It has now become all too common. Peculiar weather precipitates immediate blame on global warming by some, and equally immediate pronouncements by others (curiously, quite often the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recent years) that global warming can’t possibly be to blame. The reality, as we’ve often remarked here before, is that absolute statements of neither sort are scientifically defensible. Meteorological anomalies cannot be purely attributed to deterministic factors, let alone any one specific such factor (e.g. either global warming or a hypothetical long-term climate oscillation).
Lets consider the latest such example. In an odd repeat of last year (the ‘groundhog day’ analogy growing ever more appropriate), we find ourselves well into the meteorological Northern Hemisphere winter (Dec-Feb) with little evidence over large parts of the country (most noteably the eastern and central U.S.) that it ever really began. Unsurprisingly, numerous news stories have popped up asking whether global warming might be to blame. Almost as if on cue, representatives from NOAA’s National Weather Service have been dispatched to tell us that the event e.g. “has absolutely nothing to do with global warming”, but instead is entirely due to the impact of the current El Nino event.
[Update 1/9/07: NOAA coincidentally has announced today that 2006 was officially the warmest year on record for the U.S.]
[Update 2/11/08: It got bumped to second place. ]
So what’s really going on? The pattern so far this winter (admittedly after only 1 month) looks (figure on the immediate right) like a stronger version of what was observed last winter (figure to the far right–note that these anomalies reflect differences relative to a relatively warm 1971-2000 base period, this tends to decrease the amplitude of positive anomalies relative to the more commonly used, cooler 1961-1990 base period). This poses the first obvious conundrum for the pure “El Nino” attribution of the current warmth: since we were actually in a (weak) La Nina (i.e., the opposite of ‘El Nino’) last winter, how is it that we can explain away the anomalous winter U.S. warmth so far this winter by ‘El Nino’ when anomalous winter warmth last year occured in its absence?
The second conundrum with this explanation is that, while El Nino typically does perturb the winter Northern Hemisphere jet stream in a way that favors anomalous warmth over much of the northern half of the U.S., the typical amplitude of the warming (see Figure below right) is about 1C (i.e., about 2F). The current anomaly is roughly five times as large as this. One therefore cannot sensibly argue that the current U.S. winter temperature anomalies are attributed entirely to the current moderate El Nino event.
Indeed, though the current pattern of winter U.S. warmth looks much more like the pattern predicted by climate models as a response to anthropogenic forcing (see Figure below left) than the typical ‘El Nino’ pattern, neither can one attribute this warmth to anthropogenic forcing. As we are fond of reminding our readers, one cannot attribute a specific meteorological event, an anomalous season, or even (as seems may be the case here, depending on the next 2 months) two anomalous seasons in a row, to climate change. Moreover, not even the most extreme scenario for the next century predicts temperature changes over North America as large as the anomalies witnessed this past month. But one can argue that the pattern of anomalous winter warmth seen last year, and so far this year, is in the direction of what the models predict.
In reality, the individual roles of deterministic factors such as El Nino, anthropogenic climate change, and of purely random factors (i.e. “weather”) in the pattern observed thusfar this winter cannot even in principle be ascertained. What we do know, however, is that both anthropogenic climate change and El Nino favor, in a statistical sense, warmer winters over large parts of the U.S. When these factors act constructively, as is the case this winter, warmer temperatures are certainly more likely. Both factors also favor warmer global mean surface temperatures (the warming is one or two tenths of a degree C for a moderate to strong El Nino). It is precisely for this reason that some scientists are already concluding, with some justification, that 2007 stands a good chance of being the warmest year on record for the globe.
A few other issues are worthy of comment in the context of this discussion. A canard that has already been trotted out by climate change contrarians (and unfortunately parroted uncritically in some media reports) holds that weather in certain parts of the U.S. (e.g. blizzards and avalanches in Colorado) negates the observation of anomalous winter warmth. This argument is disingenuous at best. As clearly evident from the figure shown above, temperatures for the first month of this winter have been above normal across the United States (with the only exceptions being a couple small cold patches along the U.S./Mexico border). The large snowfall events in Boulder were not associated with cold temperatures, but instead with especially moisture-laden air masses passing through the region. If temperatures are at or below freezing (which is true even during this warmer-than-average winter in Colorado), that moisture will precipitate as snow, not rain. Indeed, snowfall is often predicted to increase in many regions in response to anthropogenic climate change, since warmer air, all other things being equal, holds more moisture, and therefore, the potential for greater amounts of precipitation whatever form that precipitation takes.
Another issue here involves the precise role of El Nino in climate change. El Nino has a profound influence on disparate regional weather phenomena. Witness for example the dramatic decrease in Atlantic tropical cyclones this most recent season relative to the previous one. This decrease can be attributed to the El Nino that developed over the crucial autumn season, which favored a strengthening of the upper level westerlies over the tropical North Atlantic, increased tropical Atlantic wind shear, and a consequently less favorable environment for tropical cyclogenesis.
If a particular seasonal anomaly appears to be related to El Nino, can we conclude that climate change played no role at all? Obviously not. It is possible, in fact probable, that climate change is actually influencing El Nino (e.g. favoring more frequent and larger El Nino events), although just how much is still very much an issue of active scientific debate. One of the key remaining puzzles in the science of climate change therefore involves figuring out just how El Nino itself might change in the future, a topic we’re certain to discuss here again in the future.
360 Responses to "El Nino, Global Warming, and Anomalous U.S. Winter Warmth"
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Steve Bloom says
I wanted to make sure everyone is aware of what an excellent job frequent RC commenter Grant is doing on his newish AGW-focused blog Open Mind.
His posts are all good, but of particular note he has taken to deconstructing the weekly co2science.org “Not much global warming here!” posts purporting to show that a given location in the U.S. is actually experiencing cooling. Look in the right bar for the first two posts of the series. So far the Idsos look kinda like frauds. (For those who don’t know about it, co2science.org is one of the oldest denialist websites, and is infamous for its intentional distortions.)
While working on the above Grant noticed this small change on co2science:
“By the way – the opening line for their “Temperature Record of the Week” page used to say, “To bolster our claim that There Has Been No Net Global Warming Over the Past 70 Years.” Now it says “To bolster our claim that There Has Been Little Net Global Warming Over the Past 70 Years.” It’s such a ‘little’ change.”
Wow. Now there’s a milestone.
(Add this man’s blog to the RC sidebar, please. He richly deserves the traffic.)
Alastair McDonald says
Re #98 The reason the topics are cooler than the subtropics is because of the cloud. When the temperature rises the air becomes more humid, and eventually clouds form cutting off (well reducing) the heat from the sun.
In Australia there is not enough water in the soil to produce clouds, and the high temperatures tend to dry the soil thus removing even the little that is there. cf the parable of the talents! Australian (and US) farmers have made things worse by ploughing up the soil, which releases moisture beneath the surface. At first this increased the humidty and made rain more likely, “The rain follows the plough”, but once all the moisture has gone then they got a Dust Bowl :-(
Now, water is pumped from deep aquifers, but when that runs out, then you will get desertification.
It is not just Austalian and US farmers who are making this mistake. They are only following the example of the farmers on the southern coast of the Mediteranean which was the bread basket of the Roman Empire and is now part of the Sahara Desert. The Bazilian and Indonesian farmers are carrying on this tradition by felling the jungle, which will have the same effect.
It is not just anthropogenic greenhouse gases that are a problem. It is well known in the scientific community that change of land use is also a contributary factor to global warming.
Bush lifts Alaska drilling ban.
“President Bush lifted the drilling ban Tuesday for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, clearing the way for the Interior Department to open the fish-rich waters to oil and natural gas development.”
pete best says
Re #100, I read yesterday that the democrats in power in the US senate and representatives are putting forward a bill to ban drilling in Alaska along with some form of CO2 emissions reduction as the same time as the EU is bringing forth a new CO2 emissions and environmental law. Emissions reduction of kyoto (5 %) style proportions might happen in the USA to.
There are 10 billion barrels of Oil in Alaska apparently and some day without alternatives to Oil/Gas/Petrol this will be dug up esecially as we appraoch peak oil and the $100 a barrel price tag. The fact is that we have 1.1 trillion barrels of known Oil left to use and maybe some more from tar and oil sands and other heavy oil sources but thats only makes 30 to 40 years of continued oil use and thats without any growth which is running at one to two percent per annum.
Without alternatives to Oil (and hence motion) it is going to get messy in terms of world energy security and the like as countries like the USA use its military might to secure scare oil areas.
One such area is Iraq of course with its 115 billion barrels of known Oil reserves (3rd largest in the world) and first world countries have sought to get the private Oil companies back in there and are at the present moment in time arranging this in Law with the pro western Iraq government preapred to let this happen in order to get money to help rebuild their war torn country. 115 billion barrels equates to some $6 trillon at $60 a barrel or some $11.5 trillion at $100 a barrel. With incentives like this James Hansen better ne wright when he states that we can burn all of the gas and oil without causing serious climate change but we must get rid of coal and generate electricity by other means.
Chella Rajan says
A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says “summer in Massachusetts could feel like the typical summer in South Carolina by the end of the century unless we take action to reduce heat-trapping emissions today.” The report does not of course caution us that our winters could be like those in Los Angeles, nor that airconditioning suits South Carolinans just fine during the summer.
What concerns me is that the really devastating effects of climate change will be manifest in those parts of the world with the weakest political voice (small island nations, Bangladesh, sub-Saharan Africa). Yet, in one of the world’s most economically and powerful regions (around Boston, New York and Washington), the impacts will be relatively benign at least in the foreseeable future — implying of course that there will be relatively little impetus for strong action.
Re: #102 (Steve Bloom)
Thanks for the endorsement! Actually, it was RC that motivated me to blog in the first place.
