Archive for November, 2015

The Paris Placebo Effect

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Spoiler alert…the following contains spoilers about what the Paris COP21 climate conference this week will actually accomplish.

placebopillHuman-caused global warming and climate change is an interesting human malady. No matter whether you consider it a physical or emotional ailment, many of us simply know it to be true.

Many of us have personally experienced it in a heat wave, snow storm, hurricane, etc., which now feel different than they used to when they were mere weather events.

For example, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2009 declared, “Global warming creates volatility and I feel it when I’m flying. The storms are more volatile.”

This affliction will actually be greatly alleviated this week as those who have been stricken with it take a collective placebo pill in the form of yet another Earth-saving international agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

SPOILER: We already know that the pill has no actual medicine in it. The commitments (or non-commitments) by various countries of the world have already been submitted and analyzed. And the prognosis is this: the agreements will have an unmeasurable effect on global temperatures, no matter what you believe about the human influence on climate.

But there is good news! The world will swallow that pill, and then experience a collective sigh of relief, for we will have done something to Save the Earth!

Those who most believe in human-caused climate change will hopefully receive the most relief of their symptoms. I saw some of these people at previous COP meetings in Montreal and Cancun. I described my first experience in Montreal at the 2005 COP11 as culture shock. People dressed up in all kinds of costumes meant to draw attention to whatever portion of the Earth is supposedly suffering from your SUV. Polar bear costumes are especially popular. Meanwhile, a frigid winter wind was blowing outside, which I was ill-equipped to handle despite being from northern Michigan.

The people participating in COPXX meetings are easily convinced that polar bears are disappearing…even though they haven’t been. They are convinced CO2 is a poison, even though it is necessary for life to exist on Earth—and, given that, is in amazingly short supply.

Later, at the 2009 COP16 in Cancun, I debated Daryl Hannah on TV, who seemed very informed on alternative energy strategies until we were off-camera and she told me we just need to switch to all renewables right away. The fact is that doing such a thing is a physical impossibility, unless you want to relegate humanity to a new Stone Age.

Even though I’m asked, I’ve stopped attending the COPXX meetings because what little remains of my mental health is too precious to me. In addition to my climate research dealing with physics and actual numbers, I must also already deal with a steady stream of interactions with the public and the media involving feelings and beliefs. I am ill-equipped to handle the latter, but it now goes with the territory in a climate scientist’s life.

So, as the United Nations declares yet another a landmark agreement to Save the Earth, just remember…sometimes placebos really do work. The danger, though, is that the politicians of the world will be emboldened to manufacture ever greater quantities of placebos, at ever-increasing costs to humanity.

6″-10″ of Global Warming for Chicago, Detroit

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Up to 20 million midwest U.S. residents are about to get some significant pre-Thanksgiving snowfall.

Portions of five Midwest states are now under winter storm warnings as 6 to 10 inches of snow are expected across Iowa, northern Illinois, and southern Lower Michigan. Portions of Chicago could see a foot of snow.

Here are the expected snowfall totals by mid-day Sunday (GFS model output courtesy of

Total forecast snowfall by midday Sunday, 22 November 2015 (NWS GFS model).

Total forecast snowfall by midday Sunday, 22 November 2015 (NWS GFS model).

After the snowstorm passes, temperatures could reach the single digits in northern Illinois on Sunday morning.

Spencer Points Out Hypocrisy; Blogosphere & Twitterverse Explodes

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

There I was, minding my own business, just making some sarcastic remarks on Facebook alluding to the hypocrisy of COP21 and those involved.

The next thing I know, people are claiming I want terrorists to attack COP21 (I’m not even going to advertise their craziness with links).

Here’s the entirety of what I wrote on FB:

Why ISIS Should Support COP21 in Paris…

After the horrific terror attacks in Paris last night, there is considerable speculation over the possible cancellation of the COP21 climate talks in Paris in a couple of weeks.

I will remind you that President Obama has stated that the threat of climate change is greater than the threat of terrorism. I will also remind you that many believe that ISIS would not have arisen if not for climate change, specifically, drought in Syria caused by your SUV.

It is only logical that ISIS should be supportive of COP21 in Paris, and that the conference should go on as planned. To enlightened minds, terrorism is clearly just a consequence of climate change. Fix the weather, and terrorism will go away.

If terrorism is such a minor, contained threat (as Obama just stated yesterday), and global warming is really the overriding threat facing humanity, how can we consider cancelling – or even postponing – COP21?

After all, isn’t COP21 our last, final, last chance to Save the Earth?

Just ignore centuries of history which demonstrates that the strict followers of the Koran have a holy mandate to take over the world for Islam, killing anyone who will not submit.

Yes, all of the world’s politicians who have supported a COP21 agreement should still plan on attending. And they should reach out to ISIS to join them in building a better world…a world without droughts.

In fact, in solidarity with the gun-control measures many of those politicians support (and which French law follows), any personal security personnel accompanying them should be unarmed.

Maybe it was that last line that got people all up in arms got people’s panties in a wad.

The multiple points I was making had to to with the silliness of various political positions (including taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens…can you imagine what would have happened if that Paris nightclub hostage ordeal was in Texas? No, you can’t, because it wouldn’t have even been tried in Texas).

Funny how the most powerful gun control advocates have no problem with using guns to protect themselves.

40 Years Ago Today: The Big Lake Never Gave Up Her Dead

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Today is the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, on November 10, 1975, which took all 29 of the crew to the bottom of Lake Superior in 530 ft of water.

The Fitzgerald sank during a gale caused by an intense low pressure passing over Lake Superior. As the low moved east of the lake, unusually strong west to northwest winds caused waves that pushed the limits of what these freighters were designed to handle.

There are three theories of why the ship sank, and they all involve wind-driven waves. It is estimated that winds were gusting to close to 90 mph at the time of sinking, and the nearby Arthur M. Anderson reported being hit by rogue waves as high as 35 ft.

I lived on the lower St. Mary’s River which flows out of Lake Superior, and all freighters passed a few hundred yards in front of our house whether they were up-bound into or down-bound from Lake Superior, so I was familiar with both the Fitzgerald and the Anderson.


Those of us who lived in eastern Upper Michigan and who saw the passage of lake freighters nearly every day remember what we were doing when we heard the news that evening. In my case, my wife-to-be and I were driving in the dark during the windstorm. I was preparing to be an atmospheric science student at U. of Michigan and, like all meteorology students, if there was bad weather, I wanted to be in it.

We stopped in at the National Weather Service Office in the Sault, where I worked summers and knew all of the employees. One of them was on the phone yelling at the Fitzgerald‘s operator in Cleveland to “start paying attention to the weather up here!” He then slammed the phone down.

I distinctly remember the weather forecast model prediction for that storm, as I examined the forecast charts in the weather office a day or two before. Unlike the Wikipedia entry characterization, this was not a typical November storm.

The forecast low pressure was unusually intense, and the anticyclonic curvature of the isobars right behind the low suggested there was going to be phenomenal winds just after the low passage.

That’s exactly what happened.

The 711 ft. long ship now sits in two pieces on the lake bottom, symbolically straddling the U.S.-Canadian border. The Fitzgerald remains the largest of many ships that have sunk to the bottom of the Great Lakes. Most experts who have studied the sinking have concluded that the ship broke apart on the surface before it went down.

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the sinking with his Grammy Award-winning Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald a year later (1976).

AP Was There: 40 Years Ago Edmund Fitzgerald Sinks

Atlantic Hurricanes Down 80% from 10 Years Ago

Monday, November 9th, 2015

As the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season nears its end, and as we enter the 11th year without a major hurricane (Cat3+) strike in the U.S., let’s look at how 2015 has shaped up.

Here are the cumulative number of North Atlantic hurricanes by calendar date for 2015, 2014, and 2005:


Those who are old enough to remember might recall that after the devastating 2005 season (remember Katrina?), this was going to be the “new normal” for Atlantic hurricane activity due to global warming. There were 15 hurricanes that year. The next year (2006) the bottom dropped out. The National Hurricane Center expected system after system to strengthen, and it almost never happened.

To update an old saying, “global warming is what you expect; weather is what you get.” This year we have had only three hurricanes so far. Tropical Storm Kate just formed this morning near the Bahamas, but it is not expected to reach hurricane strength and should remain offshore of the U.S. mainland.

Has there been any long term trend in Atlantic tropical cyclone activity? If so, it has been slightly downward. Here is Ryan Maue’s plot of the “Power Dissipation Index” since 1950, akin to his tropical “Accumulated Cyclone Energy” (ACE) index for the Atlantic, which monitors the total 3-D wind energy contained in tropical cyclones. It shows that the current lull in activity matches the lull back in the late 1970s and early 1980s:


I believe it was in the 1980s when the Director of the National Hurricane Center, Neil Frank, testified in congress that the lull in hurricane activity in the ’70s and ’80s had made people complacent, and people should expect an upturn in activity.

What was Dr. Frank’s reason for the warning? Global warming expectations? No, it was natural climate variations.

Neil Frank is now one of “us”…scientists who believe the human component of climate change — to the extent it exists — is not dangerous.

Now, it is true that global average tropical cyclone activity has increased again in the last year or so. But it remains to be seen whether this has anything to do with warmer temperatures or a long-term trend, since there are many conditions which must be satisfied for a tropical cyclone to form and intensify…not just ocean temperatures being a fraction of a degree higher.

Well Bam, There it Is: Exxon Mobil Investigated by NY Attorney General

Friday, November 6th, 2015

exxon-tigerI suppose this was inevitable, and Exxon Mobil probably expected it as well.

According to the Justin Gillis NYT story, the New York attorney general’s “investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

The thing that astounds me about this is, as far as I know, Exxon Mobil “scientific research” would not have uncovered anything that was not already widely hypothesized (not “known”) by the scientific community, Al Gore, Greenpeace, school teachers, Hollywood actors, your 8 yr old son, et al.

How one compares a tobacco company cover-up of evidence that smoking kills millions of people, to human-caused climate change, which cannot be demonstrated to have occurred let alone cause even one death (or even inconvience) is beyond me.

But then, we live in a brave new world, don’t we?


That this was coming can be seen from the popular meme that conflates “climate change” with “human caused climate change”. For example, a few months ago The Guardian had a headline which crowed, “Exxon knew of climate change in 1981“.

What a stupid headline. Of course “climate change” exists. Medieval farmers enjoyed the fruits of it. Vikings in Greenland cursed it.

We knew about climate change long before Al Gore earned his “D” in Natural Science and decided to become an expert on the subject.

Natural climate change has caused (or at least contributed to) millions of deaths over the centuries. But our use of fossil fuels has enabled a level of prosperity which has made us much more resilient to climate change and weather disasters, maybe akin to the prosperity enjoyed in Medieval times when warmer conditions prevailed.

Where are the studies to investigate the possibility that modest warming has actually prevented severe weather? Major tornadoes and hurricanes in the U.S. have certainly seen a downturn in recent years. Maybe Exxon Mobil should be charging extra for this ‘positive externality’?

What about all the prevented cold weather, which still kills many more people than hot weather?

Instead, every bad thing that happens in weather is now blamed on carbon dioxide emissions. Too hot. Too cold. Not enough snow. Too much snow. It’s all our fault.

Medieval witchcraft. Time to burn some CEOs at the stake.

Even though sea level was slowly rising long before CO2 could be blamed, we now blame it on your SUV. In order to even begin to blame it even partially on CO2, the rise should be accelerating, which it (arguably) hasn’t.

Investigating Exxon Mobil for some sort of undisclosed knowledge of “climate change” is like investigating the agricultural industry for undisclosed knowledge that too much food can make people fat…except that there isn’t even any human fingerprint of global warming, like there is a stomach-print of overeating.

Or, maybe a better analogy is an investigation into the Mexican or Italian food industry for their secret knowledge that their spicy food causes peptic ulcers…except that theory was finally debunked, despite a 99% consensus in the medical community.

It’s easy to go after corporate giants, since they have so much money. Too bad people don’t realize the reason these corporations are so rich is they provide us with a standard of living we want more than other things we could have spent that money on. Econ 101.

And natural climate change is Climatology 101.

Or, at least it used to be.

DISCLOSURE: I’ve been known to give Exxon Mobil money in exchange for gasoline. But I usually use Chevron gas, which contans Techron which keeps my intake manifold and valves clean.

Skiers Rejoice! Up to 12 ft. of Snow Expected in the West

Thursday, November 5th, 2015
Alpine Meadows, CA basecam, 4 November 2015.

Alpine Meadows, CA basecam, 4 November 2015.

A series of Pacific storms mixed with some cold Canadian air is expected to result in up to 12 feet of new snow during the next week to 10 days over portions of the western U.S.

The latest GFS model forecast shows that about a dozen states will be receiving substantial pre-Thanksgiving snows, likely helped out by the current strong El Nino (graphic courtesy of, click for full-size):

GFS model forecast total snow accumulation by Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

GFS model forecast total snow accumulation by Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

A few states have already opened ski resorts early, with about 10 states now reporting snow on the ground.

While El Nino usually results in less snowfall over the West, this isn’t always the case, and the presence of the warm ocean “Blob” off the west coast is likely making this El Nino more unpredictable in its impacts on U.S. weather.

