New York City Gets a Taste of the Precautionary Principle

January 28th, 2015 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

The New England blizzard that hit yesterday infamously missed its primary target: New York City. In fairness to the forecasters, there were as many weather model forecasts supporting an historic NYC storm as there were just a significant snowstorm.

For areas well east of NYC, this snowstorm storm (dubbed “Juno” by The Weather Channel) was remarkably similar to Snowstorm Nemo (remember him?) that hit approximately the same area during Feb. 8-9, 2013, with peak accumulations of about 3 feet and peak winds over 70 mph.

But the NYC mayor overreacting to the storm with subway closures and orders to stay off the streets and sidewalks is, ultimately, counterproductive.

Overwarning Leads to Complacency
Whether it’s weather warning, or warning of what global warming will do to us, it creates a “crying wolf” situation. What happens when a real crisis arises if every snowstorm is painted as the worst crisis?

Similarly, will scientists be believed anymore after decades of failed predictions regarding overpopulation, global crop failures, global cooling, global warming, etc.?

climate-change-warnings-over-the-years

Overwarning Leads to Reduced Economic Activity
When people can’t provide goods and services for each other, poverty results. Poverty, in turn, is just a step away from early death.

A storm (or just the threat of a storm) might disrupt economic activity for a day or two, but years of economic downturn will result from politicians forcing everyone to pay more for everything just so that boutique energy sources (mostly wind and solar) line the pockets of crony capitalists.

People who claim that “whether the global warming science is right or wrong we should still embrace renewable energy” don’t understand basic economics, the obscene cost of those energy sources, and the immense scale of global energy demand.

It’s like saying that shutting down NYC every time there is the threat of bad weather is the right thing to do, anyway. You know…just to be on the safe side.

We could call it the ‘Precautionary Principle’.


43 Responses to “New York City Gets a Taste of the Precautionary Principle”

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  1. Mike Bromley says:

    I love it. But one thing that just causes a complete and utter shutdown is this namingby the Weather Channel, no less, of winter storms. And the NAMES! Nemo? Are you kidding me? Juno? Whatafter Juno Beach? And everyone climbing on, Bill Nye, The usual Suspects, NASA.

    It’s just a blizzard, ferchrissake. Cold air bumping into Moist Gulf Stream. Like it has been forever.

    • Mike, you obviously need to attend a government re-education center. I think they have one in the Ministry of Truth.

      • JohnKl says:

        A relative of my sister’s husband, who supported Obama, actually suggested to me people should be sent to education centers where they can learn what a great job he’s doing. From the many polls taken of the American public it apparently doesn’t take much to convince many people of anything. When one wanders through life uninformed, one’s view will quickly re-orient when some smooth talker wanders near, especially if he dispenses checks from Washington.

        Have a great day!

    • RW says:

      Good one, Mike!

    • Gunga Din says:

      “The Weather Channel”? Don’t you mean “The Storm Channel”?

      (It bugged me yesterday and today that they co-opted some of the “Weather on the 8’s” in favor of some of their talking boobs talking about “Juno”. True, the “Weather on the 8’s” isn’t what it used be. It used to be more reliable and it’s been a year or more since I’ve noticed them include the record high and low for the day but it was still the best part of their programming.)

  2. The claims made in the past about what the climate may do have all been wrong.

    I have made mine with reasoning nevertheless time will tell if it will join those claims of the past or possibly pan out.

    • Aaron S says:

      Based on my understanding of your thoughts, you quantify a strong link between the sun and climate. I agree and dont doubt the sun is a larger player in climate than IPCC considers, and that it can become in phase with other processes and create short term variation at solar periodicities that are strong. However, climate shifts from warming to cooling require time and there are lags in the system. For example if warming stopped and there was less energy heating earth, then there would be significant time for oceans to unload the stored heat from the last century of warming. Some surface currents take decades from Pacific to cycle and id caution you that you should think these lags trough or you risk credibility. People wont judge the 95% that was correct, they focus on the 5% you were wrong. Just look at the link bt sun spot number and hadcrut4… there is an obvious lag and the a break in the trend at about 1990. Then it is obvious some threshold was crossed and temp increased more than the sun could explain. To leave this warm state with will require more than the quasi decadal lag that already exists bc there is extra energy stored. I say this based on high resolution paleo climate records. They show gradual transitions with abrupt high frequency Flip flops during the transition. The trend requires time to differentiate from the noise.

