April 11, 2010

TV Weathercasters and Global Warming And Current Weather

There were several comments regarding my blog on TV Weathercaster and Global Warming that suggested I didn't express myself clearly enough, so let me try here.

I am NOT saying that one MUST have a higher degree in atmospheric sciences or meteorology to understand the issue of global warming, although such backgrounds surely help. The climate system is quite complex and to really understand the issue takes a real dedication to mastering the basic physics and interactions. Anyone can gain such knowledge with a little effort, and I know many without technical degrees that have (including a number of amazing retirees that attend atmospheric sciences classes here at the UW). Reading a few web articles and watching Climategate coverage on TV just won't do it. We live in an era when too many people think they understand something based on superficial study and are unwilling to put in the hard work to master the subject. And this is isn't limited to climate.

Regarding TV folks, what I WAS saying is just because someone is a TV weathercaster does not mean they have the necessary knowledge in the climate arena, since a majority of them don't have a basic academic background in the material. And some of the denier TV weathercasters are making arguments that are simply in error technically.

There IS substantial uncertainty in the magnitude of global warming and the local implications of the changes. And yes, some scientists have overhyped things at time. But the essential science is very solid and mankind will substantially change the earth's environment if we follow the current route.

Another point that should be stressed is that there has been a fixation by the scientific and political communities on global warming, when that is only a small part of the overall problem of sustainability. Mankind needs to adapt so that we can live with our planet in the long haul...and we are not doing it. A big issue is overpopulation...there are simply too many people on this planet using too many resources. If the population was 1/4 of the current, we probably would not be worried as much about global warming. But it is funny how no one likes to talk about population issues.

Irrespective of global warming, we should be doing the right things anyway for many reasons. More recycling, more conservation of energy, more renewables, reduce population growth, protecting our soils, preventing the collapse of our fisheries, emitting less toxins into atmosphere and water, etc. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is about giving our species a future in the long term. Are we smart enough to do this?

Back to weather.

Take a look at plot of temperature and precipitation over the past four weeks (compared to normal highs and lows and usual daily precip). The past month has been wetter than normal and the last two weeks colder than normal. No day in the last two weeks has gotten warmer than normal. No surprise. And the result has been a major improvement in our snowpack and reservoir levels. And quite frankly this break in the El Nino warmth and dryness was not forecast ahead of time.

Today and tomorrow the main action goes to our south, as a low pressure center heads into California (see image). Bands of clouds are circling around to its north, producing the high clouds that we will see today. It should be dry today over Washington and relatively warm, with temps rising into the low 60s. There is easterly flow aloft that produces warming and drying on the western side of the Cascades.


  1. Cliff:

    I agree wholeheartedly that global warming is merely one symptom of a much larger problem--too many humans. And yes, I include myself as part of the problem.

    Other symptoms include salinization of agricultural lands, decreasing water and energy resources, deforestation, oceanic acidification, and a myriad of other issues. None of these would be as immediate and dire if there were simply fewer of us. For some reason overpopulation is the elephant in the drawing room that everyone pointedly ignores. Our economic model relies on continual growth, and as Edward Abbey said, that is the philosophy of a cancer cell.

  2. Thanks, Dr. Mass, for one of the most succinct statements re. global climate change that I've read in a while. And special thanks for mentioning the (mostly) taboo subject of human overpopulation as a major causative factor. To avoid an imminent crash in this population due to an abrupt decrease in Earth's carrying capacity (i.e., agricultural production, clean water, etc.), humans (especially in the developed countries) must quickly devise ways to significantly reduce our collective environmental impacts. This presents one of the greatest challenges ever to human ingenuity. Especially to those of us in the U.S., who have access to tools and information that most other people don't.
    We just need to get up off our collective behinds and get to work.

    "You can get it if you really want
    But you must try, try and try
    Try and try, you'll succeed at last" - Jimmy Cliff

  3. Unscientifically I recall several El Nino winters, or otherwise dry/warm winters, that went out with a bang like this. Like 2004-5, the No Snow year. Any numbers,anyone?

  4. When I was growing up in the 60's there was a lot more discussion of Zero Population Growth. Perhaps the only concern at the time was about India and China and not ourselves.

    My husband and I marvel at the fact that this is never discussed in regards to global warming and I applaud you for saying it! Thank you!

  5. What is the trend for spring and summer during an el nino winter we've just experienced?

  6. Since it seems clear that an economy that depends on continual growth will result in the eventual destruction of most the world's natural ecosystems, the continued pursuit of that growth is not rational but just something that was selected for in humans and now will cause our demise.

    To tie this into local weather issues, I have been surprised at Cliff's response (and that of many on this board) when unplowed roads create a minor slowdown in the economic engine that is dooming the planet. I can understand why a UW employee, working for an institution created to maintain and improve the state's economic environment, would not want the state's economy to lose work days, but for those who know where our economy is taking us, a few snow days keeping the business people at home seems like a good thing for the planet - as well as an reminder that humans can't (and at times shouldn't) try to control everything in their environment.

  7. There is a nice article in the Jan. 2010 (v. 98, no. 1, pp 42-68) Proceedings of the IEEE, which covers the authors' view of clean energy policy as a species survival goal. The climate debate changes if you say "What is the outlook for human beings for the next million years?" Very few choices if you look at it that way. Basic summary: only renewable sources of energy have any chance of sustaining us.

  8. Elizabeth Kolbert has a little opinion piece about TV weatherfolks and climate:


  9. Concerning the "TV Weathercasters and Global Warming" part of this post, I think it's a good prelude to Earthday. PI cartoonist David Horsey had a great "Gaia Speaks" cartoon last year, suggesting that Mother Gai is about to banish us from the planet for our environmental sins, and as Cliff and other commenters are saying, it's not just our "carbon footprint" and global warming, but many other factors based on overpopulation, plastics in the ocean, sound pollution of our wilderness areas, coal mines stripping summits off of Appalachian peaks (and killing many underground, as last week...)
    So, as many recycling grocery bags are now preaching, we need to be sure that "Every Day is Earth Day"
    (and "Every Hour is Earth Hour" as on March 27, when we all needed to be singing "Dim, dim the lights, I want some atmosphere...")

    So, thanks again for yur vision and leadership, Cliff!

    Bob Moore

  10. "1/4 of the current population"...?

    "Elephant in the living room"...?

    Are those proposing this drastic reduction in humanity willing to set the example by being first in line at the disintegration booth?

    Or should we just hope for a few more "population reduction heroes" like Mao, Stalin Hitler, etc. - leaders who thought themselves quite adept at deciding what was best for their citizens - and then convincing those citizens to accept it.

    Or else.

    Maybe it isn't quite so simple?

  11. Or should we just hope for a few more "population reduction heroes" like Mao, Stalin Hitler, etc.

    Check out a graph of world population growth in the 20th century. The people you mention did nothing to even make a dent in the rate of population increase let alone cause a reduction.

    One thing that will help the environment are leaders like Jimmy Carter, whose CAFE standards, had they not been abandoned by Reagan, would have greatly reduced our dependence on foreign oil and the need to drill in ANWR, offshore, etc.

  12. The bigger picture is about language. In this case scientific language or a step further mathematical language. As Cliff has said in the past, it’s about translating foreign language to people who are not fluent in that particular lingo. There is a language gap between people who talk in atmospheric mathematical language, and those who don’t. And when you have this gap, misunderstanding, confusion, mistrust and fear come into play. There is a danger when atmospheric professionals strictly talk in their own dialect when communicating to the public at large. Instead of a clear communication link between giver and receiver, ideas, numbers,reports,trends etc, can all be taken out of context (newscasters, think tanks, Al Gore,). Another issue is not listening to other languages besides 1’s and 2’s. But that is for another time.

  13. I don't think language is the main problem. Really it's that people decide what conclusion they want to reach and then look for "evidence" to support that conclusion. Happens regularly. Sort of the inverse of preaching to the choir. Usually that conclusion is tightly linked to their pocketbook. No surprise here.

  14. You can start with the fact that people make up their minds and then look for facts to support that viewpoint.

    The next step is to undermine the authority of people who have done the work to have an informed opinion as being too "ivory tower" and throwing around accusations of elitism.

    What you get then is people on the internet throwing around the idea that global warming might be obviously due to the solar variation -- which essentially accuses climate scientists of being stupid enough to ignore the obvious thermonuclear bomb going off on a daily basis 93 million miles away as having a potential thermodynamical impact on the Earth's climate. In fact, that's the first, most obvious, null hypothesis that needs to be excluded in order to support the theory of global warming.

    But since someone can think up "hey, maybe the sun is reponsible" while they're taking a shower one morning -- they're allowed to be put on the same level and have their opinions taken as seriously as someone who has spent their lifetime studying climate issues.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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