Models vs. Observations: Plotting a Conspiracy?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

John Christy and I received an email today from Marcel Crok, who presented our satellite observations-vs-models graphs to the Dutch version of the American Physical Society (APS).

He said there was considerable push-back about the way we plot the data…not from the society itself, but from global warming activist bloggers.

I’ve heard these objections before, and mostly ignored them as uninformed and lame, since I’ve never heard one from an actual climate scientist.

But apparently it’s worthwhile to address the objections, since they seem to be lurking out there in the blogosphere.

Marcel summarized the objections he heard as follows, where “they” refers to us (Spencer & Christy):

1. They shift the modelled temperature anomaly upwards to increase the discrepancy with observations by around 50%.

2. Using a four year baseline from 1979-83 shifts UAH down lower compared to the surface record.

3. Why did John Christy use a four year baseline period instead of a 30 year baseline as is usual?

4. One other trick played in the Spencer/Christy graph is to start all of the models from the same point. That’s not what is done in practice – they are run-up over a period of time and and have a distribution along the entire period.

5. The baseline Christy used 1979-1983 is a 5 year period, it includes 79,80,81,82 and 83. It’s basically the first point on his running 5 year mean. Of course that ISNT the 5 year average centered on 1983. It’s the average centered on 81. So Christy’s graph is shifted 2 years to the right.

These complaints are all interrelated, and are mostly variations on the same objection.

Let’s start with one of our graphs Marcel presented (this isn’t exactly the same as the one he presented, but it would cause the same objections he encountered):


Now, see the text on the graph about how the warming *TRENDS* are almost always greater in the models than the observations?

Well, the difference in trends between models and observations is not affected by any of the 5 objections listed above.

It doesn’t matter how you plot the data with vertical offsets, or different starting points: these issues do not affect the trends, and trends are probably the single most important statistical metric to test the models against observations.

The vast majority of the models have greater warming trends than the observational data show. How members of a Dutch “Physical Society” would not know any of this is beyond me.

Beyond this overriding issue which make the 5 objections moot, I will still answer them (in sequence, see above) because John Christy and I believe that the way we plot the data is the most physically meaningful and the most defensible.

1. We do NOT shift the models upward to enhance the discrepancy with the observations. They diverge upward when starting at the same initial point: the 1979-1983 average (the first 5 years of the satellite record).

2. See #1.

3. The anomalies ARE relative to the same 30-year baseline. But when you plot the results, and the models have such a different warming trend, you then must decide whether to plot just the anomalies (which would have the models too COLD early in the record, then too WARM late in the record), or have them all start the “warming race” at the same time…like we did…relative to their respective 1979-1983 starting temperatures.

4. See #3.

5. Shifting of the year labels on the graph by 2 years has no impact on the discrepancy between models and observations.

I hope the above helps to clarify why we plot the model-vs-observations comparisons the way we do.

NOTE: The above has been edited to better reflect who Marcel Crok received objections from.

UAH V6.0 Global Temperature Update for October 2015: +0.43 deg. C

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

NOTE: This is the seventh monthly update with our new Version 6.0 dataset. Differences versus the old Version 5.6 dataset are discussed here.

The Version 6.0 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for October, 2015 is +0.43 deg. C, up from the September, 2015 value of +0.25 deg. C (click for full size version):


The global, hemispheric, and tropical LT anomalies from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 10 months are:

2015 01 +0.28 +0.40 +0.16 +0.13
2015 02 +0.17 +0.30 +0.05 -0.06
2015 03 +0.16 +0.26 +0.07 +0.05
2015 04 +0.08 +0.18 -0.01 +0.09
2015 05 +0.28 +0.36 +0.21 +0.27
2015 06 +0.33 +0.41 +0.25 +0.46
2015 07 +0.18 +0.33 +0.03 +0.47
2015 08 +0.27 +0.25 +0.30 +0.51
2015 09 +0.25 +0.34 +0.17 +0.55
2015 10 +0.43 +0.64 +0.21 +0.53

As can be seen, there was a rather large jump in the global average anomaly, but instead of it being due to the tropics being warmer (as El Nino continues), it was due to a very warm (but not record warm) month in the Northern Hemisphere extratropics.

(NOTE: Due to a typo on my part, the Sept. 2015 anomaly for the Northern Hemisphere was misreported as +0.14 C last month, when it should have been +0.34 C).

The global image for October, 2015 should be available in the next several days here.

The new Version 6 files (use the ones labeled “beta3”) should be updated soon, and are located here:

Lower Troposphere:
Lower Stratosphere: