Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Idiotic Analyses

It’s been slow posting as I’ve headed back to school to combine my meteorological experience with some exposure to policy.  I’m buried under tons of reading, most of which is good and will spawn plenty of posts in the future when I have more time.  In the meantime, I wanted to point out a piece of writing that is absolute trash.

From the “Science and Public Policy Institute” (a D.C. “think tank”), I found a piece entitled 2011 U.S. Temperature Update: Alarmism Not by Chip Knappenberger.  The purpose of this paper is to convince policymakers that temperatures in the U.S. aren’t noteworthy and evokes the frame of global warming alarmism.  The methodology of the paper is the bothersome aspect.

Chip starts by showing a graph of U.S. surface temperature data from 1895-1997.  Any guess why?  Because the most intense El Niño in recorded history occurred in 1998 and denialists like to use data since 1998 to try to show that global warming is not occurring.  Count Chip among this crowd, as his next graph includes surface data up to 2007 in an attempt to set up people who thought a new phase of temperatures across the U.S. had started as alarmists.  He does this by showing his next graph of surface data up to 2010.  Since 2008-2010 was cooler than the 1998-2007 period, Chip states that “the warm period was starting to look out of place”.

All of this is an introduction to his goal, which is to predict that 2011 will continue to be cooler than the aforementioned warm period.  How specifically does Chip try to do this?  By looking at a distribution of the difference between the annual temperature anomaly and the temperature anomaly observed during the first 6 months of the years 1895-2010.  What does his distribution show?  Supposedly, the mean of the data is 0°F.  Then, even though it’s not, he claims the data is close enough to having a normal distribution that he can use the data as he pleases.

More egregiously, Chip does something that makes absolutely no sense.  He uses that anomaly distribution to predict what 2011’s average U.S. temperature will be by combining the distribution alongside the same time series he used before.  In other words, he is saying that based on the past 100+ years’ of data, 2011 is likely to be no more anomalously warm than 2008-2010.  Put yet another way, he is claiming that climatology is the best predictor of this year’s average U.S. temperature.

Beyond the nonsensical use of statistics to prove an ideological point, allow me to provide additional information regarding our year-to-date temperature.  Through June (the same data Chip used), the U.S. had recorded “Above Normal” temperatures: 79th highest out of 117 years.  Giving Chip the benefit of the doubt that he wrote the paper in the middle of the year and conditions might have changed one way or the other, I will politely point out that through August, the U.S. had recorded the 92nd highest temperatures out of 117 years.  Despite the Pacific Northwest and northwestern states recording below-normal temperatures, almost the remaining 2/3 of the continental U.S. were above normal, with 8 states at much above normal and 1 state recording the hottest year-to-date on record (Texas).  Despite a cool start to the year, the number of heat records broken are outpacing cold records broken year-to-date by an incredible 3.4 to 1 ratio.  Those kinds of things don’t happen in non-anomalous years.  But it’s really the shoddy use of math that irks me.

As a side note, a paper by one of Chip’s colleagues read for one of my classes.  Written by the President of the “think-tank”, it was filled with so many spelling and grammatical errors, the writer needs to do some serious thinking before publishing another paper.  Or as some undergraduates are learning this semester, Word comes with a spelling and grammar check.  Use it or you look like you don’t know or don’t care what you’re doing.  These guys are trying to influence public policy?!



Hottest Summer For One State In U.S. History X2

While Colorado’s weather this summer shifted from warm to wet to hot, it was plain and simply nothing but hot, hot, and hot in the states to our south.  How hot was it?

It was so hot that Texas and Oklahoma set the U.S. record for the 1st and 2nd hottest summers: 86.8F and 86.5F, respectively, beating out Oklahoma’s 1934 record (set during the Dust Bowl years) of 85.2F.  To be clear, from June through August, the average of all the temperatures taken at the top of every hour came out to above 86 degrees.  Oh, Louisiana’s 2011 summer now ranks 4th warmest all-time at 84.5F.

When records from the previous hottest period in the nation’s history are falling, it’s time to pay attention.  Instead of natural variability playing the primary role, the heat wave this year was by the altered background state.

Statistically speaking, it is more significant that Texas set the record instead of Oklahoma.  The number of weather stations in Texas is obviously much higher than those in Oklahoma.  Most, if not all of those stations were subjected to similar conditions for 3 months in order to set this kind of record – a truly amazing occurrence.

I’m going to riff off of Joe Romm’s recent post on a similar topic and re-post some graphics I’ve written about before.  They are particularly salient now that the summer of 2011 is fresh in our memories.

