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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/ 7/2010

Cold weather in a hot climate

By Andrew Freedman

* Some snow tonight: Accumulation Map, Timeline & Full Forecast *


Image from NASA's Terra satellite of recent snowfall in eastern China, captured on Jan. 4, 2010. Beijing reportedly received around a foot of snow in their biggest snowstorm in 60 years. Credit: NASA.

As I shivered down Connecticut Avenue to join some dear friends for brunch in Woodley Park on New Year's Day, I couldn't help but ask myself: "Why the heck didn't I escape to someplace warm over the holidays?" I suspect many Washingtonians were asking themselves a similar question during the long weekend, as a monster storm in the Gulf of Maine caused wind chills to plummet into the single digits. This storm came on the heels of December's cold air outbreaks and 'Snowpocalypse.'

Thus far, winter 2009/10 has been quite remarkable for its cold and snow, and not just in the mid-Atlantic. Significant cold air outbreaks and snowstorms have affected large portions of the Northern Hemisphere since December, and they have sparked a burst of media attention on the subject of extreme cold. This poses a challenge for reporters and bloggers such as myself who cover climate change, since cold weather would seem to counter scientific evidence showing that Earth is warming due to human activities.

When covering a heat wave, I would be on solid scientific footing if I were to say that the event is consistent with observations and projections of global climate change. A recent study, for example, found that record highs are already outpacing record lows in the continental United States.

But what about covering the cold and snow? Obviously such weather is inconsistent with the popular, albeit erroneous storyline of a world that is warming uniformly. But should stories detailing heavy snows and record cold temperatures even mention that this weather is occurring in the context of a climate that is warming overall, with the 2000s going down in history as the warmest decade in the instrumental record? Or should they assume that the reader understands what most scientists have long maintained, which is that weather patterns will continue to vary tremendously, even as the climate warms over the longer term?

So far this winter, most reporters haven't been mentioning climate change when covering the unusual cold and snow. To a large extent, the media is reporting the cold weather in a straightforward "it was extremely cold today in x" or "it snowed a ton today in y" manner. For example, recent news stories, both of which were highlighted on the heavily trafficked Drudge Report, detailed record snows in Seoul, South Korea, and Burlington, Vermont. These distant cities set new records for their all time greatest snowfall in either a single day (in Seoul's case) or a single storm (in Burlington).

The lack of climate change discussion in stories about cold and snow opens the door for skeptics to claim that the press purposely ignores any climate implications of cold weather, but hypes the potential connections between unusual heat and climate change. As a piece in the conservative Business and Media Institute put it yesterday, "The news media constantly misuse extreme weather examples to generate fear of global warming, but when record cold or record snow sets in journalists don't mention the possibility of global cooling trends."

Lately the prominent skeptic Web site Climate Depot has been full of headlines about cold and snow, ranging from "World Under Arctic Seige" to "How cold is it? Fargo N. Dakota breaks 1885 temp record -- sees 33 below zero!" One can easily come away from the site, and others like it, with the impression that the world is turning into an icebox, a la "The Day After Tomorrow," rather than a tinderbox, a la Australia, 2009.

To some extent, I agree with that line of criticism. It's absolutely true that extreme heat generates coverage of climate change, whereas extreme cold does not. But where skeptics see a media conspiracy to ignore cooling, I see an effort to accurately communicate climate science to the public. Of course there is a "possibility" that the earth is cooling, but virtually every peer reviewed climate study has shown the opposite to be true.

A larger problem with the media's approach to covering the recent cold is that it ignores how people tend to think about climate change, which is squarely in the context of extreme weather and climate events. Such events are much more tangible to everyday experience than long-term climate change is, but they are not always related to climate change. Sometimes weather is just weather.

So what, then, should the press be doing differently today? In my view, journalists should make an effort to include the broader climate context whenever it is scientifically justified. That means that it might be unnecessary to mention climate change in a story about a short-term cold snap, but could be integral to a story on heavy snowfall.

For perspective on how this might be done, I turned to Joe Romm of the liberal Center for American Progress, who has been pushing for more coverage of the links between extreme weather and climate events and global climate change.

"If we see record-breaking extremes of a very certain kind -- those that are consistent with climate science predictions -- those I think are newsworthy," Romm told me in an e-mail interview earlier this week.

"... global warming can't turn January into July," Romm said. "Indeed, we've only had about 1°F [of] warming in recent decades, which can't do much more than skew the odds -- it certainly hasn't warmed anywhere near enough [to] have driven us outside the bounds of the much larger temperature swings that come from regional weather patterns, let alone the seasons. So merely reporting it's cold in January isn't news that has any relevancy to global warming."

