Former Weather Channel “adamant skeptic” says “it’s a case of Weather Gone Wiggy”: The “nature” of extreme weather “is changing along with changing atmospheric moisture, stability, and circulation patterns.”
Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist at the Weather Channel, has become quite good at explaining the link between global warming and extreme weather — see “Weather Channel expert on Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge“:
… there’s a straightforward connection in the way the changing climate “set the table” for what happened this September in Atlanta and elsewhere. It behooves us to understand not only theoretical expected increases in heavy precipitation (via relatively slow/linear changes in temperatures, evaporation, and atmospheric moisture) but also how changing circulation patterns are already squeezing out that moisture in extreme doses and affecting weather in other ways.
But like many former skeptics, he still doesn’t quite get it, as is clear from a recent post on The Weather Channel blog, which I repost below followed by some brief comments:
If we don’t want to get zapped, we must adapt
An alternate catchy and timely title could have been “The skeptics are sweating” (figuratively and literally). However, that would have been inflammatory. Furthermore, I am able to be empathetic to their sentiments, as I used to be an adamant skeptic myself. That is, in the sense that the term is typically applied to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). “Cynic” is probably a better word, as skepticism is a natural part of science. It’s when being skeptical becomes being closed-minded that it’s a problem.
In my case, Fred Singer, one of the most vocal and prominent “skeptics” over the years, wrote a piece for the Washington Times in 1999 in which he said that “Stu Ostro argues that the weather is pretty much the same as it has always been, only that our perceptions have changed.” That is in reference to a USA Weekend article I co-authored. A reproduction of The Washington Times article still appears on the website of Dr. Singer’s organization, the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). So when it comes to skepticism about AGW, you could say I have street cred. That, however, hasn’t stopped me from being called “Mr. Ostroass,” as well as a “chill shill,” and my “idiocy” leading me to become “the snake oil salesman of meteorology.”
Nevertheless, I’m gonna, as Harry Nillson once sang, jump into the fire again … although this blog may not end up where you expect it to (and I’m not going to tell you that you can’t drive your SUV) …
I have been an operational weather forecaster during my whole career rather than a climate research scientist. A recent survey found that among TV weathercasters, there’s a lot of skepticism/cynicism about the human role in, and the seriousness of, climate change, and it’s known anecdotally that many behind-the-scenes meteorologists share that viewpoint.
Amongst meteorologists and the general public, it appears to have become a belief system, and that’s where the religious connotations come in. We don’t do the actual climate research, so it’s a question of the degree to which we put our “faith” in the scientists who actually do the climate research, and the data and models that are utilized. In that sense, it could be said that I “converted” and became a “believer.” We don’t have a “parallel Earth” with which to run a “control experiment,” thus the validity of the models can’t be “proven.”
And it could be said that while the skeptics might currently be sweating due to what’s going on climatically and meteorologically, during the past couple of years my own faith in those climate scientists and data and models was tested due to such things as the “Climategate” email imbroglio and a temporary cooling of the Earth, but that my faith has emerged still strong. In fact, my point of view is now stronger than ever that our changing climate is a serious problem. With the goal of being objective and open-minded, I changed my point of view from what it was in the days of the Fred Singer article, and would do so again if that’s what the evidence shows. But it does not.
As I wrote back in 2006, global warming is not a religion. The chemistry, physics, and thermodynamics involved are science, not religion, nor are they liberal or conservative.
Some have pointed to the sharp dip in globally-averaged temperatures during the past couple of years, coupled with a peak in 1998, as proof that global warming stopped. But when smoothing out the short-term wiggles the long-term trend is still up.
Those noisy ups-and-downs are the result of year-to-year natural variability which has always and will always be present. Natural variability and anthropogenic global warming are not mutually exclusive!
The end of the cooling the past couple of years is also shown by satellite measurements aloft. In addition, preliminary satellite-derived data indicate that globally-average temperatures in the lower-mid “troposphere” were at record levels for mid-late July. (Do you really think that, as has been predicted by some quarters, we’re actually entering a long period of global cooling??)
During this Northern Hemisphere summer, a lot of people, regardless of their views about climate change, have been literally sweating — more than is usually the case at this time of year, in some cases extraordinarily so.
This recent article begins with the statement: “In any debate over climate change, conventional wisdom holds that there is no reflex more absurd than invoking the local weather.”
Indeed, a single exceptionally hot day somewhere is not unusual in any given summer, and it would be inappropriate to attribute such in and of itself to global warming.
What’s different this time is the extremity and/or persistence of the heat, and, as I’ve been preaching for the past several years, the *context*.
There have been individual daily extremes such as Norfolk, Virginia reaching 105 degrees on back-to-back days in late July, equaling the previous highest temperature measured in any month during the period of record which starts in 1874 there. That could happen in any given summer, right? After all, the record that the 105 degree reading tied was first reached way back in 1918, long before the era of passionate debates about global warming. But now consider the context …
Virginia was one of 16 states with July 2010 average temperatures being among the 10 highest in the past 116 years. That included the hottest July on record in Delaware and Rhode Island.
That, in turn, is in the context of many cities from Virginia to Florida to Arkansas having had their record hottest June.
And this after amazing heat records in early spring.
Meanwhile, there has also been extreme flooding in places such as Rhode Island in March and Tennessee in May.
And so on. And that’s just the U.S.
All of that is in the context of the TNA index (Tropical North Atlantic sea surface temperatures) being the warmest on record month after month in 2010.
And unofficially so far this year 15 nations have experienced their highest temperatures on record. (14 as of the time of this article, plus one more since then.)
