Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bill McFibben on the Weirdest Weather

Bill McKFibben went on Democracy Now today to talk about the President's attempt to make everyone happy on the Keystone Pipeline (or, at least, make everyone equally unhappy), and mentioned the warm weather in the US, calling it the "weirdest weather ever seen in this country."

Personally I find such talk strange, since here in Oregon it's been cold and rainy (and even snowed last night), but that's another matter.

But weirdest weather ever? Weirder than the Dust Bowl years? Than any of various "storms of the century," or 1972's Hurricane Agnes, a June hurricane that swept away all our lawn furniture and precipitated a 20-year feud between my grandmother and my great uncle-in-law when she suggested, as we were standing around watching the water come up, that he'd better get his Volkswagen Bug out of our driveway before it floated away. (I suspect there must have been bad feelings between them already, and this was just the last straw.) Me, I believe the absolutely weirdest weather in the U.S. occurred on August 25, 1814, when, just as the British were setting fire to Washington D.C. -- the Americans having all fled the day before, including Dolley Madison with some valuable paintings -- a hurricane appeared out of the blue and put out the fires, saving the city and, quite possibly, the nation.

Anyway it's certainly been a warm March in the U.S., but conveniently McKibben doesn't mention that the rest of the globe has had a fairly cold winter (Dec-Feb). Globally, UAH measured the lower troposphere to rank 19th out of 34 years; the USA48 ranking was 4th (last year it was 26th).

UAH's trend for USA48 over their 34-year record is 0.21 ± 0.04 C/decade. That's worrisome enough, and it what really he ought to cite, but I guess it's not scary enough and he needs to take advantage of a heat wave while its here.

McKibben does this a lot, like with last year's Hurricane Irene, which he attributed to warm water off the east coast. Yet the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season had a near normal number of major hurricanes, with an above average number of tropical storms with a near normal number of major hurricanes. Back then KcKibben picked off all the global hot spots:
"Last year was the warmest ever recorded on planet Earth. Arctic sea ice is near all-time record lows. Record floods from Pakistan to Queensland to the Mississippi basin; record drought from the steppes of Russia to the plains of Texas. Just about the only trauma we haven’t had are hurricanes plowing into the U.S., but that’s just luck—last year was a big storm year, but they all veered out to sea. This year we’re already on letter I—which in a normal year we don’t get to until well into October." 
Now he sticks to the US heat wave, with no mention of the recent deep freeze in eastern Europe. And if you want to cherry pick, Arctic sea ice is currently at it highest extent in several years.


Dano said...

He likely got it from Jeff Masters who tried to calculate SD of anomalous heat and found lots of mi^2 that were 4-6 SDs outside of range.



Michael Tobis said...

Sorry, David, you are out of line here.

Look at Masters and at Skolnick. The meteorologists jaws are on the floor every day.

This really is an extraordinary event, and it quite likely amounts to the sort of event that could not possibly have occurred in the climate of, say, 1950 or the ten thousand years prior to that.

It's not just the 5 sigmas. Those are 5 sigmas looked at as daily phenomena. Strings of them don't actually add up to 10-sigma, 15-sigma and 20-sigma, because they are not independent. But you find nothing comparable in the instrumental record in the US, and as far as I know only a couple of events anywhere ever, notably Russia in 2010 and Australia around the new year of 2009, and all those in the respective summers. This is a new kind of atmospheric flow.

Did it occur previous to the instrumental record? Well, nobody ever thought to look for it before. It will be interesting to see how robust the ecosystem is to summer in winter.

As for you being in the cold sector, yes. The whole world is not forty degrees too hot. That means that an anomaly like this has to be accompanied by cold anomalies immediately upstream and downstream.

As always, global warming is NOT a good name for the problem. Climate can be terribly disrupted without any warming, as you see in Oregon. But it's worth noting as well that warm records are falling at an enormous pace and cold records are not.

A couple of places have exceeded their all-time records for **April** this week. This is not just weather.

Michael Tobis said...

The sorts of things meteorologists are saying (quoted without permission, so without attribution)

"what makes this even more jaw-dropping from a meteorological standpoint is the La Nina ENSO phase. To have the 4th warmest meteorological winter during a cold ENSO phase is what makes me reach for the Maalox. High-amplitude patterns are quite common in March, but I can’t recall a 1-2 week long Bermuda high blocking pattern in March. Ever. The weather map still looks like something out of late June."

Shub said...

Sorry David, you are out of line here.

Listen to Michael Tobis, the expert on the Russian heat wave. You are out of line.


You were out of line with the Glieck thing too.

papertiger said...

Please, hey, would we care to all get in line, get in line.

No shoving.

Waiting to cut out the deadwood.
Waiting to clean up the city.
Waiting to follow the worms.
Waiting to put on a green shirt.
Waiting to weed out the weaklings.
Waiting to smash in their windows
And kick in their doors.
Waiting for the final solution
To strengthen the strain.
Waiting to follow the worms.

Anonymous said...

McKibbon's comments on Irene are correct. The rest of the hurricane season is irrelevant handwaving. Cat3 storms do not reach that far north (due to wind sheer) with that much energy, size and that much water without the unusually high ocean temperatures . Even after the sheer knocked out the eye, the storm still caused considerable damage along the rain wall all the way up the inner coast.

papertiger said...

tropical storm Irene.

Amazing how scumbags universally mislabel that storm.

Here's the definition.

tropical storm
A cyclonic storm originating in the tropics and having winds ranging from 39 to 73 miles per hour (34 to 63 knots; 63 to 117 kilometers per hour).

Just because East coast custodians of historically registered no man's lands would like to pass on the price of hiring a tree service to the government, that wish does not a hurricane make.

Dano said...

Masters also had an interesting point: recently during the heat wave, several cities' LOW temperatures were higher than the previous record high temps.

Not a typo.

And what Michael said: during a la Nina.



David Appell said...

Michael wrote:
>>A couple of places have exceeded their all-time records for **April** this week. This is not just weather.<<

But there are *always* places that will be exceeding their all-time records. If the temperature record is N years long, then on average there will be 365/N record highs set every year, and the same number of record lows.

Since N~100-200 for many US locations, that's about 1-3 record highs and lows each year....

Have there been reports that this heat wave is 5 standard deviations above the mean, somewhere? I haven't seen them (partly because it's been so cold and rainy here in Oregon that the heat wave hasn't felt like news to me, partly because I don't watch TV so I don't have an emotional sense for it).

Where I live the last 2 weeks have been 4.4 F below normal, with 5.6" of rain....

bill mckibben said...

this might be what you're looking for:

Republic of Tar said...


Are you not concerned that your identification of Michael Tobis as the "expert on the Russian heat wave" makes YOU palpably evil?

Don Simpson said...


I couldn't agree more. The Mckibbons of the world do no one any favors with there constant exageration and half truths.

Shub said...

Dear Mr McKibben,
I have a better picture.