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | January 7, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, Science  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Snow tonight, then more wind & cold
Next: PM Update: Light snowfall arrives this evening

Comments

Great Blog! There should be direct link to this on the front page of WP.com.

Posted by: GD1975 | January 7, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

The irony here is that when you have colder-than-normal weather across many populated areas of the Northern Hemisphere (Europe, Asia, North America) like we do right now, the utilities work harder and ultimately more fuel is burned. Hence, it is too cold to "fight" global warming from a conservation standpoint.

Posted by: MattRogers | January 7, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

So, you think that the weather report should be used as a partisan tool, with NO time given to the other side?

Off to another source of NON-PARTISAN weather information.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 7, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

There hasn't been much of a discussion about climate change in the context of the current cold snap because one has nothing to do with the other. There also hasn't been much discussion about mountain lion attacks in the context of WTO trade negotiations. Hmmm...

Year-to-year variations do not confirm or belie the predictive models of climate change, which focus on long-term trends.

The lack of discussion is partially reflective of people's desire not to sound stupid. Of course, that doesn't deter everyone.

And no, you would not be on "solid scientific footing" if you talked about a heat wave in the context of climate change, for the same reason. Again: year-to-year temperature swings are normal and expected, even as long-term trends show a gradual increase in average temperatures.

Posted by: Buddydog | January 7, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Buddydog: nice mountain lion reference :) I don't think the science backs you up on your heat wave comment, though, but your overall view is echoed by a column in The Guardian yday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/jan/06/cold-snap-climate-sceptics

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Dear Sir,
You Stated,” I see an effort to accurately communicate climate science to the public.” I ask that you step back and take a look at your definition of climate change. You appear to use the term “short-term cold snap” as a criterion for disproving climate change. Instead of unbiased investigation, you place current evidence in the category of weather variances. Let’s look a few months back. In October you reported temperature anomalies and dismissed them using the same criteria. I believe your criteria for defining climate change are actually skewing the evidence and misinforming readers. If you were to replace your definition of climate change with that of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration our current predicament would be reported much differently. Here is the NOAA’s definition of climate change. Climate is the “average weather” over a period of months to thousands or millions of years. Climate Change is a departure from the expected average weather patterns which are also known as the “climate normals”. Since the climate norm has changed from October through January it should be considered Climate Change. The NOAA’s definition can be found at the following address. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/abrupt/story1.html
Fred Manning

Posted by: fred1mann | January 7, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

@WashingtonDame

This is a climate column post, and totally separate from our D.C. area weather forecast posts. We think our readers are sophisticated enough to see the difference between our weather and climate coverage, and consume as much or as little of each as they like.

Posted by: CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

A great article, Andrew, and one as suggested above by GD1975 should be referred to upfront by the WP and elsewhere. Bravo!!

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the fair-minded column. At the same time, we now have to understand the phrase, "peer reviewed climate study" in the context of the Climate Research Unit emails, i.e., refuse to review articles from the "wrong" researchers and marginalize journals that do otherwise.

Posted by: DellC | January 7, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that those who want "the other side" to be represented are nothing more than revisionist scientists wannabes and peddlers of lame conspiracy theories. The 2007 climate report was pretty definitive, all of the peer reviewed literature is pretty definitive, yet we should give equal time to cartoonish theories of climate change which have more basis in shooting the messenger than any actual science. Should we start giving credibility and space to Holocaust deniers because some of the statistics don't exactly corroborate each other? Rubbish. Now, what makes me even madder still is tonight's moisture starved Clipper. I wanted another dumping.

Posted by: gstern1994 | January 7, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Thus far it has been a colder winter than usual.

The proof of a global warming hypothesis lies in such statistics as change in the amount of tropical ice fields and whether the polar ice caps are expanding or shrinking. This year's cold winter may not have much effect on those statistics.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 7, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Fred Manning is correct in so far as he goes in the NOAA (and generally accepted) definition of climate, "the average weather over a period of months to thousands or millions of years". But this citation quits in the middle of the actual defining sentence : " ..... millions of years, taking into consideration the variability in time of these averaged quantities". That is, climate is more than just the mean of this or that over some period. A more complete definition includes the variability of the quantity about the climate mean.

For example, the average winter temperature might be the same at two locations (let's say 40F), but at one location it might vary from one year to the next by 2.0F and 10.0F at the other. Any measure of climate change must (should) include both elements. The mean temperature might increase/decrease with no change in variance, the mean temperature may not change while there is and increase/decrease in variability, or both can change.

The vast majority of currently available scientifically objective evidence indicates the latter, overall warming and greater variability. Whether or not this evidence and projections for its continuance hold up, please remember there are two primary components of climate change - and, additionally, changes in both mean and variability can vary from one region to another with no net change in the trends overall globally.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"@WashingtonDame

This is a climate column post, and totally separate from our D.C. area weather forecast posts. We think our readers are sophisticated enough to see the difference between our weather and climate coverage, and consume as much or as little of each as they like.

Posted by: CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 1:17 PM"

In a word: crap. This column is posted under the heading "Capital WEATHER Gang, the inside scope on DC, Maryland, and VIrginia WEATHER." Furthermore, the writer expressly states: " In my view, journalists should make an effort to include the broader climate context whenever it is scientifically justified. That means that it might be unnecessary to mention climate change in a story about a short-term cold snap, but could be integral to a story on heavy snowfall."

In other words, views on climate change SHOULD be included in weather reports.

So, please don't insult my intellgence by saying that this post is separate from weather reports. The placement of the column and its content contradict that.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 7, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, I respectfully disagree with your analysis. I recognized pretty much from the first two paragraphs that this was an opinion article and not weather forecast. Did you not?

Posted by: GD1975 | January 7, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, I also disagree. Certainly, I find it difficult to mistake this article for a weather forecast or report. Peharps the posting doesn't exactly fit under the description of the CWG, but neither do the recent postings on an ongoing trip to Antarctica.

Anyways, I like the quote at the end of the post. Even with, say, a 4F increase in temperatures, winter will continue to be cold. 25F with high winds is not a whole lot nicer than 29F with high winds. To an absolute lay person like me, recent mild winters would seem to have much more to do with normal year to year variations than with a 1F increase in average temperatures.

Posted by: Finn1917 | January 7, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Ok, Let us assume for a moment that Global warming is happening since you always need to correlate any weather we have with Global Warming. The question now becomes, humanity is so hypocritical and nothing will be done to reverse it. I mean if for a second any of you believe that countries will change their ways to save the environment are very wrong. The only way we will resolve this issue will be through wars in the future, nuclear wars waged against each others. Stop being hypocritical. Its like arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, you people are small.

Posted by: bluebee8 | January 7, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

It's GLOBAL climate change. Not "US, UK and parts of Asia" climate change.

Check this BBC story, scroll to the bottom and click on the fourth slide to see where you can go to escape the frost.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8443252.stm

Posted by: BDVienna | January 7, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I find it remarkable and hopeful that there has been little, if any to my knowledge, news relating current extreme weather to El Nino - because it has nothing to do with El Nino. There remains the question of whether this reflects an enlightened media, simply forgetting about El Nino, or the notion there's more eyeballs to be gleaned by bringing in global warming.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 7, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, I respectfully disagree with your analysis. I recognized pretty much from the first two paragraphs that this was an opinion article and not weather forecast. Did you not?

Posted by: GD1975 | January 7, 2010 3:23 PM
------------------
Well, now where did WashingtonDame say that she thought this post was a weather report? Her issue is with Freedman's position that climate change should be mentioned in weather reports.

I had a different issue in Freedman's phrasing in the 3rd paragraph. He seems to want to mention a single event (a heat wave) as consistent with climate change and claim that doing so is sound or "solid scientific footing". But Romm's statements show the absurdity of this since the temperature change has been relatively small and only skews the odds. In fact, statistically any event (heat wave, cold snap, 72F for days) would be "consistent" with global warming, global cooling or global temperature malaise. Because ONE single event does not prove or disprove evidence of a trend. It is merely one event. So to mention global warming/climate change in reference to a single event (a heat wave) is NOT solid scientific footing". (Simple example: here is a sample from a distribution... you tell me the distribution: 74.342 I give you a hint, I pulled this sample from a normal distribution with variance 70, all you or Mr. Freedman has to do is give me the mean.)

*Writing this since my last post was too long and Tracton chose not to post it.

Posted by: prokaryote | January 7, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Single extreme weather events cannot be presented as evidence for or against climate change. But the media can put abnormal weather in the context of climate change. For instance, colder than normal winters will become less frequent as the global climate warms. Hotter than normal summers will become more frequent. It's not clear at this time if Washington will experience more or fewer storms as the climate changes.