I would like to lend support to the comment by James Jan8th, 7:23.
The weather in Europe (particularly northern Europe) is off the charts pt. We have no snow in most of Scandinavia (it is the warmest year ever recorded in norway, sweden and denmark). Heavy winds (12-24 m/s) hit more often than usual.
Clearly, Europe is experiencing increasing anomalies over the last few years. So this certainly – I would claim – is a (N hemisphere) global tendency.
Whether global warming is to ‘blame’ is not for me to assess, and neither the human impact factor regarding any possible global warming. However, it is important to monitor and model the climate globally. Further, to take steps to minimize our wasteful way with (all) resources, as well as taking precautions regarding living conditions globally, if things should turn out to be changing.
Dan Allan says
I’ve generally believed that the single most severe consequence of AGW was likely to be rising sea levels. However, it seems increasingly clear that the most significant warming is likely to be Northern Hemisphere, where most of the land-mass is, and within Northern hemisphere, the land areas themselves. This would tend to inhibit the sea-level rise due to h20 expansion in the oceans, as ocean temperature increase will be less than the overall forecast GMT increase (even after ocean temp equilibriates). At the same time, sea level rise due to Greenland ice-melt, if the arctic amplification is as extreme as it now appears to be, may be a more important factor in sea-level rise. Any thoughts on how recent findings and N. hemisphere anomaly might affect forecasted sea-level rise?
Dr. J says
RE: #76 by Mr. Shaw, he is one reference there are many more if you care to actually research it yourself:
Andreas Mueller says
BBC news: Chrysler’s chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched a fierce attack on “quasi-hysterical Europeans” and their “Chicken Little” attitudes to global warming.
full story is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6247371.stm
My quasi-hysterical and humble opinion about this is, that such an ignorant behaviour should not turn out to be profitable for automotive industries this guy is working for, shouldn’t it?
L. David Cooke says
Looking over the area you are suggesting placing a thermal power source seems unlikely. Gelogically, there is not a quick enough drop off into the Bay of Bengal to get the thermal difference necessary for any type of Rankin or Sterling Engine of much size or power.
If you are talking about the idea of a thermal tower or chiminey such as was tested in Spain in the mid-70’s with reinforced stacked dark brick of about 100 meters in height, with openings at the base and top to allow hot rising air to turn a propeller type fan might be a possibility, except for the lack of foundation strength geologically to support this construction in the deltas where you are.
It would appear that the best consideration would likely be the installation of vertical axis Tidal Stream or flow turbines in the delta channels. There appears to be two large rivers that empty out in your district and the flow of water into and out of the tidal flats in this region would provide sufficient flow for several installations to provide about 15-30 KWh per unit. The best unit I know of today for this type of application is designed by the Italians, specifically I think the project was called the Enemar Project and used the Kobold platform. The reference site:
may provide some background. In addition there is a study that was done here in the US about possible alternatives using Tidal sources. That reference should be at this site:
They have a press release at the Ponte Di Archimede company talking about a Sri Lanka installation, so they should have a representative that would be available. Of issue is clearly the funding and installation and as you suggested you can only offer the site for a tidal energy Substation, the rest needs to be funded externally.
Other then these information sources I am afraid I can not be of any further assistance. My hope for your success!
(Note: I only pointed out the Kobold Platform from the study as it is very similar to a design I had been working on for nearly 30 years now and have a strong belief in it’s possible strengths in both an economic and speedy installation. The specific reference was for infomational purposes only, it is not an endorsement by this site or anyone associated with this site.)
Alexander Harvey says
I would like to make a small appeal on behalf of anecdotal evidence.
To be specific its ability to change individual thinking. In a sense the cause of a particular weather anomaly does not matter much. The important point is that we perceive that the weather is becoming increasingly odd.
This is occurring, people are commenting on the weather and how it seems to be contradicting our expectations.
Here in the UK, the weather has been puzzling in recent years. That we are noting this, and holding this anecdotal evidence to be significant, is changing our opinion regarding climatic change.
When it comes down to it; the evidence of our own eyes will always sway us more heavily than any amount of learned words.
I believe it to be important that our attention is drawn to anecdotal evidence. It is the way our opinions are formed.
In this way it does not matter if we next have several cold years on the trot. We will perceive that as another example of the weather having lost its way and its reason.
In the UK, the warmth of the last decade has been well received and is not of itself frigthening. What is unsettling is that we no longer now quite what to expect of the seasons. We have no idea in which month we can expect to sweep up leaves nor when the roses will stop flowering (it has not happened yet). In the S.E. we stumble from floods to droughts unlike anything we can remember.
This is significant.
