The recent run of chilly rain and snow in the UAE seems to affirm the UN’s admission in 2013 of a decline in temperature rises. But the complexities of time and maths make it hard for scientists to say whether that is permanent.
Snowball fights in the UAE, snowless slopes in the Alps. Chilly winds in Dubai, balmy weather in Minnesota.
Another winter, another outbreak of weird weather. Still, that is climate change for you.
Or is it? Ask a local taxi driver and you may end up in a debate about how plunging temperatures can be squared with global warming.
So what do the experts say? At last month’s regional meeting of the World Meteorological Organisation in Abu Dhabi, the talk was of how warming Arctic air and declining sea ice is affecting the flows of air and seawater that influence the region’s weather.
In particular, the polar jetstream – the band of fast-moving air that can stop polar air from reaching farther south – has been flailing around like a snake in a sack, flipping the weather around in a heartbeat.
But do not expect climate experts to seize on the recent bout of freak weather and insist it must be man-made global warming. They know it is all more complex than that.
From the strange, barely predictable temperature changes in the Pacific, known as El Nino, to random upheaval, global warming is not the only influence on the weather.
And according to some, it may no longer be the threat it once was.
The idea that global warming may be grinding to a halt has been around for a decade, and is based on data collected from thousands of weather stations around the world. When plotted against time, the temperature measurements produce a zig-zag pattern, with some years cooler and others warmer than before. The long-term direction is clear enough, however: upwards.
But around 2007, some researchers began pointing out that the trend seemed to be breaking down.
Initially, many dismissed the claim as simply part of a denialist agenda to discredit the concept of global warming. Yet, as the years rolled by and more data came in, it became harder to dismiss.
In 2013, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed that a slowdown was under way. The data pointed to a warming rate from 1998 onwards that is barely half that of the previous half-century’s.
And for reasons unknown, the slowdown had not been predicted by computer models of the climate.
Unsurprisingly, climate-change sceptics seized on the IPCC’s “admission” as proof that the models could not be trusted to predict global warming.
Some scientists suspected, however, that the problem might lie elsewhere – namely, with the raw data.
In 2015, a team led by Thomas Karl, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), pointed to changes in temperature measurement techniques that could have introduced subtle bias into the data.
Sure enough, once these were corrected, and new data from more sites added in, the slowdown vanished – suggesting the models were correct after all.
Although hardly a ringing endorsement of the reliability of global warming data, the NOAA’s findings were welcomed by many climatologists. Hard science, it seemed, had once again defeated the deniers.
But the story did not end there. Last year, the Nature Climate Change journal published work by another team that claimed the newly-corrected data were still biased – this time by subtle atmospheric influences on the Earth’s temperature.
When these were taken into account the slowdown appeared again, although less strongly and over different timescales.
Last month, the story took a more dramatic turn. A former data scientist at NOAA alleged the Karl paper had been rushed out without proper checks.
Whether the allegations are really all that serious remains unclear.
Sceptics view them as proof of the questionable nature of much climate research. Many climatologists dismiss them as nitpicking. One commentator even declared the whole controversy to be “fake news”.
Although that may be pushing it too far, the continuing debate does highlight the limitations of science as a means of checking “alternative facts”.
Those involved in research know that the scientific process is shockingly simple to subvert – inadvertently or otherwise.
For on the face of it, what could be simpler than telling whether something is getting hotter or not?
If your exposure to science stopped at school, you would know exactly what to do: stick a thermometer on it, measure the temperature over time and see if the resulting graph rises, falls or stays the same.
Telling if the entire Earth is getting warmer is a different ball game, however. Simply collecting readings from weather stations is not going to be enough: the data will be plentiful near towns and cities, far less so in remote areas – and virtually non-existent over much of the oceans, which cover most of the Earth’s surface.
Measuring the rate of warming raises another, tougher problem: what is the relevant timescale?
A few years are not long enough: the Earth’s climate is affected by a host of influences that ebb and flow from months to millennia.
Several decades of data are probably the minimum needed to reveal a genuine shift.
Certainly, claiming a hiatus in global warming on the basis of data from a handful of years is premature.
Finally, there is the problem of deciding if any detected trend is real or just a fluke.
The textbook way of deciding is to use so-called significance tests, statistical methods that show the chance of getting the observed results, assuming they are a fluke.
Yet statisticians have been warning researchers for decades that these techniques are prone to mistaking random noise for genuine effect.
They have come under renewed scrutiny recently because of their role in the so-called “replication crisis” in research, in which many highly cited advances fade away on reinvestigation.
Last year, the American Statistical Association took the unprecedented step of issuing a public warning about the dangers of using significance tests.
The argument over the strength of global warming shows how difficult climate research really is.
It also shows the naivety of thinking that on “hot button” issues such as global warming, science can debunk fake news in a flash.
Robert Matthews is visiting professor of science at Aston University, Birmingham, UK
Climate Depot Responds: 'Blizzard blamed on global warming?! Is there any weather event that is inconsistent with global warming? — This is now akin to the predictions of Nostradamus or the Mayan calendar. There is no way anyone can falsify the global warming theory now because any weather event that happens proves’ their case.'
By: Marc Morano - Climate DepotJanuary 26, 2015 12:55 PM with 19 comments
Climate activist Bill McKibben, who was key organizer of the NYC climate march in September 2014, wasted no time in blaming the massive blizzard bearing down on the Northeast on ‘global warming.’ McKibben tweeted on Monday:
McKibben: ‘5 0f 10 worst blizzards in NYC in last ten years, 0.2% chance that’s chance. Climate change at work’
Not to be outdone, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined in:
New York governor says massive storms are ‘part of the changing climate’: Andrew Cuomo says frequency of extreme weather, such as hurricane Sandy and current blizzard sweeping across north-east, ‘is a pattern never seen before’
Scientists were not impressed. Prof. Roger Pielke Jr., an extreme weather expert, mocked Cuomo’s claim. “Uh-huh, sure there is,” Pielke Jr. tweeted in response to Cuomo’s claims.
