A survey of media coverage of the monster heat wave
[Please post links to other MSM stories in the comments.]
It’s hot all over the East Coast. Weather Underground offers this “plot of the difference between maximum temperature (the high for the day) and average maximum temperature in degrees F for July 6″:
Dr. Rob Carver, filling in for Jeff Masters on vacation in Maine (where I’ll be in August), asks “Is this heat wave due to global warming?” His answer:
Ah, the $64,000 question. In the absence of detailed analysis, it’s hard to specify the exact cause for this heat wave, from a meteorological or climatological view point. However, events like this are consistent with research showing that heat waves are more likely with global warming. I like the metaphor of loaded dice, global warming is not specifically responsible for any heat wave, but it will make them happen more often.
True, global warming is not specifically responsible for any specific heat wave, but all heat waves we do experience are added to the overall human-caused warming, and thus will be more and more intense.
Carver helpfully notes, “The Centers for Disease Control have some tips for dealing with the heat.”
Here is the Christian Science Monitor:
Global heat wave hits US, reignites climate change debate
Worldwide, the first five months of 2010 were the warmest on record. With the US now getting its share of a heat wave, how will it affect the public perception of climate change?
Beijing hits a near-record 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia break 100 degrees and set new daily highs. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and Riyadh, on July 6 it was 113 and 111 degrees, warmer than average but still cooler than in Kuwait, which set the day’s world temperature high at 122 degrees….
Yes, we’re suffering a global heat wave. No, it’s not the apocalypse. But it may be a further sign of climate change.
“You can’t say any one heat wave is caused by global warming. But you can say that what global warming does is it makes events just like this more likely,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change.
Indeed, 2010 is set to be one of the world’s hottest years on record, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the first five months of the year was the warmest on record, and 1.22 degrees F warmer than the 20th century average, the NOAA states in its May 2010 State of the Climate Global Analysis.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the Arctic sea ice extent retreated at a rapid pace in May – 50 percent faster than the average May melting rate. Africa’s Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, is now at its warmest in 1,500 years, according to the journal Nature Geoscience.
But if these are all signs of global warming, then why did America’s East Coast get slammed with so much snow this past winter?
Climatologists are careful to highlight that no one weather event is a sign of global warming. Just as the blizzards of this past January and February did not debunk climate change, the current heat wave does not prove climate change.
“What climate change does do is make these kinds of events ever more frequent. It increases the frequency of record-highs,” says Dr. Leiserowitz of Yale University.
Here is how the AP handled the story:
The temperature broke records for the day in New York, where it hit 103, and in Philadelphia, where it reached 102.
It was also over 100 in cities from Richmond, Va., to Boston, and Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., also set records.
“It’s safe to say this is one of the hottest days in about a decade for many locations in the Northeast and even inland,” said Sean Potter of the National Weather Service. “You’d go back to 2001 or maybe 1999 to find a similar heat wave.”
… A certain segment of the public might look at the thermometer and blame global warming, but the two things aren’t necessarily related, said Gavin Schmidt, at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University.
“One winter, one heat wave, one snowstorm is not significant. You need statistics over a decade,” he said, noting that day-to-day weather and global temperature are two different things.
That said, he added, “the planet is getting warmer. 2000-2009 was the warmest since the 1850s. And the last 12 months seem to be the warmest.”
Ah, that certain segment. True, one heat wave is not significant, but then again it’s hard to say that that it’s a complete coincidence that NASA reported it was easily the hottest spring “” and Jan-May “” in the temperature record (and NOAA, too). To beat a hyperthermic horse, as the UK’s Royal Society and Met Office said in their statement on the connection between global warming and extreme weather:
We expect some of the most significant impacts of climate change to occur when natural variability is exacerbated by long-term global warming, so that even small changes in global temperatures can produce damaging local and regional effects.
I do prefer to look at statistically aggregated data (see “We’re having a heat wave. New daily high temperature records beat new cold records by nearly 5 to 1 in June“).
Back to the MSM. You may remember the recent Climate Progress post “Rep. Broun (R-GA) says clean energy legislation will cause southerners to die from hyperthermia!” Pulitzer Prize winner Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes Broun to task on this:
A few weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) stood on the floor of Congress to issue a hyperventilating rant about hyperthermia. Claiming to worry that energy legislation would raise electric rates so high that the elderly couldn’t pay for air conditioning, he declaring that cap-and-trade would, in effect, kill old people.
Where’s the Congressman today? Is he still worried about seniors dying from hyperthermia? He should be since they’re suffering mightily in the heat wave that is smothering the eastern United States….
The miserable heat is scorching the South, too….
No one who takes science seriously would suggest that a summer heat wave is evidence of global warming. But a trend, noted by scientists, is something everyone should take seriously, and this heat wave is part of a trend, according to Andrew Freeman, climate blogger for the WaPo….
First, even before this heat wave began, temperatures had already been running above normal lately. May and June were exceptionally warm across the eastern U.S., especially the mid-Atlantic. As we noted last week, Washington recorded its warmest June on record, along with numerous other cities, mainly along the eastern seaboard.
According to Guy Walton of The Weather Channel, many more warm-temperature records were set during May and June than cold-temperature records. In an email exchange, Walton told me there were 3,234 daily record highs (including ties) set nationwide during May and June, compared to 1,493 daily record lows (including ties). There were only five “all time” record highs set or tied during May/June 2010 and no “all time” record lows, but there were 102 monthly highs set (or tied) vs. 52 monthly lows set (or tied) during the period.
Walton also noted that there were 6,870 daily record high minimums (including ties) vs 2,570 daily record low maximums (including ties) in May/June 2010. This is noteworthy since daily minimum temperatures have been increasing faster than daily maximum temperatures, which is consistent with what scientists expect to happen as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, since such gases inhibit heat from escaping into the atmosphere, especially during the night as radiational cooling sets in.
Despite so-called “Climategate,” the scientific evidence is clear: The planet is warming dangerously, a trend caused by human activity.
Alas, Freedman’s stuff isn’t what gets into the print edition of the Washington Post, which is probably read by ten times as many people. This is what they ran yesterday:
What a waste of ink.
First off, precisely which “climate scientists” are predicting a “normal” July (whatever that means)? Most expert forecasters were predicting that this entire summer was going to be quite hot on the East Coast. Obviously this week was going to be horrendous. So the erroneous opening paragraph merely makes “climate scientists” look like ivory tower academics.
Secondly, while it’s great the WP discusses what climate researchers expect in the coming decades, is it too much to ask for even the briefest mention of the fact that it is human emissions of greenhouse gases that are the reason climate scientists are making these projections?
Third, and this is certainly hopeless for the WP, but the statement that “climate researchers now expect a further 6.3-degree increase by the end of this century” is somewhere between misleading and outright incorrect. Climate researchers projections of future temperature rise depend critically on their estimation of how high emissions are. They don’t “expect” any particular increase — 6.3 degrees F might be near the middle of the broad range of multi-scenario projections. But if we take no significant action to reduce emissions — and why should we if the media doesn’t explain to the public that emissions are the source of the projections (and probably primary reason for the warming to date) — then many scientists expect warming far beyond 6.3 degrees.