The non-blizzard of 2009 and why the anti-science disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather

Our story so far.

The anti-science crowd pushed the nonsensical meme that a big snowstorm in winter is somehow counter-indicative of human-caused climate change.   I then discussed the actual science, which makes clear that is, in fact, nonsense, and, if anything, such a storm is consistent with climate science, though you “can’t make a direct association between any individual weather event and global warming” (see Was the “Blizzard of 2009″³ a “global warming type” of record snowfall “” or an opportunity for the media to blow the extreme weather story (again)?).

That post incited the anti-science crowd at Newsbusters and elsewhere to do their misinformation thing, falsely asserting that I blamed the story on global warming, which I expected.  But I was surprised that Newsbusters’ Noel Sheppard apparently doesn’t know the difference between wind speed and precipitation, apparently believing that all big snowstorms are blizzards, which they are not.  Worse, if you read the comments to my original post, the anti-science crowd apparently believes that any extreme weather event that happens during the winter must be evidence against human-caused global warming.

UPDATE:  Turns out Noel Sheppard is an economist who wrote a “special report” for Business & Media Institute on November 30, 2005 titled, “Media Myths: The Housing Bubble Is Bursting,” attacking Krugman and others for warning of the dangers of a housing bubble!  I’m so reassured that “no housing bubble” guy now says we needn’t fret over climate change either…. h/t Krugman via Douglas in the comments.

And so we come back to a question I’ve asked many times, “Why do the anti-science disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?”

After all, the science is crystal clear that many extreme weather events have increased in recent years “” and that there is a link to climate change. The point is such well-established science that even that bastion of denial, the Bush Administration, acknowledged it in a major 2008 report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate.  Yes, alarmists like Bush’s Commerce Sec. Carlos Gutierrez, Energy Sec. Samuel Bodman, and Science Advisor John Marburger III, signed off on the conclusion that:

Heavy precipitation events averaged over North America have increased over the past 50 years, consistent with the observed increases in atmospheric water vapor, which have been associated with human-induced increases in greenhouse gases.

And they signed off on the conclusion that those “Extreme precipitation episodes” now “account for a larger percentage of total precipitation. The most significant changes have occurred in most of the United States.”

Yet the disinformers and their allies try to attack, mock or shout down any talk of such a link whatsoever.

That was a key point of Michael Crichton’s book, State of Fear (see here). Some disinformers go so far as to claim that any scientist even hearing anyone talk about the link and not objecting is a “willing silent collaborator” in the “misrepresentation of climate science for political gain.”

This is political correctness “” and scientific incorrectness “” taken to the extreme.

I offer my explanation for why deniers and their allies adopt this strategy below, but first, it is worth noting that this shouting down strategy is so important to them it goes back more than a decade:

In his 2004 book, Boiling Point, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan wonders why journalists covering extreme weather events don’t use the phrase “scientists associate this pattern of violent weather with global warming.” He reports that a few years earlier he had asked “a top editor at a major TV network” why they didn’t make this link. The reply was: “We did that. Once. But it triggered a barrage of complaints from the Global Climate Coalition [then the major anti-global warming lobbying group of the fossil fuel industry] to our top executives at the network.” The lobbyists argued then, as they do now, that you can’t prove that any individual weather event is caused by climate change. But that is irrelevant to the two key points: The pattern is exactly what we expect from climate change, and we can expect to see more violent weather events in the future if emissions trends are not reversed soon.

That is from my book, Hell and High Water. Sadly, this effort had two impacts. First, as I wrote in the chapter titled “Missing the Story of the Century”:

The environmental community itself decided in the mid-1990s to deemphasize the link between global warming and extreme weather. Yes, you read that right. Many environmentalists actually made a conscious decision to stop talking about what are arguably the most visible and visceral signs of warming for most people. A number of senior environmentalists, including those involved with media outreach, told me at the time that they were tired of being beaten up by the other side on this issue. I thought that was a blunder then and I still do today.

Second, the media itself began to deemphasize or ignore the link entirely, a trend which continues to this day as I have repeatedly pointed out:

Why do the deniers and their allies want to shut down and shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?

Because extreme weather is one of the first, visible signs of a changing climate and one that the public experiences most directly. The greatest warming right now is occurring far away from where most people live, at the poles, even if the consequences of that polar warming will ultimately be catastrophic for all.

But before the climate actually changes “” and “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe “” the first signs of a changing climate are mostly what we call extreme weather Before the subtropics expand and result in irreversible desertification, for instance, we see longer and more intense droughts “” like the “worst on record” ten-year drought in Australia.

But if climate science advocates and the media are successfully shouted down from telling this story, then the public will miss part of the growing reality of catastrophic climate change “” until the irreversible climate change damage has already occurred.

So if you wondered before why I spend so much time writing about extreme weather, about its link to climate change, about the media’s miscoverage of this issue, and the indefensible shouting down of those who are quite trying to inform the public in the scientifically accurate manner “” this is why I do it.


In his incoherent attack on my post, Newsbusters’ Noel Sheppard claims “Romm initially tried to downplay the severity of this storm in his article published Sunday” citing these lines:

As for the East Coast storm, my home in DC did get 18 inches of snow “” although if this had been a true blizzard, I doubt my flight from Copenhagen on Saturday would have been allowed to land in Dulles airport and I wouldn’t of been able to get home 12 hours after I left Denmark. […]

If having snow around the holidays on the East Coast were strange, I doubt the song “White Christmas” would have been written.

The second paragraph, of course, was not downplaying the severity of the storm but rather mocking the disinformers for claiming the storm was somehow an anomalous weather event indicative that global warming wasn’t happening.  The first paragraph, of course, was a comment on severity of wind speed, not severity of precipitation,

For the record — and for the uninformed disinformers at Newsbusters — not being a blizzard has nothing to do with whether this was record-breaking snowfall.  As Wikipedia explains:

In the United States, the National Weather Service defines a blizzard as sustained 35mph (56 km/h) winds which lead to blowing snow and cause visibilities of 500 feet (150 m or about 1„10 mile) or less, lasting for at least 3 hours.

It is, I was noting, hard to land planes in a true blizzard.   I suppose it’s no surprise that Sheppard doesn’t even bother spending a few seconds checking his facts online (see “Newsbusters, unable to read, continues to quote an article that backs me up, not them“).

But I did go back and check with Capital Climate (Steve Scolnik who studied meteorology at M.I.T.) and he confirmed that at Dulles, “The maximum wind was a gust of 26 mph @ 3 pm, 9 mph below the blizzard criterion.”  Indeed, sustained winds were below 20 mph for pretty much the entire storm.

It’s laughable to say I was “initially” trying to downplay the severity of the storm in a blog post where I published the snowfall records that the storm set!  Such is absurdist misrepresentation that typifies the antiscience crowd.  Newsbusters does quote me accurately saying;

So it is inane for anyone in the media to cite this massive DC snowstorm as somehow counterintuitive or ironic against the backdrop of Obama’s Copenhagen deal.

In fact, this record-breaking snowstorm is pretty much precisely what climate science predicts.

The senior members of the Bush Administration signed off on a report by leading US climate scientists that said we’ve already seen a statistically significant increase in more intense precipitation events and in the percentage of precipitation from extreme events, which is what the climate science literature had predicted would happen when human-generated heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions put more water vapor into the atmosphere.  But then Newbusters jumps the shark claiming:

And therein lies the rub, for alarmists like Romm and the rest of his ilk have stacked the deck so that no matter what happens with the weather, it’s caused by global warming:

  • Excessive heat
  • Excessive cold
  • Droughts
  • Floods
  • Warm winters
  • Cold winters
  • Hot summers
  • Cold summers
  • Autumns with great foliage colors
  • Autumns lacking foliage colors
  • Lack of snow
  • Abundance of snow

No.  We expect less excessive cold — and that’s what we’ve seen (see “Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.“):


This graphic shows the ratio of record daily highs to record daily lows observed at about 1,800 weather stations in the 48 contiguous United States from January 1950 through September 2009. Each bar shows the proportion of record highs (red) to record lows (blue) for each decade. The 1960s and 1970s saw slightly more record daily lows than highs, but in the last 30 years record highs have increasingly predominated, with the ratio now about two-to-one for the 48 states as a whole.  (©UCAR, graphic by Mike Shibao.)

As for lack of snow vs. abundance of snow, well, as I explained, all things being equal, the snow line will move northward as the planet warms over time.  Very northern regions are likely to see more total snowfall, and southern regions are likely to see less total snowfall.  But both regions are likely to see a higher percentage of their total snowfall in extreme events, which is what happened here.

Now DC is a southern region when it comes to snowfall, obviously, as states significantly south of DC just don’t get much snow, so over time it won’t be a big surprise if we get bigger and bigger snow droughts here.  Paul Chesser at The American Spectator is unhappy about how science says you can both have extreme precipitation events and less precipitation in certain areas:

Climate Progress’s Joe Romm says the massive weekend snowstorm in the East was exactly what alarmist climate scientists said would happen:

In any case, I have previously discussed the scientific literature, which makes clear that we have seen an increase in intense precipitation in this country, just as climate science predicted we would.

But as the Washington Examiner‘s David Freddoso reminds us, a year ago Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wrote about the global warming-caused lack of precipitation in the D.C. area…..

And so another disinformer can’t tell the difference between a single extreme precipitation event — which is consistent with climate science — and what was a near record drop in multiyear total snow that RFK was pointing out — which is also consistent with warming.

An article from the Capital Weather Gang from January was headlined:

Washington DC Snow Drought Approaches Monumental Proportions

Minimum Snow Records Threatened

Yes, the DC area had recently been in a remarkable snow drought.

Back in October, I noted in my post, Hell and High Water hits Georgia, that, as climate scientists have predicted for a long time, wild climate swings are becoming the norm, in Georgia’s case with a less-than-once-in-a-century drought followed by a less-than-once-in-a-century flooding.

Interestingly, the same exact swings in extreme weather hit Louisiana in 2005, as I wrote in my book Hell and High Water:

While the U.S. suffered a record-smashing hurricane season that deluged southern Louisiana with rain in the summer of 2005, “the eight months since October 1, 2005 have been the driest in 111 years of record-keeping” in southern Louisiana, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center reported in July 2006.

Funny how we are seeing these wild swings from extreme drought to extreme flooding more and more, just like those pesky climate scientists warned “” see, for instance, my June post, AP, Washington Times: “Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency”:

Across the Amazon basin, river dwellers are adding new floors to their stilt houses, trying to stay above rising floodwaters that have killed 48 people and left 405,000 homeless.

Flooding is common in the world’s largest remaining tropical wilderness, but this year the waters rose higher and stayed longer than they have in decades, leaving some fruit trees entirely submerged.

The surprise isn’t just the record flooding, it’s that the flooding followed record droughts:

Only four years ago, the same communities suffered an unprecedented drought that ruined crops and left mounds of river fish flapping and rotting in the mud.

Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency.

The BBC also got the story right in May, “Experts say global warming may be behind the wild climate swings that have brought periods of unprecedented droughts and flooding to the Amazon in recent years.”

What makes the AP and the Washington Times story on Brazil so unusual is not only that the Times is a conservative newspaper, but that the story continues with an extended discussion of the climate issue:

“¦ climatologists say the world should expect more extreme weather in the years ahead. Already, what happens in the Amazon could be affecting rainfall elsewhere, from Brazil’s agricultural heartland to the U.S. grain belt, as rising ocean temperatures and rainforest destruction cause shifts in global climate patterns.

“It’s important to note that it’s likely that these types of record-breaking climate events will become more and more frequent in the near future,” Mr. Nobre [a climatologist with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research] said. “So we all have to brace for more extreme climate in the near future: It’s not for the next generation””¦

“Something is telling us to be more careful with the planet. Changes are happening around the world, and we’re seeing them as well in Brazil,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said this month on his radio program”¦.


So yes, there is a strong link between climate change, which is now predominantly driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the rise in many different type of extreme weather events “” and that rise will accelerate in the future and the link will grow. Until, of course, the climate just changes, and many extreme weather events, like droughts, simply become permanent, and we stop using that word in certain areas and start calling them deserts and Dust Bowls “” assuming that we aren’t smart enough to ignore the siren song of the disinformers and solve this problem:

47 Responses to The non-blizzard of 2009 and why the anti-science disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather

  1. Stuart says:

    I think there is a psychological barrier in some people that will not allow them to accept the reality of climate change, because that threatens their children and grandchildren. The kids are laying on the railroad track and they will refuse to believe that there is even a possibility of a train coming, even if some of us tell them that we can hear the whistle. But climate is no as obvious as a train, so they ignore any warnings about something as ephemeral as climate change – “so I turn up my AC, big deal”. I think some will not accept it unless it turns 100 degrees in February in Fairbanks, and even then they will say it’s the sun.

  2. Stuart says:

    “not” as. Preview is your friend.

  3. Climateer says:

    Just for the record, when you do a search for Gelbspan at the Pulitzer site this comes up:

    Search: gelbspan
    Your search yielded no results

    * Check if your spelling is correct.
    * Remove quotes around phrases to match each word individually: “blue smurf” will match less than blue smurf.
    * Consider loosening your query with OR: blue smurf will match less than blue OR smurf.

  4. Peter Sinclair says:

    Denialists tend to be authoritarians, and fundamentalists.
    Neither group is well equipped to deal with paradox- that basic sign of intelligence that
    allows someone to hold 2 seemingly contradictory ideas in mind at one time.

  5. Gail says:

    Stuart, I agree. The implications of climate change are so far-reaching and frankly terrifying that it is quite an act of courage to even contemplate. Connecting weather events to climate change make deniers scream loudly because it’s something that affects lives in real time and makes them pay attention to the issue. If they pay enough attention they might become enlightened.

    On the other hand today I came across an extraordinary example of how deeply the terror of the truth can be. I read this column: which was written in 2006 and quite presciently and eloquently describes the heartbreaking and inevitable loss of species diversity (aka extinctions) that will be the legacy of burning fossil fuels. But then in the recent comments, it is revealed that the author, having “researched” climate change, decided she had been quite, quite wrong, and global warming isn’t a problem after all! I guess she got a serious case of the heeby jeebies, here’s one of her “corrections:”

    “Obviously the ignorant responders didn’t read this section before writing snotty and rude comments about the article. Let me say it again with the hope that my words will absorb this time around: First, notice the DATE. This article was written WAY before global warming was a real topic-therefore not a lot of info was available I was asked to write it and I did. Secondly, After learning A LOT on this subject through the last few years of research I have found that it is not a big issue at all. I do NOT believe that global warming is a problem and is more of a political platform instead. With that said, next time perhaps reading a little more before allowing a two year old mentality to publicly display a temper tantrum might be better? Ya think?” Add a Comment
    Posted on 12/21/2009 at 9:12:23 PM

  6. Remarkably thorough and useful.

    One way to get people to understand, I’ve found, is to say that global warming basically produces more of everything–=more drought, more big storms, more wind. It makes sense because what we’re calling global warming is really just the trapping of energy in our atmosphere, and that energy finds all kinds of ways to express itself.

  7. Bob Wright says:

    ABC News has an interesting solution to the shout downs. Its too much trouble to deal with the blizzard of calls and e-mails if they link severe storms to AGW at 6:30. So they have a quiet, factual series called “Nature’s Edge” shown late at night or on their cable channel, and on-line.

  8. Joe,
    A couple of clarifications:
    – The 2008-09 snowfall charts were published before the end of the season. Thanks to a rare snow event in March, the season ended up with 7.5″, well below average, but not a record. It was, however, the 8th time this decade that snowfall totals were below average in Washington. The only other decade in which this happened was the 1990’s.
    – Although part of the original Capital Weather Gang, CapitalClimate is now an independent blog and is in no way associated with CWG/WaPo.

    Not only do the denialists not understand the difference between wind and temperature, they don’t even understand the difference between precipitation and temperature:
    Shoveling Out From a Snow Job (originally published at CWG)

  9. Climateer,
    If you used a real Google search, you would confirm that you are repeating a 12-year-old smear campaign:

    ” When The Heat Is On was published in 1997, it generated a number of industry attacks.

    After an initial effort to discredit the book failed, Western Fuels, along with a leading industry-funded “greenhouse skeptic,” S. Fred Singer, accused Gelbspan of resume fraud. On websites and in politically conservative publications, industry representatives declared Gelbspan had never been a co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, as he claimed.

    In fact, in 1983 as special projects editor of The Boston Globe, Gelbspan conceived a project, selected a team of reporters, directed the reporters and edited the resulting series of articles. That series won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984.

    The Boston Globe acknowledged Gelbspan’s role in the project by printing his photograph and a brief biography under a headline reading: Profiles of Globe Staffers Who Won Pulitzers.”

    The Mayor of Boston sent Gelbspan an official letter congratulating him on the Pulitzer Prize.

    The newspaper’s Board of Directors passed a resolution specifically congratulating the editors of the prize-winning series.”

    More here.

  10. Douglas says:

    This is funny. The name “Noel Sheppard” rang a bell…from earlier today. I’d never heard of him before, but this morning Paul Krugman linked to an article he wrote:

    Here is a direct link to Sheppard’s article.

    So this “economist” also thought the housing bubble was a “myth!” No wonder he’s a climate change denier…what a joker.

  11. SecularAnimist says:

    In my experience, it is climate scientists rather than deniers who go way overboard with the bromide that “no individual weather event can be linked to anthropogenic global warming”.

    If medical doctors had been comparably insistent that “no individual case of lung cancer can be linked to smoking tobacco”, there would probably be many more people still smoking — and dying from lung cancer — than there are.

    I have argued this point with the climate scientist moderators at RealClimate on occasion when one or another of them has insisted that it is “wrong” to attribute Hurricane Katrina to global warming. Now, clearly it is true that (to our knowledge), global warming does not cause a particular hurricane to form in a particular time and place and follow a particular path, so yes, it is “wrong” to say that global warming caused Katrina to form when and where it did, and travel on its particular path to hit New Orleans. However, it is also true (as I understand it) that after Katrina crossed over Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, it had weakened considerably, but was regenerated into a massively destructive monster storm by the unusually warm waters of the Gulf. So the fact that Katrina was as big and powerful as it was when it hit New Orleans CAN be attributed to global warming.

    Of course the other side of the “no individual weather event can be linked to anthropogenic global warming” coin is that in our globally warming world, no weather event is UNRELATED to global warming, either. From now on, EVERY weather event, extreme or not, will be affected in some way by climate change.

  12. Climateer says:

    Capital Climate,
    Regarding the Pulitzer, I am very aware of the controversy, I’ve been placing money based on the evolving science since the Rio Conference.

    I’m also aware that if I wrote a screenplay that went on to win the academy award for Best Picture I could not claim to have won the Academy Award.

    Mr. Gelbspan put together a team of reporters that wrote the stories.
    The Pulitzer Committee is very specific about the credit. If the Prize is awarded to a paper without naming individuals, the paper can name the individuals. If the Committee names names no one else was awarded the Prize, no matter what the mayor of Boston says.

    No smear.
    I’m just amused by the “Blue Smurfs”.
    Here’s what comes up when you search the Pulitzer site for someone who did win the award for the series that Mr. Gelbspan helped organize and edit:
    No Blue Smurfs.
    No smear.