Posted by: imback | January 7, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Most of the times common sense is right. but in some cases common sense is dead wrong. I've heard so many otherwise intelligent people mocking the Global Warming Theory using the current cold weather as an argument.
Nothing but common sense. Just wrong.

Why does media not talk about Global Warming when reporting a foot of snow and sub zero freezing? They are about as irrelevant as apples to oranges. Plus it would not sound pretty stupid right? :-)

Posted by: LoudounGeek | January 7, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Climate scientists have been saying for years that the number one effect of climate change is going to be disruption in the weather. Stronger storms in some places, fewer of them in others. Extremes of weather that are clearly unusual.

The warming part is an overall trend, not a short term effect. So what we're seeing is not inconsistent with the science, or the predictions that have been made.

I used to hammer on this part of the global warming issue consistently, now I've more or less given up because no one wants to listen.

Posted by: Nymous | January 7, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Good grief. Is everyone at the WaPo brainwashed???

The temp changes that the Albore crowd talks about is statistical noise. The changes in sea levels that the Albore crowd talks about is statistical noise.

Consider this. Over the past million years on multiple occasions sea level has risen to 20 feet higher than it is today (indicating a warmer climate than today), as well as 300 feet lower than it is today (the water was precipitated onto the land as a 1 mile sheet layer of ice).

The Earth's climate is HIGHLY variable. The geological evidence speaks for itself. However, man has NOTHING to do with it.

VOTE REPUBLICAN!!!

Posted by: A1965bigdog | January 7, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

--begin quote--
Preliminary indications continue to suggest that winter temperatures are likely to be near or above average over much of Europe including the UK. Winter 2009/10 is likely to be milder than last year for the UK, but there is still a 1 in 7 chance of a cold winter.
--end quote--

Source of the above quote -
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/science/creating/monthsahead/seasonal/2009/winter.html

Of course reality is quite different -
Britain facing one of the coldest winters in 100 years

Army rescues 1,000 drivers stranded in cars for 12 HOURS

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 12:42 AM | Report abuse

"Climate Change" is a contrived term, with which AGW Theory proponents have attempted to correct a highly flawed idea (Which in turn has failed the test of time, and has subsequently been shattered to a tremendous degree by actual field observations).

Posted by: TheAnalyst | January 8, 2010 5:18 AM | Report abuse

Interesting local side note: for Washington, DC, we've had twice as many colder-than-normal winters (Dec-Feb) in the 2000s vs. the 1990s. In the 90s, we were colder-than-normal in 93-94 and 95-96. In the 2000s, we did it in 00-01, 02-03, 03-04, and just barely last year 08-09.

Posted by: MattRogers | January 8, 2010 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Mr Q obviously has no understanding of probabilities. 1/7 (14%) chance of a cold winter means that, e.g., 14 out of a hundred winters will be cold simply by chance. This winter is obviously one of them.

If there is a predictable 86% chance you'll make it to work on time through rush hour traffic (14% you'll not), does that mean if you're late the forecast is wrong??

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

SteveT wrote, "Mr Q obviously has no understanding of probabilities."

It is fascinating that when I directly quote the MET, your rebuttal is to attack me. You consistently attack the person rather than the argument. Why is that?

I understand probabilities very well. Your accusation that I don't is completely unfounded and says more about you than anything else. You had no reason to make that assertion, and yet you did. You may not realize this, SteveT, but your unfounded and baseless accusations only harm you. They reflect poorly on you, not me.

You can try to put a positive spin on the MET missing yet another forecast. Feel free. But I want to remind the readers that these are the same people predicting catastrophic man made global warming. That's all.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

If Mr. Q understands probabilities, it's clear his comment about UK Met forecast was deliberately misleading about "reality" - so what else is new? Nothing more be said.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

SteveT wrote, "If Mr. Q understands probabilities, it's clear his comment about UK Met forecast was deliberately misleading about "reality" - so what else is new?"

I used the word "reality" as a reference for reality. Sorry if that confused you.

Merriam- Webster defines reality as -
1 : the quality or state of being real
2 a (1) : a real event, entity, or state of affairs (2) : the totality of real things and events

They made a forecast. Time passed. I referred to the actual weather that was observed as "reality". What term would you prefer?

Are you feeling alright? Are you taking some sort of prescription medication?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Weather is not climate. I'm sorry, but it doesn't matter how many hot toddies are drunk; it doesn't matter how many donuts the cars spin out on the way to work; it doesn't matter how many sweaters are put on or how high thermostats are set: none of that turns weather in to climate.

