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Hooked on ‘theWeather’

Filed under: — rasmus @ 16 September 2011

During the annual European Meteorological Society’s (EMS) annual meeting in Berlin, I was pleasantly surprised by a magazine called ‘theWeather’, issued by the theWeather Club, an outreach activity associated with the Royal Meteorological Society. TheWeather Club was awarded the EMS outreach & Communication award 2011 for this magazine.

TheWeather is a source rich with different weather and climate facts, providing various accounts of recent weather events. It provides the background for such events, for instance the relationship between the Monsoon and the flooding in Pakistan last summer. I was also impressed by the coverage of extreme weather events, historical events (the Great storm of 1703), the effect of weather on sports/gardening, science lessons, the top 10 paintings with weather motives, and articles about climate modelling.

The magazine is written for lay people, with wonderful photographs and with focus on people. It is on the same quality level as National Geographic, but with a focus on weather. I think that theWeather also will be a valuable source of information for meteorologgists and climatologists too – and of course for the weather nerds.

64 Responses to “Hooked on ‘theWeather’”

  1. 1

    I’m also attending the EMS2011, and the underground from the hotel to the meeting is much shorter after I got this magazine. The great part of this magazine is the bridge building from science to the public, we need more of this!

  2. 2
    Bob Tisdale says:

    There’s only one moderated comment as I write this, so it’s possible others will have brought this to your attention, rasmus.

    The typo: “…the effect of wether [sic] on sports/gardening…”


    THenks! I’ve fixed it now. -rasmus

  3. 3
    Paul S says:

    While we’re on typos, it should be ‘National Geographic’ and the link to them is wrong.

    Also only one ‘g’ in meteorologists.

    [Response:Thanks! This is now fixed. -rasmus]

  4. 4
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Thanks for the heads up on this new magazine.
    Typo department: the name of the comparable magazine you mention is “National Geographic” and the link is

  5. 5
    Brian Brademeyer says:

    “weather motives” should be “weather motifs”

  6. 6
    Mark J. Fiore says:

    I have not posted on RealClimate for a while now.I’n a layman who reads a lot about climate change on the net.I went to Harvard,1982, and Boston College Law School, 1987.Although this is off topic I just wanted to say that my reading indicates that the Earth has an excellent chance of reaching 1000 ppm co2 by the year 2150.This co2 concentration may remain for thousands of years.With everything we are doing to combat this it still seems likely.
    Mark J. Fiore
    Harvard, 1982
    Boston College Law School, 1987.

  7. 7
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Forgive me if this has already been discussed at RC, but last week, Nature’s editors, building on a Nature news article, called for more explicit linking of specific weather events to climate change. When, for example, the Wall Street Journal online columnist James Taranto repeats his same old joke about Al Gore delivering a global warming speech on an outlier of a really cold day, hardeeharhar, scientists have usually answered: Weather isn’t climate. The editors, however, say that the time has come to begin trying to establish the weather-event/climate-change linkage where possible. The news article even quotes Gavin Schmidt. To me this seems like a major shift. Is it? Will RC engage it? (The editorial appears at and the article at .)Thanks.

  8. 8
    Paul D says:

    As a Brit, I should know all about this magazine.
    But, it’s the first time I have heard of the mag and the club.

  9. 9
    Trent1492 says:

    Does the magazine send its issues to the U.S?

    [Response: That is my impression. I’m subscribing to the magazine in Norway, and encountered no problems. In fact, when registering and giving your address, you can choose from a long list of nations. -rasmus]

  10. 10

    Please forgive this old question: About weather and climate – it seems that an oversimplified statistical standard is creeping in: Is there some sort of standard that it takes 30 years of weather to define climate?

    At a recent conference I asked a media weatherperson about climate – asking whether any one weather event was climate based, I learned that he thought climate was defined by the last 30 years of weather.

    Should there be some sort of rule here? Can we devise a simplified rule that can respect the data trends?

    I found some wonderful discussions here

    [Response:Climate can be regarded as ‘weather statistics’, of which the occurrence of record-breaking events is naturally one subject. The longer the series of observations are, the lower the chance of seeing a new record-breaking event given the process is iid. Even so, they will still happen from time to time, and if there are ‘too many’ record-events, then this is improbable given an iid-process. You can have many parallel (contemporary) observations and the chance of seing at least one new record amongst a volume of observables may remain high even after some time. But it’s easy to calculate the probability of seeing a number of new records from binominal law if you know the true degrees of freedom. -rasmus]

  11. 11

    Discussing the weather events and then noting the ‘great storm of 1703’ is a curious way to show climate impact on weather.

    So far the many assertions that bad weather events are due to climate change have seemed more a demonstration that climate change is a non-science. The only thing more insulting to science is the attempt to show the plight of polar bear cubs to put a warm and fuzzy face on science.

    Ultimately, there is a connection that will become apparent, but it will not be convincing if something worse happened 50 years ago, 200 years ago etc.

  12. 12
    Marcus says:

    Jim Bullis,

    I welcome the “note” of the great storm of 1703 and any interesting event, linked or not linked to climate change, be it… its going way too far that denialist nobrainer propaganda should influence what ist selected to educate seriously interested people.


  13. 13
    adelady says:

    Jim, surely information about what has and hasn’t happened before is the core of what the climate/weather distinction is all about. The “great storm of 1703” and many other noteworthy events are all interesting because they were outliers in our day to day experience of weather/climate.

    When what was once an outlier in weather records becomes common, or at least more frequent, we notice it personally, and scientifically it signals a change …. in climate.

  14. 14
    Geoff Beacon says:

    We need to repeat (and repeat and repeat) some simple statements which use the term “climate change” to strengthen its meaning. e.g.

    Weather causes floods but climate change makes them more frequent.

    Weather creates hurricanes. Climate change destroys some but makes the rest worse.

    Weather causes droughts but climate change makes them worse.

    We now use “climate change” to mean more than the juxtaposition of “climate” and “change”. So we should. It’s so much better than “AGW”. Let’s make sure it doesn’t go the way of the term “sustainable”, which now means almost anything.

  15. 15
    MalcolmT says:

    @14 and 10:
    Weather causes floods (cyclones/droughts/etc) but climate change makes them more (less) frequent, and most of us here know that. And climate is defined in terms of a 30-year span, and again most of us here know that.
    But if climate begins changing really quickly, then at some point the thirty year span will actually be too *long* to be a useful average (just one obvious example: Arctic sea ice. Over the last thirty years, its typical summer extent is not at all what we expect over the next five or ten.)
    How do we then define ‘climate’?

  16. 16
    Hank Roberts says:

    > how do we then define ‘climate’?

    For MalcolmT:

    “… the new climate normals released by the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center on July 1st …”

    “NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released the 1981-2010 Normals on July 1, 2011. Climate Normals are the latest three-decade averages of climatological variables, including temperature and precipitation. This new product replaces the 1971-2000 Normals product. Additional Normals products; such as frost/freeze dates, growing degree days, population-weighting heating and cooling degree days, and climate division and gridded normals; will be provided in a supplemental release by the end of 2011.”

  17. 17
    jyyh says:

    the climate normals are defined so that people have common numbers to which to compare the weather events. yes weather extremes happen and shorter averaging periods may be useful, but then one should always say ‘the rain (weather attribute) averaged over the past five years is outside the statistical confidence level of the weather averaged over 30 years (climate)’ or something similar, it’s easier to say ‘the weather is showing signs of climate change.’

    off topic:recently saw a graffiti that said ‘F–k the World’

  18. 18
    Geoff Beacon says:

    MalcolmT @14

    You may if you wish choose to define the term “climate” to clarify its use in specially restricted environments but, like most terms in any natural language, it is a word with a meaning that we learn from its use and as its use changes our understanding of its meaning changes.

    “Definition” itself has several meanings. The case of the term “climate” meaning something like “climate defined as a 30 year span of certain measurements” is an interesting one. You are already wanting to change this special and restricted meaning to something more useful – even in our limited sphere of climate scientists and climate nerds.

    If we wish to influence the wider public, I suggest we use the meaning that they are using and this may change too (e.g. does climate include earth tremors?). The struggle for some sort of “climate truth” will also include a battle for the for meaning of words – and out there any “definitions” laid down by scientists and nerds. The word “climate” dates back many centuries and predates our efforts.

    We should get out there and make truthful and meaningful statements on our topic that use meanings as they are currently understood.

    I am not a particular fan of Wittgenstein but consider what Wikipedia says about his view of definition

    Wittgenstein’s point is not that it is impossible to define “game”, but that we don’t have a definition, and we don’t need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game, and we can even clearly identify and correct inaccurate uses of the word, all without reference to any definition that consists of necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of the concept of a game.

    P.P.S. I do not mean the word “nerd” in an insulting sense.

  19. 19
    PKerr says:

    So thirty years it is the standard for calculating normals, but as to what is climate?
    Should it not be accepted that the timeframe is indeed arbitrary, and climate is a function of weather and resulting enviromental change(regional or global)against time
    I think defining ‘climate’ obviously frames the discussion allowing the climate of the 20th or 21st century to be considered seperately or together.

  20. 20
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    1. The thirty year moving average moves too slowly. It is harmfully inadequate in a rapidly changing climate.
    2. You need “climate system”, a separate concept. The climate system includes things like total insolation, earth’s albedo, total energy in the environment including oceans, arrangement of the continents, various incompletely known biological factors,polar cold reservoirs and so forth. Along with the laws of physics and chemistry, the climate system is the cause of weather.
    3. Then read Initial value vs. boundary value problems i.e. weather vs climate.
    4. Then read this paper “Was There a Basis for Anticipating the 2010 Russian Heat Wave?” Find it online and learn that the current models still say “Sorry, bad luck.”

  21. 21
    ldavidcooke says:


    Hey Malcolm,

    I believe the question was why 30 years… This means that if you are using statistics to define or analyze the data set you need to apply the rule sets associated with the tool. In the absence of a random sample of a large population, in this case the application s an examination of variation in a series of data points. If the intent is to do a year over year analysis, you would build 365 tables and plug in the daily temperature values to determine if a trend is indicated in the data.

    If the intent was to indicate one of the degrees of freedom, (ie: inertia to warm or cool), normally you would take the daily low and high of the same day, (to measure the warming trend); on the other hand if you wanted to determine a trend in the loss if heat normally you would take the daily high and the next mornings low to determine the loss of the daily warmth.

    If all other things were stable that gives you an indication of change. If however, you have a change in the specific humidity this can complicate the analysis. Hence, why many factors need to be associated with any analysis, (ie: cloud density – height, barometric pressure, …). Together these changes help to provide a clear picture of the weather which is predicted by the expectations for the climate for the locality you are analyzing.

    I will stop here as many here are already aware of these issues. It is just when we have new participants asking about climate factor analysis a brief explaniation helps.

  22. 22
    Jon Kirwan says:


    Just a note. In response to “how do we then define climate?” you provided a link to the NCDC ‘Normals’ page for the US. They are more for weather shows on TV than for climate use. In fact, on item 10 there they write, “Normals were not designed to be metrics of climate change,” and continue to write elsewhere, for example, about the fact that a spline fit was used in the prior decade’s product for developing daily values while the new product will use daily measurements, instead. It would be hard to derive much on such shifting sands and a product not designed for climate work at the outset. They recommend one possible alternative, the USHCN series.

    Just be wary of what gets used for what purpose.

  23. 23
    ldavidcooke says:

    Hey All,

    I forgot to mention that a decadal time gate is not a requisit. Meaning you can apply a statistical series analysis to any sequential data set containing a min. of 30 data points. (The requirement for the 30 data points is in the absence of a statistical median value it requires roughly 30% of a population to have a level of confidence that the resulting median is the statistical mid point of the total populations possible values.) With an approximate mid-point you can begin to then use values of probability wth a data set as small as 10 points or by appling the rule of squares to even smaller data points. However, in both cases your conclusions can only apply to the data set population.

    A non-series random analysis is best for defining a populations mid-point, then you can analyze any series against the populations mid-point. However, again this does not define climate, only the change in relation to the data set. Hence you could say that the last five years are warmer then the prior 25 years, on average and predict the probability that the future values may be similar, providing all other variations contributing to the data were stable.

    At issue with examining only one variable is there can be complications. Hence, by it’s self one weather variable does not a climate make. Realclimate and the experts here are well aware of this and I believe bending over backwards to insure you have the opportunity to explore this. So let us continue this discussion within the perimeters of weather as was the intent of this thread. (My apologies to the mods if I have gone too far.)

    Dave Cooke

  24. 24
    SecularAnimist says:

    MalcolmT wrote: “Weather causes floods (cyclones/droughts/etc) but climate change makes them more (less) frequent …”

    Weather doesn’t “cause” floods, cyclones, droughts, etc.

    Weather IS floods, cyclones, droughts, etc.

    And climate IS the changing frequency of floods, cyclones, droughts, etc. over the long term.

  25. 25
    Hank Roberts says:

    The “30 years” is a rough overall statement. The actual number of years (for annual observations) needed to say a trend is likely there depends on how variable the data is year to year. This is explained — at a high school level, with actual numbers that you can work on yourself — over at Robert Grumbine’s site. There are a lot of opinions, many people have several.

    Here’s where to learn how it works, recommended:

    From his “Results” thread, this should encourage anyone interested in learning how this is decided — for any particular data set — and why there’s no one general answer, and why “30 years” is just a general idea.

    He begins:

    “… In brief (in a journal paper, this would be the ‘abstract’):

    You need 20-30 years of data to define a climate trend in global mean temperature
    Forward and backward trends are markedly different
    Therefore, to discuss climate trends in global mean temperature, you need to use 20-30 years of data centered on the date of interest.

    As with any abstract, it’s too brief to show you why any of these are true, just some simple declarations. Now, if you trust me absolutely (which I don’t recommend — and if I’m talking science, you don’t need to), you can stop and move on to some other reading. But let’s take a look at the whys. As before, I’m putting the data and programs on my personal web site and you can run the analysis yourself, and modify the programs to work on different assumptions, methods, data sets.

    Let’s consider the first point — how long it takes to determine a climate trend in global mean temperature. …”

  26. 26
    Eli Rabett says:

    Climate is the jar of marbles out of which weather is picked

  27. 27
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Still hoping someone will engage what Nature’s editors are advocating: that climate scientists begin formally and publicly trying to link extreme weather events, where possible, to climate change. (See 7 above.) Is that a good idea? Thanks.

  28. 28
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Eli Rabett @26

    Climate is the jar of marbles out of which weather is picked

    Brilliant. But…

    If I’m not too depressed I will be tracking down top UK politicians (and other relevant people) after their summer breaks to get some sort of message across. It’s depressing work on a limited budget of time, energy and money.

    So I go up and say to my target of the day and say “Climate is the jar of marbles out of which weather is picked”. So the government minister says “Take a card from my departmental assistant. Write to us. We definitely want to know more.”

    P.S. Anybody want to comment that the “energy” in my budget is not simply measured in joules?

  29. 29
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Excuse this private message but if Chris Huhne, the UK Seceretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, is reading this – and he told me he does read RealClimate – then it’s about time he replied to the notes following our previous meetings. See The Department of Energy Security,

  30. 30
    MalcolmT says:

    Thanks, everyone, for informative and thought-provoking replies.
    Pete Dunkelberg got to the crux of my concern when he said, “The thirty year moving average moves too slowly. It is harmfully inadequate in a rapidly changing climate.”
    Eli Rabett gave me something I’m basically kicking against, “Climate is the jar of marbles out of which weather is picked.” It’s another way of saying “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” Neither of them are true any more when climate is changing too fast for a thirty-year average to be usefully predictive.
    Others of you gave me technical reasons why thirty years is the shortest statistically reliable time frame. They were the bits of the puzzle I didn’t have.
    I’m the layman round here (though not quite a newbie – I’ve been following RealClimate pretty consistently for a few years) so I don’t have to deal with the problem which, I think, is still lurking there: what to do when the thirty-year averages *hide* the current state of affairs, rather than showing it, because the first fifteen of those years are so far from the ‘normal’ of the last fifteen?

  31. 31
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Climate is Vivaldi :-)

  32. 32
    Jon Kirwan says:

    @29: “what to do when the thirty-year averages *hide* the current state of affairs, rather than showing it, because the first fifteen of those years are so far from the ‘normal’ of the last fifteen?”

    Use charts like Figure 2 in “The Unnoticed Melt.” That one clearly shows, with simple clarity, the internal trend in a 30 year period. So perhaps still use the 30 year periods but start displaying them with highlighted min/max values to gain a bit of perspective beyond the averages.

  33. 33
    Chris Vernon says:

    @6, Mark J. Fiore, re 1000 ppm, it’s hard to see how we can get to 1000 ppm when one considers the fossil fuel reserves and more importantly, the extraction rates the reserves can support. Conventional oil and gas will be well past their peaks within a decade or two, conventional coal no more than a few decades behind. Whilst unconventionals do contain a lot of carbon, there’s no evidence currently that those resources can support the fast production rates we’re used to at a price we can afford.

    I’d say it’s more likely for fossil fuel production rates (and the associated CO2 emissions) to peak within a few decades and for concentrations to top out in the 5-600 ppm range.

  34. 34


    Surely Vivaldi is annual cycle?

    I wonder if anyone has ‘composed’ ENSO? Then we could subtract Vivaldi and the ‘ENSO composer’ to reveal the trend. . . wait, no, we’d a ‘volcanic’ composer. And I’m leaving that aside, or puns will ensue.

  35. 35
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks Jon Kirwan, your pointer was better than mine, and explained better.
    Summing up:
    (“… In response to “how do we then define climate?” … the NCDC ‘Normals’ … are more for weather shows on TV … “Normals were not designed to be metrics of climate change,”…. They recommend one possible alternative, the USHCN series.)

  36. 36
    L. David Cooke says:


    Hey Hank,

    As does the datasets re: GHCN ver. 2.


  37. 37

    #13 adelady,

    If the discussion was about ‘outliers’ and more or less frequent events, then we might herald a rational discussion. Unforturnately, that is not what is said.

  38. 38
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > Surely Vivaldi is annual cycle?

    Kevin, Vivaldi is what is constant, dependable, predictable; why he speaks to us now as three centuries ago. What trees, flowers, birds have through the ages learned to expect. The canvas of our sagas, the tuning fork of life. All the met offices of the world cannot predict the weather ten days from now; but little Antonio in kindergarten tells you what coming winter will be like, and how then spring will come, and then summer, as it always has.


  39. 39
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Seen at farmers’ market – a stall selling sheep meat under the banner “local and sustainable”. Sheep are enormous contributors to climate change, worse than cattle ( This shows how easy it is to bend the meaning of words. Let’s give up the word “sustainable”. It has been debased.

    Watch out for “climate” and “weather”. Definitions won’t help. Usage could.

  40. 40
    Ray Menard says:

    Ref 33.
    Just in the US, estimates show recoverable coal reserves lasting roughly 100-200 years, depending on rate of extraction.

    There are also fossil fuels we’ve just started to tap such as the shale-oils.

    Over 1000 ppm is not far fetched.


  41. 41
    Forlornehope says:

    I don’t know if this helps but when using statistics in process control, a sample size of thirty is usually taken as a minimum requirement. The main reason behind this seems to be that when the number in the sample approaches 30 most distributions, t and binomial in particular, approximate to the normal distribution. Beyond that it’s really little more than a rule of thumb.

  42. 42

    Martin, I’m thinking perhaps that Vivaldi is what you expect, and Beethoven is what you get?

  43. 43
    ldavidcooke says:


    Hey Geoff,

    Do not confuse added carbon with recycled carbon in the current biosphere. It matters little if the carbon decays in the soil or is rapidly converted to CO2 and methane. The resulant is similar, it is just the rate of conversion is slightly accellerated. Going on about ruminants or bio-mass conversion does little wrt GW. However, as to bio-mass or char mixed into the soil it offers a high amount of phosphates and helps in the retention of soil moisture. Both of which enhance plant growth.

    Dave Cooke

  44. 44
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Ray Menardi,
    Last time I did the math, I found that all known coal, petroleum, natural gas, tar sands and oils shale reserves added up to an increase to about 1300 ppmv, assuming about the same proportion winds up in the oceans.

  45. 45
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Kevin, yep, the fourth movement ;-)

  46. 46
    Geoff Beacon says:


    Dave Cooke @43.

    We probably have a short term climate problem. We should use every tool in the box to slow global warming to inhibit triggering of serious climate feedbacks. We must worry about this short term, hoping that something will turn up for the medium term. It may be the only hope we’ve got.

    Turning grass into methane via sheep and cattle gives a tremendous boost to warming. Over twenty years methane has over one hundred times the Global Warming Potential of carbon dioxide. (See “Beef’s footprint 25 times its own weight”, – Sheep meat is worse than beef.) Ok, the methane degrades to carbon dioxide, which may be re-absorbed as soil carbon but in the intervening years the Earth has warmed, possibly triggering feedbacks.

    You mention turning grass into biochar. This can fix carbon for hundreds or thousands of years.

    Instead of farming sheep we should farm biochar and foods less damaging than sheep.

  47. 47
    Jim Eager says:

    For Chris Vernon @33, two words for you:
    methane clathrates,
    as in those in permafrost and in the shallow shelves of the Arctic Ocean.
    If their melt begins to accelerate at some point between 390 ppmv and your hypothetical ‘ceiling’ of 500-600 ppmv, then 1000 ppmv becomes possible regardless of fossil fuel production.

  48. 48
    L. David Cooke says:

    Hey Geoff,

    Sad to say everything decays even dead grass and leaves. The sugars in the cellulose are attacked by insects, worms, fungi, molds, and bacteria with a resultant of CO2 and methane. The normal decay in the temperate zone may run into a few months. Animal spoor usually breaks down in 1/3rd the time. As to gases generated. the breakdown by lowers species is likely greater only not as concentrated.

    As to bio-char, it depends, get it wet and and it likely will breakdown over about a year. (With bio-char the sugars are carmelized by the heat, as well as oils and resins released along with methanol (methane alcohol if you will), the remains are generally, silica, phosphates, sulfites, magnesium…, in short, usually taken up rapidly by plant and microbe life, if left on the surface. Turn it under about a foot and it is slower, by a factor of 10, before it would be processed, due to a lack of oxygenation/reduction and water erosion. However, it usually will breakdown in well irrigated/rainy regions in a few years. Take the same sample and bury it at 10 feet and it may remain for several decades, except for regions with the water tables less then 10 feet.

    Point is how you process and encapsulate the dead vegetation, determines the effectiveness of sequestration. (IE: Pump treated affluent into lined and tailed out former mines and you may achieve several millenia of sequestration…)

    Increasing growing bio-mass, both plants and animal, does nearly the same thing, just that the turnover is greater. With things with a multi-decadel life you can remove a large portion of carbon from the atmosphere.

    Dave Cooke

  49. 49
    Phil Scadden says:

    Geoff, I hear what you say, but I want to leap to the defense of sheep for moment. If your cattle is grain-fed, then you can get far more food for your emissions by eating the grain directly. However, sheep thrive on hill country which would struggle to produce much food in other ways – with a useful byproduct of wool. Kangaroos or rabbits might be better but some unsolved problems in either farming or economic processing.

  50. 50
    MalcolmT says:

    Phil @ 49, you’re right about sheep but the same goes for cattle in some kinds of country – northern Australia, for instance, where grazing is successful but cropping impossible. Ditto goats in the Middle East, for that matter.