Climate Forecast Lessons from Dorian

Although I am a meteorologist with over 40 years of experience, I have been told that does not qualify me to have an “expert” opinion on the science of climate change.  Nonetheless, I believe my background and experience qualifies me to make a few points about the model-based projections of climate change relative to the forecasts for Hurricane Dorian.  Don’t ever forget that model projections are the basis for the “climate crisis” rhetoric that we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

A quick internet search found this very well done forecast for Dorian on August 29, 2019.  Meteorologist Tim Pandajis from WVEC Channel 13 in Norfolk, VA explains the current status of the storm on August 29, the forecast for the next several days, but also explains many of the reasons why the forecast is uncertain.  I particularly liked his explanation because it includes spaghetti plots.  At 8:04 in the video he shows how different models are seeing things differently and his presentation shows how different models predict how the storm will move and the timing.  Of course as it turned out Dorian behaved quite differently than any of the forecasts.

Given the constant changes to the forecasts for Dorian I am sure many recall the old saying that meteorology is the only profession where you can be wrong most of the time and still keep your job.  Reality is much different.  For me there are two things to keep in mind.  On September 1 the storm reached peak intensity but it also stalled.  The forecast intensity for the rest of the storm only went down when it became obvious that the storm intensity was going down.  The reason the intensity went down is that the hurricane sat in one place for so long that it brought cold water up to the surface.  Hurricanes need warm water to maintain intensity or grow and the cold water affected the intensity.  It is interesting that the models did not incorporate that effect or did not incorporate enough of that effect.  However, I am confident that the models will be revised to address that in the future.

When I graduated with my MS of in meteorology in 1976 three to five-day forecasts were not that good but they have improved a lot.  I ascribe that improvement in large part because weather forecasts are always being tested.  Whenever there is a poor forecast the models and the forecasters learn from that and improve their products going forward.  The climate forecasts that predict imminent and inevitable climate catastrophe do not have that advantage.  The National Weather Service defines 30-year averages as a climatic normal.  Using that time-period a climate model forecast should be tested against a 30-year weather average of observations.  Clearly there are many fewer opportunities to test a climate forecast model as opposed to a weather forecast. In addition, my experience with simpler models is that you can get the “right” answer for the wrong reason.  Weather forecast models address this problem by the large number of tests.  If they adjust the model for the wrong reason it may work once but the error will show up later so a different adjustment is tried until they get it right.  Climate models will never be able to correct if they have the wrong reason in our lifetimes.

The final lesson from Dorian is forecasting uncertainty.  As Tim Pamdajis showed with spaghetti plots in his presentation there was enough uncertainty to make a difference on hurricane response actions to take for the forecasts on August 29.  On the other hand, the climate model projections are portrayed in the media and by advocates as absolutely certain.  None of the caveats provided by the modelers are acknowledged in the hue and cry about a climate emergency.  The reality is that there are a range of modeled projections for future climate and, for the most part, only the most extreme impact results are publicized and those are the ones that are the basis for the “climate emergency”.

These lessons from Dorian support my belief that climate model forecasts cannot be trusted enough to believe that there is a climate emergency.  I am not alone.  Richard Lindzen commented on climate modeling for greenhouse gas effects:

“Here is the currently popular narrative concerning this system. The climate, a complex multifactor system, can be summarized in just one variable, the globally averaged temperature change, and is primarily controlled by the 1-2% perturbation in the energy budget due to a single variable – carbon dioxide – among many variables of comparable importance.  This is an extraordinary pair of claims based on reasoning that borders on magical thinking.”

My takeaway message from Dorian.  Everyone has experience with weather forecast model predictions.  Intuitively I imagine most people have some suspicions about the validity of any predictions of the climate in 100 years.  This post illustrates reasons why those suspicions are well-founded.  In no way does that mean that the climate is not warming or that greenhouse gas emissions might not have an effect in the future.  However, in my opinion the imminent, inevitable climate catastrophe forecast is a very low probability for this and many other reasons.  If you want to do something to reduce potential climate impacts then do the “no regrets” like energy conservation and energy efficiency, and invest in research to make carbon dioxide free energy production cheaper than energy production from fossil sources which would make conversions a no regrets solution.  Unfortunately this is not the message from any of the Democratic candidates for President.

