September 21, 2012

Agriculture: Tropical Cyclones are Welcome Visitors

When talk turns to tropical cyclones—hurricanes and their weaker siblings—the topic usually becomes winds, waves, and destruction. Or an exchange of war stories, like vacations cancelled, or harrowing tales from the beachfront lines. In some circles, anthropogenic climate change may enter the conversation.

But rarely does the discussion turn to the benefits of tropical cyclones.

For example, tropical cyclones often deliver widespread drought-busting rainfall during the crucial late-summer period when field crops are maturing. Across the Southeastern U.S., where most fields are non-irrigated, crops such as corn, soybeans, peanuts, tobacco, and hay benefit from tropical cyclone precipitation. From east Texas along the coast to Maryland, non-irrigated crops, like those above, combine to bring in a good ten billion dollars per year. While this economic activity is not all ascribable to tropical cyclone precipitation, neither is such precipitation inconsequential. (more…)




July 13, 2012

The Heat Was On—Before Urbanization and Greenhouse Gases

Sure is hot out! And what better time for a paper to appear in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology describing the construction of the “all-time” records for various types of weather extremes for each of the 50 United States plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The paper details efforts of the U.S. State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) established by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and led by Dr. Karsten Shein. Basically, the SCEC dusted off old records and found other new sources. So now we have “new and improved” data (available here) for the value, the date and the location of the all-time high and low temperature, greatest 24-hr precipitation, greatest 24-hr snowfall and greatest snowdepth for 50 states and two territories. The statewide record extremes have been updated through 2011 and are subject to continuous updating.

This paper is an interesting read for those who perseverate on climate history and how it is constructed from a variety of observations both made from “official” (federal) observing stations as well as those deemed reliable from “non-official” observations (such as 12-oz soda bottles or credible “amateur” observer accounts). The new effort resulted in “the revision of 40 percent of the values” contained in the old dataset at NCDC and “underscored both the necessity of manual quality assurance methods as well as the importance of continued climate monitoring and data rescue activities to ensure that potential record values are not overlooked.”

It also is useful for putting the recent heat wave in perspective. Despite the 24/7 caterwauling, only two new state records—South Carolina and Georgia—are currently under investigation. And, looking carefully at Shein et al. dataset, there appears to be a remarkable lack of all-time records in recent years. This is particularly striking given the increasing urbanization of the U.S. and the consequent “non climatic” warming that creeps into previously pristine records. Everything else being equal—and with no warming from increased greenhouse gases—most statewide records should be in or near big cities. But they aren’t.

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March 16, 2012

Atlantic Hurricanes: The Long and the Short of It

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Last May, we reviewed a paper on Atlantic basin tropical cyclone trends by Gabriele Villarini and colleagues that focused on a breed of storms called they called “shorties”—small tropical storms that lasted less than two days. The authors concluded that while the number of identified “shorties” has been increasing with time, the increase was primarily the result of changing (improving) observational practices not a changing climate. Now, we review a new paper that looks at the other end of the spectrum of Atlantic tropical cycles—“biggies” (our term)—intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. In a new paper, Andrew Hagen (University of Miami) and Chris Landsea (National Hurricane Center) conclude that changing observational practices have resulted in more Cat 4&5 hurricanes being identified in recent decades compared to past ones. Again, the increase is not due to a changing climate but changing detection technologies.

Whether talking about the total number of tropical cyclones (which is increasing because of detection technology) or their intensity (which is increasing because of detection technology) only a person unaware of this important research would say that there has been a climate-related trend.

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March 12, 2012

Western U.S. Precipitation Extremes—How Did This Turkey Get Published?

When it comes to changes in future precipitation across the United States, climate models projections are all over the map. In other words, they provide no useful guidance for the future. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to sell them. Now comes a paper which clearly demonstrates a systematic failure of precipitation models and still calls the results “useful”. Reviewers…halloo??

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December 21, 2011

Winter 2011-12: Global Warming to Blame?

No matter what this winter holds in store, someone, somewhere, will blame it on global warming.

Recall that the last two snowy and cold winters in the eastern U.S. were blamed, by some, on greater than normal snowfall amounts across Eurasia during the preceding fall season. And the snowy Eurasian autumns were blamed on the low levels of Arctic sea ice during September—which of course was blamed on anthropogenic global warming. Forecaster Judah Cohen explained how this works in a Christmas day op-ed in the New York Times last year—published the day before a nearly 2 foot snowstorm buried the city:

“As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two and a half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow over the continents. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased. … It’s all a snow job by nature. The reality is, we’re freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.”

And back in January of 2000, during a particularly mild winter in New York City, the Times ran an article which blamed the mild, snowless weather on global warming:

“I bought a sled in ’96 for my daughter,” said Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, a scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. ”It’s been sitting in the stairwell, and hasn’t been used. I used to go sledding all the time. It’s one of my most vivid and pleasant memories as a kid, hauling the sled out to Cunningham Park in Queens.”

…Dr. Oppenheimer, among other ecologists, points to global warming as perhaps the most significant long-term factor.

But such is the cycle of the daily news. Anything unusual has to have a cause, and global warming has gone from being the cause du jour, to being the cause de rigueur. So you don’t have usually to look very far to find someone fingering global warming for anything meteorological—especially when it can be spun in a negative context.

So, what kind of global warming linkages should we expect from this year’s winter?

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November 16, 2011

Atlantic Hurricanes: Fewer, Worse…Less Menacing?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

Judging by the number of posts to date in each of our “Categories” (listed in the right-hand sidebar), it seems that, as far as individual categories go, we’ve treated you to more articles on “Hurricanes” than on anything else besides “Climate Politics”—and that’s saying a lot! And while we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the observational record of hurricanes and what it reveals (namely how weak the relationship is between global warming and hurricane characteristics), as well as projections as to what the future may hold in store for hurricane frequency (declines) and intensity (slight increases), we’ve haven’t really talked much about potential changes to the preferred hurricane tracks that may evolve under “global warming.” So, here, we’ll set out to change that.

To do so, we’ll highlight a couple of new articles by scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (a less-visible part of the National Hurricane Center where an awful lot of hurricane research takes place) that suggests that global warming may alter the environment in the Atlantic Ocean basin in such a way as to steer hurricanes away from the U.S. coastline. So while they may get stronger, they would become less of a threat to our coastal communities.

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October 17, 2011

No Change in Storminess

As we enter the winter season, we all realize that if a large snow storm forms anywhere on the planet, someone will immediately appear and claim we are witnessing the effect of global warming. However, winter storms (aka extratropical cyclones) are tough to sell to the public given the images of cold, snow, wind, and misery at the low end of the temperature scale. So if winter storms are a hard sell, hurricanes (aka tropical cyclones) are nothing short of ideal – warm water, heavy rain, wind, and misery in already warm parts of the world.

But, it turns out that in either case, new research reported in the scientific literature finds little in the way of changes that are unusual in today’s climate of “global warming.”

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August 19, 2011

Western Pacific Hurricanes Declining?

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

As we move further into hurricane season, we remind you that hardly a week goes by without another article appearing in a major journal on the topic of climate change and hurricane activity. We have covered many of these articles in the past, but another three articles appeared recently in the scientific literature that we found especially interesting.

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July 8, 2011

SEX! SEX! SEX!*

Filed under: Climate Extremes, Hurricanes

[* This title recycles an item from World Climate Report from November, 1995 (yes, we have been at this for a while). To wit:

“In an article intended to raise public consciousness about the threat of global warming, environmental writer Bill McKibben mentioned reports that, in northern Russia, “venomous snakes had appeared for the first time…” Well, venomous snakes will certainly get people’s attention. (This is reminiscent of the old college poster ploy—SEX SEX SEX! Now that I have your attention, my Western Civ textbook is for sale.)

Much to our dismay, McKibben never did expand on the global warming/snake connection…”]

Back in the end of May, we ran a piece titled “No Long-term Trend in Atlantic Hurricane Numbers” that described the results of research conducted by a team of researchers made up of Gabriele Villarini, Gabriel Vecchi, Thomas Knutson, and James Smith. The Villarini gang examined the observed Atlantic hurricane record and determined that the apparent upward trend in the annual number of hurricanes observed between 1878 and 2008 was being driven by an increase over time in the number of “shorties”—that is, hurricanes which lasted two or fewer days in duration. And, they determined that the increasing number of shorties was an artifact of the changing observational systems that had been in place over the years, rather than an actual secular change in the true number of events. In other words, after accounting for changes in observing practices and technologies, there was no long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers (a result that is hard to blame global warming).

That finding was just another in a long string of similar papers that had been published in the scientific literature in recent years and covered here at World Climate Report on the topic of global warming and tropical cyclones.

Now, yet another paper has come to our attention that concludes that there has been no long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers. Since readers may simply skip over our summary of this new paper, with a “yeah, yeah, I know that already” if we titled our piece something like “No Long-term Trend in Atlantic Hurricane Numbers—Even More Evidence”, we decided to spiced up the title a bit to try to grab your attention. If you’ve read this far, it must have worked, and we should apologize for the content to come—there is nothing sexy involved, just more evidence, as you may have guessed by now, that there has not been a long-term trend in Atlantic hurricane numbers. Sorry.

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July 1, 2011

Extreme Precipitation Update

Filed under: Climate Extremes

We definitely have seen some impressive and destructive storms across the United States this spring, and to no one’s surprise, the greenhouse crusade is claiming more evidence of global warming. A web search for “Extreme Precipitation and Global Warming” yields nearly 200,000 sites almost all proclaiming that heavy rain, hail, heavy snow, or even no extreme precipitation at all should all be blamed on global warming.

We have addressed this issue many times in the past, but recently, more articles have appeared in leading journals with news that might surprise global warming advocates.

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