Sunday, July 15, 2012

Texas Tall Tales and Global Warming

Last week the national media was full of stories about how global warming has made Texas heat waves TWENTY TIMES more probable.  We are talking about hundreds of stories in respected national media outlets (including the NY Times, the Washington Post, and even the Seattle Times).   These stories were all based on an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (DID HUMAN INFLUENCE ON CLIMATE MAKE THE 2011 TEXAS DROUGHT MORE PROBABLE?  with lead authors David E. Rupp and Philip W. Mote of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and some British colleagues...found here...scroll down to page 12).

The trouble is that this study is flawed (I will explain why) and its scary conclusions are insupportable.   This is important story:  about the hyping of global warming, about poor research being published, about the media jumping on sexy, scary global-warming stories.  And most worrisome of all..this is not an isolated incident.



Before I go further, let me stress that I believe that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm significantly over the next century.  The impacts could be both profound and serious.   But exaggerating the impact of human-induced warming today and in the past only serves to weaken the efforts of the meteorological community to provide information society needs to make rational decisions.  If you cry wolf too many times and are proven wrong it is bad for your credibility.

So lets consider the Rupp/Mote et al. study.   Texas had an extraordinary six-month  heat wave and drought in 2011...no doubt about it.   The question is whether we can ascribe this event to global warming..human-induced or otherwise.

Now to examine this issue, the authors of this article examined temperatures and precipitation for March through August and June through August over Texas using both observations (from the National Climatic Data Center) and simulations by the UK Meteorological Office’s Hadley Center Atmospheric General Circulation Model 3P (HadAM3P).   HadAM3P is a global atmospheric model used to simulate climate.  Specially, they ran the climate model many times for the decades of 1960-1970 and 2000-2010.   This is called an ensemble.  Each ensemble member is started with a slightly different initial state in order to get some handle on the uncertainty of the forecast. Totals of 171, 1464, 522, and 1087 ensemble members were analyzed for 1964, 1967, 1968, and 2008, respectively.  Why they used different number of ensemble members for each year is never explained.  Furthermore, they selected those specific years because all were La Nina years.  The idea was that La Nina/El Nino variability is an important natural source of climate/weather change and could skew the results, so they wanted to insure that they were comparing apples to oranges.  It turns out they forgot some other fruit (more later!)

The following graph is from figure 8 of their paper, showing a plot of temperature versus precipitation over Texas for March through August using both observations (National Climate Data Center, NCDC, 1895-2011) and the climate model (HadAM3P) ensembles for 1964 and 2008.  For both observations and the model, there is a tendency for drier years to be warmer.  But there are real warning signs that the climate model is out to lunch (or out to whatever climate models do when they are not doing their job!).

First, the climate model (blue and red circles) is MUCH warmer and drier than reality...and the observations included the dry/warm conditions of the 1930s.  A serious bias.  Furthermore, the relationship between temperature and precipitation in the model and observations are VERY different...very different slope, with the model warming up much more quickly as lesser precipitation than the observations.  Clearly, the model is not simulating Texas climate very well.

Rupp, Mote et al., Figure 8
With this flawed GCM simulation, the authors should have been hesitant in going further in the analysis, but they decided to use the biased/flawed modeling results to determine whether the chances of heat waves are increasing over Texas.

Their next figure shows a return time analysis of the model temperatures over Texas.

Specifically, using the collection of simulations for each of four years (1964, 1967, 1968, and 2008) they calculated the typical number of years one would have to wait until a certain mean March-August mean temperature occurs.  So a mean of 25C would be expected to occur every 1-2 years in a 2008 climate and every 3-4 years for the 60s.  27C is expected to happen every 10 years for the climate of 2008 and perhaps once in 500 years (extrapolating the graph) for a 1960s climate.

 Furthermore, 100-yr return period MAMJJA and JJA heat events under 1964 conditions (roughly 26.5C)  had only 5- and 6-yr return periods, respectively, under 2008 conditions. It is this graph that was the basis of their statement:

"extreme heat events were roughly 20 times more likely in 2008 than in other La NiƱa
years in the 1960s"

It is this statement that has made headlines across the country.   Headlines you shouldn't believe.

Let me explain why.

Now I already have shown you that the model "climate" was way too warm and dry, and its simulated relationship between temperature and precipitation was all wrong.   But it is worst than that.  Looking at their figure, you can see the average model temperatures (March-August) in 1964 (blue circles) are roughly 24.5C, while the model 2008 temperatures (red circles) are approximately 26.25C...so about 1.75C warmer (give or take .25C for my reading of the graph).   (This kind of information SHOULD have been explicitly stated in the paper).

 So what is really happening in Texas?   How correct was the model?  Mark Albright of the University of Washington acquired and plotted the NCDC observations over Texas and plotted the average Texas temperatures for March-June, and July-August (see below) for 1895-2011.  In March through May there is a weak upward trend (perhaps .5F, .3C) over the entire period. The trend over June to August is much less.  The second figure also shows how anomalous 2011 was...it was an extreme year that was completely outside the envelope of variability of the previous decades.  In this figure one does not see a trend consistent with global warming, which slowly increased starting during  the mid-70s.

March-May
June-August
The bottom line:  the actual observations show the temperatures over Texas have warmed by a perhaps a few tenths of a degree C since the mid-1960s, while the GCM model used by Rupp/Mote et al had major warming (1.5-2 C).  Clearly, one can not trust the model and the conclusions reached in this paper are unsupportable.

And folks it is even worse than this.  There are other modes of natural variability in the atmosphere, such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).  The AMO, which is associated with the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean, has a substantial impact on the weather of eastern N. America., including heat waves and droughts.   During the mid to late1960s this cycle was in the negative (cool) phase, while in the 2000s it has been in the warm phase (associated with heat waves and droughts over the Midwest)--see graph.

Thus, the authors picked dates that would maximize the warming signal associated with natural variability, irrespective of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.


Moral of this Sad Story

This situation is so disappointing on so many levels.   It is disappointing the peer review process has allowed this paper to be published in a well known and prestigious journal.  I have learned from personal experience that articles noting major global warming effects fly through the review process with only cursory examination, while papers with a more nuanced view of the issue are given a hard time.

It is disappointing that the media distributed these results so widely...with headlines...throughout the nation and world.  The faults noted above were easy to find..is there a way for media folks to evaluate the materials they headline?  Even worse, sometimes the media publicizes materials that are not even published in peer-review journals or are made available only in press releases.  They need to act more responsibly and secure the resources (e.g., trained science journalists) needed  insure the rigor of the materials they spotlight.

This is only one if series of weak global warming scare articles--I can cite many more.  My own sensitivity to the issue came five years ago when certain folks (including a coauthor of the Texas article) were saying that global warming was resulting in the rapid loss of the Cascade snowpack (which has not declined in 30 years by the way).  These folks think they are doing society a favor by hyping global warming impacts now and in the past.  They aren't.  Most of the impacts of global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases are in the future and society will not believe us if you cry wolf now.

The Rupp/Mote et al paper  will only hammer the credibility of the scientific community at a time when society needs to be taking global warming seriously.


PS:  Hard to believe but on the Sunday evening NPR All Things Considered they talked about the Texas study.

54 comments:

strix27 said...

Maybe not the "snowpack" Cliff, but the Cascade as well as the Alaskan and Rocky Mountain glaciers have been shrinking for decades. Mt. Rainier is starting to fall apart since the ice and snow that holds all the rubble together at lower altitudes is disappearing. So it's the decrease in annual snow accumulation that should concern us.

Unknown said...

fabulous and well done cliff . very rational and not extreme.

Unknown said...

brilliant post cliff... well done
rational and not over the top

Fetlock said...

I can totally see your point, Dr. Mass. But I also wonder how human behavior will be influenced without scary stories. That doesn't give the media the right to hype poor studies, but I think if the scientific community feels that problems will be drastic and life-changing (and/or life threatening) then they need to be spending time figuring out how to tailor the message accordingly.

The drumbeat lately seems to be that we're not really sure what will happen--and that news, even if it's the truth, will likely not cause anyone to change their ways.

Sean Sullivan said...

Thanks again Cliff for helping us sift through the headlines and get at what is actually occurring. I have pretty much learned to tune out most articles about climate change for the same flaws that you point out in the Texas story. I appreciate you tackling this study, since there are many who either lack the scientific chops to dig into the details or lack the time to do so. The media seem to struggle with science writing a lot, and climate science doubly so.

As a (hopefully) rational person, I'm much more likely to listen to something you suggest than anything I read in the paper these days.

Isaac Molitch said...

Hi Cliff,
This is off topic, but I am wondering if you know a source of data that allows one to compare the temperature "comfort" of different ares, perhaps via mapping. For example, it would be of much interest to be able to compare or rank different areas depending on the #hrs/year that the temperature falls in a 50-80 F range. I bet we would rank pretty well in that.
Isaac

gdawg said...

I recently found your blog and have been quite impressed with your work keep it up.I do have a question for you do you think the sun is the biggest driver of our climate?

C.P.O. said...