One final point relates to the effect of global warming on the storm itself.  I am sure you have heard the stories that Dorian supports the catastrophic concerns.  I don’t have time to address this in particular but I believe that the following refute the proposition that Dorian is somehow indicative of a global warming crisis.

    • Judith Curry “Alarmism enforcement” on hurricanes and global warming argues that there are a few climate scientists whose behavior “is violating the norms of science and in my opinion is unethical”. She also provides links to two papers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Task Team on Tropical Cyclones that do not support the crisis allegation:

Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment: Part I. Detection and Attribution

Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment: Part II. Projected Response to Anthropogenic Warming

Connect New York “Climate Change in New York” Panel Discussion

Updated response from the host September 5, 2019 follows

On August 26,2019 Public Broadcasting Service WCNY Syracuse NY aired the Connect New York program “Climate Change in New York, a Changing Landscape”.   I stopped listening within the first two minutes because there were three gross mis-characterizations in that time and that was too much for me to swallow.  This post documents those three mis-characterizations.

Their description of the show states:

“Summer 2019 has been an illustration of climate change in New York – from a record breaking heat wave to flooding along the shores of Lake Ontario. In July, Governor Cuomo signed one of the most aggressive climate bills in the nation. We ask climate experts if the new law will be enough when the International Panel on Climate Change has warned that the world has 11 years left to act.”

In the opening monologue of the show host Susan Arbetter said: “Summer 2019 has been a graphic illustration of climate change from a record-breaking heat wave in France to flooding along the shores of Lake Ontario.”  After introducing the panel Ms. Arbetter referenced the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asking Sandra Steingraber why we have to act quickly.  Dr. Steingraber said “Climate change now is a real emergency” and I stopped watching.  I believe that the heat wave and high water only represent extreme weather within the range of natural variability and that there is no climate emergency.   One of my pragmatic environmentalist’s principles is Alberto Brandolini’s  Baloney Asymmetry Principle: “The amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”  The explanation of the reason why Lake Ontario flooding is not an illustration of climate change exemplifies that principle.

If climate change were the cause of record Lake Ontario levels and resulting flooding then we would expect that there would be a trend of increasing lake levels.    That presumption is very easy to check. The US Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit Office provides monthly mean lake-wide average levels for all the Great Lakes.  The Great Lakes water levels 1918 to 2018 figure shows these data for all the lakes.  A quick scan does not reveal any obvious trend for Lake Ontario.  Moreover there are high lake levels in 1943, 1947, 1951, 1952, 1973, and 1974 as well has values in 2017 and the record breaking levels in 2019.

There is another factor to keep in mind relative to the Lake Ontario historical water levels.  When the Moses-Saunders dam on the St. Lawrence River was completed in 1958 it enabled some control of Lake Ontario water levels.  The International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board implemented Plan 2014 to ensure that releases at the Moses-Saunders Dam comply with the International Joint Commission’s 8 December 2016 Supplementary Order effective January 2017 entitled: Regulation Plan 2014 for the Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Compendium Document.  I will not try to determine whether the dam had any effect on the recent high water levels but there are those that believe that is the case.

In order to determine if there is a possible trend I fit a linear regression model to determine if there was a statistically significant trend. I use Statgraphics Centurion software from StatPoint Technologies, Inc. to do my statistical analyses because it provides flexible plotting and regression tools.  Statgraphics enables the user to choose the best relationship from 27 different linear regression equations.  It is also nice because it presents clear summaries for the non-statistician like me.