L. David Cooke says
Granted there is likely to be some added evaporation. The suggestion I thought was interesting was the idea of using wind systems to pump a portion of the added sea water into the Sahara Desert and use the basin there to grow algae for diesel fuel. The idea was to increase the potential economic return in this region, to make a massive change in the ITCZ heat transport and at the same time provide a large scale reasonable resource alternative. This idea was labled as linked to a cult something haveing to do with the blooming of the desert; however, logically it might have some value. It would be interesting to me to explore the impact this might have on both the energy future and climatic change. I’m afraid however, that it would not get any serious play as it would mean major human intervention into land use and would massively get bad press from the staunch environmentalists. Oh well….
Here’s the lates addition to the circus of long-range weather forecasting featuring AccuWeather.com Chief Long-Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi:
“Those who think that winter 2006-2007 is going to remain mild are in for a shock,” said Bastardi. “Winter is likely to come with a vengeance. A week from now, we’ll start seeing truly cold air across much of the country, and we expect this change to last.” Added Bastardi, “Whether we end up with seasonably cold weather, or something far worse, remains to be seen. There are indications that this winter could parallel severe winters of the past. Even should we not see an extremely cold and snowy conclusion to winter, you can be sure that by the end of the month, when those in the Northeast are shoveling out their driveways and sidewalks, the mild weather we’re experiencing now will be a distant memory.”
[edited (watch the ad hom)…]
[Response: The weather channel predicts otherwise. (e.g. New York remains above normal for the foreseeable future). But that’s weather, anyway. Only seasonal anomalies start to put us in the domain of climate. -mike]
Bryan Sralla says
I made a comment yesterday that did not get through. I will try again.
Many readers here at RC need to “chill” about the current warm spell (pardon the expression) [edited…] Climate modeling experiments (which RC is very fond of) have shown that free variations in the climate system due to things like El Nino (among many others) are still larger than the magnitude of any forced variations which might be directly attributable to changes in GHG’s (assuming a perfect model). Such short term variations such as the current warm weather are strongly affected by initial conditions of the ocean and atmosphere, and to a lesser extent (at this time) by boundary values (deviations in the probability density function due to external forcing are still small). This assumes a “perfect model” which we know we don’t have. Such introduces more error. I hope RC will offer some peer-reviewed literature in correction if the above is not correct. This is the message that I get from studying the literature.
By the way, the synoptic pattern is in the process of changing (big time), and winter is about to make a comeback in the US. Give it about a week.
george naytowhowcon says
From what I have been able to gleen from many weather reports from many sites on the web, the tropical jet transiting north america from equatorial eastern pacific to the north atlantic and arctic regions seems to cause artic air to push into regions unaccustomed to severe cold, like Bangladesh suffering a killer cold snap the last three weeks, or the blizzard that dumped a foot or more of snow in Jordan’s deserts last friday, or the repeated blizzards and blowing snows of Clorado and western Kansas and Nebraska. Reccord snowfalls in New Mexico shutting store and schools for days last week, or south asia getting snow and cold snaps in places like central India. Not to mention the Sahara desert has a new monsoonal flow causing rains to occurr throughout the sahara desert. In fact the Kalihari has been flooded for month’s now and South America has not had a dry season since the horrific amazon drought of 2005 was broken in november of that year. Then there is the reccord western US states (and provinces of Canada) who have recieved reccord snowfalls since april 2005 breaking the western droughts with reinvigorated snow pack in the rockies, this continues this years as well. Then there is the issue of the increased wind speed of the temperate zone westerly jet stream that seems to have caused polar vortices of extreemly cold air that has refrozen the Arctic Sea ice to extents beyond the Berring Strieght. So All is well, the winter is happening, just not where and when we think it should. One must question why?
He got everything right except for saying that “global warming was a far-off risk”. Other than that he is pretty much right on and (speaking of ignorance) within his area of expertise.
As for relationship between talking and profits, there’s little if any. GM’s Rick Wagoner is quoted in the same article as saying now an irrefutable business case for producing green cars. That’s about all there’s to it. Money talks, BS walks.
Pat O'Grady says
In my area, Sudbury Ontario CA (just north of Lake Huron), what was most striking about the recent warm spell was not the daily high, but the nightly low. On days when the daily high was 4-8C above normal the nightly lows were 10-15C above normal. With an increase in greenhouse gases, I would think that any effect would be more noticable in changes in night time temperatures. One indirect indication of this is the new USDA hardiness zone map. This map is based on winter minimums which almost always are the night time low . The new map shows all the warmer zones moving much further north.
Wayne Byerly says
I sometimes wonder if any of you guys who are so convinced that Global Waming is so real – so awful – so dramatic – so catastrophic – ever took the time to tabulate the ACTUAL temperatures as recorded by official weather stations from as long ago as records are available. Well I have. For the US, there were 9 years 1931-1939 in which, for all the locations I was able to find, that also had unbroken temperature records for 1996-2004, (there were 23 such locations), and the 1931-1939 period was WARMER by 0.4 F., than 1996-2004. Also found that 16 northern European locations with similar records, the 1931-1940 period was almost as warm as was the 1994-2003 period. Also, for these 16 northern European locations, the for the total temperature rise from 1874 through 2003, 94% of the rise had been observed prior to 1940, and only 6% of the rise from 1874 to 2003 happened from 1940 to 2003. Dramatic Global Warming – somebody must be on the “juice”.
Per Ahlberg says
Re #113: Here in Uppsala, Sweden, we’re having an exceptionally mild winter with the highest-ever recorded January temperature last night. Then this morning I get an email from a colleague in Iran who says they are having an unprecedented cold snap with themperatures down to -29C. Go figure…
Marie Phillips says
I have read this article and all the blog responses with interest. I am very disappointed not to see a comment I wrote two days ago appear. I understand it may take time, but I must mention I am glad to see at this point, a few folks mention the SUN as a possible cause of global climate changes.
Many People are conveniently forgetting the ice caps on Mars are also melting because its warming as well.
Our vegetation and oceans are huge CO2 sinks and are the check and balance system when it comes to CO2, whether it comes from cars, volcanos, breathing animals or other sources. More CO2-more lush vegetation as it utilizes the CO2 to produce the O2 we breathe.
I am no expert, but studied Earth sciences in college and follow the field to this day, so to me, the answer to apparent warming trend is the sun.
In Earth’s past, long before human beings and industry, the climate has warmed and cooled. Some chatter on about Record tempatures, however, it is misleading, since it is only as long as we have kept records on meterological data which is perhaps 150 years or so. I may be off on that number but a couple of centuries is nothing in geologic time.
Note too-Greenland 1000 years ago was not covered in ice but very much like new England is now, hence the name GREENLAND.
But my overall point is, look to the Sun if one wants real answers as to why our climate is chnaging. Remember too, it is always changing.
Bryan Sralla says
Re #105: The USGS has assessed the technically recoverable undiscovered oil in the Chuckchi Sea (alone) as 13.015 billion barrels (F50), and 51.840 TCF of natural gas (Sherwood, 1995). This is only in the federal offshore, and does not include ANWR or NPRA, or any of the state lands. The technically recoverable oil for the North Slope state lands is another 4 billion barrels (F50). Add in ANWR and NPRA plus remaining oil in the Cook Inlet and undiscovered potential in the North Aleutian Basin, there is clearly a lot more oil in Alaska than most of the public realizes.
Dr. J says
RE: #122, very true Ms. Phillips, and an excellent study was done at Duke U. recently about how the solar variances are very much underestimated in the AGW debate, for obvious reasons.
FYI, the Los Angeles Times has an article about NOAA’s announcement that 2006 was the warmest year on record for the 48 states:
RC’s Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann are quoted in the article.
In what may be a first for a mainstream media report on global warming, climate change deniers are not quoted and given equal weight with actual climate scientists, and the basic science of anthropogenic global warming is not portrayed as a “controversy”.
Dr. J wrote: “… an excellent study was done at Duke U. recently about how the solar variances are very much underestimated in the AGW debate, for obvious reasons.”
Oh, really? And what exactly were the “obvious reasons” that the Duke study identified?
Marie Phillips wrote in #122: “I have read this article and all the blog responses with interest.”
I encourage you to continue reading the articles and commentary on this site. It will help you correct some of the erroneous information that you posted in this comment.
Re: #120 (Wayne Byerly)
You’ve posted pretty much exactly the same argument on this site before. I answered you before. I’ll answer again.
I have data for over a thousand locations throughout the U.S — not just a paltry 23. I have data for several thousand more throughout the world — not just a meager 16 restricted to northern Europe. I haven’t just “tabulated” them, I have analyzed them thoroughly (I’m a professional mathematician, my specialty is the statistical analysis of time series).
And I’m not even a climate scientist! Do you actually expect anyone to believe that the thousands of climate scientists who are warning us of the danger of global warming, have never looked at this data? How naive.
Re: #122 (Marie Phillips)
Hmmm… If Greenland was like New England just 1000 years ago, then how did I get data from the Greenland Ice Sheet Program (GISP) for ice cores that extend back more than 50,000 years? Do you have 50,000 years of data from the “New England Ice Sheet Program?”
Re: #124 (Dr. J)
Are you referring to the work of Scaffeta & West? There was a post on that, with lots of discussion, not too long ago on RC. The methodology of their studies is about as reliable as George W. Bush’s evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Sorry for the ad hom – I meant it in a humorous way. Anyhow, isn’t it amazing that a guy who is in weather forecast business is using expressions like you can be sure WRT long term forecast. Normally, a meteorologist will not be sure of anything, even tomorrow.
Please see the extensive RC article Global warming on Mars? .
Lynn Vincentnathan says
RE #122 & 124, if you read Lovelock’s REVENGE OF GAIA, you’ll get a good overview about the sun-earth-life system — 5 billion years from the past through a 5 billion year forecast into the future.