This seems to be impossible for the climate change denier crowd to understand: every year, winter weather in the northern hemisphere from December through March always seems to shock and amaze them. The colder it gets, the more wonderment they exhibit. Bless their hearts.

Before forming their opinions (or trying to spin opinions of others in a comments blog) why don't deniers check the weather in australia. Here's a link: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/

A tip: the Aussies use Celsius. 22 degrees is not donut and toddie weather for them. Here's a link to NOAA's C/F converter:
http://www.wbuf.noaa.gov/tempfc.htm

Posted by: semiarid | January 8, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

semiarid wrote, "Weather is not climate."

How does that square with this comment by Mr. Freedman - "When covering a heat wave, I would be on solid scientific footing if I were to say that the event is consistent with observations and projections of global climate change."

Is it that only hot weather is related to climate change?

Doesn't the hypothesis of catastrophic man made global warming predict milder winters?

If 6 out of the next 10 winters are unseasonably cold, would that disprove the hypothesis? Or would you be back here in 10 years saying, "Weather is not climate."

If 6 out of 10 unseasonably cold winters doesn't prove the hypothesis wrong, what would it take to disprove the hypothesis?

It takes a series of winters to be climate, correct? Precisely how many winters need pass before we call it climate?

Isn't one of the tenets of science that a hypothesis must be capable of being invalidated in order to be a valid hypothesis?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

"Single extreme weather events cannot be presented as evidence for or against climate change." (imback)

"When covering a heat wave, I would be on solid scientific footing if I were to say that the event is consistent with observations and projections of global climate change." (Freedman)

Freedman says a single event is consistent with climate change observations and projections. The poster imback says a single weather event cannot be presented as evidence of climate change. I agree with imback, and I think most (if not all) statisticians would too.

What puts me off here is that we have other posters suggesting this post be put on the front page when it contains erroneous statements like the above. This does not educate the public. It misinforms them. Here is another problem:

"So merely reporting it's cold in January isn't news that has any relevancy to global warming." (Romm)

The statement is incomplete. Change "cold" to "hot" and "January" to "July" and the statement is just as true, yet Romm never says that and Freedman never asks him. Allowing such a statement without also positing the other extreme is poor scientific journalism in my view, because it is framing the debate instead of informing the public.

The article could also be written better. When Freedman quotes Romm to have said, "Indeed, we've only had about 1°F [of] warming in recent decades, which can't do much more than skew the odds", that is the time to present the link to the NCAR study:

http://www.ucar.edu/news/releases/2009/maxmin.jsp

The study demonstrates what Romm has stated. Instead, Freedman includes the link in a paragraph where he talks about "covering a heat wave" (a single event). The study is not about a single event, it is about multiple events, both heat waves and cold snaps.

Posted by: prokaryote | January 8, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

This was 10 years ago -

--begin quote--
According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.
--end quote--

This is today -
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1241674/Families-face-THIRD-WEEK-rubbish-collection-deep-freeze-brings-Britain-halt.html

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Andrew Freedman did not state that an event can be evidence for climate change, just that an event can be consistent with climate change, which is not incorrect. However, probabilistic language should be used when relating weather to climate. For instance, Gerald Meehl from NCAR told AP this week, "we'll still have record cold temperatures. We'll just have fewer of them."

Posted by: imback | January 8, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

prokaryote: I think you may be misinterpreting my views on a key point, or I may have phrased my point in an unclear manner originally. Climate change cannot be said to cause a single weather event - i.e. a heat wave is not "caused by" global climate change. But climate change does increase the odds of such events occurring, and increases the odds (in some cases) that certain events will be more severe.

To some extent, our discussion depends on what event we're talking about. I mean, in the case of the 2003 European heat wave, many scientists believe that event was consistent with what is expected in a warming climate. But if we're talking about a rather ordinary string of 90 degree days in Washington in August, then that's a different story.

Climate change decreases the odds of other events, but does not mean that they will cease occurring altogether.

You may see this post as irresponsible. That's fine, you're entitled to your opinion. But in my view, the irresponsible parties in this case are the ones who are claiming that the cold weather in parts of the Northern Hemisphere is evidence that climate change is not occurring, or at least not occurring as projected. That's just not true.

Furthermore, I don't think reporters should be making climate change links with every weather story they write, far from it. But if reporters discuss climate change only in the context of warm weather events, and don't mention it in the context of cold weather events, then it could seem as if the cold weather is evidence against climate change - when that is not the case.

Finally, on the matter of link placement, I think you're being far too picky on that one.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Matt - interesting observation. What about DC summers?

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"Andrew Freedman did not state that an event can be evidence for climate change, just that an event can be consistent with climate change, which is not incorrect."

But his sentence is still meaningless! Any single event is consistent with almost any pattern... global warming (aka climate change), global cooling, or any type of warming or cooling or steady state. Why? Because a single sample (event) does not make a trend (probability). So why make such a nonsensical statement?

Here's the problem. By Freedman suggesting that he can just talk about climate change or global warming in reference to a single temperature event, many people (Mr. Q?) deny climate change or suggest global cooling using the same rationale or reasoning... based on a single temperature event (today's perhaps). It's simply child-like to suggest that the "correct" side can use illogical reasoning, but the "incorrect" side cannot use the same illogical reasoning. Look at the quote again:

"When covering a heat wave, I would be on solid scientific footing if I were to say that the event is consistent with observations and projections of global [warming]." (Andrew Freedman)

Compare with:

"When covering a cold snap, I would be on solid scientific footing if I were to say that the event is consistent with observations and projections of global cooling." (Mr. Global Warming Denier)

I'm sure Steve Tracton would say Mr. Global Warming Denier "obviously has no understanding of probabilities." Is that what he said about Freedman too? I must have missed that. (And perhaps he must have missed Chris Mooney's piece in Outlook last Sunday?)

Posted by: prokaryote | January 8, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

What seems to missing from this discussion is that CO2 warming is more prominent in dry and cold conditions. There are two consequences, first the poles warm faster than the rest of the world. This has generally proven true. Second the number of cold records should decrease with a normal amount or rise in heat records. The current weather notwithstanding, this has also been generally true. Winters should be less severe going forward.

I can't leave without addressing "weather is not climate". It's like saying climate is not climate. There are so many ways that weather and climate are related that talking about climate without weather makes no sense. Climate is simply the integration of all weather over time. If weather changes, then climate changes.

If we have more cold snaps like the current one, the climate is colder. There is no "balancing" heat wave in Australia to balance out our cold snap. A quick glance at the satellite temperature record makes that obvious, we dropped 0.25 degrees on average worldwide last month. We might rise 0.25 this month if El Nino kicks in. If the drop continues, the climate is getting colder, if not, it is getting warmer.

Posted by: eric654 | January 8, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

prokaryote: Let's say that you're a science reporter (a dying breed) covering a severe heat wave that is causing deaths in several states. Would you mention climate change in your coverage? If so, how? If not, why not?

Conversely, let's say you're covering the current cold snap. What, if anything, would you say about climate change. Keep in mind that many people out there are claiming that the cold weather rebuts the scientific consensus on climate change.

I don't ask these questions as a test or anything, I am really just curious what you think is scientifically justified and what isn't. Thanks!

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

One thing that I don't think has been mentioned in this thread (though I skimmed through some of the comments) is the fact that climate scientists have been predicting that the VARIANCE of temperatures, along with the mean, will be increasing over time. Translated into less technical terms, that means that as the global average temperature creeps upward, the swings AROUND that average (mean) will be getting greater.

Depending on the relative magnitude of the slope of that mean versus the magnitude of that increasing variance, it's quite reaonable to expect a growing number of record lows AND highs. As Andy pointed out, the new highs are outpacing the new lows, as predicted by the increasing mean. But that doesn't mean it should be surprising to see more cold snaps as well (in the context of a general slow warming trend).

People who gripe about the term "climate change" (which refers to stuff other than temperature as well, such as droughts) will no doubt cry that this is "trying to play both sides" of some kind of chance game. But it's actually the way statistics works. If I could post a graph to show an example, I would.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 8, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Just spent a 1/2 hour on a blog reading a discussion about solar sun spots and the coming ice age. Something called Maunder's Minimum? Then I headed over here to read about our impending doom due to global warming. I'm so confused as to who should be scaring me the most.

Right now I'm freezing my butt off so I'll side with the sun gods over the climate gods. Check in with me this summer and I might change my tune.

The one thing I do know, many scientists are full of it, and their followers are dolts. I wonder who is who?

Posted by: SimJim | January 8, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

haha The WSJ has your number. read.... http://online.wsj.com/article/best_of_the_web_today.html#printMode

That you would only think to go to a left leaning source to push this agenda proves the media bias point. The climategate emails prove that this is agenda and not science driven. "1 degree warming in recent decades' give me more of that.

man made climate change is a hoax akin to a flea believing he is in control of a dog.

Posted by: arthurrice | January 8, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

arthurrice: thx for the link. I explained exactly why I sought out Romm's views on this, and it has nothing to do with his political affiliation.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

"climate scientists have been predicting that the VARIANCE of temperatures, along with the mean, will be increasing over time."

B2O2, do you have a reference for that? I thought the pole-to-equator temperature gradient would generally decrease, and hence so would baroclinicity. On the other hand, higher water vapor capacity could mean bigger precipitation events. But a reference would be far better than my handwaving. Thanks in advance. Mark

Posted by: imback | January 8, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Over 20 years ago (sometime around 1988-1989), Salon.com contributor Suzy Hansen interviewed Dr. James Hansen. She asked him, "If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in 20 years?

His response? He said, "The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water."

He made that forecast/prediction over 20 years ago. Time is up. So any of you New Yorkers living next to the West Side Highway are living on borrowed time. Better sell it quick!

Need a good laugh? Go check out the MET chief getting grilled on BBC. Well worth your time.

But I still crack up over Dr David Viner's statement that "Children just aren't going to know what snow is"

--begin quote--
However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".
--end quote--

He said that back in March 2000. ;)

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Weather is not climate.

MrQ, I can't be responsible for Mr. Freedman's statements, you'll have to check with him on his reasoning and writing.

Eric654, climate is the long-term average of weather. The topic of the article we are commenting about is how local weather can be understood in the context of global climate change. Australia's climate contributes to the global climate, sorry, but you can't just ignore an entire continent in a discussion of global climate. Well, you can ignore any continent you want to, but then all I can say is "bless your heart".

While it is certainly true that today's "average weather" should be factored in to this month's "average weather" and that should be factored in to the long-term average that manifests as climate, it is certainly NOT TRUE that one particularly cold month in Maine (or one particularly hot month in Australia, for that matter) is going to affect the long term average.

Results of a recent (Oct. 2009) statistical analysis of global temperature data (performed in a blind test sponsored by the AP) indicate "a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but (Statisticians) could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years ... The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880." Link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33482750/ns/us_news-environment/

Finally, I'm totally stumped, Eric654, by your statement about "CO2 warming being more prominent in dry and cold conditions". If I understood what you meant, I would probably disagree. Data show that the North Pole is warming, but the data also show that the South Pole is cooling.

MrQ, here's a link to an EDF fact sheet about global warming. It answers your questions and speaks to many of the points you've raised. Though I doubt you will respect the source, maybe some of the folks you are sparring with here will find it informative. http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=1011

Posted by: semiarid | January 8, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

semiarid wrote, "MrQ, here's a link to an EDF fact sheet about global warming. It answers your questions and speaks to many of the points you've raised."

Hmmm... I followed your link. I read the "fact" sheet. Perhaps you have my questions confused with some other person's questions. That "fact" sheet only answered one of the questions that I posed to you.

I asked you the following?

Doesn't the hypothesis of catastrophic man made global warming predict milder winters?
Your "fact" sheet addressed that question. It stated that "the overall trend is warmer winters." This was the only question your "fact" sheet answered.

Perhaps you can answer my remaining questions.

If 6 out of the next 10 winters are unseasonably cold, would that disprove the hypothesis? Or would you be back here in 10 years saying, "Weather is not climate."

If 6 out of 10 unseasonably cold winters doesn't prove the hypothesis wrong, what would it take to disprove the hypothesis?

It takes a series of winters to be climate, correct? Precisely how many winters need pass before we call it climate?

Isn't one of the tenets of science that a hypothesis must be capable of being invalidated in order to be a valid hypothesis?

I am interested in your answer to all of those questions, but I am particularly interested in that last question? The scientific method mandates that a theory MUST be capable of being proven false.

What will prove the catastrophic man made global warming theory false? As near as I can tell, nothing will prove the theory false.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 8, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: deveinmadisonva | January 9, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

deveinmadisonva, maybe it's time to find a new doctor who doesn't deny science.

Posted by: imback | January 9, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

'find a new doctor' what an idiot. i know you have a hidden agenda, but did you even read the story.lets see you read as far hoax.

Posted by: deveinmadisonva | January 9, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

semiarid, sorry for not responding sooner. What I meant by "prominent" is that the extra CO2 will always warm a small extra amount everywhere in world, pole to pole. But the poles have a lot less water vapor warming (on a relative basis) than the rest of the world. That's why CO2 warming is prominent at the poles. Antarctica is a special case since the dryness there (the driest of any continent by far) overwhelms the slight warming from CO2.

At the other extreme in the tropics the slight warming from CO2 causes changes in the weather that are in fact quite poorly understood. The global climate models do not have sufficient resolution to model the change. The best results come from analyzing the real world weather particularly the resultant humidity levels in the upper atmosphere. That is where water vapor feedback will be strongest and have the greatest effect on global climate.

Posted by: eric654 | January 9, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Nothing going on here. Keep moving please. Pay no attention to what is going on outside. We have adjusted the statistics to show that global warming is advancing, so pay your carbon tax and shut up.

Posted by: recoveredliberal | January 9, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

NewsBusters: WaPo Blogger Wants Weather Served With a Side Order of 'Climate Science' -- Only When It's Hot or Stormy
http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2010/01/09/wapo-blogger-wants-weather-served-side-order-climate-science-only-when-i

Posted by: StewartIII | January 10, 2010 1:53 AM | Report abuse

It is very interesting that you chose to say that the last decade was the warmest in instrumental measurement, without clarifying that instruments measurements haven't been going on very long (relatively speaking). Could it be that you don't want to address the MWP and LIA, where temperatures were much hotter (MWP) and colder (LIA) than they are now, all without the benefit of man-made industry? What I find more interesting is that you felt you had to couch the discussion in those terms. Could this be a little CYA from someone who was previously a true believer but now, after reading the ClimateGate e-mails and shivering through the coldest winter in 30 years, you're starting to wonder a bit yourself?

As for those who fall back on the "there's a difference between climate and weather and the only thing that matters is long term trends," I have a question - doesn't climate consist of a long-term sequence of weather? In other words, you can't have a hundred days where the temperature is 10 degrees below normal without an impact on the data point for the year on the long term trend. The fact of the matter is that the latest IWPP report with the hockey-stick has been disproved time and again. The one that was used in the 1999 report is probably a better reflection of what the real temperature data line looks like (based on correlation with historical records and contemporaneous accounts), so all of the statements that talk about the 1990s or the 2000s being the warmest are simply hokum.

I just thank God that Al Gore invented the internet or we'd have no way to fact check all the liberals in the Strong Left-Inclined Media Elite (SLIME).

Posted by: DMcArthur | January 10, 2010 6:45 AM | Report abuse

If you want to be heard don't ever mention the phrase "peer reviews" again when talking about climate. Ears will close down instantly and you will be laughed out of court. Sorry, but "peer review" in the climate context has no credibility any more. Thank those guys in East Anglia.

Posted by: Adrem | January 10, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Many commentators seem to assume that the issue here is global warming per se. But global warming is NOT the issue. It is accepted that the globe is warming and is part of naturally occurring climate cycle, perhaps within the context of a well attested roughly 1,500 year cycle.

What is at issue is whether humanity is causing it, and there the science of GW stands on very rickety legs. It is weak on both the magnitudes involved ( the level of likely human CO2 tonnages compared with CO2 generated elsewhere, notably the oceans with 35x as much); and the fact that the biggest greenhouse gas by far (90%) is water vapour with C02 being miniscule by comparison. It is weak on the pure logic that correlation necessarily means causation - there were hotter periods in the past, and periods when C02 was high , and we were running around in bear skins. Finally, its statistical predictive climate models are just shameful in every sense of the word. Both in their import and their value.
During one warm period in the past grapes were grown in Greenland and the desert regions had lakes and vegetation. So bring on the warming!

Posted by: Adrem | January 10, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

--begin quote--
The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere is only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world’s most eminent climate scientists.

...

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007 – and even the most committed global warming activists do not dispute this.

...

Prof Latif, who leads a research team at the renowned Leibniz Institute at Germany’s Kiel University, has developed new methods for measuring ocean temperatures 3,000ft beneath the surface, where the cooling and warming cycles start.

He and his colleagues predicted the new cooling trend in a paper published in 2008 and warned of it again at an IPCC conference in Geneva last September.

Last night he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘A significant share of the warming we saw from 1980 to 2000 and at earlier periods in the 20th Century was due to these cycles – perhaps as much as 50 per cent.

'They have now gone into reverse, so winters like this one will become much more likely. Summers will also probably be cooler, and all this may well last two decades or longer.
---end quote---

Does two or more decades = climate?

I think it does. ;)

source of the above quote

@imback
What about that science?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | January 10, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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