme, because of global warming (and this year, more so because of El Niño). So, when when these conditions are in place, a hurricane can form faster, and get more powerful, than normal. Consider the prospect of a land falling Category 5+ storm forming offshore from an area with low lying terrain (not like where Patricia struck land) with a high population density (not like where Patricia struck land) and moving on shore immediately. Like for instance, an Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico version of Patricia making landfall near Miami or NOLA.

Most of the really large hurricanes of this year were in the Pacific basin, distributed across the entire region, but Hurricane Joaquin, which was a very large and powerful storm in the Atlantic, did have us on the edge of our seats for a while when some of the better weather predicting models suggested it might make landfall. Also, nearly unprecedented tropical storms formed near the Arabian Pennensula.

This was a hot year

Other than February, which was merely hot rather than really hot, globally, every month so far this year has broken or nearly broken one or more records, depending on which database one uses. The running 12-month average of surface temperatures started to break records before El Niño kicked in, and continued to do so since. This will continue for several more months, even if the El Niño phenomenon itself stops soon, because it takes several months for surface temperatures to show the El Niño effect.

More specifically, there were killer heat waves in the Western Cape of South Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Australia recorded its hottest day ever. North America experienced numerous record breaking days, in the US and Canada. Cherry trees thought it was spring and bloomed last week in Washington. I saw birds building a nest outside my house in Minnesota two weeks ago, and our lawn was green(ish) through last weekend.

Ocean Oddness and Other Events

Let us not forget the Great Blob of Hot Water in the northern Pacific. This non El Niño phenomenon, which has been going for a couple of years no, has had El Niño like effects in the region, and probably relates to the non normal weather in along the western coast of North America, including record breaking heat in Alaska, major storms in or near Alaska, and of course, the California Drought.

A Haboob-Nado in China involved some of the strongest winds ever seen in the region, and may have, very unusually, contained an embedded tornado. We had a mild tornado season in the US, in Tornado Alley, until a few days ago when a not-very-seasonal tornado season sprung up and killed close to 50 people in just a few days. The American southeast does get winter tornadoes, but Michigan does not. But this year, there was a first ever recorded December tornado in that state.

The Arctic Sea ice has been diminishing in its minimum extent for a few decades now, and this year we saw the third lowest amount. The volume of Arctic sea ice continues to shrink.

You all know about the Syrian Refugee crisis. This is the latest chapter in the collapse of the Syrian state, which in turn happened because of long term drought in that country killing off the agricultural system and forcing farmers into the cities, where many became involved in the Syrian Civil War, which opened up the opportunity for the Islamic State to take a large amount of territory in the region. And so on. The Syrian refugee crisis is likely to be an early version of more of the same to come over future decades. And, I quickly point out, this is not likely to have been the first climate refugee situation, just much worse than prior events related to the spread of deserts in North Africa and drying out in West Asia.

Research on Climate Change

This year saw some interesting research in climate change.

One team studies major oscillations in climate that relate to oceans (of which El Niño is a shorter-term smaller part). This research suggests that the last couple of decades have seen less warming than we might expect over the long term, and further suggests that an uptick in the rate of warming is in our medium term future.

Related research also shows that accelerated melting of northern glaciers, especially Greenland, could alter Atlantic currents, so while the Earth generally warms due to increased greenhouse gasses, weather may change to a colder regime in Europe, some time over the next few dedades.

We are seeing an increased rate at which climate and weather experts are attributing bad weather to global warming. This is partly a shift in thinking and methods among the experts, and partly because of an actual increase in such events.

There has been interesting research in the Antarctic. We are seeing increased concern about, and evidence for, destabilization of huge inland glaciers that could start to fall apart and contribute to sea level rise at any time in the next several years. At the same time we saw one study that seemed to suggest that Antarctic is gaining ice, rather than losing it. If that is true, than recent decades of sea level rise are partly unexplained. Alternatively, the research, which has some known flaws, may simply be wrong. Look for some interesting results related to Antarctic glacier during 2016.

The famous #FauxPause in global warming, claimed by many climate change deniers to be a real thing (no warming in X years, etc.) was already known to be Faux, but this year saw several independent nails being driven into that coffin. Rather than a pause that disproves global warming, we have a better understood series of changed in the long term warming in the planet’s surface temperature.

See: In a blind test, economists reject the notion of a global warming pause

Sea floor biotic diversity was shown to be threatened by warming, coral bleaching is more likely and in fact happening at a higher rate, and probably mostly due to El Niño, there has been some odd ocean animal migrations.

The planting zones, the gardening and agricultural zones we use to decide which crops to plant and when, have over the last several years shifted in most places in North America by one or two zones. This year, the people who make the zone maps came out with a new one.

Sea levels continue to rise, and the rate of rise is rising. Rare nuisance flooding in coastal areas, most famously but not only Miami, have become regular events. Sales in waterproof shoes are expected to increase.

Communication and Politics

Across meteorology we see the graph and chart makers scrambling to find new colors for their maps showing heat. Y-axes are being stretched everywhere. We seem to be stuck with a five level category system for tropical cyclones/hurricanes, but we are seeing so many storms that are way stronger, bigger, more destructive than earlier Category 5 storms that talk of adding a category is no longer being responded to with angry mobs of pitchfork wielding weather forecasters who came of age with the older system.

See: How to not look like an idiot

There has been a great deal of significant climate change related activism, and COP happened, with a strong message to address the human causes of climate change sooner than later. Climate change has actually become an issue in US elections. For the first time a major world leader, President Obama, has faced off with the deniers and told them to STFU. Major news outlets such as the Washington Post and the Guardian have started to take climate change seriously. The idea that reporters must give equal weight to the “two sides of the story” (science is real, vs. science is not real) is disappearing.

Denial of climate change and climate change science reached its high water mark over the last 12 months. It will now fade away.

And that is a short and incomplete summary of weather and climate in 2015.

A note for my regular readers: Yes, I chose the burning Earth graphic to annoy the denialist. Check the comments below to see if that annoyed anyone.

Climate Changes: Weather Whiplash and a Smarter Media

I want to quickly mention two interesting items that crossed my desk. First is a study in Nature that looks at changes in extreme weather patterns between 1979 and very recently, the other is a study of how media has been addressing climate science denial among presidential candidates.

Evidence that global warming is intensifying extreme weather

First, the changes in weather. Human caused greenhouse gas pollution has resulted in important changes in key factors that affect the weather. The simplest (but not complete) explanation is probably this. Overall patterns of air circulation (including the moisture that is in the air) are patterned by two major facts. One, is that the Earth is spinning, the other is that the Sun’s energy is effectively greater near the Equator than on the poles. These factors cause the Earth’s atmosphere to be organized in a system of trade winds and jet streams. As the Earth has heated up, the Arctic, for various reasons, has heated up more than most other regions. This has caused a reduction in the difference between tropical (equatorial) heat and polar heat, which in turn, has changed the trade winds and jet streams. The most obvious change seems to be a slowing down of the Polar jet stream, an increase in the waviness of that jet stream, and also, a stalling of those waves, so they sit in one place for a long time. These changes have resulted in things like Alaska being extraordinarily warm, the so-called “Polar Vortex” freezing out the US east of the Rockies two years in a row, extreme rain events such as those that affected Calgary, Boulder, and other areas, snow in Atlanta, etc. Similar effects have occurred across Eurasia as well.

The recent study looks at what is happening in the atmosphere. John Abraham has written the study up in very understandable terms in The Guardian, where he says:

…the authors focused on pressure levels up into the atmosphere (heights of approximately 5 km) from 1979 onwards. Those patterns gave information about atmospheric circulation…

…What they found is that most regions have seen increases in summertime warm temperatures in the past three decades. Furthermore, they found that in some regions, a large part of this trend is due to the increases in anticyclonic circulation and atmospheric blocking. The blocking that has been associated with extreme swings of weather (bringing very warm weather to the Western USA and simultaneous cold weather to the east for instance).

The authors show that … in some cases the circulation changes has led to extreme cold outbreaks in some regions. What has happened is that the arctic front, which typically confines cold weather to the Arctic region, has undulated sufficiently to allow cold-air breakouts to the south. Think of the polar vortex from last year.

These findings support the commonly-heard term that has emerged in the past few years of “weather whiplash – wild swings from one extreme to another. Importantly, the authors show that the trends are “statistically significant” and are unlikely just random occurrences.

This work supports a number of other recent studies suggesting that the “Storm World” we have been expecting with global warming is here, and increasing in its storminess.

How The Media Is Covering Presidential Candidates’ Climate Science Denial

The second item is from Media Matters. The report indicates that the media frequently fails to fact check presidential candidates when they say incorrect things about climate change. Media Matters paints this situation in a very negative light, noting that a large percentage of the time major media outlets fail to call these candidates when they get climate change wrong. I put a graph from their report at the top of the post.

I understand why Media Matters puts this in a negative light, because it is in fact appalling that the media are so bad at this. But when I saw the numbers I saw a glass that was (about) half full rather than half empty. Going back just a year or so, major media wasn’t even doing this much fact checking, preferring rather to use the sensationalism that derives from a false balance than to actually look at what elected officials are saying. So when Media Matters says, “43 Percent Of Newspaper Coverage Failed To Note That Candidates’ Climate Statements Conflict With Scientific Consensus,” I think, “wow, that’s an improvement!

Does global warming destroy your house in a flood?

Joe and Mary built a house.

They built it on an old flood plain of a small river, though there’d not been a flood in years. This was a 500-year flood plain. Not a very floody flood plain at all.

The local zoning code required that for a new house at their location the bottom of the basement needed to be above a certain elevation, with fill brought in around the house to raise the surrounding landscape. But Joe’s uncle was on the zoning board, and it wasn’t that hard to get a variance. This saved them thousands of dollars, and they built the house without the raised foundation or the fill.

Over the previous fifty years much of the hilly wooded land up river from Joe and Mary’s house had been converted to agriculture. This changed the nature of the flow of rain across the land surface and into the groundwater. It caused the streams to rise more quickly when it rained, rather then slowly over several days fed by springs linked underground to the forest. Downstream, a century ago, engineers built a bridge for the new road, and they put the pilings closer than would be done in modern times. This caused flotsam from spring floodwaters to accumulate at the bridge, backing up water quite a good distance upstream. A large marsh that fed into the river, upstream from Joe and Mary’s house, normally flooded during high water, holding much of the excess. But about a decade ago, Joe’s uncle built a large housing development there, filling the marsh. There was controversy, and it was even covered in the local Pennysaver, but he got the variance. All these things would have made flooding near Joe and Mary’s house to be much worse than otherwise, but that never happened. The 500-year flood zone hadn’t had any 500-year floods in a long time, maybe 500 years.

Meanwhile, while the forest was being cleared, the road and its bridge built, the housing development constructed over the marsh, and Joe and Mary’s house erected, everybody was putting CO2, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. By the last decade or so of the 20th century, there was significant global warming. The increase in global surface temperature was not even; The Arctic warmed more than the rest of the planet. This caused a change in the behavior of the polar jet stream. Instead of occasionally becoming curvy and kinky and slow moving, the jet stream started to do this all the time. Then these waves went “quasi resonant” meaning that the large curves and loops would sit in one place for a long time, weeks or months. Meanwhile the heated up atmosphere started to take on more water vapor. Air that was wet enough to rain in the old days held the vapor longer because of the warmth, but when the super saturated air let the water out in the form of rain or snow, there was a lot of it. Since the weather systems follow the jet stream, they slowed down and would hang around for a long time in one region, raining and raining and raining while elsewhere there would be short term droughts.

One day, at Joe and Mary’s house, it started to rain. It rained four or five inches in a week. The basement got wet. The tomatoes were overwatered, and their leaves cringed. Everybody’s shoes started to smell. The dark, cloudy, wet days produced a sense of ennui.

Then, on the eight day, it really rained. It rained four inches in one day. The groundwater had been saturated, the streams and the river were already high. The torrential rainstorm raised the river to the 100 year flood level. Then to the 500 year flood level. Then a few feet more. Joe’s uncle’s housing development flooded. The bridge with its jam of flotsam became a dam. The water flowed around Joe and Mary’s house, filling the first floor with three feet of dirty water. Snakes took refuge on their roof. Their car floated away.

Eventually the water receded and Joe and Mary’s home was a total loss. The insurance guy had come by to give them the good news. They would receive a full payout for replacement cost of the home. While they were chatting, the insurance guy noted that the flood was caused by the dam of tree branches and house parts down at the bridge. Joe remembered his uncle’s housing development, the controversy about the flood basin, and noted that may have been a problem. The insurance guy agreed. Mary said she had read about how replacing forest with corn fields made runoff worse, so the streams and rivers would flood more. Joe and the insurance guy nodded. Yes, yes, that was a factor too. Nobody mentioned the fact that Joe and Mary had failed to build their home to code, but they were thinking it. They didn’t mention it because, really, they would only have raised the whole house by about two and a half feet, and the flood was higher than that, so what did that matter?

A few days later Joe and Mary were down at the coffee shop to meet a contractor to talk about using their insurance money to build a new house. They were sitting with the contractor going over preliminary plans, but were distracted by two graduate students form the nearby university sitting at the table next to them. They were talking about the flooding. They were talking about how global warming, caused by that CO2 being released into the atmosphere all these years, had caused the flooding. They were talking about the amplification of warming in the Arctic, the jet streams getting curvy and slowing down, the quasi resonant waves and the extra moisture in the atmosphere.

The contractor became annoyed. He had heard about global warming and all that, everybody had. But he also knew that the last four winters were unusually cold and snowy. His cousin had bought a Tesla electric car a few months earlier, and his cousin was an annoying tree hugging hippie. And, he remembered, he had heard an actual climate scientist on the TV the other day saying something about global warming and storms. In fact, he remembered quite clearly what the scientist had said. And now he wanted to say it too.

The contractor turned to the two graduate students, and got their attention. “Couldn’t help overhear your conversation,” he said to them. “But you know, you can’t attribute a single flood, or other weather event, to global warming. This was just a flood.”

Global warming. Dancing backwards and in high heels for more than 20 years.*

Global Warming Changing Weather in the US Northeast

A newly published study has identified changes in precipitation patterns in the US Northeast, which are likely caused by human pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, which has resulted in global warming. According to the study, there has been an increase in extreme precipitation events, and an increase in the clumping across time of precipitation, with longer or more intense rainy periods, and longer dry periods.

Generally, climate and weather watchers have noticed that arid regions are drier, wetter regions are wetter, and many feel this is a consequence of global warming. Increased temperatures may increase the intensity of precipitation; this is a matter of physics. As air temperature increase, the air is able to hold more water, and this increase is not linear; a little more heat means a lot more moisture.

Also, the overall pattern of movement of air currents seems to be affecting the distribution of precipitation. For example, the main jet stream that influences weather in the Northern Hemisphere seems to be more often wavy and slower moving. This causes low pressure systems that bring precipitation to move more slowly, so a given area may have both more intense rainfall and rainfall over a longer period of time. Nonetheless, while an increasing number of climatologists are thinking that global warming is changing the weather, it has only been happening for a few years, and it is a system with a high level of natural variability. This means the basic observational data may be difficult to bring to bear on understanding what is going on. The physics predict these changes. Modeling of climate has demonstrated a high likelihood of these changes. Direct observations are beginning to show these changes.

In a recent paper, “Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer,” Dim Coumou, Vladimir Petoukhov, Stefan Rahmstorf, Stefan Petri, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber noted the emergence of more frequent “Rossby Waves” in the jet stream, indicating that these waves have become more common and more persistent. They said, “We show that high-amplitude quasi- stationary Rossby waves, associated with resonance circulation regimes, lead to persistent surface weather conditions and therefore to midlatitude synchronization of extreme heat and rainfall events. Since the onset of rapid Arctic amplification around 2000, a cluster of resonance circulation regimes is observed involving wave numbers 7 and 8. This has resulted in a statistically significant increase in the frequency of high- amplitude quasi-stationary waves with these wave numbers. Our findings provide important new insights regarding the link between Arctic changes and midlatitude extremes.” (I elaborate on this finding here: More Research Linking Global Warming To Bad Weather Events.)