One of those is Russia. The heat and smoke have been incredible, including in Moscow, which had not previously measured a temperature of 100F but has now experienced that twice this summer. Today the head of the state weather service, Alexander Frolov, was quoted as saying that the heat wave of 2010 is the worst in 1,000 years of recorded Russian history.
And the signature in the weather pattern — a very strong and persistent ridge of high pressure aloft — has been the key this time, just as it has been in so many other cases of temperature and precipitation extremes in recent years, as I have documented.
In particular, it is similar to that during the peak of the extreme, and extremely deadly, heat wave in Europe in 2003, whose atmospheric circulation pattern was studied by Jerry Meehl et al. These maps show the departure from average pressures aloft (more technically, 500 millibar height anomalies) for the same length of time (13 days) with the same geographical scope (just slightly different locations) and with the same scales. The 2010 ridge has been even stronger.
As I put on my Nomex suit not only to protect me from the atmospheric heat but from the heat of blogospheric flames, yes, I am aware of the recent extreme cold and ecological disaster in part of South America. However, it is overwhelmed geographically in the context of the heat, and its pattern is also associated with higher than average pressures aloft. A broad expanse of that “trapped” a small, isolated area of a strong negative anomaly associated with the cold, a signature similar to those with other goofy cold extremes in various places in recent years.
What’s more, just as there was persistent cold weather in certain regions such as the southeast U.S. this past winter despite the season being overall very warm globally, this South American regional cold (and above-average Antarctic sea ice extent) has been associated with an extreme pattern in the polar region. During the Northern Hemisphere winter it was an extreme and persistent anomaly (negative) in what’s known as the AO (Arctic Oscillation), and during this Southern Hemisphere winter it has been an extreme and persistent (positive this time) anomaly in its southern cousin, the AAO (Antarctic Oscillation). The positive values in June and July were the highest observed for those months in records going back to 1979.
And yes, I am also aware of what a remarkable lack of tropical cyclone activity there’s been so far this year in the western Pacific Ocean.
The upshot: Whether with temperatures, precipitation, or storms (tropical or otherwise), and regardless of in which direction the extremes are, it’s a case of Weather Gone Wiggy, and this is happening at the time when the Earth’s climate is at an exceptionally warm level compared to that of at least the past century. There have been extremes for as long as there has been weather; it’s their nature which is changing along with changing atmospheric moisture, stability, and circulation patterns. And we need to deal with that, especially given our vulnerability to disasters even without additional effects of global warming.
It’s been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. Or that politics is a circle (extremes on either side of the spectrum converging). Well, although for different reasons, I ironically find myself agreeing on an aspect of global warming with some whom otherwise I strongly disagree with.
There are those who say we should focus more on adaptation to the effects of climate change rather than mitigation of the causes, because of a political/economic agenda and/or because they “believe” that anthropogenic (human-influenced) global warming is a crock.
By contrast, I don’t “believe” AGW is bunkum; rather, to me it’s real and very serious. But I think that its dangerous effects are neither 50 or 100 years away, nor going to wait for the Earth’s temperature to rise another one or two degrees C (or F). They’re here already. And for that reason, we need to focus more on adaptation. Now.
— Stu Ostro
Former skeptics whose primary occupation is not climate science don’t tend to follow the broad scientific literature closely.
The dichotomy between mitigation and adaptation is a false one, as science adviser John Holdren likes to say. The choice is between what mix of mitigation, adaptation, and misery we leave our children and grandchildren and countless future generations.
Considerable adaptation is inevitable, as is considerable misery. But if we don’t focus on mitigation, then future generations will face endless misery — and the word “adaptation” will be rendered meaningless (see The lessons of Katrina: Global warming “adaptation” is a cruel euphemism “” and prevention is far, far cheaper).
Holdren understands, as Ostro does, that we’re already experiencing dangerous impacts from human-caused warming. But because Holdren understands the extensive scientific literature on what we face if we don’t dramatically change our current emissions path, he told the NYT’s Revkin:
John P. Holdren, an energy and environment expert at Harvard and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, defended the more strident calls for limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
“I am one of those who believes that any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system,” Dr. Holdren said. “What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe.”
And that was back in January 2007 when the science was considerably less alarming than it is today — see An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water. Here is what we now understand we may very well face on our current emissions path:
- M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F
- Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“
- Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”
- Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
- Science: CO2 levels haven’t been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher “” “We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.”
- Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred
- NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe
And that makes massive prevention plus lots of adaptation much, much, much cheaper than not bloody much prevention and incomprehensible amounts of adaptation (and misery):
- Scientists find “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path, making mitigation to under 450 ppm a must
How exactly do Muscovites “adapt” to the possibility of 20°F Arctic warming? What would a 1000-year heat-wave look like in 2100 if the planet is 9°F warmer? How exactly would the world adapt to see levels 4 to 6 feet high in 2100 and then rising 1 foot a decade?
When I get back from vacation I will do some longer posts on adaptation. For now, I’ll end with Time‘s Bryan Walsh’s from his post, “The Asian Floods””Signs of Climate Catastrophes to Come?”
It’s all part of what Thomas Friedman has called “global weirding“””the weather gets strange and unpredictable, with the extremes getting more extreme. And unpredictability can kill””cities and countries are forced to deal with natural disasters on a scale they’ve never had to before, no longer able to look to the past for a reasonable expectation of what the future will be. We’ll need to get better at adapting to disasters””even poor countries can provide some protection, as Bangladesh has shown by fortifying itself against sea-level rise. But the heartbreaking Asian floods should be one more reminder of the need to put the world on a path to lower carbon emissions””before the weather reaches extremes that no one can handle.