I appreciate the analysis but how can you expect anything different from the media? It was published in a peer reviewed, reputable journal, so what would you expect? I can't think of too many journalists who could do the kind of analysis that you did here. The onus is on the atmospheric sciences community to respond to faulty studies like this (and kudos to you for doing so).

John Vidale said...

Cliff,

Great that you take on results whose conclusions are dubious, and point out exactly why.

I'm not a climate scientist (as you well know) but I'm still curious whether you can salvage ANY conclusions from the observations. If the 20-fold increase in such hot years is incorrect, what is the right increase in likelihood? Or is the chore a hopeless tact?

Also, I agree with C.P.O. in concluding it is the climate scientist community responsible for the publication of the result, not the press nor the public. Even as another Earth scientist, I could probably follow your argument if I read it carefully, but no way I could derive it, just given a press release to review.

And I am appalled at people who argue that scientist need to craft results "tailoring the message", as Fetlock argues. Even were we public policy wonks, scientists are consulted for right answers, not useful propaganda.

chrisale said...

i thank you for this truly balanced... (the actual meaning of the word, not balance for the sake of opposition) break down.

My question would be this:

You say:
"Most of the impacts of global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases are in the future and society will not believe us if you cry wolf now."

So... what's not part of that "most"? Inquiring minds want to know.

I'm thinking... Arctic ice pack is #1, but other than that?

Cheers

Chris

Unknown said...

Your post may win the battle, but it will lose the war. The religious right rejects global warming and the science behind it. They will cite your post as support, as you can see some of the reactions are doing. Global warming is dangerous and steps need to be taken immediately to combat it.

Jonn-E said...

Cliff,
In a class once we compiled all the SNOTEL data from the greater NW and analyzed the entire set (full history). Overall there was no trend in total SWE, which supports your statement. We found a slight upward trend in the elevation though, with losses at lower elevation replaced by more snow higher. That trend (albiet subtle) worried me a bit due to the exponentially decreasing land area vs. upward altitude. If the trend becomes more stronger it will be a horse trade we can continue for a while, but not forever. Also, skiing.

Westside guy said...

The problem with using scary stories that aren't backed up in fact should be obvious, because we see it happening right now. The people who don't want to spend money or pass regulations to combat global warming use these demonstrably false statements as ammunition to rally their troops.

One example of this would be Al Gore's claims about global warming leading to more hurricanes hitting the US - I know post-Katrina it seemed like a great selling point, but it had the major flaw of not being supported by science AND unfortunate timing, since later hurricanes apparently decided to avoid the US mainland entirely for quite some time.

Arguing facts and educating people is a lot more work, but it's the best approach over the long term.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't know if it was the press office or the journalists who came up with the "20 times more likely" but I didn't see it in the paper. Many of the caveats you raise were raised in the paper.

It's a modest modeling result and it shouldn't claim to be much more than that. But as such it's reasonable enough. The way stuff gets spun by press offices and the press is a horror, but the system is not set up to allow authors to take any responsibility for that.

This sort of thing: http://is.gd/dum1hc is definitely a real horror. But the authors are, as far as I know, innocent, as is Dr. Karl who is interviewed at length and says things with entirely justified nuance, which just gets clobbered by the disastrous editing and reporting.

I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

JeffB said...

I'd say it is too late. The public is entirely deaf to this issue. The damage has been done by both the sensationalism of politicians cum Climate Canaries like Al Gore, and the tight knit CAGW cabal who worked tirelessly to shut out legitimate science in favor of peer approving each others papers and selling fear.

The onus is now on two things:

1) Time and empirical evidence to bear out the something that looks like actual danger. As opposed to us spending our limited time, human capital and very limited economic capital in a depression on possible 50-100 year scenarios. We have real economic problems that confront us today, and health problems that far outweigh future dangers. Whiners get in line.

2) More scientists like Cliff who take a serious, objective, role. And who work hard to discredit and remove from positions of influence, the climate alarmist monsters like Jim Hanson, Kevin Trenberth, Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Gavin Schmidt, etc.

Blame all the little boys who cried wolf instead of acting like honest men practicing real science.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Michael Tobis,
Please read the paper carefully...the 20 times business is in there, as are the unsupportable assumptions...cliff

JeffB said...

I also take issue with commenter Unknown. Yours are the blanket statements that are exactly what Cliff is writing about.

There are many who are not religious, and not on the right, but who would like to see sound science and not scary stories as a reason to, in your words, go to war.

If Global Warming is that dangerous, then the facts of this clear and present danger should be easy to present in the same way as if a volcano was about to erupt or an asteroid on an earthbound trajectory. You can't simultaneously claim imminent danger, and then be unable to show that imminence.

Real science can elucidate those facts without ridiculous claims like that of James Hansen who said in 1988 that the Westside Highway in NYC would be underwater in 40 years. We are 23 years in, with little change.

It's not just those on the religious right who you will have to convince when you make such wild and scary claims.

dbostrom said...

Never trust headlines, get a wide angle view.

If you're an academic the paper Cliff critiques is interesting, if you're a journalist it's flypaper for eyes. If you're a layperson and more interested in the general picture why look only at Texas? Look at the whole country, not just for a month or a season but for a year or (better) a lot longer. That way the AMO and all the rest won't get in the way.

Ferdi said...

I would like to see the authors of this article respond to your points and allegations Cliff. That would be interesting.

There is peer-reviewed science and then there is politics. It would be nice if atmospheric scientists had an in house review of their work done first before publishing it. Because publicly excoriating the work of fellow scientists will not increase the public's confidence that the anthropomorphic causes of global warming are real and need to be addressed by public policy and changes in behavior. Rather it reinforces the message that scientists don't really know what is going on or are biased.

I appreciate that you are the messenger in this instance and not the perpetrator of a poor study or alarmist press. But how nice it would be if this could have been handled between scientists first.

Terry Jay said...

We climate cynics have been well trained by media types over many years. Think Alar.

Interesting to see this post over at WattsUpWithThat today with 106 comments. Good move.

As pointed out, the GCMs overstate the warming for events that are well documented. Do not expect bad misses in the near term historic will translate to stunning accuracy in the long term forecast. Errors tend to compound.

To the major point, the CAGW camp at least permits and often appears to encourage silly overstatement. The benefits to we cynics are enormous, as it is easy to wait a few months or a few years and compare the statements to reality.

I agree that the climate has warmed, and that it has historically been both warmer and cooler. I disagree that a trace gas that has been lower and 10X more abundant is the principal cause and we can control the temperature by keeping it at a certain level.

Kristen Gilje Studio said...

I agree with strix27. Those who live in and with the mountains know. Lyman Glacier near Lake Chelan has shrunk maybe 1/2 mile in the last 15 years, making it hard to cross over the pass from Lyman Lake to Spider Meadows backpacking. Also, there used to be many more waterfalls at Holden Lake (Railroad Creek Valley near Lake Chelan) in the 50's, according to people my parents' age, meaning that glaciers on Bonanza Mountain are also shrinking. I know from observation, having painted Bonanza Mountain long ago, that the glaciers are indeed receding.

Lance said...

Excellent post. You da man, Cliff!

Unknown said...

The paper addresses many of the issues you bring up here Cliff, the media will run with thee stories and its a shame sometimes and we cant stop it.

The public is deaf to this issue and the deniers have had fingers in their ears long ago, and there will be no change on that front.

If you think that changes will be great as you claim then you should be starting there and explaining these facts to the lay person.

All this does is seem like backtracking by many, and further takes away the public confidence in what is happening.

Our massive release of fossil fuels on a short scale is a potentially planet changing event. And this petty fighting about the media sensation is just that, petty.

We need to be taking action NOW, not in the future, the effects of CO2 are clear and now isnt the time to be fighting sensationalistic claims.

The ones with fingers in the ears arent all of the sudden going to go, oh hey! Thanks Cliff! I now agree that CO2 is causing warming and I now am going to look at the facts of AGW.

They could care less about facts, this is a change of life that most wont agree with , and you will here more and more about claims of "china wont stop, why should we"

This whole argument isnt about presenting facts for those opposing AGW, its about a political, life changing, even religious event that isnt going to be swayed by anything any scientists has to say.

I was talking to a conservative friend the other day and she looked at me with a straight face and said: "god wants us to thrive and reproduce and would never let anything bad happen to us". How are we supposed to argue with this?

This view is much more prevalent than people are willing to acknowledge and its a shame!

JeffB said...

Unknown,

Please provide evidence of the exact timeline of imminent dangers we face? Is it sea level rise? And it's not enough to simply say that random natural disasters might occur with more frequency, because that's not a problem that will apply to the entire world population. For example, an increase in tornadoes in the Midwest, while a bad thing, would only effect a small percentage of people. And yet the policies discussed by CAGW proponents vastly limit everyone for the sake of dubious claims of imminent danger.

Show the imminent danger and how that with a large degree of certainty, that's going to affect a larger percentage of the population.

If you can't do that, then don't be surprised when the rest of the world, regardless of their political party affiliation, prioritizes other problems such the economic situation in the US and worldwide, cancer, heart disease, obesity, energy needs, etc. far above climate fear.

You are making blanket statements that there is a clear imminence to not taking action "NOW." So give us exact timelines and exact dangers.

Think of it this way. You are essentially saying that there is a future avian flu that will become a devastating outbreak based on the few sparse cases of avian flu we've seen recently. Why would you expect the public to react with immediate and decisive action to such an unknown future potential disaster. Yeah sure, like CAGW this is an entirely possible scenario based on epidemiology and the recent past. But absent a clear chain of events that would lead to such an outbreak and a clearly decisive plan to immediately stop such an outbreak, it's all just some vague future event.

And unlike CAGW, it is a lot easier to formulate a plan to stop an airborne outbreak, then it is to curb energy usage so massively worldwide as to impact us today, for some vague future threat.

Stop making vague statements like "we need to be taking action NOW" and instead provide some absolute data that proves the imminent danger.

If not, then perhaps your own beliefs about CAGW are bordering on the same religiosity as your conservative friend?

Unknown said...

Jeffb,

If you don't know the dangers then go read up first then we can talk.

Check out how the ocean absorbs more heat than the atmosphere.

And have you chosen to ignore the comments in Cliffs article about how global warming will have a large impact?

Funny how nobody brings up the fact that he admits that the changes are coming and AGW is occurring.

The moment that scientists said we are changing the planet is when we lost conservatives, and no fact will change this, so we need to move on.

JeffB said...

Unknown,

I disagree with the magnitude of Cliff's claims, and there is very little to suggest that we know that future conclusively. We can all agree there has been warming, the question is, how much, by what, compared to what, and what should the response be given scarce resources and conflicting science.

There is much research that shows the fact the oceans aborb more heat than the atmosphere proves the opposite conclusions, that in fact climate is primarily driven by the oceans and not CO2.

Then there's the RAS paper from Dr. Svensmark's cosmic ray work from nearby supernovae that correlates very accurately with our solar system's movement through the Milky Way's spiral arms.

So maybe you need to read up.

GCMs used by many in the CAGW camp do not correlate with historical data. There is little reason to believe that these same GCMs are accurate for the future. In fact they correlate well with white noise.

Getting conclusive with massive economic policy changes when there is so much legitimate conflicting science just won't happen. And again, it has nothing to do with left or right.

For example, anyone who's been alive 40 years or more and living in the Puget Sound can look at the sea level of all the places they frequent and enjoy and see zero change or cause for alarm. Even if there is a not visible, but significant change, it's happening still far too slowly to constitute human alarm. If you tell a West Seattle resident with shore property that his front deck will be underwater in two years, and next year it's halfway there, you might cause him to take notice. But when he sees no change for the 40 years he's been in the house and it might be something his great great grandchild has to address, he's going to tell you to get lost.

Fortunately there are far too many rational people of all stripes who would like more evidence before they submit to the "we have to act NOW" mindset.

uHuh said...

respected national media outlets and ny times should never be used in the same sentence.

aside from that, I dont believe a damn word of this "global warming" nonsense. noaa says its the warmest 6 month start to a year ever and yet my location was below normal all but 1 of those months.

ITS ALL RELATIVE and not under any of our control. NONE of it.

uHuh said...

"The moment that scientists said we are changing the planet is when we lost conservatives, and no fact will change this, so we need to move on."


WE are not changing anything. WE are not in control. WE and our suvs or whatever are not changing a planetary body. To this so and believe so is ARROGANCE at its best.

Maybe we're also controlling the sun too, AND can change it..

Please. This global warming crap is borderline obscene now.

Dj Squirrel said...

Although some of your criticisms of the paper may be salient, isn't it incumbent on you to carry this argument into the scientific literature (rather than the blogosphere)?

If you really think that this is the case, the gauntlet is down! Find a model (or set of models) that do a better job of representing Texas climate and take your argument to your peers. I'd be willing to bet that other models show a similar response, albeit smaller than in the paper under scrutiny.

Putting primacy on making your argument in popular media subverts the scientific publication process (although it's an extreme example, remember cold fusion??), and undercuts the entire establishment. I encourage you to check out National Research Council's "On Being a Scientist" (specifically p.29-34, http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12192) and think more deeply about making such significant claims about reviewed literature in a blog format.

Unknown said...

JEff B,

"There is much research that shows the fact the oceans aborb more heat than the atmosphere proves the opposite conclusions, that in fact climate is primarily driven by the oceans and not CO2."

The oceans absorb Co2, not "heat".

The climate is not driven by the oceans, its driven by the sun and the composition of our atmosphere.

When we change that atmosphere we change the climate and eventually the weather of our planet.

These are the bare minimum facts that you should understand and dont.

Janet D said...

Sigh. The point of Cliff's post was to address the serious errors made in an article that atttempted to tie the temperatures/drought in Texas specifically to global warming. His post did not cast doubt on global-warming-caused-by-man, in fact, at the beginning of the article, Cliff states

"Before I go further, let me stress that I believe that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm significantly over the next century. The impacts could be both profound and serious."

We are not changing the "planetary body". That has never been the argument. We are pumping 30+ billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year. Actions of this magnitude will have consequences - we are changing the makeup of the atmosphere that surrounds our planet. One of the best summaries of the supposed "both sides" can be found at PolitiFact (search for it + global warming).

It is possible to both recognize that GW is not an imminent threat to us today (really) and to still care a great deal about what we are inflicting upon future generations, whose ability to deal with the consequences will be more limited than ours. But the culture today largely seems to be content with eating our grandchildren in order to support our own lifestyles, so I have no doubt we will continue at will. Those of you who doubt global warming can rest comfortably on that.

David Airth said...

Just heard an NPR story on the Petermann glacier? The commenter has noted that Greenland is having a very warm summer.

Unknown said...

Janet D,

Well said

JeffB said...

Unknown,

That is simply false. Water has a much higher ability to absorb and hold heat than either the atmosphere or land. Consequently, we see effects such as wind. There are giant upwellings and downwellings of warm water in the Pacific Ocean that produce ENSO, etc. You should read more of Cliff's posts as he dicusses ENSO and AMO, etc. often.

Further, why do you ignore other research such as Dr. Svensmark's?

JeffB said...

Janet D,

Well said, but what is needed is more rational political action. Contrary to soundbite slams like that of Unknown who automatically assume everyone who disagrees must be a religious conservative, most people are conservationists by nature, and want to do the right thing by our world. But that must be balanced with fiscal reality, the degree of the threat, and the magnitude of all other problems that confront us.

Unknown says with urgency meant to invoke fear, "we must act NOW." And this is simply false.

And by the way, we are acting now. The US is the only major nation that has seen a massive reduction in the growth of CO2 driven mostly by the recent increase in natural gas use and the decline of coal. We could go even further if we went with something like Thorium.

But we can't get there when we have chicken little's like Unknown screaming for us to bankrupt our economy now instead of acting rationally and determining what we can do through efficiency and overall change to much better fuels like Thorium. And we won't get to Thorium with chicken littles, because they will encourage an irrational fear of nuclear, no matter how much different Thorium is from heavier elements like Uranium, and no matter how much benefit it would have in terms of CO2 reduction.

Bill Reiswig said...

Cliff...

I agree with the poster that says that this post may win the battle but lose the war. In your interest of being a fact-based contrarian, you are convincing many people that nothing is going on (yet) with the climate and convincing them that a massive effort to decarbonize our economies is not essential. Its not an exaggeration to say that fossil fuel companies and their corporate allies are engaged in a real battle for public opinion on this and article like yours that suggest that no global warming signal can be seen (yet) may be true in specific CASES, but overall they miss the point.

The Texas Drought was one of 14 events in 2011 in the USA that cost over a billion dollars in damage. The Fall/Spring of 2011-2012 was the warmest 12 months on record. the decade of 2000-2010 was warmer than the 90s, which was warmer than the 80s which was warmer than the 70s, yadda yadda.

We know that this hot weather is not causing each of these events, that it's not the sole contributor to any one event, but that it "loads the dice" for the collective probability of many of these events.... warmer weather, more atmospheric moisture, and a more unsettled climate.

The oceans are acidyifying. The air over our oceans, now warmer, holds 5% more water vapor than it did historically. We are in a record drought currently. The ice caps are thinning rapidly, and the arctic is warming quickly. Glaciers on greenland are moving more rapidly and calving larger glaciers the last decades... we don't know the tipping points in these systems. These are observable trends.

The point is that you have used your (considerable and well deserved) platform time and time again to call out the arguements of those calling alarm to suggest that their message is overblown. Its a pattern at this point. I find it curious behavior in the face of what is very possibily a real long term catastrophe.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Bill,
I could not disagree with you more. It is simply unethical and wrong to exaggerate the impacts of anthropogenic global warming to "win the war." In fact, I think your approach will lose the war as well..as scientists lose credibility for over the top statements that are easily broken to be wrong...or which are found to be wrong in a few years.

Scientists must give the public and decision-makers the truth as best as we know it, not to skew our statements to secure what we think are the right decisions....cliff

Matt Bunkers said...

I urge you to comment formally on this paper in BAMS. The Comment-Reply exchange has seemed to wane in the last decade. You have a pretty strong case so I wouldn't let it slip by.

Bill Reiswig said...

Cliff ....

I wholly agree with you that good science needs to be good science. And that it's worth your time to debunk specific cases of alarmism.

The broader point is that global warming IS alarming and our year on year growing addition of carbon to the atmosphere is going to be very very difficult to reverse. It's going to take a commitment to change that people dont have because they are very skeptical there is even an issue.

You are a Meteorologist who many people defer to because of your skill in relating interesting subjects in science. I'm a fan of your work.

Nonetheless, when you write about climate, it's rarely to talk about those parts of the climate system and weather already being affected... and the changes in climate ARE loading the dice on extreme weather. Scientists have seen this. Rather, you always seem to be on the side of poking holes in the work of those you deem to be exaggerators. Its an interesting choice for someone who thinks climate change is a real and present danger.

Your work on the whole is excellent... I just disagree with your reocurring choice of targets.

Unknown said...

I find so much about global warming to be frustrating because there is no attempt (that I can see), to separate out anthropogenic global warming from total global warming. Is there anything in this study that addresses this?

John said...

Cliff, you seem to mix up different things. That a published paper has a weak argument does not mean its
conclusions are wrong. It could be an underestimate as well as an overestimate.
You haven't shown that the "20 times higher probability" is a too high estimate!

And why post your critique at WUWT of all places? You claim that you want to defend good science then
posting on an anti-science blog that doesn't care a damn about strength of evidence. So how are they supposed to defend themselves?
That is not a fair way to pursue a scientific discussion.

Hansen has recently shown, based on purely empirical data and basic statistics, that extremely high temperatures
are much more common in current climate compared to the base period 1951-1980. He found that +3 sigma events were about 50 times more likely
to occur at present. You don't even mention this or other evidence in same direction.

I'd say Kupp et al comes out of this as more scientific than you.

Audrey Watson said...

how about papers like this: http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~cliff/Snowpack.pdf that say that snowpack in the spring is down 23% since 1930? there seems to be some inconsistency here...

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Audrey...I see no inconsistency. My paper with Mark Albright and Mark Stoelinga suggested a 23% loss since 1930. The trend has been fairly constant in time over the entire period, suggesting most of that change is natural. Remember that the earth HAS been warming since the late 1800s..and this could NOT be caused by human-induced changes in greenhouse gases...cliff

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

John,
The Hansen paper you mention is unpublished and submitted to an article that does not do peer review. WUWT plays an important role in bringing uncomfortable facts to light....but sometimes they are in left field. No more extreme than groups like Climate Central that spotlight virtually every severe events as a sign of global warming.

And I think is it VERY unlikely that the Texas heat wave study was an underestimate for some of the reasons noted in my blog. Give me some reasons why that would be the case...you simply can't speculate...cliff

John said...

First let me stress, I do think much of your criticism against Rupp et al is valid. As far as I can judge, their argument as formulated is weak. And yes, possibly the paper shouldn't have been published. I don't have the technical knowledge to judge if it is an overestimate or not, but that is where YOU are lacking. Argument from fallacy is not valid:
http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/52-argument-from-fallacy

Claiming "WUWT plays an important role in bringing uncomfortable facts to light.", and comparing with the serious ClimateCentral.org ... well, I just can't believe how a professional scientist can assert anything like that. The truth is not always in the middle:
http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/57-argument-to-moderation

Regarding Hansen et al, I think there is a stiff challenge for you to show any flaw in it. It is not based on many assumptions and as a WUWT-contributor you are the last one to reject it simply on grounds of lack of peer review... Mathematically it also makes sense. A small shift in average or minor increase in variance changes the (upper) extremes much more than the normal intuitive guess. Anyone can google a normal distribution calculator and check that for themselves.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

John,
How am I lacking in my technical arguments? I gave specific technical reasons why the Rupp et al paper was lacking. I have no idea what you are talking about with the fallacy business. And I agree..the truth is not always in the middle. That is the media classic...they provide both sides as potential truths, when one side may be biased or in error.

And by the way, if you look at Hansen's "weighted dice" paper he shows the standard deviations...the variance...and they are virtually the same for both his period (50-80,80-2010).

This is a highly technical subject and there are facts that must be considered.

JeffB said...


The broader point is that global warming IS alarming and our year on year growing addition of carbon to the atmosphere is going to be very very difficult to reverse.


Except Bill it is not alarming. Alarm carries with it a sense of expediency that induces a state of action. We see no such action, because there is no alarm. The sea level rise is often used as a reason for alarm, but anyone can look around at the Sound and see that there has been no visible sea level rise that approaches anything near alarm. It's not just not there.

Or take the glacial retreat. Alarm would be such that the glaciers would have retreated enough to cause severe year over year drought in the PNW and cause us to seriously question our water supply. But in fact, we've had plenty of rain, and the average Joe can't see any impact to his life from glacial retreat.

You don't get to pick what is alarming. Alarm makes itself perfectly clear. If/when Mt. Rainier awakens, or a big earthquake hits, that will be an example of alarm. Something that happens over 100, 500 or 1000 years does not cause alarm.

John said...

Cliff, I'm only saying that you haven't contributed with any estimate to the problem of quantifying the rarity of the Texas drought event 2011. You just showed that some existing published arguments are weak. Fine. But as already mentioned, for example Hansen et al found that 3-sigma level summertime heat events have become like 50 times more common since the 1951-1980 period, based on actual temperature measurements. So it is reasonable to argue that the Rupp et al estimate was in the right ballpark, and they were cautious about giving exact numbers.

That various media are doing what in statistics is called a Type III error is another issue.

JeffB, science is based on the idea that you can model the reality in advance based on previous observations. One great thing with this is that it enables you to raise alarms before effects are visible and it is too late or more expensive to do something.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

John,
Hansen's paper has fatal technical errors...there is a reason it has not been accepted in a peer reviewed journal.... I will discuss these flaws in a future blog. ...cliff

JeffB said...

John,

That's true. But that assumes the models are accurate. The current GCMs used to predict future scenarios are woefully lacking. Reference They don't hindcast to existing empirical data and they've been wrong over the past couple decades. And they give the same results using random walks. Therefore they are far from adequate enough to predict future events, let alone alarm.

As I indicated above, alarm requires expediency. The models can't be accurate enough to predict any kind of expediency for the future if they've been wrong over the past ten years.

JeffB said...

And let's be clear. For too long we've been told by select groups of scientists that we "must act now." We've been shown disastrous scenarios of quasi-science by politicians, all amplified by a media that loves a good sensational story.

But in bad times, where resource prioritization is important, this has now awakened the ire of a public and other more cautious and better scientists who want much more and deeper proof, with a lot more falsifiable experimentation and data before we are willing to believe another chicken little outburst.

As I asked of Unknown above. If the science is so good, then provide the specific actionable data and specific cases for impending alarm. Even if the alarm is further out, you should be able to show milestones along the way if the science is so good. So far, none of those spectacular claims have materialized and instead there have simply been attempts to link weather extremes so that no one will question that "we must act now."

If the scientists at the center of CAGW had acted more prudently, there might be some credibility left. But there is not, and that's why Hansen's papers are not peer reviewed and why no one listens to another scare claim from Michael Mann or Kevin Trenberth.

John L said...

Cliff,
OK, good luck with your review of Hansen's work then. If you do find any mistake, lets hope it is in the direction of less severity.

Unknown said...

Hi y'all - looks like my comment's going to come up as "Unknown", so as to avoid confusing me with the other Unknown, I'm Vay.

Uhuh said:

// WE are not changing anything. WE are not in control. WE and our suvs or whatever are not changing a planetary body. To this so and believe so is ARROGANCE at its best.
//

Uhuh, how do you think the Earth got its Oxygen-rich atmosphere? It was likely initially via the life processes of ~bacteria~ ... and you want to argue that it is hubris that humanity can change the Earth's atmosphere over the course of two centuries of industrialization?

Unknown, you are barking up the wrong tree somewhat with your "religious conservatism" attack. It isn't religiosity mainly but economic/political ~ideology~ that is the main driver for climate skepticism. There was an interesting study, for example, showing that if you suggest to liberals that climate change is likely to result in geo-engineering, they are less likely to believe in it. Whereas for conservatives, the notion that climate change impunes capitalism or necessitates sweeping government action are the key drivers for skepticism. Both are highly motivated reasoning - essentially arguments from consequences - and have nothing to do with the integrity of the science.

People who already have ideological motivations will take this blog-post of yours and run with it... forever. They are fighting a reactionary trench war much the way ID proponents are, and every skeptic constitutes another trench for them to hide in, intellectually.

Of everyone in the comments, Bill Reisweg is hitting it on the head, and Cliff seems to be carefully avoiding his pointed question about his motivations in "poking holes".

JeffB you seem pretty fired up to argue this issue; I suggest you leave the chorus at Wattsup and go here:

An American Heatwave: The United States Glimpses its Hot Future

Mie84 said...

That is global warming tales.
why is global warming happening