Climate Scientist Jennifer Francis, writing in Scientific American, notes,

One thing we do know is that the polar jet stream—a fast river of wind up where jets fly that circumnavigates the northern hemisphere—has been doing some odd things in recent years. Rather than circling in a relatively straight path, the jet stream has meandered more in north-south waves. In the west, it’s been bulging northward, arguably since December 2013—a pattern dubbed the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” by meteorologists. In the east, we’ve seen its southern-dipping counterpart, which I call the “Terribly Tenacious Trough.”

Different research teams differ somewhat in their explanation of this phenomenon, some seeking explanations in the warming Arctic, others in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific. Either way, the phenomenon seems to be real and important. I asked Justin Guilbert, lead author of the paper under consideration here, about this, and he noted, “The current very persistent atmospheric setup consists of a ridge in the west and a trough in the east. This setup is causing drought in the west and extreme cold and storminess in the east. All of which is consistent with recent studies suggesting that amplified planetary waves contribute to persistence. Such conditions tend to lead to persistent surface weather conditions because it is thought that high-amplitude waves do not move laterally as fast as lower-amplitude waves. The real weather story this year and last is the combination of persistent cold and repeated storms affecting the northeast. While we did not explore temperature persistence in the record, our analysis of the data shows that such setups may be on the rise concurrent with recent climate change.” So, the phenomenon of changes in precipitation patterns in the Northeastern US is yet another example, it seems, of warming induced changes in weather patterns. This applies as well to the cold many of us have been experiencing during our northern Winter.

So, now on to the details of the new paper just out in the American Geophysical Union addresses change in weather resulting from anthropogenic global warming. This study looks specifically at precipitation in the Northeastern United States. The paper is timely (though only by accident, the timing of peer reviewed publication and that of news cycles are entirely unconnected!) because of the recent heavy snows in New England. The study concludes that there is “… evidence of increasing persistence in daily precipitation in the Northeastern United States that suggests global circulation changes are affecting regional precipitation patterns… Precipitation in the northeastern United States is becoming more persistent; Precipitation in the northeastern United States is becoming more intense; [and these] Observed trends constitute an important hydrological impact of climate change.”

The paper is “?Characterization of increased persistence and intensity of precipitation in the Northeastern United States” by Justin Guilbert, Alan Betts, Donna Rizzo, Brian Beckage and Arne Bomblies.

The study used data from 222 weather stations in the US Northeast (defined as Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, but in the end excluding DC and Maryland because the data did not meet the study criteria). They used data from stations that had over 50 years of measurements and ran to past January 1, 1990, and excluded station data missing too many years of observation. The various data sets go back in time to as far as 174 years, with a mean coverage of about 84 years.

How do you count rain?

It is hard to count rain. If it rains on Friday and Saturday, you will get two records in a weather database, one for each day. But isn’t that just one storm? Maybe. Maybe not. Say it starts raining. It stops. It is still cloudy. It starts raining again, the same day. Or the next day. Is that one or two precipitation events? Is the rain from one low pressure system all one storm? Probably. So, OK, go back to 1882 and look at the rain gauge data for a particular town. It rained Monday and Tuesday. Were those the same low pressure system? Well, just check the satellite data for those days. But wait, satellites were still science fiction then! This is why most climate scientists a) don’t like the Weather Channel naming storms; you often can not define the boundaries of a given weather event unless it is something very compact like a hurricane or tornado, and even then, it can be a problem; and b) often have little hair.

The method used in this study is complicated but appropriately so. To measure precipitation extremes, they took precipitation data and subjected it to two streams of processing. First, they looked at the lower 75th percentile of daily precipitation values, and second, they looked at the upper, remaining, tail. Various appropriate distributional statistical analysis were applied. The data were then looked at using a moving 30 year window, so any given representation would have plenty of data to dampen out variation caused by low sample sizes. (Remember, the station data varies in density across time and space.) This information was then characterized as a median trend (typical rainfall) and extreme (high rainfall events). Then time trends were tested for. The research team did not find large changes in average precipitation, but they did identify increases in extreme events.

More than … two-thirds … of the 222 stations show positive trends for [extreme precipitation events] in the months of October through May and at least half of the stations display significant (p<0.01) positive trends during every month except July and September. The strongest regional trend in the 95th percentile of daily precipitation was observed in April when the average trend was +0.7 mm per day per decade. ... these trends are not spatially uniform. The entire region experienced an average trend of +0.5mm per decade in annual 95th percentile daily precipitation while Connecticut was found to have the greatest increase with a trend of +1.1mm per day per decade in annual 95th percentile daily precipitation . No trend was found for West Virginia in annual 95th percentile daily precipitation.

How dry I am

The other weather pattern the study looked at was, essentially, clumping of rain. We seem to see this a lot lately. Here in Minnesota, we experienced what Paul Douglas called a “Flash Drought” a few years ago. Not enough dry to make a full on drought, but the rain falling across the larger region seemed to be clumped in time and space such that there was very little in the Upper Midwest corn belt. Last summer, by contrast, it rained nearly every day in Minnesota from just before the start of June up through the end of June. We got totally clumped on by rain. (See: Minnesota’s Current Weather Disaster — Don’t worry we’ll be fine.)

The research team figured out a way to characterize this by looking at the relationship between two simple questions: Is it raining/not raining now? Is it raining/not raining the next day? That is an oversimplification of their methods, but I think it gets the point across. Imagine that today’s conditions with respect to precipitation is used to predict tomorrow’s, based on experience. If so, changes in the distribution across time of events would change the way that prediction would work out. The researchers found that “For daily precipitation events, the warmer months show the greatest increase in wet persistence, the colder months show larger increases in the magnitude of extremes, and dry persistence increases in early spring and decreases in early fall. … on an annual basis, it is likely that the study region will experience increasingly persistent and intense precipitation events.”

These findings confirm observations made by many people in the weather industry. They also may relate to patterns we see in things like snowfall in New England. Prior to the late 1970s, New England seemed to have the occasional large scale snow storm or blizzard (they are not exactly the same thing). Since then, the frequency of these events seems to have risen to about one every other year, at least in Southern New England. This year seems to be exceptionally snowy even by those standards. The concern here is that places like Boston have an infrastructure adapted to the occasional debilitating winter storm, but the storms may not remain occasional. One can imagine the T (that’s what they call the public transit system there) welding snow plows on to the front of the trollies.

I asked Guilbert if his team could put a time frame on these changes. Did alterations in precipitation patterns start at a certain point in time, or is there an acceleration in the rate at which these changes are happening? He told me, “Unfortunately the record is not long enough to robustly explore this question. I used a linear model to represent all the changes that were discussed so that a positive or negative symbol could be assigned to trends in persistence and intensity of precipitation. I looked back at the data on an annual level across the entire region to see if there was any evidence of non-linear behavior happening or if there appeared to be a ‘start time’ of which I found no evidence for either. However, this does not mean that there hasn’t been an acceleration in our metrics, it’s just that we haven’t been able to detect anything yet.”

A few days ago, using data from Jeff Master’s blog at Weather Underground, I plotted out the major snow storm events at four locations in the general vicinity of Boston, and got this graph:


There certainly were major storms before the cluster you see here, but early enough, or located in the wrong place, so that they don’t show up at these weather stations. So even though the study being discussed here does not directly address the question of “start time” there is an indication of this being a relatively new phenomenon with timing suggestive of a global warming related cause. We also know that weather related natural disasters in the US have been on the increase in recent decades. This graph is of events, not costs of events (that would go up just with inflation):


Note that the snow event graph above ends before the last few large events in New England. Note also that the natural disaster graph is not fully up to date. Also note that the Guilbert et al study reported here does not run up to the present. One gets the impression that the changes we are observing in weather patterns are happening quickly, a bit too quickly for longer term, carefully done studies, to keep up with. That simply means that whatever you were thinking based on the peer reviewed research, changes are, global warming’s effects are coming on faster than previously thought.

More Research Linking Global Warming To Bad Weather Events

A new paper advances our understanding of the link between anthropogenic global warming and the apparent uptick in severe weather events we’ve been experiencing. Let’s have a look at the phenomenon and the new research.

Climate Change: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

It is mostly bad. Sometimes it is ugly. I was looking at crop reports from the USDA and noticed an interesting phenomenon in Minnesota, that is repeated across much of the US this year: Fewer acres are in crops but among those acres that are planted there is a high expected per-acre yield. The higher yield will make up for the lost acreage this year. Unfortunately, that is about as good as it gets.

The lost acreage, at least in Minnesota as I understand it, comes from a late spring followed by a wet early summer. And holy crap was it wet, and fairly cool. My own tomatoes were utterly confused. One plant produced a single tomato that ripened a month and a half early, then waited for weeks to make its next move. I think organisms do that sometimes; when they think they are about to die they reproduce desperately, which for a tomato plant, is producing one premature tomato and then trying to not be noticed for a while. In any event, many Minnesota farmers live with an interesting conflict. There are parts of their farms they can’t plant in a given year because it stays too wet too long, and that varies from year to year. The rest of the farm is irrigated much of the summer. This year, it seems that there has been enough extra rain to increase productivity of the irrigation season, but acreage was lost between the encore of a sort of Polar Vortex mimic and a lot of rain.

The extra productivity was a lucky break, and is limited in its effects. The same weather phenomenon that made June nearly the wettest month ever in the upper plains has contributed significantly to a longer term drought in California, which is on the verge of ruining agriculture there. Severe flooding or extreme dry can do much more damage to agriculture than is accounted for by minor increases in productivity because of the extra water vapor provided by Anthropogenic Global Warming.

And the floods can be downright dangerous. I was talking to my friend and former student Rusty several months ago about the flooding in Colorado. I asked her about how her husband was doing (they both happen to be climate scientists by the way).

“Oh he’s probably fine but I’ve not heard from him in three days. His cell phone battery is probably out. I imagine he’s clinging to some high ground up on the Front Range about now.”

He is a volunteer first responder and had headed up into the canyons year boulder during the big floods there. Which were like the big floods in Calgary. And Central Europe. And the UK. And that rainy June here. And the flooding that just happened in several parts of the US.

All of it, all of those floods, and some significant drought, and the Polar Vortex that hit the middle of North America last winter, all caused, almost certainly, by the same phenomenon.

Wildfires are probably enhanced by recent weather phenomenon as well, with extreme rains causing the build up of fuel, followed by extreme dry providing the conditions for larger and more frequent fires.

On the more extreme end of effects for severe weather is the Arab Spring phenomenon. It is one thing to have a bad year for corn because of a wet spring. It is worse to have a multi year drought that could seriously affect our ability to buy almonds, avocados and romaine from California. But what happens when an agricultural system fails for several years in a row, the farmer abandon the land and move to the cities where they become indigent, a civil war breaks out, and next think you know a Caliphate is formed, in part on the wreckage of one or two failed regimes, failed in large part because of severe weather conditions caused by human induced climate change?

I’ve discussed this at length before. (See: Linking Weather Extremes to Global Warming and Global Warming and Extreme Weather) The relationship is pretty simple, to know how it works all you have to do is remember one word:

AGWAAQRaRWaWW. Rhymes with “It’s stuck in my craw, paw!”

Let me parse that out for you.

AGW -> AA -> QR-RW -> WW

AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is caused mainly by added CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel. By definition, the burning of fossil fuels is the release of energy by separation of carbon previously attached to other atoms by biological processes typically a long time ago, and over a long period of time. We humans are spending a century or two releasing tens and tens of millions of slow storage of Carbon, all at once in geological time, causing the chemistry of our atmosphere to resemble something we’ve not seen in tens of millions of years.

AA – Arctic Amplification

The CO2 by itself would warm the Earth to a certain degree, but it also produces what are called positive feedbacks. Which are not positive in a good way. For example, added CO2 means there is more water vapor in the atmosphere (because of more evaporation and ability for the atmosphere to hold water). Water vapor is, like CO2, a greenhouse gas. So we get even more warming. In the Arctic, there are a number of additional positive feedbacks that have to do with ice. The Arctic, with its additional positive feedbacks, warms more than other parts of the planet. This is called Arctic Amplification.

QR-RW – Quasi-resonant Rossby waves

Jet Stream Cross Section
Cross section of the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere. The Jet Streams form at the highly energetic boundary between major circulating cells which contain the trade winds near the top of the Troposphere.
Normally, heat from the equator makes its way towards the poles via air and sea. Giant currents of air are set up by a combination of extra equatorial heat and the rotation of the earth. Part of this system is the so-called “trade winds” (winds that typically blow in a typical direction) and the jet streams.

What the jet stream is supposed to look like.
What the jet stream is supposed to look like.
The jet streams occur at high altitude between major bands of trade winds that encircle the earth. The trade-wind/jet stream systems are typically straight rings that encircle the earth (a bit like the bands on the major gas planets) and the jet streams move, normally, pretty straight and pretty fast. But, with the warming of the Arctic, the differential between the equator and the poles is reduced, so all sorts of strange things happen, and one of those things is the formation of quasi-resonant Rossby waves.

A Rossby wave is simply a big giant meander in the jet stream. Quasi-resonant means “almost resonant” and resonant means that instead of the meanders meandering around, they sit in one place (almost).

What the jet stream looks like when it is all messed up.
What the jet stream looks like when it is all messed up.
It appears that Quasi-resonant Rossby waves set up when there is a certain number (roughly a half dozen) of these big meanders. When this happens, the jet stream slows down. The big bends in the jet streams block or stall weather patterns, and the slow moving nature of the jet stream contributes to the formation of either flash droughts (as Paul Douglas calls them) where several weeks of nearly zero rain menace a region, or extensive and intensive rainfall, like all the events mentioned above.

WW – Weather Whiplash

That’s the term that refers to dramatic shifts between the extreme weather events created by Quasi-resonant Rossby Waves, the result of Arctic Amplification, caused by Anthropogenic Global Warming.

And that’s how you get yer AGWAAQRaRWaWW. Rhymes with “It’s stuck in my craw, paw!”

Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer

Which brings us to Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer. This is the title of a paper by Dim Coumou, Vladimir Petoukhov, Stefan Rahmstorf, Stefan Petri, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Here is the “for the people” abstract of the paper:

The recent decade has seen an exceptional number of boreal summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society. There is a strong scientific debate about the underlying causes of these events. We show that high-amplitude quasi- stationary Rossby waves, associated with resonance circulation regimes, lead to persistent surface weather conditions and therefore to midlatitude synchronization of extreme heat and rainfall events. Since the onset of rapid Arctic amplification around 2000, a cluster of resonance circulation regimes is ob- served involving wave numbers 7 and 8. This has resulted in a statistically significant increase in the frequency of high- amplitude quasi-stationary waves with these wave numbers. Our findings provide important new insights regarding the link between Arctic changes and midlatitude extremes.

The effects of climate change have occurred (and will occur) on a number of time scales. Over a century we’ve had a foot of sea level rise, which is showing its effects now. Storminess, in the form of changes in tornado regimes and tropical storms, has probably been with us for a few decades. But Agwaaqrarwaww has probably only been with us since about the beginning of the present century.

I blogged about this before. In “Global Warming And Extreme Weather” I described an earlier paper produced by the same research team, in which they presented this graphic:


Followed by this graphic, which I made, with the intention of more clearly showing the trend in QR events:

I sent that to one of the authors, which may have inspired the production of a different graphic but showing the same trend, for the current paper:


Look how recent this phenomenon is. It is now, current, happening at sub-climate time scales. We don’t know enough about it, and we need to address it.

I asked Stefan Rahmstorf, one of the paper’s author and the scientists I was exchanging graphics with, to elaborate on the signficance of this recent study and to explain why it is important. He told me, “Previous studies have failed to find trends linked to global warming which could explain the recent spate of unusual extreme events. For example they have looked at trends in the occurrence of blocking or in the speed of the jet stream. But you need to know what you are looking for in order to find it. The planetary wave equation reveals what the resonance conditions are which make the waves grow really big, causing extreme weather. So we knew what trends to look for.”