      • Fonzarelli says:

        Aaron, these are interesting times for climate change junkies… It is interesting to note that we are at least seeing flat lining of temps during this weak solar cycle (and it’s just now coming off it’s max). We won’t have to wait very long to find out if salvatore is correct. Me? I’m betting on your version of events…

  3. Alan Poirier says:

    What I find truly unnerving was the ease with which travel restrictions were imposed. Ominous.

    • Mac says:

      At the risk of starting a political conflagration, there was an “EMERGENCY” (as determined by whoever wanted to) therefore the Constitution was suspended right along with the rights is protects and, of course, common sense.

      I would expect more of the same. 🙁

      • Mac says:

        The “rights IT protects”, sorry.

      • Alan Poirier says:

        Precisely the point. Rights were suspended by fiat, based essentially, as Roy notes, on the basis of the precautionary principle. So the question becomes what constitutes a genuine emergency? If an emergency can be declared on the basis of flawed models and rights suspended so easily, is this the thin edge of the wedge that will crack the granite of all rights? I don’t trust politicians who are in the thrall of environmental hysteria.

        • JohnKl says:

          Perhaps, you forget that politicians are not enthralled with much of anything other than their own survival and living off the fat of the land. They simply try to con the masses into being enthralled long enough to hook them and their money. Follow the money… At the moment they’ve been hooked by their own fantasy’s and some in the mind-numbed public have asked questions outside the politically correct box they’ve been in for decades. As a result, the alarmist community doubles down on the nonsensical farce, claims dissenters to be DENIERS and seeks the tools of government to FORCE a recalcitrant population to accept their self-serving edicts. You know, tyranny as humanity has known it for thousands of years.

          Have a great day!

  4. JohnKl says:

    Hi Roy,

    A communist band in 1979 said it best when it came to climate predictiions:

    “The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
    Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
    Engines stop running but I have no fear
    ‘Cause London is drowning and I live by the river

    The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in
    Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
    A nuclear error but I have no fear
    ‘Cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river”

    From London Calling (song and album same name), The Clash –

    Some lefty’s claimed the ice-age would come clear into 1979!!! Gotta love it, some just didn’t get the propaganda memo til late.

    Have a great day

    • Massimo PORZIO says:

      One of the reasons I always preferred stranger songs to the Italian ones was that I didn’t understand the words and I just enjoyed their rhythm.
      London calling was one of my favorites, but I never investigated its lyrics… John, in a message you just dismantled my estimation for the Clash!

      I’m joking of course, I well know their political orientation. Anyways, what could it be their one, after publishing “Sandinista”? 🙂

      Have a nice day.

      Massimo

      • Fonzarelli says:

        Massimo, you should have listened to Dire Straits instead…

        • JohnKl says:

          Love Dire Straits as well. As a “Sultan of Swing” I do like the Big Band era also.

          Have a great day!

          Btw, if you know where we can get our “Money for Nothing” please let us know.

          • Massimo PORZIO says:

            “Btw, if you know where we can get our Money for Nothing please let us know.”

            Easy: you should have learned to play the guitar! 😉

      • JohnKl says:

        Hi Massimo PORZIO,

        The Clash made many interesting songs despite their political orientation in response to the continuing irrational demographic changes allowed to happen in England, and now much of the Western world. Their apocalyptic climate comments seemed in jest to me, but I’ve remembered them all this time. Sandinista remains the one album of theirs I did not really listen to. Perhaps because it’s hard to take seriously a political movement that arose in a country where the average age was 14 if I remember reading correctly. To give Daniel Ortega his due, he promised to outlaw abortion if he won his election and supposedly kept his promise. Since it’s not my country nor my general political persuasion my interest remains peripheral but one should always remain informed. Thanks and…

        Have a great day!

        • Massimo PORZIO says:

          Fonzie & JohnKl.
          As said I always preferred don’t take account of the words. Yes I very like Dire Straits too, especially Mark Knopfler guitar riffs are gorgeous for me.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdyC_2Mb4n4

          How he kept his fingers attached to his right hand during those riffs is a mistery for me 🙂

          About Sandinista, I never listen to the whole album too, I just listen to the radio some pieces, but they didn’t convince me too much.
          I must admit that I never been a real fan of a specific band or singer, except for the Beatles (when they were together and when they sung alone) and the Electric Light Orchestra.

          Anyways I also like most of the songs of Green Day despite their too much polarized political view. As said, being Italian I have the advantage of easily don’t take care of the words 🙂

          And honestly, I very like most of the songs of an Italian band called Litfiba which were extreme-leftist too.
          IMHO until a communist just sing, don’t do any damage to the society.

          Have a great day.

          Massimo

  5. Francisco says:

    Wonder who has been more accurate in predictions: IPCC and their expensive models or Nostradamus.

  6. A fairly recent media trend (over the last 5-10 years) is to call every storm that might be above average ‘the storm of the century.’ These events come and go and nearly always it just turns out to be a bit wet and windy. So when people hear these labels tossed out, they think, “media morons at it again.”

    • JohnKl says:

      With Katrina pols learned how easy it was to turn a storm into chaos and disaster, complete with supposed lack of preparation, militarized response and racial tension. Of course, the Mayor had the busses needed to evacuate the population if they had chosen to all the time.

      Have a great day!

      • Fonzarelli says:

        John, remember the flooding in orleans was due to a poorly designed drainage system. So much of what happened was not anticipated… Most of what they do in preparation is built upon from one storm to another. So in a sense public officials are flying blind with each new storm. (hindsight helps for the next storm) Subsequent storms since katrina, then, HAVE seen mass evacuation by bus. One of the great successes of katrina (which thus is not often talked about) was the contra flow evacuation for cars. After several storms that plan was perfected by the time katrina rolled around. Were it not for hurricane ivan the year before, things would have been oh so much worse. You’ve got to remember that these storms don’t come around all that often. New administrations come and they won’t necessarily handle things as well. But, they actually DO learn from each storm. The next big storm, which could be 50 years off, will expose new flaws which will have to be addressed when the time comes…

        • JohnKl says:

          Hi Fonzarelli,

          The flooding arose because the levy broke separating a lake from the New Orleans suburbs and because the entire city sits below sea level. Moreover, the continued drilling their over time reduces living reef protection that protects them from storm surges. New Orleans has known about these problems for decades but instead of building a sea-gate barrier to prevent storm surges from wiping them off the face of the map, they chose instead to build a sports stadium. We saw the return on their investment. The storm was only a category 3 when it hit land and they’ve had storms frequently over the years. Since then I’ve heard they planned to raise the city of New Orleans above sea level to protect it. As to the suburbs, who knows. In any case, it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll make wise decisions. Judging from the past may only make one depressed.

          Have a great day!

          • JohnKl says:

            Fonzarelli,

            Btw, the lake referred to above was Lake Pontchartrain.

            Have a great day!

          • Fonzarelli says:

            John, bear in mind that your’s truly lives in the french quarter, so i’ll do my best here to clear up any misconceptions that you may have as well as any errors i may have made in my comment above. Ten years is a long time (and alot of valium ago) and i’m a bit rusty on katrina. With the anniversary coming up, i kind of figured that i’d find myself dragged into this. (i really want to focus on agw theory, but will gladly take up the topic of katrina) So here goes…

            The flooding was the result of breaches in the canal walls and NOT the levees, which held up fine. (i’m vague on what happened in the lower ninth ward as i don’t live there) The design of the outflow canals was such that they placed the pumps at the wrong end of them. If they put the pumps at the back end, a breach will allow the entire lake to come in. If the pumps are placed at the lake (which is where they are now) then any breach will just empty the canal. Further more a breach would be unlikely without the added pressure from the storm surge. Yes, the city does exist below sea level. (over time as the land dries out it gets lower and lower) But, my understanding is that this is typical for a port city…

            The big problem with the oil drilling is thought to be that the gulf floor is sinking over time as the oil is removed from under it. We are loosing alot of land into the gulf. (you should see maps which are compared to times past) As far as building a barrier goes, that idea was considered after katrina but i don’t believe they have plans on doing that. Remember, the corps of engineers is in charge of the levy system. Now that they know the weaknesses, they’ve done an awful lot of work to improve it. As far as doing all this in advance goes, if there is no impetus to do these things then they’re not going to happen. That’s politics…

            Historically, big storms actually hitting NO appears to me to be quite rare. I’ve been here since ’91 and katrina has been it. Betsy happened back in ’65 and i believe that the only casualties then were in the lower ninth ward. (again not the best local to live) As far as raising the city goes, i’ve never heard that one and it certainly seems like they’ve abandoned that idea if they ever had it…

            John, i’m running out of time here and i still want to addres the evacuation by bus thing. When i do, i’ll put it by the little comment that you made about it. It deserves some attention; i hope you come back tomorrow (or the next day) and read it…

          • JohnKl says:

            In my post, the word levy should have been spelled “levee.”

          • JohnKl says:

            Hi Fonzarelli,

            Thank you for the post. You stated:

            “The flooding was the result of breaches in the canal walls and NOT the levees, which held up fine.”

            If memory serves banked earth served as a wall-like barrier separating the Lake Pontchartrain from the suburbs. The banked earth referred to as a levee apparently broke through in a section and had to be repaired by earth movers. In fact, I seem to remember clearly watching it happen on television. The following article in the Washington Times referred to the barrier as a levee as well:

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-hurricane-katrina/2012/08/31/003f4064-f147-11e1-a612-3cfc842a6d89_story.html

            Your statement regarding the pumps rings true if memory serves.

            Oil drilling certainly can de-stabilize land areas. In fact, there used to be quite a lot of oil drilling in Signal Hill near Long Beach California. Not to long ago it seems they may have cut back some. Little doubt if they did it came from all the condo owners in the area worried that the nice hilly site for their residence may collapse a bit.

            Unlike you I don’t reside in New Orleans. However, one of my parents had a relative in the area and stopped by to visit. They witnessed a great deal of rainfall and some flooding. Other people I know who’ve visited the area have made similar claims. Since New Orleans faces the gulf it seems it should run smack into hurricanes as they cross over from Africa into the Gulf of Mexico. However, each region will prove unique, you know the region better. Hopefully, another one doesn’t hit anytime soon.

            Please let me know what you think of the evacuation, I’m curious as to the take of folks nearby to the event.

            Thanks and …

            Have a great day!

          • Fonzarelli says:

            John, looks like we’re playing “computer tag” here. (see my comment below on the evacuation)…

            Yes, there actually was some overtopping (and perhaps breaching) of the levees in the lower ninth ward, but this surprised no one as it has all happened before. I’m pretty sure that the ponchartrain levee was not compromised though. My scant memory had overtopping at the industrial canal and elsewhere into the lower nine. (that side of the industrial canal was actually lower than the side facing the city) The lower ninth ward is badly situated for a number of reasons, some of which have been corrected (and some can’t be corrected). For this reason some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city are located there. I don’t live (or go) down there, so i never spent much time reading up on what happened there. I can say this much, it WAS a mess…

            On this side of the industrial canal it was the walls of the outflow canals that were breached. Moving the pumps to the lake, then, should keep us high and dry for the next katrina…

          • Fonzarelli says:

            John, one more thing, don’t believe everything you read in the washington post !!!

        • JohnKl says:

          “Subsequent storms since katrina, then, HAVE seen mass evacuation by bus.”

          After Negin’s fiasco I think they’d make sure of that!

          • Fonzarelli says:

            John, i’m back… I must say after reading much of your and others comments in this new year that every one seems to be posting very good comments. (everybody seems to be in peak form) I would even go so far to say that appell is doing particularly well !!! Me? I still feel like i’m stuck in 2014, working on my third cup of (spiked) eggnog and waiting for the ball to drop on new years eve…

            O.K., let see… Nagin, yes, “school bus nagin” (as rush would call him). It all began (i think) with hurricane georges back in 1998. I believe it was a cat 3 which evently turned into mississippi after making a bee line toward new orleans for days. This storm triggered the first mass evacuation in the city’s history. This was the one that had been feared for so long. The basic plan was for evacuation by car as well as opening up the superdome for those without transportation. The evacuation by car was a disaster in and of itself. Everybody was stuck in three lanes of traffic going nowhere. This gave rise to the contra flow plan (6 lanes heading out) that would be in place when katrina rolled around. The shelter at the superdome generally went well, but for whatever reason the city afterwards decided not to use it again. In other words people without transportation would be on their own. (“special needs” people WOULD be bussed out) My guess is that costs were the big factor. Clean up and usage of the superdome is not cheap nor is mass evacuation by bus. So when katrina rolled in there was NO plan in place for either shelter or bussing. Katrina came up fast and there was little time for preparation. Contraflow was enacted and went off without a hitch. Nagin at the last minute decided to open up the dome. Contrary to media reports, the shelter at the superdome was also a success. (i can attest to that as i WAS there!) After katrina the city reverted to it’s original plan not to use the superdome again. Better just to get people out of harms way altogether….

            All this doesn’t come about with out much political wrangling. There ARE some good reasons to have a shelter open in the city. The point is that the same plan that was in place for georges was used for katrina. Nobody thought twice about it in ’98 (so why think differently for katrina?) AND bussing people out is not something that can be conjured up at the last minute. So that’s why it all went down as it did. Like i said, live and learn. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way that they did things. Like i said, political vision comes with hindsight…

  7. chris brandow says:

    So is your contention that they should not have shut things down in the face of imperfect information that they could be getting 2.5 feet of snow? We can all agree that the prediction was wrong and likely badly handled, but given the “best estimate” was this a bad decision? Every decision has costs. Is that all your saying?

    • Francisco says:

      I think what Mr. Spencer is saying is that all was too hyped up. These things you play them by ear, not over react ahead of an event that has such a degree of uncertainty (as the models proved).

      If it happens to come down, then you shut down.

      Done like that in all Northern climates. The forecast is somewhat accurate within a few hours, then is when they should react.

      • chris brandow says:

        I think we agree, but in this case, the city wasn’t shutting down because they read media hype. They were shutting down based on the professionals that inform these decisions. Many of the things they shut down were done so because you can’t simply wait till the event is occurring. In a city like New York, you have to occasionally plan 24 hours ahead.

        The projections were wrong. I still don’t understand how the process was fundamentally wrong. They probably could have waited a little longer and the projectors could have been more emphatic about uncertainty, but beyond that I don’t see what else a city like New York should do differently based on this experience.

        If the advice is simply, “don’t make mistakes.” then that’s not terribly helpful.

        • Francisco says:

          Living in a city that, while uncommon, we do have to cancel flights and shut down schools, I do think they over reacted.
          I agree, we are not the size of NY (Calgary) but we certainly shut things down when they need to shut down, not 24hrs ahead.
          Closing sidewalks and having people forbidden to come outside when there is such an uncertainty, it is overreacting.
          It is fine to close a highway when conditions merit, cancel flights, and do forth. But shutting down a city with so many hour in advance shows just how much they are willing to take over any liberties.
          I mean, let us be realistic, are we assuming people cannot think? Evaluate conditions? Granted, there are a few that drive through black ice in a blizzard and crash (I am a fan of natural selection, BTW) but having the government shut me in because of a threat of a big dump?!?!
          I think normal thinking people do not need that kind of nannying. Advisories and alerts should be as far as the government should be allowed to go.
          I do think that, in spite of those that should be naturally culled and prevented from breading, people can look after themselves.
          And this is without even acknowledging the uncertainty of the models.
          And no, you do not shut down 24hrs ahead, you get ready and react according to the conditions.

    • Phyte On says:

      Alarmism leads to reduced economic activity. Alarmism also increases the risk of too much power into the hands of rulers (regardless of uncertainty and ability to adapt).

  8. ossqss says:

    25 miles and they were in the thick of things in NYC. Just sayin.

  9. Thanks, Dr. Spencer.
    I see all kinds of dire predictions failing, common sense thrown to wind, and paternalism on the rise.
    And “the pause” goes on …

  10. rah says:

    Alright! This truck driver was there in Ayre, MA (25 NW of the Boston Commons) making a delivery at 15:00 on Monday. Having listened to the NWS radio a good bit during that time for obvious reasons, it sure seemed to me they were not only off on track but also on the timing. It not only tracked further east than expected it also advanced much slower and really arrived nearly 10 hours after what they were saying it would.

    And what many of you probably don’t realize is that the economic impact of the non-storm was nearly as bad as if the forecast for place and timing had been accurate. The thing is that employers from Philadelphia on north along the I-95 corridor sent their employees home Monday and said ‘we’re closed tomorrow’ so the employees didn’t show up for work Tuesday even though there was really no storm south of RI.

    Thus several of my Trucking buddies sat all day Tuesday waiting for their trucks to be unloaded or loaded because there was no one there to do it! Too reality is that in many ways too strident a forecast is nearly as bad as too conservative one in these situations.

    On the other hand, I drove two trips out out to Ayre hauling empty Pepsi product cans to the bottler there. You would have thought it was a national emergency! The SB coming and the very thought that some NE fans might suffer a shortage of Pepsi products on game day just made this Colts fan’s heart bleed as I drove 3,600 miles in 6 days doing my part to be sure the vital economic wheels kept turning!

    My pretty new Red Freight Liner looks neither red nor new now. Covered in white streams and blotches from the treated roads. Ice frozen on the grill and even over the headlights. The truck now knows the NY and MA turnpikes well enough that if I drive it much more I should be able to put it on autopilot and climb into the sleeper while going down the road. I moved into that new truck weekend before last when it had 76 miles on it. Now it has over 7,600. Another 190,000 and itll be broken in. Already trashed the original wimpy factory supplied windshield wipers and put on new heavy duty winter ones on Wed. One good winter storm will trash regular wipers on a big truck despite the fact that when the hawk comes out and the snow is a flying I run the defrost heat and fan at 100% and crack my drivers side window to keep from getting heat exhaustion.

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