Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Unscientific Science Journalists
Obama’s visit to Joplin was the third that he had made in a month to the site of a weather-related disaster. In mid-May, the President met with Memphis residents who had been left homeless by the flooding of the Mississippi River, and, not long before that, he toured sections of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that had also been flattened by a tornado. Meanwhile, even as the President was consoling the bereaved in Joplin, residents in Vermont were bailing out from record-high water levels around Lake Champlain; Texas was suffering from a near-record drought that could cost the state more than four billion dollars in agricultural losses; and officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were forecasting that the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, which formally began on June 1st, would once again be “above normal.” (The 2010 season was tied for the third most active on record.) The news from abroad was, if anything, more worrisome. Last week, the Chinese government estimated that more than four million people were having trouble finding drinking water, owing to a drought along the Yangtze River. The French agricultural minister warned that an exceptionally hot, dry spring would reduce that country’s wheat harvest. And in Colombia more than two million acres of land have been submerged after almost a year of nearly continuous rain. “Over the past ten months, we have registered five or six times more rainfall than usual,” the director of Colombia’s meteorological agency, Ricardo Lozano, said.
For decades, climate scientists have predicted that, as global temperatures rose, the side effects would include deeper droughts, more intense flooding, and more ferocious storms. The details of these forecasts are immensely complicated, but the underlying science is pretty simple. Warm air can hold more moisture. This means that there is greater evaporation. It also means that there is more water, and hence more energy, available to the system.
What we are seeing now is these predictions being borne out. If no particular flood or drought or storm can be directly attributed to climate change—there’s always the possibility that any single event was just a random occurrence—the over-all trend toward more extreme weather follows from the heating of the earth. (Emphasis added)
What trend in extreme weather? The trend in serious tornadoes in the United States? That's been down since 1930. Perhaps she means the trend in hurricanes hitting the United States? What's that trend been? It has to be up; Al Gore said it would go up.
Well, since 1900, there has been no trend at all. And notice the cut off date for the graph below, 2005, the year Katrina hit New Orleans. How have things gone since then? In the past 6 years there have been 11 hurricanes (only one major) to make landfall in the U. S., and no hurricane has hit the United States since September 13, 2008, that's nearly 1,000 days ago. Not a scary trend in my book, but then I didn't study literature at Yale (I did it at Stanford). Her statement that 2010 was third most active is not completely accurate. 2005 is number one and 1933 is number two and 2010 is tied with 1887 and 1995. I'm not seeing much of a trend there.
How about world cyclonic storms? What has been the trend of tropical storm energy throughout the world since we really started pumping CO2 into the atmosphere? It must have taken off like a rocket, I bet. Didn't Ms. Kolbert just say that warm air carried more water and more water is more energy available to the system? Why, yes she did. So, since it's warmed a whole degree since 1900, the energy in the world's tropical storms must be at an all time high. That has to be the trend. Right?
Oh, it's the lowest it's been since they started keeping track in 1979.
OK, she mentions floods and droughts, this winner of the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award, so the trends in floods and droughts must be up. Right?
Nope, no upward trend in the past hundred years in the United States. In fact the 1930s, before the serious industrialization following WWII began, was the peak drought decade here in the states.
OK. Last try. Floods. There has to be an upward trend towards extreme wet weather here in America since CO2 started piling up in the atmosphere. Has to, right?
Argh. No upward trend there either. Well she did mention the world. OK, seriously the last try. What's the trend in world droughts and floods? Has to have been ever trending upward since we started burning fossil fuels in earnest. Right?
Alas, there are no such charts and since the plural of anecdote is not data, the lack of even cherry picked scientific support for her somewhat hysterical, non-scientific conclusion causes me to begin to ignore her and to look instead to real science by real scientists who are not dependent on finding serious anthropogenic warming in order to land the next research grant.