Also wading into the blizzard and ‘climate change’ connection is Bill Nye, the Science Guy.” See: WATCH: BILL NYE ON MSNBC: BLAME CLIMATE CHANGE FOR BLIZZARD – NYE: ‘I just want to introduce the idea that this storm is connected to climate change.’ & Bill Nye on MSNBC Hits ‘Unglued’ Viewers Who Object to Blaming Blizzard on Climate Change
But what McKibben, Gov. Cuomo and Bill Nye left out was that less snowfalls were predicted to happen with ‘global warming’. The UN IPCC was very clear in its predictions: See: In 2001, the IPCC predicted milder winters and less snow. Experts are hoping no one remembers – UN IPCC 2001: ‘Milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms’
UN IPCC Lead Author Michael Oppenheimer was also very clear in his predictions: See: NYT in 2000 quoted ‘Oppenheimer on the pathetic spectacle of the unused sled in his stairwell, symbol of a warming world: ‘I bought a sled in ’96 for my daughter,’ said Oppenheimer, a scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. ‘It’s been sitting in the stairwell, and hasn’t been used. I used to go sledding all the time. It’s one of my most vivid and pleasant memories as a kid, hauling the sled out to Cunningham Park in Queens.’
2014: Scientists reject claims of record cold being caused by ‘global warming’ – Time Mag. blamed ‘polar vortex’ on ‘global cooling’ in 1974 – Special Report
2013: Climate Astrology: Blizzard blamed on global warming?! Is there any weather event that is inconsistent with global warming? — Climate Depot Round up – ‘No matter what the weather is like, it always turns out to be exactly the kind of weather we should expect if human activity were causing global temps to rise’
2013: Round Up: Meteorologists Slaps Down latest warmist claim of ‘Less snow = more blizzards’ — AP’s Seth Borenstein rebutted – Meteorologist Dr. Ryan Maue mocks: ‘Hint, if your theory or hypothesis involves contradictions, may be time to admit your original knowledge of subject was inadequate’
2013: Meteorologist Slaps Down latest warmist claim of ‘Less snow = more blizzards’ — ‘Whac-a-moling Seth Borenstein at AP over his erroneous extreme weather claims’ – By Dr. Richard Keen, Meteorologist Emeritus, University of Colorado, Boulder
Gore now claims ‘increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with… man-made global warming’
The New York Times on December 27, 2012, featured an OpEd with the headline : Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming
Watch Now: Flashback: Climate Depot’s Morano on Fox News Mocking ‘Climate Astrology’: ‘This is now akin to the predictions of Nostradamus or the Mayan calendar’ — Morano: ‘There is no way anyone can falsify the global warming theory now because any weather event that happens ‘proves’ their case…Man-made global warming has ceased to be a science, it is now the level of your daily horoscope’ — Gore [in 2006 film] did not warn us of extreme blizzards and record cold winters coming’
2010: New peer reviewed paper refutes claims of blizzards of last winter being driven by ‘global warming’ –
2010: Gore’s Back: ‘We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change’ — Claims global warming ‘causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow’ (Why didn’t Gore warn of blizzards in his film?)
Flashback 2014 New York Times: ‘The End of Snow?’
Time Mag.: ‘D.C. Snowstorm: How Global Warming Makes Blizzards Worse’
Flashback: ‘Climate Astrology’: Physicist: ‘Whether the ice caps melt, or expand — whatever happens — the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology’
Flashback 2000 New York Times: ‘Sledding and snowball fights are as out-of-date as hoop-rolling’ – Blame lack of snow on ‘global warming’ – NYT 2000: ‘Years of mild, rainy winters seem to be making New Yorkers hungry for the freezing winds and snow..’ – NYT in 2000: ‘But it does not take a scientist to size up the effects of snowless winters on the children too young to remember the record-setting blizzards of 1996. For them, the pleasures of sledding and snowball fights are as out-of-date as hoop-rolling, and the delight of a snow day off from school is unknown.’
Time Magazine Goes Both Ways On The Polar Vortex: ‘In 1974, Time Mag blamed the cold polar vortex on global cooling’ — In 2014: ‘Time Magazine blames the cold polar vortex on global warming’ (Via Real Science)
U.S. News: ‘Is Climate Change Causing the ‘Polar Vortex’? Article rebuts: Claim ‘appears unsupported by the observations’
Wash Post Throws Cold Water on Idea that Global Warming Is Causing Record Cold: ‘It’s still heavily debated…Elizabeth Barnes of Colorado State disputed the link’ – ‘The UN IPCC in 2007 predicted that there was ‘likely to be a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks… in [N. Hemisphere] winter in most areas.’
Meteorologist Dr. Ryan Maue rejects claim that global warming is causing record cold: ‘This polar vortex episode is the global warming media’s most recent ‘Snapchat’ message: after a few seconds, explanation just dissolves’
Princeton Physicist Dr. Will Happer refutes claims that global warming is causing record cold: ‘Polar vortices have been around forever. They have almost nothing to do with more CO2 in the atmosphere’
Climatologist Cliff Harris: ‘The claims that greenhouse warming causes more cold waves like we have seen this week really seems to be without any basis in observational evidence or in theory. The media needs to stop pushing this unsupported argument’
Filed under: astrology, blizzard, climate depot, mckibben, mediacd