I found the maximum monthly Lake Ontario water level for each year and plotted those values versus the year.  The Maximum Annual Monthly Lake Ontario Lake Levels 1950 to 2019 figure plots the water levels that have been coordinated with Canada from 1918 to 2018 and 2019 data through July that I extracted from the monthly reports.  According to the statistical program there is a statistically significant relationship at the 95% confidence level between Lake Ontario Maximum Monthly Level and Year because the P-value in the ANOVA table is less than 0.05.  I have listed the statistics and Statgraphics descriptions in Lake Ontario Annual Maximum Water Level Statistics 1950 to 2019.

At first glance host Susan Arbetter appears to be justified saying that Lake Ontario water levels are rising in response to anthropogenic climate change.  Based on their backgrounds I doubt that any members of the expert panel disagreed either. The expert panel consisted of Rachel May, NYS Senator who was an environmental sustainability educator at SUNY ESF with no science degrees; Sandra Steingraber, a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College where she writes about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment;  Mark Dunlea, founder of the Green Education and Legal Fund whose web page states that he is a graduate of RPI (Management) and Albany Law School; and Yvonne Chu a member of Climate Change Awareness and Action who has a BS in Environmental Science from SUNY Plattsburgh.

However there is an inconvenient fact.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the climate system “has a 95–100% probability of causing the currently observed and unprecedented warming of the climate since the mid-twentieth century”. As a result anthropogenic climate change could only have affected water level change after 1950. To test this I separated the Lake Ontario water level data into two sets: before and after 1950.  Maximum Annual Monthly Lake Ontario Lake Levels 1918 to 1949 figure lists the water levels from 1918 to 1949. According to the statistical program there is a statistically significant relationship at the 95% confidence level between Lake Ontario Maximum Monthly Level and Year over this time period because the P-value in the ANOVA table is less than 0.05.  I have listed the statistics in Lake Ontario Annual Maximum Water Level Statistics 1918 to 1949.

However, as shown in Maximum Annual Monthly Lake Ontario Lake Levels 1950 to 2019, the relationship is much weaker after 1950.  According to the statistical program there is not a statistically significant relationship at the 95% confidence level between Lake Ontario Maximum Monthly Level and Year over this time period because the P-value in the ANOVA table is greater than 0.05.  I have listed the statistics in Lake Ontario Annual Maximum Water Level Statistics 1950 to 2019.

Because there is no statistically significant trend after 1950, the disastrous flooding of 2019 is more likely weather related than indicative of climate change.  I refer you to another of my pragmatic environmentalist principles the Golden Rule of Climate Extremes.  Dr. Cliff Mass christened this rule as “The more extreme a climate or weather record is, the greater the contribution of natural variability”.  I am confident that were I to do the same kind of analysis for the French heat wave this summer it would be another example of this golden rule.

If you recall, Ms. Arbetter referenced the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asking Sandra Steingraber why we have to act quickly.  She said “Climate change now is a real emergency”.  Again I refer you to Dr. Cliff Mass who has explained that climate change is probably not an existential threat.  He believes it is a serious problem and I agree.  Note, however, over-hyping the reality could very well come back and hurt the cause.

Ms.  Arbetter summed up the Lake Ontario flooding as “pitting the status quo against science”.  I have shown that her “science” was fatally flawed.  Her expert panel only included advocates without the technical expertise to differentiate between weather and climate.  Where does that leave the viewers who watched this show?  Eventually the public will catch on that this alleged imminent, inevitable climate emergency that requires costly and sweeping changes to society is not as advertised.

I am heartened that WCNY has not joined the Columbia Journalism Review “Covering Climate Now” effort.  However, this Connect NY program was entirely consistent with the intent of that effort to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate crisis.  According to the Connect NY web page the program offers “insightful discussion, information, and analysis on timely topics that affect residents across the Empire State”.  However, it seems to me the program was not an honest attempt to present both sides of this topic but rather a platform to present opinions of one side of this issue.

Update: I sent a letter to the station with these explanations.  I received the following response on September 5, 2019:

Dear Roger,

I appreciate your email.  The climate program that aired on WCNY in August was the second “Connect: NY” program we have produced on the issue.  The first program aired on February 25th and featured the climate debate from the business perspective.   If you watch both of them, I think you’ll have a fuller appreciation of the range of perspectives we have featured on the air on this issue.