I also asked him if severe weather events post dating the end of his study period conform to expectations as Rossby Wave events. “I can’t say for sure because we have not done the analysis for the very latest data yet – studies like this take time,” he told me. “But I suspect there have been more resonance events. They are not necessarily constrained to July and August either. The record flooding in May/June 2013 in Germany of the Danube and Elbe rivers, for example, was associated with large planetary wave amplitudes. Dim Coumou has assembled a young research team now that will work on further data analysis.”

Damian Carrington has written up this research at the Guardian, and notes:

Prof Ted Shepherd, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, UK, but not involved in the work, said the link between blocking patterns and extreme weather was very well established. He added that the increasing frequency shown in the new work indicated climate change could bring rapid and dramatic changes to weather, on top of a gradual heating of the planet. “Circulation changes can have much more non-linear effects. They may do nothing for a while, then there might be some kind of regime change.”

Shepherd said linking the rise in blocking events to Arctic warming remained “a bit speculative” at this stage, in particular because the difference between temperatures at the poles and equator is most pronounced in winter, not summer. But he noted that the succession of storms that caused England’s wettest winter in 250 years was a “very good example” of blocking patterns causing extreme weather during the coldest season. “The jet stream was stuck in one position for a long period, so a whole series of storms passed over England,” he said.

I’m not convinced that the seasonality of Arctic Amplification matter much here, and I note that we’ve not looked closely at the Antarctic. Also, “blocking patterns” and QR waves are not really the same exact thing. They may be different features of the same overall phenomenon, but QR Rossby Waves are a more general phenomenon, and a “blocking” is something that happens, probably, when that phenomenon interacts with certain kinds of storms.

It occurs to me that there is a huge difference between Agwaaqrarwaww happening randomly in space vs. blocking and steering waves setting up for long periods of time over the same place, and appearing in those places typically. Like Godzilla. We know that over time Godzilla will usually destroy Tokyo and not London, because Godzialla, while sometimes random, is usually geographically consistant. Can we expect Rossby Waves to usually causae drought in California, flooding on the Front Range or Rockies, and drenching rains in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Region, for example? I asked Stefan about that as well.

“We have not looked at this aspect yet, but the recent paper by Screen and Simmonds has indeed found such a preference of the wave troughs and crests to sit in certain locations.

Ruh Roh.

500,000 people evacuate massive 2-week long flood; 40+ dead.

Excessive warmth attributable to global warming and a stalled weather system, also attributable to global warming, have caused a weather system in over southeast China to dump rain since May 12th. A million people are in the impacted area, ahlf of them have had to move or have been rescued, and the 2-6 inches of daily rain continues. 25,000 homes have been destroyed.

This area has recieved huge investments over the last few decades, since a huge 1998 storm killed thousands and caused 26 billion dollars in damage. They now fear that the present flooding will be as bad.

Here’s some video (with some out of date information on casualties and damages):


Massive, Two Week Long China Flood Sends Half a Million Fleeing, Destroys More Than 25,000 Homes

Half a million evacuated as China braces for more flooding

Meteorologist Paul Douglas on Atheist Talk This Sunday

This Sunday morning, on Atheist Talk radio, I’ll interview Paul Douglas, America’s favorite meteorologists (at least when the weather is good).

When I first moved to Minnesota, which happened to be during a period of intense Spring and Summer storminess for a few years in a row (including this event which wiped out Amanda’s dorm long before I ever met her), I spent a bit of time while searching for a place to live watching the local news, to get a feel for the place. Coming from the Boston area, where the main local news stations aggressively compete with each other using their meteorologists, I found it interesting that there was a huge range of variation in the weather reporting in the Twin Cities. One weather team stood out above the others, led by Paul Douglas, who at the time was on WCCO (CBS). That station quickly became my go-to place for news and weather because of the quality of Paul’s weather reporting.

At the time, climate change was on the minds of relatively few people, but it was very much an interest of mine because of my research in palaeoclimate connected to my work on the New England coast and in Central Africa. Also, soon after moving here I was added to the faculty of the Lakes Research Center, a globally recognized paleoclimate facility that focuses on fresh water proxyindicators (mud in ponds and lakes). So, it was rather annoying to see at least one of the Twin Cities meteorologists implying now and then that global warming was some sort of hoax, and in contrast, refreshing to see Paul Douglas speaking of the weather in scientific but understandable terms, and taking note of, and not dismissing, the extreme weather we were having at the time.

Paul got into the broadcast business while still in high school, where he worked for WHEX-AM in Pennsylvania. Later he was to develop a series of weather related and other businesses, earning the appellation “entrepreneur extraordinaire.” He has degrees and certifications in meteorology, worked at KARE-TV in theTwin Cities, WBBM-TV in Chicago, and as mentioned, became chief meteorologist for WCCO-TV. He left that position a few years ago, and weather reporting in the area has not been the same since.

Have you seen the movies Jurassic Park and Twister? Paul’s company Earth/Watch Communications produced the weather visualizations for those films, and Paul appears in a cameo in Twister.

Paul is the author of Prairie Skies and Restless Skies.

If you live in the Twin Cities you know that Paul writes a daily weather blog at the Star Tribune, and this blog is mirrored with a more national version at Weather Nation, which is the company Paul is currently most involved in. Those blogs are unique. A typical post includes a detailed narrative of current weather conditions and weather over the next few days, allowing the reader to get the sense of an expert meteorologist thinking out loud, going through several models, evaluating them, balancing the conflicting data, throwing in a bit of gut feeling, to produce a typically accurate (insofar as it is possible to be accurate) scenario for upcoming weather. Following this, a typical post by Paul Douglas will include a summary of the latest research and findings on global warming, often linking climate change to current weather observations.

Over the last few years, it has become apparent that a phenomenon known as Weather Whiplash, likely a result of climate change, has become the predominant driver of significant weather events. Paul is one of the people who first notice this phenomenon, and his advocacy of the science of climate change and responsible meteorology had certainly helped drive research in this direction.

Readers of this blog and listeners of Atheist Talk will also be interested to know that Paul is a Reasonable Republican (a rare breed) as well as an Evangelical Christian. He has written and spoken about the need for conservatives to embrace climate change, because it is real, and to address it with the assumption that it costs more to ignore it than to tackle it. He is also involved with faith-based activities advocating for applying good science to developing good policy regarding climate change.

I’ll ask Paul about the weather (perhaps he will give us an exclusive forecast!), weather whiplash, his approaches to communicating about climate change, why he got into weather to begin with (I believe there is an interesting story there) and more. See you Sunday Morning!

HERE is how to listen live, which can only be done from Minnesota, so you’d need to have a zip code such as 55344 or something. In case you are asked.

The show will later be posted as a podcast here.

If you have a question you’d like to ask, email it in during or before the show or call during the show at (952) 946-6205.

The Jet Stream is Misbehaving

From meteorologist Paul Douglas:

Published on Mar 14, 2014
Weather seems to be staling. Look into how the speed of the jet stream causes this “stuck in a rut” weather pattern. Meteorologist Paul Douglas also takes a look back as to how this winter compares to years past. Checking out extreme drought conditions, snow cover and cooler temperatures overall. This did not only impact the U.S. but other areas of the world. England experienced their wettest winter yet!

Can Recent Extreme Weather Be Attributed To Climate Change? U can help answer that question.

There are few different, related, ways in which climate change, including anthropogenic global warming, can cause extreme weather events. One is that climate zones move. This may result in “normal” weather for a different location occurring elsewhere. For example, if southern warm air system shift north, than the frequency of low and high temperatures, and their distribution throughout the year, can change. Another is the rise of entirely new conditions that were previously either rare or virtually unknown. One example of this might be the steering of Hurricane Sandy into the northeastern U.S. coast a couple of years ago. Hurricanes do plow into that region now and then, but they almost always come from the south and bump into land in the narrowing North Atlantic. Sandy did something different, moving north out at sea in the Atlantic, like many Atlantic hurricanes do, but then making an abrupt left turn, owing to an unusual configuration of the atmosphere, plowing into Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. That was a single unusual event, to be sure, but if such air patterns become “normal” (even occurring only every few years rather than almost never during hurricane season), that would be a qualitative shift in weather patterns. If that shift is caused by the phenomenon of Arctic Amplification (the relatively increased warming of the Arctic as the entire planet warms) that would be a shift in the kinds of weather patterns we have due to global warming. A third kind of change is what is often called “loading of the dice.” This is where events that have a low probability of happening simply happen more often. The dice analogy is tricky because it is often used differently by different people; one idea is that a rare event is rolling two sixes with two die. That would be rare. But climate change adds one or two more die, allowing for a greater chance of two of them coming up as a six. That’s a difficult analogy because there really isn’t an equivalent to extra die in the climate system. The point here is that probabilities of rare events changes.

My distinction between zone shifting, qualitative shifts, and probability changes is not something climate scientists or meteorologists generally say; this is just my way of talking about changes in variance of weather patterns. Also, these three different things are not necessarily that different, but rather, three faces to the same multi dimensional coin.

People used to say, and fortunately this is becoming rare, that you can’t attribute a given weather event to climate change. That has never been true. The reason people said that is not because weather events are somehow unlinked to climate change (they can’t be; weather and climate are the same thing at different scales of time and space). Rather, people said that because of the statistical difficulty of teasing out a given event from climate change. The fallacy behind this statement, which has been co-opted by “false balancers” and science denialists to reduce the importance of climate change, is easily exposed by asking a few simple questions.

Go to the desert in Arizona. Measure the temperature, daily, throughout the year for a few years. At the same time, have your friend go to the east slope of the Canadian Rockies, and also measure the temperature every day for a few years. Summarize your data by averaging across years per month. Now, go back to your study sites and measure the temperature on a given day and look up the time and place (month, Canadian Rockies vs. Arizona Desert). Compare the temperatures you’ve measured with the summary of data. Do this a few times. Notice a pattern? Yes, of course. The temperatures in Arizona will generally be higher than Canada, and this fits with the two or three years of data you’ve collected. Can you attribute the difference between your new measurements in Canada and Arizona to the differences between these locations based on your long term data? Yes, you can. The variation you see in your current measurements of the weather is patterned by the climate you estimated from your long term measurements. Climate predicts weather. Weather matches climate, plus or minus. Climate is weather with variation attenuated by greater sampling. You can attribute the weather you observe to the climate you are observing it in.

If you start in Arizona and measure the weather for a few days, then fly up to Canada and measure the weather for a few days, the differences in your measurements will reflect a difference that is explained by the longer term observations you made. The difference in weather you observe is explained by the different patterns of climate you characterized with your long term collection of information. So, if you change the climate, the weather will change, and you can attribute that to the climate change as well. It was never true that you “can’t attribute a single weather event to climate change” because it is always true that you can attribute all of the weather you observe to the climate you are observing it in. The weather is simply a low frequency sampling of the climate, so it will vary a lot more from observation to observation than will multi-year data. So while it was never true that you could pretend there was no link between climate and weather, it was always true that you could not ever separate observed weather from the region’s climate. They’ve always been linked.

But, there is a problem and it comes back to that word “attribute.” To meaningfully and quantitatively attribute daily weather observations to a change in any given variable is difficult because there are so many variables that affect weather. If we want to attribute a certain frequency of rare events such as major floods or killer heat waves to a given change in the climate in a way that allows us to convincingly and quantitatively link the that change in climate to the change in frequency of the events, we could observe for a very long time. Instead of just measuring temperature and rainfall for a few years, which would give us pretty good climatic dat, we’d have to observe and measure rare events for a very long time. For example, if we want to see if a theoretical “thousand year flood” has become more common so it is now a “hundred year flood” we’d have to observe floods for many decades in order to get enough data to re-calibrate flood frequency.

This presents two major problems if we want to understand the relationship between global warming and weather events. First, we will have to observe the weather for so long that policy makers waiting for our scientifically valid conclusion will not be able to act on the basis of the data in a timely manner. The second problem is that climate change may be happening so fast that zonal, qualitative, and quantitative shifts in climate may roll right past our humble data collection enterprise. If the climate fundamentally changes fast enough that every decade is different from the previous decade, than it will be impossible to get a nice twenty year long sample of any given phenomenon. Some aspects of climate change seem to be moving along at this rate, a great example being the annual rate of Arctic Sea ice melting. There is no twenty year period that reflects the current rate because the rate has gone up so fast. We can’t develop a “climatology” of Arctic Sea ice melt based on stable well behaved 20 year periods because there aren’t any.

One way to handle this problem is with simulation studies. If we have a good model that can simulate a year’s worth of climate and weather activity then we can run that model a large number of times and see how often particular weather events occur. Since this is a model run in a computer (or several computers) we can simulate a year of climate with and without the global warming related changes, and compare those two years. Thousands of times. This way we get a version of climatology, long term measurements, that is statistically better than any real life measurements would allow. Climate models, that run the Earth’s climate in a computer on demand, are good enough to do this.

So let’s do that. Let’s get a computer program that runs climate simulations, change the variables to reflect climate change vs. no climate change scenarios, run the model a gazillion times, and see if weather events like the historic flooding in the United Kingdom this year are likely to occur at a higher frequency with global warming, and if so, estimate what that frequency might be. Check it out:

A new citizen science project launched by climate researchers at the University of Oxford will determine in the next month or so whether global warming made this winter’s extreme deluge more likely to occur, or not. …

The weather@home project allows you to donate your spare computer time in return for helping turn speculation over the role of climate change in extreme weather into statistical fact….

The Weather@home 2014 project is located HERE and you can sign up to help.

Here’s a video explaining the project:

I’ll probably set up a computer to be used mainly for this purpose and give them a few days of processing time. I’ve read through the requirements and all the important information needed and it looks pretty straight forward. If I do this I’ll let you know how it goes.

Climate Change on MSNBC: Bill Nye and Jeffrey Sachs

Nice coverage of climate change that is NOT A “DEBATE” ASSUMING SOME KIND OF DUMB FALSE BALANCE. Way to go, MSNBC. Thank you.

Summer weather in Sochi, a record-drought in California and a polar vortex. The evidence for climate change is all around us. Bill Nye and Jeffrey Sachs talk about the climate debate and need for energy research.

See also this guy:

It is funny that this guy got two people who are also not climate change scientists, but whatever.

California, Drought, Pineapple Express, Geological Imperative, Evacuations

If water had its way, this is what California would look like:

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Think about it for a second. Every single moment, currents of air move, slowly or rapidly, across every land surface on the planet. Anything loose gets blown slowly or rapidly, to lower places. Every now and then, in some places rarely and in other places commonly, liquid water falls from the sky on almost every land surface on the planet. Now and then, in certain limited areas, frozen water builds up to great heights, thousands of feet hight, and moves along, scraping deep hollows and grooves the size of big lakes out of these land surfaces. Now and then the earth shakes and stuff falls down. Most of the earth’s surface is ocean, only a small percentage is land. With all this blowing and washing and scraping away, you would think that all the stuff on the land would eventually end up in the ocean and all of the land would look like this:

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There are several reasons this does not happen. One is that mountain building happens because continental shelves push against each other. Another is that volcanoes occasionally spew ash, lava, and stuff out onto the land surface. Also, there is another, less often known about by the average person but incredibly important reason that the land does not look like this …

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Underneath the land there is melty-squishy-hot stuff that tends to push upwards a little bit almost everywhere, and a lot in some places, though it is usually pushed back upon by the weight of the land itself. If you remove a bunch of stuff from the surface of the continent, this pushing gets a bit of traction. So, if you have a big piece of continent with erosion happening all the time on the top, this pushing will happen from below, and the continent will not disappear below the surface of the sea. The Congo basin is probably an example of this. It rains a lot, there is constant erosion. So, the land surface across most of the Congo has been eroding for something like a couple or few hundred million years, at least, like it is now. As the surface is eroded away, the underneath slowly rises. So now, much of the Congo basin has deeply eroded rivers, and all the hills between the rivers are made of stuff that is like granite, the cooled down, hardened melty-squish-hot stuff. In fact, a lot of Africa is like that.

In California, the last calendar year was the driest one on record. California has been so dry over the last few years that it is nearly dried out. The reservoirs are puddles, the groundwater is a mystery, and the state is in a state of crisis. But today, the first Pineapple Express of the rainy season arrived, and dumped huge amounts of rain in parts of the state.

California is uplifted. Unlike Louisiana, Mississippi, and nearby areas, which are all very close to sea level, California stands up high over the ocean. When you head for the ocean from inland, depending on where you start, you may have to cross significant mountain ranges or linear arrangements of tall hills, and just before getting to the sea you will have your brakes on a lot of the time because you’ll be going down hill. The shoreline of California is roughly synonymous with the continental shelf, in contrast to other coastlines in the US where the shelf edge may be hundreds of miles out to sea.

The dry conditions over the last few years have resulted in a lot of fires on the hills in this hilly, uplifted country. The geological stuff underneath the surface in much of California is not like the deep hardened magma of the Congo, or for that matter, New Hampshire, Maine and the Maritimes. It is soft, to varying degrees. The top, exposed areas on those hills is made of rocks and dirt. When torrential rains flow over the surface, this material is held in place by a combination of plant roots and luck. The force of the rains is attenuated by the upper parts of the vegetation. But with the vegetation either burned off or dead(ish) from drought, or both, the water washes away the softer smaller particles, leaving the larger stones and rocks exposed, and rivulets start to form and erosional gullies deepen and widen. Meanwhile the ground soaks up water and becomes both loose and heavy at the same time. All these factors together constitute a step in the process of making California look, eventually, like this:

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And if your house, or the road to your house, or anything, is in the way, it will get washed down stream or buried under other stuff washing down stream. For this reason, evacuations are underway in parts of the Sunshine State.

There’s good news, though. Even though the forces of nature seem intent on making California eventually look like this:

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There are other forces of nature that are intent on making California look like this:

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That’s the good news. The bad news is that those other forces are, well, earthquakes.

Denying Climate Science in Multiple Dimensions

The famous Polar Vortex has come and gone in North America. Then, it came back. What a jerk.

NewPolarVortexMemeAs I write this the outside temperature is 13 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and tomorrow morning’s Bus Stop Temperature promises to be about –25F windchill here in central Minnesota. Meanwhile my Twitter stream is polluted with climate science denialist tweets pointing out that it is too cold outside to believe in global warming, even though the entire land area of the United States, where this cold is being experienced as a cultural and physical phenomenon, is about one and half percent of the planet Earth, and the Northern Hemisphere has just experienced its fourth warmest January during the period known as “Since Records Began” which in this case is about 1880 to the present.

Releasing the Carbon Kraken

There are multiple dimensions along which denialists either get it wrong (because they are not paying attention or don’t understand the data) or making it wrong (because they have an interest in misdirection and misleading others). One is pretending that the weather outside their window is the climate. The other is pretending that climate change only started after Al Gore said it did, or after some other recent date, ignoring the fact that we have been releasing the Carbon Kraken since the early or mid 19th century, when industrialists figured out they could make more money using coal, rather than water, to run their ever expanding acreage of dark satanic mills.

It is hard to say exactly when Anthropogenic Global Warming began because at the start any signal from this effect may have been swamped by non anthropogenic (sometimes called “natural”) variation. The available data suggest that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million (ppm) in the 18th century, and started to rise during the last half of the 19th century. After World War II, the rate of rise increased significantly. We know added CO2 increases the global surface temperature and the temperature of the oceans, and melts glacial (and sea) ice through the greenhouse effect. This graph, from here, combines various data sources to show the increase in CO2 emissions over time:


When we look at temperatures over time, we see a close relationship between CO2 and temperature, and we see a slow rise prior to World War II with a more rapid increase after. Another graph, from here:


The increase in temperatures are slow and steady but measurable prior to World War II, and much steeper thereafter. It would be nice to see a graph like this that goes back a little farther in time to match the CO2 graph, but the “instrumental record” mostly post dates the Civil War, and really, the better quality record post dates about 1880. There are records that go way back, tens of millions of years, but they are “proxy” records of a different scale and it is hard to get them on the same graph.

People who (unbelievably) deny that global warming is a real thing will often point to climate events earlier in the 20th century that may resemble modern day events that we think could be related to warming, and say “see, it happened then, so there is no global warming now.” There are several reasons that is wrong. First, often, older records of spectacular weather events may be wrong, incomplete, or not measured like we would like them to have been measured, so going back to old newspaper accounts and such is highly unreliable. So this means that people are criticizing a carefully assembled and verified set of data (recent changes in CO2 and temperature) and complaining that it is no good because of cherry picked observation from “data” that is not controlled or verified. The second reason this is wrong is that there have been very few weather events that could not, really, have happened any time. This does not apply so much to sea level enhanced weather events. If sea level rises then sea or estuary flooding can happen in places it could never have happened before, so that is a qualitative, or base-line, difference. But for the most part, a major cold snap, a high precipitation event, drought, or other event can happen at any time. Climate scientists do not think that there are very many weather events that happen now that could never, ever have happened in the past. Rather, there is concern that some of these classes of events are happening with significantly greater frequency now than in the past.

Was Kansas Not In Kansas Any More For A Decade Or Two?

A third reason this is wrong, which is rarely pointed to but I think important, is that we really don’t know what the association is between two important factors and weather events. First, just how much new CO2 added to the atmosphere does it take to change the weather? Since CO2 records show an increase that started prior to the better quality instrumental record, the entire instrumental record is potentially affected by higher CO2, though of course, this effect would be much less prior to World War II than during more recent times. Second, and related, is this: There may be weather related effects that come not from the specific amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but from changes in the CO2. The warming effect of added CO2 is not instantaneous, but rather, takes a long time during which time climate or weather related things may change. Adding a specific amount of CO2 to the atmosphere is like turning the stove on under a pot of tap water. The water starts out cool, and over time heats, then it eventually reaches boiling. After that, the temperature does not change; due to the boiling point, the pot of water has reached a new equilibrium and has stopped increasing in heat. But before equilibrium is reached there are constant changes in the heat level of the water inside the pot as well as other things the water is doing, such as pushing out various gasses, forming bubbles, and circulating thermally in the pot. That is a very simple analogy; there may be either simple or complex changes that happen in the Earth’s heat circulation system that occur as a result of added CO2, that involve changes over time, then reach an equilibrium of some sort and stop happening. Perhaps this occurred during the early days of increased CO2.

I have a hypothesis that I’m not aware has been examined. During the 1920s and 1930s, in the US at least, there seems to have been a handful of extreme weather events, including some major tornadoes, big hurricanes, an historic and history changing drought, and a few other things. The Wizard of Oz, the writings of John Steinbeck, and other cultural phenomena are a very interesting proxy for those climate events, in a way. I’m afraid that at the moment the data required to examine this period are not sufficient. But I wonder, looking at the above graphs, if the earlier part of the 20th century saw a metastable shift – changing from one equilibrium to a new and different equilibrium – in weather patterns, caused by CO2 induced warming, the effects of which arose for a while then faded away.

The possibility that extreme events may have happened during some period of a couple of decades early in the 20th century due to anthropogenic global warming does not explain all, or even a majority, of the denialist claims. Most of those claims are probably references to incorrect data or cherry picking of events. The largest and most frequent weather related effects of global warming probably date to the last 20 years. Weather events are known of over many decades before that, and to some extent, even centuries into the past. Therefore, the historical bowl of cherries from which denialists may choose is large. That ratio, between the expanse of historical information and the more limited recent past, is large enough that there are dozens of past events that can be cited, as misrepresentations of reality.

Bicycles Going Backwards

You wouldn’t think it easy to ride a bicycle backwards but it turns out it is. Climate science denialists are good at it, and they can use multiple bicycles at once.

In a recent twitter conversation, an Australian MP challenged John Cook with the false assertion that several studies confirmed that global temperatures have stayed steady or gone down over the last decade or so. When Cook asked for the studies, the MP replied not with any studies, but with a comment about climate models. When pressed further for the studies, the MP claimed he had not promised any such studies and when pressed further changed the conversation to the last 150 years of data. When that did not work he shifted to mention of work that he claimed defied the nearly perfect consensus among both scientists and their peer reviewed papers about climate science. When that did not work he shifted to references in a non-peer reviewed anonymous blog, and then to perceived problems in the peer reviewed process. About that time another climate science denialist attempted to shift the conversation to the alleged (and non-existent) inability of alternative energy sources to work when it is really cold out.

If you have one thing to say that is wrong, it is hard to sustain argument. If you have ten things to say that are wrong, you can sustain the argument by shifting among them as each falsehood is effectively challenged. That form of argument does not advance understanding, but it does sustain the argument, but in a rather vacuous form. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Science denialism thrives in a vacuum.

Fighting With Words

Another dimension along which climate science denialists operate is linguistic. The terms “global warming” and “climate change” mean different things. The former is part of the latter, and in fact, “global warming” is not exactly the same as “anthropogenic global warming.” Within science, we sometimes see extended discussions of the meanings of specific terms. What is a gene? What exactly is the relationship between “founder effect” and “genetic drift?” When is an “adaptation” really an “aptation” or an “exaptation?” These conversations have three characteristics. First, they reflect changes in understanding, or sometimes, conflict between perceptions of natural phenomena that arose independently and then crashed into each other in the literature or at conferences. Second, they are useful conversations because they can expose uncertainties or ambiguities in our actual understanding of nature. Third, despite their short term utility, they eventually become boring and misleading and scientists move beyond them and get back to the actual science, eventually.

But terminology has another use, and that is obfuscation. It is often said by denialists that scientists changed from using the term “global warming” to “climate change” for one or another nefarious reasons. We also see denialists claiming that scientists used to study “climate change” and that included both global warming and global cooling, but then changed to global warming because they could make more money on it. (I wish I knew how that worked!) Recently, Rush Limbaugh, the intellectual leader of the American right wing, claimed that scientists made up the term “Polar Vortex” in order to advance tax and spend liberal ideas. The famous NBC weatherman, Al Roker, and others, noted that the term “Polar Vortex” was already there, as a term referring to a real thing, and Roker even showed the term in use in his meteorology textbook from the mid 20th century. Indeed, here is a Google Ngram Viewer result of a search for the term “Polar Vortex” in all the books Google has indexed:


Note that the term is way old, predating 1950, and had a peak in usage druing the late 80s and through the early 90s, probably related to an increased rate of study of this phenomenon that happened because of concern over the Ozone Hole.

Fighting with words was codified by, if not invented by, the Ancient Greeks. It is called sophistry, or at least, is a subset of that practice, whereby arguments are made in large part on the basis of rhetorical style or method. You see people do this all the time. If someone you know is in a grumpy mood, or does not want to admit they’ve made a mistake, they may resort to a sophistic argument.

“Sorry I’m late, I got lost because they changed what’s on the corner of your street and it confused me.”

“They never changed what’s on the corner of my street.”

“Yes they did, there used to be a coffee shop, now it’s a pet grooming place.”

“Yeah, but it’s still the same building, they never changed what’s on the corner. You got lost because you don’t like me any more.”

That sort of thing.

Science denialists look silly when they do this sort of thing, but apparently they don’t know that. And, the method is related to the backpedalling bicycles. You can always shift the conversation to the apocryphal shift between the terms “global warming” and “climate change,” implying a conspiracy among scientists, when the going gets tough.

This seems to happen a lot with hurricanes. When the Bush Administration wanted to avoid taking responsibility for a poor response to Katrina, someone actually said that the major damage done to New Orleans was not due to Katrina, but rather, to flooding. This idea was bolstered by noting that the hurricane had made landfall at a different time and place than the flooding. That, in turn, was based on the idea of “landfall” being related to the location of the eye of the storm; but the eye of a hurricane is tiny compared to the entire storm, which may be hundreds of miles across. We saw this again with Sandy. Sandy was a pretty bad hurricane, but it lost its hurricane status just before making “landfall” (though the leading edge of the storm had been on land for a long time already). Just before hitting land, Sandy integrated with another storm system, which actually made the thing a super storm with much more impact than just a hurricane, but in so morphing changed enough that it no longer fit the definition of a hurricane. Then it hit New Jersey and New York. So, those who wish to deny the importance of hurricanes simply claim that when Sandy flooded Manhattan and the New Jersey shore, and caused widespread damage, loss of life, and injury in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, that did not count as a hurricane related event. Sophistry.

But Galileo!

The final dimension of argument I want to mention is perhaps the silliest of all, and we see it in widespread use far beyond the area of climate science denialism. The idea is simple. All major advances in science have come about when almost everyone thinks a certain thing but they are all wrong, but a small number of individuals know the truth, like Galileo’s attack on a geocentric universe.

While it is true that such things have happened, in history, they have not happened that often in science. For example, Einstein’s revision of several areas of science fit with existing science but modified it, though significantly. Subatomic theory did not replace the atom, but rather, entered the atom. The discovery and characterization of DNA was a major moment in biology, but the particulate nature of inheritance had long been established. Darwin did not change the existing science of nature, but rather, verified long held ideas about evolution and, dramatically, proposed a set of mechanisms not widely understood in his day. Science hardly ever gets Galileoed, and even Galileo did not Galileo science; he Galileoed religion. Even his insightful contribution was accretive.

There is a demented logic behind the Galileo claim. If every one thinks one thing, and one person thinks something different, that high ratio of differential is itself proof that the small minority is correct. But the truth is that consensus, or what we sometimes call “established science,” is usually coeval with alternative beliefs the vast majority of which are wrong, most of which do not even come from the science itself, but rather, from sellers of snake oil, individuals or entities that would benefit from the science being questioned, or from individuals with delusional ideas. Even if there is now and then a view held by a small minority that is actually more correct than the majority view, we can’t establish veracity by measuring rarity. Chances are, a view of nature held by only a few is wrong. This simple numbers game is not how we should be seeking truth, but if one does engage in the numbers game, then dissenting views of established science can be assumed to be wrong, if you were going to place a bet.

Climate Science Denialism along Multiple Dimensions

It seems to me, and others have noted this, that there is an uptick in the activity levels of climate science denialism. This seems to have started just prior to the release of the first draft documents of the IPCC report on climate change last year. Perhaps it is also being fueled by efforts linked to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Denialists have recently used the fact that about one or two percent of the Earth’s surface is experiencing a dramatic cold wave, which is quite possibly an effect of climate change, to question global warming, even in a winter where the Earth is exceptionally warm. Sophistry abounds. There is so much cherry picking going on that I fear for a shortage of cherries, which really should be reserved for making pies and jam. Backwards pedaled bicycles are whizzing about. But the denialists do not seem to have increased in number or even reach. Last November, there was a project called #ClimateThanks in which people were asked to tweet thanks, using the #ClimateThanks hashtag for those individuals and organizations who have been doing or promoting the results of good climate science. The denialists jumped on that bandwagon, producing numerious anti-science tweets and retweets. But if you look at the tweets and the tweeters from the denialist gaggle, while they were many most had few followers, and some of the tweeting entities even seemed to have been made up or brought out of mothballs for the purpose. They amounted to little more than a large collection of small wanna-be-Galileos.

It is probably true that the biggest problem we have in advancing a productive conversation about climate change is the tenacious insistence on false balance in the media. It isn’t just FOX News that thinks it is OK to place real science and politically motivated propaganda on the same stage, as though they had equal merit. False balance, which may be spreading as a phenomenon in major media at a time it should be diminishing, is probably the best friend of the denialist community.

Meanwhile, the denialsts have repeatedly shown themselves to be wrong, along many and diverse dimensions.

UK Hammered, not in a good way (New Peter Sinclair Video)

I first interviewed Dr. Alun Hubbard on the edge of the Watson River in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland last summer. His vivid language and lucid storytelling made that video on of the most popular in the Yale Series. (see below)

Both Dr. Hubbard, and my Dark Snow Project cohort, Sara Penrhyn Jones, live in the tiny village of Aberystwyth, on the coast of Wales, and teach at the local university. I skyped with Alun a week or so ago in the midst of the storms hammering the area. Shortly after that he wrote me to explain that his roof had just blown off in hurricane force winds….

Read the rest HERE, and this is one of two videos on Peter’s post: