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:
- CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change
- NBC News ignores climate change, blows the bark beetle story
- The NY Times Blows the Wildfire Story
- The NY Times Blows the Drought Story, too.
- USA Today ignores the Link Between Extreme Weather and Climate Change
- AP Blows the Extreme Weather Story
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.
THE NON-BLIZZARD OF 2009
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
- 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
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:
- Australia faces the “permanent dry” “” as do we
- NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe