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The most common fallacy in discussing extreme weather events + Update

Filed under: — stefan @ 25 March 2014

Does global warming make extreme weather events worse? Here is the #1 flawed reasoning you will have seen about this question: it is the classic confusion between absence of evidence and evidence for absence of an effect of global warming on extreme weather events. Sounds complicated? It isn’t. I’ll first explain it in simple terms and then give some real-life examples.

The two most fundamental properties of extreme events are that they are rare (by definition) and highly random. These two aspects (together with limitations in the data we have) make it very hard to demonstrate any significant changes. And they make it very easy to find all sorts of statistics that do not show an effect of global warming – even if it exists and is quite large.

Would you have been fooled by this?

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The global temperature jigsaw

Since 1998 the global temperature has risen more slowly than before. Given the many explanations for colder temperatures discussed in the media and scientific literature (La Niña, heat uptake of the oceans, arctic data gap, etc.) one could jokingly ask why no new ice age is here yet. This fails to recognize, however, that the various ingredients are small and not simply additive. Here is a small overview and attempt to explain how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together.


Figure 1 The global near-surface temperatures (annual values at the top, decadal means at the bottom) in the three standard data sets HadCRUT4 (black), NOAA (orange) and NASA GISS (light blue). Graph: IPCC 2013. More »

Statistics and Climate

Do different climate models give different results? And if so, why? The answer to these questions will increase our understanding of the climate models, and potentially the physical phenomena and processes present in the climate system.

We now have many different climate models, many different methods, and get a range of different results. They provide what we call ‘multi-model‘ and ‘multi-method‘ ensembles. But how do we make sense out of all this information?

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Should regional climate models take the blame?

Kerr (2013) recently provided a critical review of regional climate models (“RCMs”). I think his views have caused a stir in the regional climate model community. So what’s the buzz all about?

RCMs provide important input to many climate services, for which there is a great deal of vested interest on all levels. On the international stage, high-level talks lead to the establishment of a Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) during the World Climate Conference 3 (WCC3) in Geneva 2009.

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  1. R.A. Kerr, "Forecasting Regional Climate Change Flunks Its First Test", Science, vol. 339, pp. 638-638, 2013.

Don’t estimate acceleration by fitting a quadratic…

Filed under: — stefan @ 20 November 2012

… if your data do not look like a quadratic!

This is a post about global sea-level rise, but I put that message up front so that you’ve got it even if you don’t read any further.

The reputable climate-statistics blogger Tamino, who is a professional statistician in real life and has published a couple of posts on this topic, puts it bluntly:

Fitting a quadratic to test for change in the rate of sea-level rise is a fool’s errand.

I’d like to explain why, with the help of a simple example. Imagine your rate of sea-level rise changes over 100 years in the following way:
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