The sun is indeed warming (ever so slowly in human timescale terms). Lovelock suggests that some 2 billion years ago the sun was just right for optimal life on earth, and since then it’s been getting hotter, and the earth-life system has responded by a series of ice ages/warmings trying to get it right for optimal life (which is closer to the ice age eras than the warming eras). In a way this is similar to the thermostatic nature of the human body that self regulates the right internal temp, regardless of the heat or cold outside, and sometimes goes into fever to try and throw off some disease. However, Lovelock is clear that he’s using a metaphor and he doesn’t really think the earth-life system is alive, like an organism.
Lovelock suggests that in another 2 billion years, the sun will be too hot for life on earth. However, he sees this current human-induced warming epoch as something that did not have to happen, that we may not have been due for another one of these natural “interlude” warming/fevers for a very long time (in human time-scale terms). However, he thinks that once this current human-induced warming reaches its maximum & stay fever-hot for 100,000 to 200,000 & kills off much of life, it will eventually cool back down again to present and even cooler levels. He thinks humans will survive, but perhaps sans civilization. He also thinks there’s a chance we could avert going into this fever hysteresis, but we will have to drastically reduce our GHG emissions. And that seems unlikely to me, as long as there are so many people who cannot image we humans could be a fault in this warming project, or people who accept it, but refuse to act on that knowledge.
So, yes, the sun has a lot to do with warming, and it will eventually get too hot for life in 2 billion years, but until then we will have these warming/cooling fluctuations as the earth-life system struggles to adjust to optimal life conditions. Unfortunately we are triggering one of these fever episodes, jumping the gun with nature. But eventually we will cool back down again, say, in 100,000 to 200,000 years. I just feel bad that so many people will have to die because of this generation’s folly and obstinance. Maybe if and when civilization rises up again, people’ll do it right next time.
I had contemplated the notion of using solar energy to pump sea into the desert, though I was thinking of the Rub al-Khali or Empty Quarter, and of passing the water through a desalination plant. I know that desert ecosystems are fragile, but it’s not much of an ecosystem anyway and there is more life on margins of biomes so I’m not sure that the stringent environmentalists would have a hissy fit over it. There were lakes there once, as this tells:
Now, as this is severely off-topic, I’ll bring it back with a query on the current El Nino. I keep hearing El Nino but I see the Humboldt current still active.
So am I right in thinking that the lobe of warmth pointing east and slightly south is the signature? The measurements for ENSO are measurements of trade winds, the Southern Oscillation Index and the TAO array: http://www.oc.nps.navy.mil/webmodules/ENSO/TAO.html
So I think what I want to know is how much annual variance there is in the Humboldt current and how has this/ how will it be affected by warmer conditions in the Southern Ocean?
Dan Allan says
re 129 (and slightly off topic):
Regarding weather forecasters being “sure”: most amusing to me is the extended forecast “percent chance of precip” I see on the http://www.weather.com. I often see that the precip chance, 8 or 10 days out, can be 0% or alternatively, 100%, for my hometown of Boston. And there is a good chance that, “miraculously”, it will not rain on days when the precip probability was listed as 100%.
Apparently, someone is taking the results of forecasting models a bit too literally, without considering the possibility that the “precip probability” that the model spits out is itself subject to an incresingly large margin of error the further out the forecast goes.
Tony Heller says
I live in Fort Collins, Colorado and have been a bit astonished by the basic premise of this discussion. Our temperatures have been frigid, below normal for 20 out of the last 26 days according to accuweather. It is by far the coldest and snowiest winter I can ever remember – we have snow and ice piled up three feet deep.
When I see the wildly inaccurate data presented here it makes me doubt the entire premise of the discussion.
Russ DeStefano says
“Witness for example the dramatic decrease in Atlantic tropical cyclones this most recent season relative to the previous one”
If this was so obvious, why was the past Hurricane Season (2006) forecasted to be just as strong as 2005?
It seems to me that there are just too many weather variables to predict and forecast long-range outlooks.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
Re #113, I agree with you about anecdotal evidence. I think such evidence is only dangerous if it is misleading — such as when denialists latch on to some unique cooling spot in the world as proof against GW. In this case of weird winter warming (or increased el ninos) being taken as signs of GW, the anecdotal evidence is not misleading, since it has been established that GW is happening, even if the particular piece of anecdotal evidence eventually proves not in the least to be associated with GW (I’m now thinking that the African droughts that so motivated me to start reducing my GHGs in 1990 may have been due to global dimming, not global warming, but no harm done in my response since AGW was later established at 95% confidence, and it is considered to have many other negative effects, AND I ended up saving money without lowering my living standard — no harm done at all).
Another point is that science itself is composed of many many pieces of anecdotal evidence — they call it data. It’s just the anomalies (“regular” cold winters) that need to be viewed with caution; the data (such as warmer winters) that fit the general findings can be viewed as important anecdotal evidence of GW that should spur the public into action.
Does anyone predict Pacific cyclones and what was the prediction last year? I do like Judith Curry’s description of the last Pacific season. A ripsnorter, I believe she called it. As Bill Gray had some confidence in his predictions maybe there is something going on that we haven’t experienced. Careful use of words there, note. We, as in human population, experienced as in haven’t seen in human historical records.
John G says
The recent press articles claim 2006 was the warmest year in modern record, and based on my experiences living in New England, I could be persuaded that is true. However, this seems to be true because the cold season months – particularly November and December – were much warmer than normal. The summer seemed remarkably normal. I say “seemed” because I have not been able to yet find and download the data needed to perform a simple analysis for my region.
The apparent greater anomaly in the cold months versus the warm months brought a question to my mind. How well, if at all, do the climate models factor in human responses to climate change? Specifically, if one believes that the radiative effects of CO2 are the major contributor to climate change, then it seems one should model the effects of CO2 emission changes in response to climate change.
It stands to reason (although I have not seen the data) that CO2 emissions in the Northeastern US are below the predicted trend. Use of home heating oil is well below normal. I normally fill my tank once a month in Dec – Feb, but I have not filled it since mid-Nov this year and I may not need to until March. My electricity usage is running about 30% below the same period last year, implying I am imposing less of a load on our coal-fired power plants. Like almost everyone else in the area, I have not bothered putting less-efficient snow tires on my car – we have not had snow. Not only do I not need to warm up my car as I do in bone-chilling cold, the engine runs more efficiently that it does in such cold. My billing records indicate I am filling my tank less often.
Multiply this across the millions of households in the region, and it stands to reason that CO2 emissions from our region are below forecasts, and thus should be factored into climate models.
Of course we could take this beyond CO2 emissions. Take vegetation as an example. Lawns are still green instead of brown, some trees are beginning to bud, crocuses are up, I have seen forsythia here and there starting to bloom. Are the climate models sophisticated enough to account for the response of vegetation to climate change, and its subsequent impact on climate?
Lynn Vincentnathan says
RE #135, while heat is a NECESSARY cause for hurricanes, it is not a SUFFICIENT cause (one that ensures it will definitely happen). It’s like a fertile woman is a necesary cause for a pregnancy, but not a sufficient one.
And one reasons why it’s so hard to say GW is causing increased hurricanes is because you don’t get enough hurricanes to do good statistics (it’s more a problem with “n” or number of observations, than with whether there’s an association — at least that’s what I think is the problem). I.e., you could have an association (e.g., a positive correlation), but its significance might not scienfically prove that association (at .05 or less prob that the null hypothesis of no association is correct) due to the low number of observations.
But despite this problem, studies have been coming in that GW is causing increased hurricane intensity. Which means that there is less than a 5% chance that the increase in hurricane intensity is due to random fluctuations a & not GW. Which means we may likely be seeing future years with a lot of mega-hurricanes, if not this year or the next, then sometime in the future, assuming we continue with our GW experiment.
Lynn Vincentnathan wrote in #131:
David Morris, the founder of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance, has written an article entitled “What Al Gore Hasn’t Told You About Global Warming”, about British journalist George Monbiot’s new book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, in which he says that the challenges of “acting on that knowledge” to “drastically reduce our GHG emissions” are considerably greater than are commonly discussed.
Steve Bloom says
Re #134: Tony, you need to distinguish between the comments of the climate scientists here (the site authors plus a very few commenters whose names will become apparent if you read this blog on a regular basis; but including e.g. Isaac Held, Urs Neu and Michael Tobis) and those of everyone else. Observe that Mike was quite careful to note above that from the POV of climate science anything less than a full-season anomaly is really just interesting weather. As the current example of Australian precipitation makes clear (record rainfall in the west, horrible drought in the east, but pretty much average overall), you should also bear in mind that extremes in variability are climate statistics of interest.
Tony Heller says
“during this warmer-than-average winter in Colorado”
I was referring to this text from the article above. It appears that the author is pushing an agenda and is ignoring the facts. It has been exceptionally cold here in northern Colorado (only five days have reached normal temperatures since Dec 17) and the next week is forecast to average at least 15 degrees below normal per day.
[Response: Try thinking before slinging accusations around. The graph above comes from NOAA (not us) and so if you feel their Colorado Dec 06 estimates are wrong, take it up with them. -gavin]
[Response: Gavin’s already made the main point. But please spare us the cherry picking. “Dec 17” was a curious start date for you to cite. Here are the high/low observed for Ft. Collins (where you indicated you live in comment #134) over the preceding week: 54/26, 63,/32, 61/34, 54/25, 38/21, 45/30, 45/30 (compare with the climatological December mean of 44/16). If you have serious evidence that NOAA’s monthly mean numbers are in error, please meet the burden of proof and demonstrate so. Otherwise, take your antics elsewhere. They’re not appreciated at RealClimate. -mike]
Lynn Vincentnathan says
#140, Secular Animist: Thanks. I already read that & was making comments on it at http://www.MarkLynas.org, so here goes what I wrote:
“AUSTERITY AND LESS FREEDOM is what this article ( http://www.climateark.org/shared/reader/welcome.aspx?linkid=66413 ) says is needed to mitigate GW — based on Monbiotâ��s book HEAT. Itâ��s a slam against people who say it will be painless.
I have several points:
(1) since we are (as households and businesses, esp here in the U.S.) very inefficient, way inside the “production possibilities frontier,” there is a good ten years of taking actions as fast as we can that could (a) save money, (b) reduce GHGs, (c) without lower living standards or productivity. By the time we trim all the unnecessary fat, making it even more economically acceptable to go onto alt energy (bec even if it costs more per KWH, our KWHs have been cut by 1/3 to 1/2, so no econ hardship), by that time perhaps new technology will come on line that will extend our “party” while reducing GHGs even further, so that the time for austerity might be postponed longer…though eventually we may have to actually sacrifice our material gluttony, and perhaps even some comforts.
(2) the austerity and loss of freedom will end up even much greater de facto if we do not reduce our GHGs significantly right now. (Denialist-alarmists, afraid of austerity and loss of freedom, are you listening?)”
I would add (3) any small austerities or loss of freedom (e.g. emissions caps) we undergo now to mitigate GW should be viewed an innoculation not only against future GW harms, but against even greater austerities and loss of freedom (or political chaos, or both) forced upon us if these GW harms are allowed to go rampant without adequate mitigation. Sort of like using polio to fight polio.
Steve Bloom says
Re #142: Tony, to focus things a bit more I went to the NOAA site and did a custom plot for 12/24 to 1/7. Eyeballing the results shows Colorado as averaging about 4F above normal. I don’t see a cold anomaly up north. Is there something wrong with this data?
Jim Dukelow says
Re #91, John Christy (apparently) wrote, as reported by Rhampton:
“The 28-year data from Dec. 1, 1978 through Nov. 30, 2006 also show Earth’s polar extremes are heading in opposite directions: The Arctic has warmed by an average of more than two and a quarter degrees Fahrenheit (+2.27 degrees F or +1.26 C) in less than 30 years, while the Antarctic region has cooled by an average of more than half a degree (-0.55 F or -0.31 C).”
If you read the 5 or 6 peer-reviewed papers written by Christy and Spencer and colleagues describing the MSU system and the algorithms for turning the temperature-dependent screams of oxygen molecules into estimates of the “average” temperature of large blocks of the atmosphere (large both vertically and horizontally), you will discover several caveats that are not reflected in the quote above.
Specifically, the satellites provide no data at all above 80-85 N and S and the data they do provide at lower latitudes is unreliable for high altitudes and for snow/ice covered areas (for which read Northern Greenland, Central Antarctica, and the Tibetan plateau).
That said, the Antarctica is SO different from the Arctic — land vs ocean, ice sheet, high altitudes, and stronger polar vortex — that we should not be too surprised if the behave differently. In addition, the Antarctic Peninsula, which extends roughly a thousand miles north of the Antarctic mainland, is warming strongly, with collapse of floating ice sheets and acceleration of the flow of ice streams into the ocean.
David Graves says
The annual cycle of budburst and bloom of many perennial plants can be a very useful indicator of climate trends. The study of recurring natural phenomena related to climate is called “phenology”, although the word is almost always used in the context of plants rather than say the date of the onset of mountain snowmelt (also an interesting indicator here in the western US). There is a national phenology network, and the program’s website is at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. You will never look at a lilac bush the same.
Steve Bloom says
Re #142: Noting your date of December 17th, I did another one for then through January 7th and got a result pretty similar to the first one; i.e. the anomalies are still substantially positive for that period.
[Response: Thanks for the helpful info Steve. So also our response to the commenter immediately above. -mike]
Speaking of recent Colorado weather/temps….
I was in Denver Dec 26 through Jan 1. Between snowstorms, we had some nice, balmy weather there. One afternoon, I was out and about in jeans and a t-shirt and was quite comfortable. (And I’m a wimpy southern-California native!).
L. David Cooke says
Actually, for part of the incoming sea water rather then passing the water through a desalination plant why not set up an evaporation desalination system where the sun does all the work there as well. You could pump the saline water into troughs and let evaporation go to work, the collected water could be sequestered into underground holding ponds and pumped into the condensation coils on it’s way to the algae seas or lakes.
The idea is to have both environments represented, that way you could farm a much wider diversity and ones that would more closer match the historical representation. The NW seems to have an example of a saline environment. While the SE appears to have a definitive fresh water environment.
It is almost like 6-12 kya the first farmers let the moisture get away from them and the grasslands dried out and the pastures were lost. (Kind of like a permanent Oklahoma dust bowl.) Now that there appears to be an excess of the primary resource, water, why not return this area to it’s former glory. It may be that this is an opportunity to return Northern Africa to the Eden it once appeared to have been, along with providing the world with a renewable resource necessary to ring in a new era. Sorry the idealism just leaked out…, reality will snap back in in a moment…
Some other data, not from NOAA.