Thank you again for engaging.

warmly,

Susan Arbetter

 

 

It is Worse than I Thought

Last week was very depressing for me because New York State decided to jump the shark and go for the “the most comprehensive climate legislation in the nation”. I wrote about that and the obvious disconnect between reality and the ambitions of the legislation in a post published on Watts Up With That. Originally it was the Climate and Community Protection Act but now it is the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act because, after all, in order to signal your virtue it is best to be the leader.

Since then three blog posts have come to my attention that lay out my problem with climate change issues very well. I believe that there are two questions about addressing climate change: should we do something and what should we do? Two posts address those questions and the third discusses the over-arching problem of public perception.

Larry Kummer, at the Fabius Maximus website, published “Listening to climate doomsters makes our situation worse” which addresses the question whether we should do something. He concludes, and I agree, that we should not ignore it but we should also not focus on it to the extent that other, and in my opinion more likely, serious threats are ignored or not given enough resources because of the alleged existential threat of climate change. Mr. Kummer points out that the news today ignores the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is supposed to be the ultimate scientific authority on this issue apparently because their story is not scary enough. He points out that there is long list of failed predictions which suggests that the climate change predictions may also turn out poorly. Finally he lists historical examples of imminent doom scares that failed to end life as we knew it. This post is a great reference for the pragmatic side of whether we should do something.

Francis Menton, at the Manhattan Contrarian website, published “The Wall Street Journal embarrasses itself on the economics of 100% intermittent renewable energy” that addresses the “what should we do?” aspect of climate change. He takes issue with the story line that wind and solar power costs are falling so much that they are now the cheapest form of electricity power generation.   Mr. Menton explains that the problem is intermittency. At some penetration level wind and solar have to have energy storage backup. As soon as that cost is included wind and solar becomes markedly more expensive. The basis for that conclusion is an hour-by-hour generation and load comparison. He references several analyses that show how much storage is necessary and I know from conversations with people at the New York Independent System Operator that a similar problem exists in New York. Quite simply solar generation peaks in the summer and wind generation peaks in the spring and fall. Trying to develop a 100% wind and solar system that can cover the winter peak will be extraordinarily expensive because you must have storage over the seasons. He concludes with a chart that compares electricity costs and renewable installed capacity that shows a clear correlation to higher prices with more renewables.

Finally, Kip Hansen at Watts Up with That opines about “A national narrative for media on climate change”. He documents what I have been beginning to suspect – there is an organized movement among American journalists to have a common story about an inevitable, imminent climate threat. Somehow my cell phone got onto a google news feed that never fails to deliver a daily story of a disaster connected to climate change. It seemed odd that every media outlet had similar stories. Mr. Hansen explains that newspapers like the New York Times have editorial narratives to match stories to a pre-designated storyline. The national narrative is “Transforming the media’s coverage of the climate crisis” which claims that climate is a crisis, climate is the “biggest story of our time” and suggested that journalists warn that “humanity has a mere 12 years to radically slash greenhouse-gas emissions or face a calamitous future in which hundreds of millions of people worldwide would go hungry or homeless or worse.”  All this is supposed to culminate in a focused week of climate coverage in September just before a United Nations summit in New York City. He describes this all as ideological sabotage of the American mind and asks that skeptics “explain the complexity of the wicked problem called Earth’s Climate and the current controversies surrounding the issues involved” in every venue possible.

If not were for the fact that my state has swallowed this existential threat nonsense whole I would not be so worried. It is bad enough that New York has ignored the real science and has swallowed the nonsense that eliminating fossil fuel use can be done easily and cheaply but at least the legislation includes a provision to do an evaluation. Hopefully there will be some rigor involved with that analysis and the truth will come out. Ultimately the problem is that while these attempts in the United States will fall apart just like other places where they have been tried the economic damage will be immense. In the meantime maybe I should invest in yellow vest futures.