  13. Leif says:

    Yes, lets see how the Anti-science folks spin this article. It is good that A-S folks think enough of this site to slander it, so we need to keep up the quality and hopefully snare a few from them to time.
    A simile that I use, being from the Puget Sound Area, is tides and currents. Tides are like climate and currents are like weather. Both on a much smaller time scale. Currents, (weather), can be inferred and predicted to some degree and local knowledge can be a big help. However trying to predict the currents for some time in the future is impossible. On the other hand tides can be predicted years in advance with remarkable accuracy. Just as spring and summer, fall and winter come with regularity. Likewise, as the tides get bigger, more energy, the currents, (weather), become more confused and unpredictable. Big tides have no trouble making whirlpools, (tornados), and currents, (storms), strong enough to humble any man.
    Climatic disruption is like Earth trying to catch its breath after exertion. However man continues to pile on the weight so earth must work harder and harder each day. Eventually earth will switch to heavy breathing, (tipping point), and it is all over but the shouting. When will that be? Depends on how much energy exerted and how good of physical condition Earth is in. Perhaps already and we don’t even recognize it yet. What do you think, A-S Folks?

  14. Gail says:

    SecularAnimist, and Leif, well said.
    But I am at the point of wondering, is there any point in expending effort to reach the ASFolks? Should us few rational science-based folks who don’t flinch from the outcomes that are certainly going to be catastrophic turn our energy towards figuring out how to survive so our families can escape the worst and most extreme outcomes of a change in climate that is already past the point where human ingenuity – even if we possessed the collective will, which we don’t – can slow the inexorable amplifying effects?
    Oh did I forget to say, Merry Christmas!? I have always loved the Christmas traditions, even as a lifelong atheist – because actually, I sort of worship trees!

  15. mark h says:

    If a warming climate creates more extreme weather events, a cooling climate should then produce less extreme weather events.
    Are there records from the little ice age that deomonstrate this? Or am I missing something?

    [JR: First off, there simply aren’t terribly accurate data from back then. Second, a warming climate creates certain types of more extreme weather events. Obviously, a cooling climate would create other types of extreme weather events.]

  16. Leif says:

    Mark h: Weather is a function of uneven energy balance. Hot or cold, it cares not. Uneven is the operative word. The bigger the temperature, humidity or pressure, (energy,) spread between adjacent air masses the stronger efforts to reach equilibrium. If a system is operating close to equilibrium there is not much weather going on. Think of a pot on the stove with the heat on low. As more energy is added to the system the more violent the system becomes. Turn the heat up just a bit and the water will boil and become very chaotic. You will never, nor will science, be able to predict what the currents, (weather) will look like but it is a no brainer that it will become more confused.
    That is why the above “Extreme weather events” graph above is so telling. There is still record low temperature events just twice as many extreme hot events and that will surely continue to grow. That I, and you, can bet on.

  17. Jeff says:

    Regarding this comment by SecularAnimist: “I have argued this point with the climate scientist moderators at RealClimate on occasion when one or another of them has insisted that it is “wrong” to attribute Hurricane Katrina to global warming”

    If you believe in science, shouldn’t you respect the opinion of climate scientists on this matter? Perhaps your own stance on this question actually falls into the anti-science realm. Or are you saying it is OK to misrepresent something if it is being done for a good cause?

    As to Katrina: I thought the storm had weakened considerably by the time it came ashore, and had fallen to a category 3 rating, which is strong, but not extraordinary. The main reason the city suffered so much damage was that the levee system was inadequately constructed and maintained.( You can’t blame that on global warming.

  18. Jay Alt says:

    mark h #14 –
    hubert h. lamb, the founder of the CRU, wrote books on early climate analyzing old British and European records and commentaries. These might discuss your question. During the Little Ice Age the decline in forcings was natural and gradual, as compared with the rapid increase today. Would that make a difference in extreme weather in climate models? I don’t know.

    D.C. residents make predictions on melt date –

    When my area in the midwest gets large (10-12″+) snowfalls they melt now in around 3 weeks.
    That is in contrast to winters in the 1970s. For example, in ’77-78 St. Louis got about 15 inches between Christmas & New Years. That winter was far colder than anything we see now. Snow cover did not melt until mid to late March. 3 weeks now vs. 2.5 – 3 months then.

  19. K. Nockels says:

    Keep up the good fight Joe, thats all we can do. Keep the facts coming and repeat and repeat them. The truth will become self-evident soon enough. For all our childrens sake keep up the good fight, the days of payment for neglect and abuse of this planet and our right to have a place on it are creeping ever closer so we have to keep trying to get moving in the direction of change. We have to.

  20. Craig says:

    As I understand it, extreme weather events are things which occur on the tails of a distribution, i.e., they are improbably occurrences. To clearly demonstrate that there has been a change in the distribution of such events, particularly in the tails, would seem to require a lot of data. Therein lies a problem. When you go back more that 100 years, accurate and detailed records start to get scarce. CO2 levels didn’t exceed 300 PPM until after 1950. So in terms of detailed records, we have maybe a 100 year span of data, half of which is baseline, and half or less of which is elevated CO2. Given those limitations, I’d think it would be pretty hard to definitely establish the frequency of rare events, much less establish that the frequency had changed.

  21. mark h says:

    Leif Thank you for your response. Extremes in weather seems counter-intuative when you look at it as warming vs cooling but looking at it as energy imbalance makes sense.

  22. Leif says:

    Craig, #20: If you will only look at the graph above with the blue and red marks on it you can clearly see a trend in the last fifty years of increased heat events over cold events. That is strictly a proportion and has nothing to do with how many from times past. From an even 1::1 to ~2::1 today. Clearly a warming trend. If it were a cooling trend one would expect increased cold events to warm events. I fail to see how it could be spelled out any more clearly.

  23. Chris Dudley says:

    Just a little south of DC we were getting blizzard conditions at least according to WTOP. Might not make it a true blizzard but the visibility was down. Not so large as the blizzard of 1978 when I used Harriet Beecher Stowe’s grave marker as a landmark since all the rest were covered. But this was a fun storm and the kids are enjoying the sledding.

  24. Richard Brenne says:

    This is like Joe Romm’s All-Star team of commenters. Great stuff. Peter Sinclair, keep up the good work – I love your videos, very factual, science-based, thoughtful, entertaining and well-reasoned.

    Jeff, I think Leif is onto something we need to look at here. I think the wording could be something like: “Global warming means a greater likelihood of increased sea surface temperatures that can intensify hurricanes that have formed, as happened in 2005 when the Gulf of Mexico had a record four Category 5 hurricanes, including Katrina.”

    Hurricanes usually lessen from Category 5s as they make landfall and their fuel is reduced by land.

    I’m trying to get people to see that Earth is what we inherited, but that Anthro-Earth is what we’ve created. And thus there are many human contributing factors to the loss of life and amount of damage to New Orleans by Katrina. Among them:

    The decision to build much of the newer city at or below sea level (the French Quarter fared much better at seven feet above sea level).

    The weight of the city causing it to sink.

    The pumping of water out from under the city furthering subsidence.

    Levees on the Mississippi not allow the river’s silt to regenerate the bayous that impede hurricane storm surges.

    Canals dug to build and service oil and natural gas wells and pipelines creating more open water at the expense of land and foliage.

    The introduction of non-native species especially the nutria that can devour 25,000 acres of marshland in a year.

    Lack of caring creating an underclass of poor people without the resources to evacuate.

    A federal government run at the time by many who detest the federal government and wanted to demonstrate its incompetence, which is the one area where they were competent.

    Burning of fossil fuels leading to global warming leading to the likelihood of increased sea surface temperatures that intensified Katrina.

    This same warming leading to 8 inches of sea level rise in the last 100 years, furthering storm surge damage.

    Not intensifying levees built to protect the city.

    These are all part of the Anthropocene (or Age of Humans) on Anthro-Earth. Understanding that our species has become a truly geologic force will help anyone understand any of the symptoms of this disease, including climate change.

  25. ken levenson says:

    Joe, really great post – getting to the nut of the thing….

    (Of course they shout-down because they’ve nothing else left – they’re all tea-bagging Sara Palins now.)

  26. Why? You ask, Why?

    Because they are paid to shout down anything that might affect their ability to control Congress.

  27. Gail says:

    This is a really great article about the international denial money trail which was posted in a comment at Greenfyre’s blog:

  28. Stan says:

    hi Joe,

    Enjoy your blog. really enjoy the weather versus climate discussion. Wanted to add one more piece of counterintuitive data to this discussion: seasonal snowfall around the Great Lakes has increased over the last 80-90 yrs. It seems warming of the lakes for a longer period prior to winter enhances lake-effect snow:

    It is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around. But, it makes sense – a longer ice-free fall allows for more heat storage later in the winter. So, when cold does arrive out of the Arctic, even during warm winters – we will have cold days & weeks during warm winters, more energy & moisture can be picked up as this cold air crosses the lakes.

  29. Mike says:

    #28 Stan

    I grew in in northeast Ohio. Used to see a great deal of lake effect snow. Once it gets cold enough to freeze Lake Erie (which is rare now), the heavy lake snows stop, as there’s no way to suck up moisture from the lake.

    The longer it stays “warm” in the winter, the longer you get heavy lake snows. Pretty simple to understand

  30. Leif says:

    Richard, #24: Thanks for the shout out. People as a rule do not have a grasp of the amount of energy that has been stored in the oceans of the world with even a partial of a degree of warming. Consequently when a storm of even modest strength crosses a pocket of warm water a tremendous amount of energy can be transfered. Katrina did just that and jumped from ~F3 to ~F5. As the storm moved to shallower water and that energy pocket became mixed or exhausted the storm’s energy decreased but sea state and atmospheric instability takes a while to come down. Remove a large boiling pot from the stove and it will still boil for a bit. It is too early, 0700, for me to attempt a quick calculation on ocean BTUs and the amount of daily increase but it might be fun and fairly easy as the raw data is out there and available to anyone. Feel free anyone. How many tons of steel can be melted by the excess absorbed heat each day?

  31. Leif says:

    Dropped again:
    Moving right along. Second cup of tea. I will make it easy. The energy imbalance has been calculated and I have seen a watts/m2. Find and multiply. We are talking a lot of energy here. We are vaporizing battleships every day. And then some… The answer might even make a good sound bite.

  32. Berbalang says:

    The big snow storm pretty much missed us and what little we did get has melted off days ago. When we had the worst snow storm of last Winter, the streets were pretty much cleared of snow by noon. It melted off fairly quickly.

    During the Blizzard of 1978 I saw cars engulfed in snow drifts and buried for over a month and temperatures so cold that the only reason they didn’t set records is that nobody made it to the weather station to read the temperature. When it got above -10°F it was a relief!

    The Blizzard of 1978 made me watch the weather a lot more. I have noticed how things have changed over the years. Storms used to come out of the Northwest now come out of the Southwest. Leaves are staying on the trees later in the Fall. Certain types of plants are growing much larger now than they did in the past.

    Last year I bought a Fig Tree because I was under the mistaken impression it was supposed to survive our Winters. It did. I am now considering trying Bananas and Palms if for no other reason than to be a visual reminder to everyone that drives by that the climate is warming.

  33. Richard Brenne says:

    Stan (#28) and Mike (#29):

    In addition to open water on the Great Lakes creating more lake effect snows, warming temperatures can feed glaciers in cold places like the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, some high Himalayan glaciers, the Juneau Icefield feeding the Taku Glacier in Alaska, and from the summit of Mt. Shasta. These are some of the places feeding glaciers that could be retreating from their bottoms if not being fed from their tops.

    Since 1900 the White River Glacier on Mt. Hood has lost 60 per cent of its volume while the Sandy Glacier (the glacier next to the Reid Glacier where three mountain climbers recently and sadly died) has lost 62 per cent since 1900.

    They both begin at their tops close to 10,000 feet in elevation, where Pineapple Express storms can now rain up to that elevation (creating huge debris flows taking out bridges, railroads and highways) in the past few years when that would’ve been highly unlikely before warming really kicked in during the mid-1970s. (I started climbing Hood and the other Cascade volcanoes in 1971 and am leading an outing of top glaciologists, climate scientists and media members on Hood and Mt. St. Helens June 3-6 – anyone can e-mail me at if they’re interested in joining us.)

    Conversely Elliot Glacier begins at the 11,235 foot summit of Mt. Hood, faces close to due north, and much of its length is now covered with debris that also protects it from melting as much, so it’s lost 19 per cent of its volume since 1900.

    The main reason for the increasingly rare examples of advancing glaciers is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, so when cold places have temperatures during snowstorms advancing toward freezing, it can snow more than when it is colder. Expect more of this phenomenon, not less.

    And help others understand it as well!

  34. Richard Brenne says:

    And Leif (#32) –

    I always appreciate your observations as well as Jeff’s.

    In the Global Climate Change class I teach on-line with my partner Physicist (and 40-year Juneau Icefield Researcher) Toby Dittrich, we calculated that humans burning fossil fuels send CO2 the weight of the largest cruise ships into the atmosphere every 2.35 minutes.

    We couldn’t help but point out that it’d be easier to educate the public about this if instead of invisible CO2, what we saw were actual cruise ships in the atmosphere.

    So if you or anyone else wanted to calculate the amount of heat we’re adding and express that in vaporized battleships, that could help our communicating to the public. If whoever does this would show their math we’ll check it.

    And then the obvious question would be: When there are any number of conservative talk show hosts available, why are we vaporizing battleships?

  35. Leif says:

    Dropped, #2:
    Here is a chance to answer a question never before answered by science. Right here on CP.
    How many battleships, aircraft carriers or whatever else big and familiar could be melted each day on the earth’s current energy imbalance?
    We need to make our work clean and concise with foot notes and peer reviewed so that the Anti-Science Sink Hole faction can check our work and maybe even get an appreciation of how science works.
    I have no doubt that there are commentators on this site that can give you an approximation from their head but hay, some of us are mortals and fact checking will be important. This post will get spread out so keep your own copy so we can present it to Joe for publication.
    We need to know: Watts / Meter 2 of imbalance and sq. meters on earth surface. and we are off… We will be talking big numbers so scientific notation will be in order. We can convert back in the end for FOX.

  36. Leif says:

    Well here is one answer. I used aircraft carriers with a weight of 102,000 tons. I did not attempt to vaporize them only melt them down. A big difference.
    ~ four thousand per day. That is 4,000/Day
    Looking for checks before I clean up my work for presentation. After all one dropped decimal can change it to 400 or 40,000.

  37. Yet another long-term (since 1871) precipitation extreme has fallen:
    New Orleans Drowns All-Time Monthly Precipitation Record
    More rain has fallen in December, a winter month, than in any recorded tropical storm or hurricane.

    [JR: That is incredible, no? Much as getting the Georgia deluge without a tropical storm or hurricane (see “Weather Channel expert on Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge.”)]

  38. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a book for you:

    Florin Diacru
    Megadisasters: the science of predicting the next catastrophe
    Princeton University Press

    “The book held me totally spellbound” — Edward Belbruno

  39. mike roddy says:

    I agree with what you say, Joe, but believe that spending time on extreme weather events is a bad play tactically. The deniers are becoming increasingly ridiculous to those who actually investigate matters. It’s getting cooler, it’s the water vapor, CO2 is good for you, etc.- this is all a joke.

    There is truth to their claim that any single weather event means nothing, however. Why give them any high ground at all? They’re too easy to defeat in every other area.

    [JR: Huh? What other areas? Overall planetary warming? Yeah, we “defeated” them on that. Scientific consensus? Check. Ice melting. Check. Sun not the cause. Check. Yes, they are wrong on every aspect of the science, but so what? They very much want us not to talk about extreme weather for the reasons I stated.]

  40. Gail says:

    mike roddy, I think it’s really important to point out to people when they are shivering in their homes without heat that it is due to 1) extreme climate-change related weather events like especially heavy wet snow and ice storms and 2) weakened trees falling on power lines from toxic greenhouse gas emissions.

    It’s the sort of thing people will actually listen to because it is affecting them in a very personal way, and it’s more than mere weather. There are more and more stories in local media about fatalities from trees falling on homes, cars and other structures.

    Farmers in California get angry at the government for not giving them enough water and it needs to be pointed out that the problem is over-use and climate-change provoked drought. When consumers all over the country wonder why food is insanely expensive and the shortages begin, they need to be reminded that half our produce comes from California.

    See this story about water problems:

    If the link isn’t made to climate change when there are, for example, record wildfires, then nothing will be done about it. Just making it seem like the world is going to be a few degrees warmer in a century isn’t sufficient to motivate people and policy makers to convert to clean energy. The real impacts need to be understood, which include crop failures and mass extinctions, right here in the US of A, and in the oceans where we get our seafood.

  41. Leif says:

    Richard Brenne, #35: Thank you for the fact check offer. My 4,000 melted aircraft carriers was done quickly during X-Mass eve day with company and grandson about. Not much time to present a clean work but the chore went fast. A few GOOGLE searches and a few minutes on a simple calculator. When the holidays mellow out I will try to put it down for checking. Happy Winter and I enjoy your posts. Thank you for your continued efforts on this site. Leif

  42. Laurie Dougherty says:

    Climate Progress Comment 12-25-09
    Hello, Mike Roddy, Merry Christmas! I think it’s important to make clear that even extreme cold weather events are consistent with global warming. True, we can’t say any one event is caused by global warming, but we should not allow ourselves to be shut up on the issue of the increasing likelihood of extreme weather.

    Way back when I took a class in Meteorology 101. The first thing we learned was this: “What causes weather? Differential heating and rotation of the earth.” “Differential” in terms of differences in albedo, land formations, heat absorption of land masses vs oceans, etc. (this is a different way of expressing what Leif said above #16) So as humans are now differencing the differentials we really are screwing around with the weather in complicated ways.

    It’s important for people like Joe and Leif and others who can parse the dynamics to do so. If people are never educated on how global warming can affect cold season weather, then there is nothing to counteract the deniers who want everyone to think that climate change should cancel winter.

    Got to go start the dough for the Christmas Mom’s made from scratch pizza. You all don’t know what you’re missing.

    [JR: To be clear, extreme weather events consistent with global warming even happen in the winter.]

  43. Leif says:

    Daily weather is a product of energy instability. Recall ALL. The Arctic is still cold and the equator is still hot. The earth is in a constant struggle to balance these differences and reach equilibrium. WEATHER…
    Conversely, as we put more energy into the systems you must think of the that daily struggle taking place with a bit more force in the thrashing about. CLIMATE.
    But guess what, it still gets damn cold in the poles in the winter and hot at the equator. Also remember that the average temperature increase is only ~0.5 C but is still a BIG pile of energy if put in one place. I am working on that with melting aircraft carriers. Once we get a daily melt pinned down it will be easy to get the total for the last fifty years or so. If my 4,000 a day number holds up to peer review we are looking at big numbers.

  44. Mark Green says:

    So was this last strike in the Eastern Midwest a “blizzard”? I’m in Michigan and we haven’t had real blizzard conditions yet this year (rained here on Christmas).

    I don’t know if this new one really was a blizzard, or the media is calling it one because places that don’t usually get a lot of snow did. What do you think?

  45. Mark Green says:

    Er, Western Midwest.

  46. Andy says:

    Yeah, so mid-50’s and flooding with rain expected in Maryland. Guess global warming’s back on?