This is a plot from a NOAA-led report that shows what the future holds under a business-as-usual emissions scheme.  Focusing in on Denver, which just experienced its hottest August and 3rd hottest month ever with 22 days above 90F maximum temperatures, puts this plot into some context.  Denver didn’t record a single 100F degree day this year.  But if we continue along the path we’re on much longer, we’re likely to experience 7 to 9 weeks of 100F or hotter days.  Moving on down to Texas and Oklahoma, things really get cooking.  Between 13 and 23 weeks of 100F or hotter days are in their future.  How much agriculture do you think can be successfully supported in those conditions?  How much ranching can be done?  How many water pipes will break in the ground as that ground swells in the heat?

And it’s not just heat, as this plot from a recent NCAR study demonstrates.  Palmer Drought Severity Index values in the 1930s spiked very briefly to -6 (see scale above), but rarely exceeded -3 during the rest of the decade.  By the 2030 decade, projections of -4 to -6 PDSI values cover most of the American Southwest.  Texas gets off “easy” with PDSI values holding near -2 for the decade.  Significantly higher temperatures in twenty years’ time accompanied by drought conditions worse than those of the Dust Bowl could easily be the future that comes to pass.

Given the scope of the tasks facing us: reduction of emission levels that are currently growing and deployment of infrastructure and technologies to do so, I’m not optimistic that we can turn things around in time in order to avoid these kinds of scenarios.  Given the severity of the scenarios, we had better start doing something substantial soon.

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Update To Obama’s Bad EPA-Ozone Decision

President Obama has become the epitome of a primary negative for Democrats: he’s too concerned with being called nasty names and not concerned enough with enacting good policies.  Policies such as the recently killed ozone regulation, which is painful on many fronts as more people weigh in on the latest capitulation.

Enter Paul Krugman, a person who won the Nobel Prize in economics (perhaps someone Obama might want to listen to…):

Let’s talk about the economics. Because the ozone decision is definitely a mistake on that front.

As some of us keep trying to point out, the United States is in a liquidity trap: private spending is inadequate to achieve full employment, and with short-term interest rates close to zero, conventional monetary policy is exhausted.

What might this have to do with ozone regulations?

And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.

U.S. corporations are sitting on Trillions of dollars they got for basically nothing from sources like the Treasury.  Do you want to know why too many Americans don’t have jobs, and of those Americans that do have jobs don’t make any more in real terms than they did in 1970?  Because of those Trillions of dollars sitting on the economic sideline.  Money that doesn’t move through the economy means the economy falters, then fails.  That’s what today’s Republican Teabaggers want for America: a failed economy so the black President also fails.

It’s too bad President Obama is more worried about being called bad names by those Teabaggers.  There are good jobs that could have been created by implementing and enforcing ozone regulations.  Instead, no Americans will get new jobs, money will stay out of the economy, Americans’ health will continue to be worse than it should, and President Obama will still get called bad names!  Bad politics, all around.  Better Democrats, please.

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Obama Caves Again: Smog Rules

Many people lauded George Dubya for being so consistent during his reign.  It seems that President Obama is looking to establish his credibility as a consistent kind of guy as well.  Unfortunately, the only consistency President Obama is to retreat and capitulate in the face of any kind of Republican Teabagger resistance.

The most recent case (and there’s been a few this week, to be sure) is his order to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to “withdraw the proposed regulation to reduce concentrations of smog’s main ingredient”.  Why?  He offered the weak-kneed reason that businesses have too many regulations and that’s part of the reason why zero jobs were created in the month of August.

In a similar vein as taxes, this President doesn’t seem able to do some simple math.  As tax rates plummeted for the wealthiest elite in the 2000s, were millions and millions of jobs created?  As regulations were eased on industry after industry in the 2000s, were millions and millions of jobs created?  No, that never happened.  Instead, the weakest job growth since WWII occurred in the 2000s, after unpaid tax cuts were passed and after regulations were eased on most industries.  The thought that reducing regulations or cutting more taxes will create a single job for an American is absurd.

President Obama keeps working with Republican Teabaggers to make him look like a court jester.  I’m not sure how that will help him win re-election.  More importantly, millions of Americans’ health will be negatively impacted.  Oh, now I get it: the health insurance corporations he helped out with his 2010 legislation needs to keep Americans in poor health so they can keep raising insurance rates by double-digit percentage increases year after year.  It actually makes perfect sense.  But is this the change Americans voted for in 2008?