“Experts: Cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming”


… experts say the cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming at all — it’s just a blip in the long-term heating trend.

“It’s part of natural variability,” said Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. With global warming, he said, “we’ll still have record cold temperatures. We’ll just have fewer of them.”

Deke Arndt of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., noted that 2009 will rank among the 10 warmest years for Earth since 1880.

Leave it to the Associated Press to state the obvious starting with the blunt headline.  They’ve been doing some of the best straight reporting on human-caused climate change (see AP analysis of stolen emails: An “exhaustive review” shows “the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”)

In fact, 2009 ranks among the 5 warmest on Earth, and the entire planet just keeps warming thanks to human emissions (see Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira “” “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous”).  It’s not just the surface that’s warming, but we’re also seeing it where climate science said more than 90% of the warming would end up “” the oceans (see “Skeptical Science explains how we know global warming is happening: It’s the oceans, stupid!“)

Robert Henson, author of The Rough Guide to Climate Change also has a good piece in the UK’s Guardian, “Snow, ice and the bigger picture“:  The cold snap tells us little about climate change, but if you want something to blame it on, try the Arctic oscillation,” which notes:

What’s different now is that climate change is shifting the odds towards record-hot summers and away from record-cold winters. The latter aren’t impossible; they’re just harder to get, like scoring a straight flush on one trip to Vegas and a royal flush the next.

It’s also critical to remember the “global” in global warming. Even if every inch of land in the northern hemisphere were unusually cold, that would only represent 20% of Earth’s surface. There’s plenty of warmth elsewhere around the world. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data through November hints that 2009 may end up ranked as the southern hemisphere’s warmest year on record. For the planet as a whole, last year falls solidly among the 10 warmest years of the past 100. And despite all the talk about Earth having cooled since the late 1990s, this past decade trumps the 1990s as the warmest on record.


I’d also note that the AP story begins:

Beijing had its coldest morning in almost 40 years and its biggest snowfall since 1951. Britain is suffering through its longest cold snap since 1981.

And some in the media have also queried me about stories where people report non-record-breaking cold.  It bears repeating, as I said on Fox, that global warming can’t turn January into July.  So merely reporting it’s cold in January isn’t news that has any relevancy to global warming.

If we see record-breaking extremes of a very certain kind — once-in-a-century type events — those I think can be evidentiary (see “Hell and High Water hits Georgia” and “Weather Channel expert on Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge“).  But reading about near-record temps in a city or small country or part of a big country just doesn’t cut it.

It’s one thing to say, for instance, 2009 was one the five warmest years on record — or even Australia had its hottest decade ever, but to say, it was so cold yesterday in one city it didn’t even break the record or we just had a once-in-30-years weather event, well, that’s just not evidence of anything but boredom by the media.

The scientific literature now says “Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.” (the lead author is NCAR’s Meehl, cited in the AP story). So it’s only the statistical accumulation of record highs versus record lows over an extended period of time that tell us much about the state of the climate.

We’ve only had about 1°F warming in recent decades, which can’t do much more than skew the odds — it certainly hasn’t warmed anywhere near enough to have driven us outside the bounds of the much larger temperature swings that come from regional weather patterns, let alone the seasons.  That’s why one needs to do statistical analysis to draw conclusions like the one signed off on by Bush’s Commerce Sec. Carlos Gutierrez, Energy Sec. Samuel Bodman, and Science Advisor John Marburger III (see “why the anti-science disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather“):

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.”

And for some reason, it always bears repeating that precipitation isn’t temperature — and record snowfall in places where it is normally cold enough in the winter to snow doesn’t provide evidence against the theory of human-caused climate change.  Quite the reverse (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)?).

It doesn’t look like we’ll have to put with these stories much longer:

Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, a forecasting service, said he expects more typical winter weather across North America early next week.

And, of course, 2010 still remains likely to be the hottest year on record, given the moderate to strong El Ni±o we are still experiencing — more on that shortly.

26 Responses to “Experts: Cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming”

  1. Badgersouth says:

    “Doubt global warming? The planet won’t tell a lie” by Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young is posted on today’s USA Today website. Needless to say, the anti-AGW gang is going bonkers posting comments. Perhaps Joe could address some of their assertions in future posts?

  2. Duane Stone says:

    Will there be snowfall, blizzards and sub-zero temps in utopia?
    We also are not seeing the droughts and snowless winters that were forcasted. In fact The Met even missed this current storm cycle in their forecasts last week.

  3. Derek Gideon says:

    Personally, I’m glad AP ran that story because while its headline states what should be “obvious,” it isn’t actually obvious to a great many people.

  4. R.A ledbetter says:

    This “warming BS is a scam money making thing that already has made Gore a millionair many times over.

    Her’s the skinny on the weather-it’s not man made

    This planet is 4 and a half BILLION YEARS OLD

    There has been numerous “ice ages” and “warming trends” since the beginning of this solar system

    It’s the sun and earth that makes these changes -NOT MAN

    [JR: Read some science, dude. Human emissions are now overwhelming all of the nature cycles.]

  5. Leif says:

    Arctic oscillations? What are we talking about here? Allow me, and chime in. An oscillation is a pulsing on a longer term, weeks, months even years. Oscillations are also harmonics that dissipate energy in an attempt to reach equilibrium. Quiet state! For the past few million years the earth has been “pulsing”, “breathing?” in this relatively steady state with a few volcanos or big meteors from time to time to muck up the works.
    Then along comes “man.” Experiments by even primitive man has shown an ability to affect “climate” on a small scale. (Thinking Easter Island or Aborigines of Australia. There are other examples.) Suddenly in the span of 50 years modern man has inserted the equivalent of ~300,000,000 nuclear bombs going OFF! ~35,000 a day! Comment #50+++
    Any one surprised that the old Arctic Oscillation might be pulsing a bit more vigorously? Weather systems might be responding with a tad more vigor to equilibrate?

  6. Keith says:

    wow, these short-term weather-based fluctuations really bring out the idiots!

  7. Kate says:

    Keith – if it weren’t for us idiots you wouldn’t have any posts here at all.

    You’d have to use name-calling amongst yourselves.

  8. Lore says:

    Kate: “if it weren’t for us idiots you wouldn’t have any posts here at all.

    You’d have to use name-calling amongst yourselves.

    You have a point there, but just maybe we could then move onto more productive discussions about what to do with the many problems that lay ahead of us.

  9. Sidharth says:

    Well said !!!

    Keep posting.


  10. dhogaza says:

    Kate: “if it weren’t for us idiots…”

    Well, at least she knows it …

  11. The Wonderer says:

    I think the AP article still makes it unecessarily complicated although the jist is buried in there.

    A change in the jet stream moved cold north air into southern areas. The northern areas heated up while certain southern areas cooled. Net change across the globe ~ 0.0 degrees for this week, about 0.17 for the decade.

  12. MarkB says:

    Well here is (as Joe might call it) a “WSJ Stunner”.

    Question 41:

    “I’m going to read you two statements. Please tell me whether the first statement or the second statement
    comes closer to your own view, even if neither is exactly right.”

    “Statement A: Global warming is caused more by human actions than by naturally occurring forces.”

    “Statement B: Global warming is caused more by naturally occurring forces than by human actions.”

    (IF RESPONDENT CHOOSES, ASK:) Do you feel that way very strongly or not strongly?


    Human actions: 74% (48% strongly, 26% not strongly)
    Naturally occuring forces: 20% (13% strongly, 7% not strongly)
    Both: 2%
    Neither: 2%
    Not sure: 2%

    The 74% is the highest recording by far in their poll. Perhaps some of this might have to do with the fact that deniers tend to have a very short attention span, and many of them might not make it to question 41.

  13. Jim Eager says:

    Kate: “if it weren’t for us idiots you wouldn’t have any posts here at all.”

    On the contrary, Kate, since antropogenic climate change would still be happening there would still be plenty of new science and technological advances to discuss, but there’d be a lot less ignorant twaddle getting in the way of the discussion.

  14. Leif says:

    MarkB, #13: Good to see that those numbers have held in spite of the media blitz by BIG MONEY! It would seem clear that should “BIG MONEY” come to the realization that all the money in the world is zilch when life support systems red line… ? But no, not satisfied with a mere 90%? WE got to get the masses paying INTEREST FOREVER! Richer an richer….Gasp/Ch-oak/ THUD!

    So “BIG MONEY”? You going to step up to the plate and play like big guys for the good of hu-MAN-ity, or do we keep spinning our wheels in this mud bath? It will be sooooo…cool- your computer gleefully spitting out ever higher profit margins, what a rush!

  15. Eve says:

    Yes, I know it snowed heavily in Boston last week and iguanas fell
    from the trees in Florida sue to the cold, but today in Jerusalem the forecast is for a 24 degree (Celsius)high with sunshine. This is weather more typical of October here and we have been having 2 or 3 unseasonable warm days a week and almost no rain here. The temps are usually around 15 degrees (during the day) at this time of year here.
    I bought new rain boots last year and they have been sitting in the

  16. Steve G says:

    I love how when we get a new heatwave or hottest day recorded / flash flood extreme weather event somewhere, the media are always quick to say “more evidence of climate change”.

    Well now we have a cold snap they didn’t forecast and they are now saying “Its just the weather which is separate to climate, so it doesn’t matter”

    How stupid do they expect people to be? If they want to leave weather out of the climate argument then they need to stop using weather IN the argument when it suits them!

  17. Perry says:

    From the BBC: How the big freeze fits theories of global warming

  18. Gwen Echo says:

    I am happy to see the common sense comments from everyone. There are lots of those people who have known for years that the global warming jag is all about money and control. Reading Richard Lindzen (Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) cleared the warming fog from my brain. The GW folks would attribute the mini Ice Age to Global Warming – .They have done irreparable harm to the reputation of scientific research.

  19. mark says:

    One way of maybe getting through, does this make sense?

    The petroleum we burn, accumulated over a period of five or six hundred million years. ( or so I have read)

    We have burned about one half of it in a period of one hundred years.

  20. Jim Eager says:

    Gwen aptly echos the denialsphere.

  21. dhogaza says:

    There are lots of those people who have known for years that the global warming jag is all about money and control. Reading Richard Lindzen (Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) cleared the warming fog from my brain. The GW folks would attribute the mini Ice Age to Global Warming – .They have done irreparable harm to the reputation of scientific research.

    No, actually according to Lindzen, climate scientists haven’t done irreparable harm to the reputation of scientific research.

    It’s those medical researchers who claim that cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease who did irreparable harm to the reputation of scientific research. Climate scientists are just second-rate copycats.

    Do you smoke? If not, allow me to buy you your first pack of Lindzen’s favorite brand … because I’m sure you’ll agree it’s an almost harmless habit, right?

  22. Reasonable guy says:

    This area is very complex with data supporting and contradicting assertions on both sides of the issue. The fact that probably the highest correlation that exists with individual views on climate change relates to political views is key to understanding what is going on. But the complexity of the data should allow room for discussion, exploration, and better understanding of climate over time. It would be best to allow for this diversity of views, rather than attempting to squelch and vilify questions involving the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, let alone falsifing data to support one’s position as is VERY clear from the East Anglia e-mails. Falsification of data is very serious business in science, and if you have read the e-mails (I have read a fraction of them), it is clear that some data were made up out of thin air, and that an important oft-cited graph used to illustrate temperature over geological time has “no objective basis” in the words of the so-called scientists who constructed the graph themselves. This should be universally condemned, and, given the stakes, an inquiry into how such data fabrication impacts our understanding of climate should be given full support and funding.

    Having Mr. Gore, a politician, not a scientist, squelch debate, call serious questioners as “deniers”, and assert that global warming is as obvious a phenomenon as gravity, does serious injustice to scientific endeavor.

    Purported “consensus” does not matter. Consensus can exist and be plain wrong. It happens all the time.

    The hallmark of a scientific theory is that the theory is falsifiable. As I understand it, the central thesis is that rising CO2 leads to long-term warming. If data exist (and some scientists assert they do) that show historically much higher CO2 levels existed in geological time AND that the earth was in an ice age at that time, doesn’t this falsify the theory? If not, what WOULD falsify the theory? For instance, if CO2 rises in the next decade, but global temperatures fall to 1970s level, would the warmists accept that the theory is falsified?

    Gore and allies are trying to say the theory is not falsifiable. If so, it is not a scientific theory. The whole point is to make specific predictions, collect data, and test the theory, not shout down the opposition.

    One reasonable interpretation of the warm decade we experienced in the 2000’s is that it is simply a statistical anomaly. We have instrumental data collected over 120 years. Setting aside problems of method variance (types of instrumentation used), effects of urbanization on temperature, etc., this means we have 12 data points (12 decades) of instrumentally collected temperatures. Thus, there is an 8.5% chance of any decade being the warmest. The usual measure for scientific significance is 5% probability (weak test), or 1% probability (stronger test), or .001 (stronger yet). Perhaps the last decade is just a blip, and the effect of regression to the mean (return of events closer to average) is what we will see now. This would be the SIMPLEST and most elegant interpretation of a single data point being above the average range. Gernerally speaking, the simplest explanations tend to be the most accurate (all other things being equal).

    To add some further complexity, see the following link:

  23. Leif says:

    Reason…: The only statement of value in the above ramble and I had to take it “out of context! “Falsification of data is very serious business in science,

  24. Jim Eager says:

    A truly reasonable guy would look at the decade ranking within the entire instrument record.

    For instance, not only was the last decade the warmest in the instrument record, the previous decade was the second warmest, and the one before that was the third warmest. Seems reality is not quite as simple as you make it out to be.

    So what is the statistical chance that the three warmest decades would line up in ascending order by chance?

    More over, at the same time that atmospheric CO2 is currently 9 standard deviations above what has been produced by natural processes over the last 800,000 years?

    Especially since it is known with certainty that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

    In fact, CO2 is currently higher that it has been in at least the last 3 milllion years, and perhaps the last 10 million or more:
    [Tripati et al, Science, 4 December 2009]

    In other words, CO2 is higher now than it has been since before the current glacial/inter-glacial cycle began around 3 million years ago — that is, before Earth became cool enough to permit orbital insolation cycles to induce the formation of a permanent polar ice cap in the Northern Hemisphere.

    As for much higher CO2 levels existing when earth has been in an ice age, see:
    The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s Climate History

    It seems the long term history of atmospheric CO2 levels and temperature is becoming much more clear.

    And finally, the stolen emails show no instances of falsification of data or the making up of data out of thin air.

    Not one. To assert that they do is slanderous.

  25. Sally says:

    I live in southern Australia and feel the changes to the climate.

    We don’t get cold winters anymore, rainfall is less overall but when we do have rain it rains more heavily on less days.

    We are currently in the middle of the fire season – we don’t think of summer anymore – and know that its going to be like this every year.

    Over the last 15 years there has definitely been a change to a drier and warmer climate. Even our westerly jet stream have shifted southwards, resulting in rain being dumped over the southern ocean below Australia rather than over the southern part of the continent.