The last couple days have been (for me) filled with stories that should have little to do with politics, but are so very political in nature.
The first is the embarrassment that became the Rutgers commencement speaker. As my sister is graduating from Rutgers this year, I have a personal interest in this event. It has been sad and frustrating to sit back and watch my university become a continuous punchline in the media over the last 12-18 months, and what has occurred in the last few days is just the icing on the cake. What is the purpose of a commencement speaker? In theory, it is supposed to someone who has had success in their life and an ability to offer some advice, anecdotes, wit, and food for thought to a graduating class. Eric LeGrand absolutely fits this bill, and no one is more deserving of that honor than he is. I am happy he will be speaking, but the way the university handled it was a disgrace. LeGrand is the last person on the planet that deserves to fall into a dirty selection process. And no one could qualify better as someone to deliver life’s advice to everyone in attendance.
One thing a commencement should not be is a political circus. The speaker should not invoke politics. And the speaker’s political persuasion should be considered independently of their message. From this standpoint, Condoleeza Rice was probably a satisfactory choice to be a commencement speaker. Regardless of how you feel about her politics, she embodies a success story that this country needs more of. If students and/or faculty wished to express their displeasure over how the process in selecting her played out or the fee she was to accept, that’s fair. If you want to protest her politics, that’s fair too, but it seems that everyone judged her solely on her politics and nothing more.
Climate change is a particularly political issue that shouldn’t be too. I tend to avoid it entirely in my professional life because I think it’s toxic. If you buy in, you’re a liberal nut. If you have questions and are skeptical, you’re a flat-earth conservative wacko. I fall into the latter camp. I don’t dispute that climate change is occurring. I personally believe the media and some advocating action use too much hyperbole and scare tactic headlines, and I wish more people would trust objective, middle-ground, non-partisan sources on the issue and come to their own conclusions. Headlines like “frightening,” “terrifying,” or “scary” don’t help the conversation. But too many people define their opinion on climate change based on their political persuasion and not based on the merits of the research.
Which brings me to my main point here: Too often we look at individuals and issues from a political point of view. And that just isn’t fair (or healthy). Politics is an important part of our life. Having an open dialogue about political issues, engaging everyone in the voting process, and learning about issues that impact people in our country (but maybe not ourselves) is vitally important. But to judge an individual or an issue, political or otherwise, based on where they or it falls in the political spectrum is unfair to everyone and often acts contrary to the goals certain people seek to achieve. I think we need to be more objective in this world…stop framing everything as a political debate. Focus on the issue and the data…not the background noise.
Wanted to discuss what’s about to unfold in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California over the next couple of days. Now, the Sierra get rocked every winter…and sometimes they get mind boggling snow amounts. But for some reason, every time it happens, I’m always floored by the numbers and the forecast. The map at the left shows the mess in the West…winter storm warnings for the entire Sierra Crest, mountains around Los Angeles, as well as northern California, Lake Tahoe, Carson City, and Reno. I’d classify this storm as “fun.” Let’s discuss how some of this will unfold.
Here’s one of the best forecasts ever…for the High Sierra (~ 12,000′) , just northwest of Mammoth. That’s 64-88″ of snow. The NAM model has been especially aggressive with this system, bringing extremely high amounts of precip to the Sierra Crest during this event. Here are a few maps..
The first wave/cold front pushes through tonight and Saturday morning, dropping a fairly heavy amount of precip (liquid) on the Sierra. The second wave/front swings through Sunday morning, with probably an equal or greater punch. Wave #3 moves through Monday morning and should just be the “insult to injury” system. You have to remember how California is geographically set up. You basically have an 11-13,000′ wall sitting in the middle of the state and this soaks up any moisture on a westerly wind component, which just allows them to wring everything out in those mountains.
The NAM model is admittedly ridiculously aggressive with QPF totals over 6″ on the northern crest by Monday evening. Using a standard 10:1 ratio of liquid to snow, that’s 60″ or 5 feet. But you would assume the ratios would be much higher so…yeah, you do the math. The GFS is a little more tepid, spitting out 4″ at max over the northern crest and “only” about 2.5-3.5″ liquid in the rest of the Sierra. That still comes out to close to 60″ when you factor in higher ratios. So the Sierra, Tahoe, etc. will get pummeled in this one, with 2-4 feet of snow on average above 8,000′ or so and lesser amounts in the lower high terrain.
We’re not quite done yet, as that Monday storm may be a sneaky one for the Northwest and deliver snow to Seattle or the area around it…and with cold air locked it, snow levels will get awfully low! Then that storm will move into the Rockies and places like Salt Lake City may get pummeled on Tuesday. An interesting start to holiday travel week!
Hitting the Links
Today is the one year anniversary of the debacle known as “Climategate.” Dr. Judith Curry examines if the climate science community has learned anything from it. There are a few good links to some other articles on the issue. Andy Revkin of the New York Times has a recap of what the last year has been like. While I don’t necessarily agree with how this was done, I think Climategate has done more good than bad for the long-term state of the science. It’s put things in perspective and helped curb the “science is settled” crowd to allow us to look at this with a wider focus before making economically destructive decisions. It’s re-opened a two sided debate and brought skeptics to the table. And that’s important for science.
And from the photography side, time lapser Tom Lowe is putting together some truly beautiful and amazing scenes from the Southwest into a movie. Check out the site and some previews here. It really is some incredibly beautiful work.
Some more coming out from yesterday’s Rational Discussion on Climate Change on Capitol Hill. A couple of blog postings and other info from yesterday…
Dr. Judith Curry offers some suggestions for how the science-policy interface should work. They’re very sensible, and sadly, to me, represent a common sense approach to this…something that’s been severely lacking in this debate all along. Another “skeptic” of anthropogenic global warming, Dr. Richard Lindzen, a decorated atmospheric physicist from MIT offered his own take. Lindzen states:
However, my personal hope is that we will return to normative science, and try to understand how the climate actually behaves. Our present approach of dealing with climate as completely specified by a single number, globally averaged surface temperature anomaly, that is forced by another single number, atmospheric CO2levels, for example, clearly limits real understanding; so does the replacement of theory by model simulation.
Some very sensible commentary. Lindzen’s testimony is worth a read, as he delves into some very strong counter-opinions to what is standard climate change belief. And Lindzen (or Dr. Curry) isn’t a typical “rogue” scientist…his opinions carry serious clout.
An article in the Orange County Register today discusses how alarmism may have polluted climate science enough to cause it to backfire and lose popular support. I agree 100% with this. I described a few entries ago how I believe this “science is settled” mantra is unfair and is the undertone for the entire climate science debate. As a scientist, I can attest to the fact that most of us are absolutely dreadful communicators. Most scientists do not know (some notable exceptions do exist) how to explain their research in simple terms that the average person can understand and NOT come off as smug, elitist, or…to a lot of people…frankly, annoying. There’s a significant communication gap between climate science, policy, and the public. And as I have previously stated, it is the job of climate scientists to not be policy advocates, but to explain their research. And it would do a world of good if colleges and universities require basic communications classes for scientists. The clearer and more approachable scientists become, the more likely the public is to not raise an eyebrow with everything they say. Skepticism is good for climate science, as it challenges what have been unchecked beliefs. Meteorology is an inexact science. Climate science is rooted in meteorology to a large degree. The processes driving weather vs. climate aren’t always the same, but the result of uncertainty and doubt at the end of the day still exists.
The bottom line on this: I hope we can continue to engage in a rational debate on climate change…with both sides being open minded to each other’s viewpoints and ideas…and hopefully absent of policy.
So a very active November day in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic piles on some more!
Elsewhere, a good read from the Capital Weather Gang on this hurricane season and where it stands historically (starting to get to the recap mode of hurricane season now…expect more of these in the coming days).
One last bit of cool weather news: Fairbanks, AK shattered their highest barometric pressure reading of all-time yesterday. It actually was such high pressure that it forced an aircraft to divert! The air pressure was so high, it made reading the plane’s altimeter exceedingly difficult. So a plane was diverted because of…good weather? It can happen. We’ve had a significant amount of low pressure records set this year…so this is an intriguing change-up. The PNS from Fairbanks on the 1051 mb pressure is below:
PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FAIRBANKS AK
445 PM AKST WED NOV 17 2010
...FAIRBANKS BREAKS SEA LEVEL PRESSURE RECORD...
AT APPROXIMATELY 1 AM ON WEDNESDAY...THE FAIRBANKS INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT REPORTED A SEA LEVEL PRESSURE OF 1051.4 MILLIBARS.
THIS BREAKS THE PREVIOUS NOVEMBER RECORD FOR HIGHEST SEA LEVEL
PRESSURE IN FAIRBANKS OF 1047.6 MB...WHICH WAS SET ON NOVEMBER 26
Been out of town the last few days for a conference, so here’s a rundown of some things I’ve marked of interest. Plus we’ll talk about the weather for the weekend.
So the Upper Midwest got absolutely spanked over last weekend. Just a massive snowstorm, even for that part of the country. Here’s some information on that storm.
The image on the right is courtesy of the CIMSS Satellite Blog, showing the development and movement of the storm as it lifted through the Midwest, along with lightning strikes. Thundersnow isn’t too rare or uncommon, but it still seems to be surprising when it happens. That usually means though that you’re dealing with a bigtime storm or some very heavy snowfall. The storm set a few daily records at Minneapolis and Duluth. But the snow was quick to compress…it is still somewhat early in the snow season. Overall, the maximum totals looked to sit around 6-12″ in a band from Duluth back through MSP, Mankato, and down to the Iowa border.
Also a good write up from Minnesota Public Radio on some of the more unique aspects of this storm…particular the convective aspect, as well as the fact that temperatures were in a prime range for good accumulations.
Keeping on the topic of winter weather and convection: Big Sky Convection’s Dann Cianca has a good write up and very nice pictures from catching some convective snow in Denver on Tuesday.
Congrats to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang for having the phrase “Snowmageddon” make the list of the top words of 2010. They were likely the original ones to coin this term. I’m not sure who coined “Snowpacalypse,” but while it was clever and useful for last winter, I hope this trend of coming up with clever catch phrases for every snowstorm stops. I’m still comfortable with “Super Bowl Snow” or “President’s Day Storm.” But in rare instances (and last winter was very rare), it’s manageable.
As hurricane season winds down, Greg Nordstrom has a look at how the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) stacks up compared to some other hyperactive years. This year isn’t in the top 5, despite I think being there for actual *number* of storms. There was some pretty pathetic named storms this year (Nicole and Bonnie come to mind). Now, ACE is a decent gauge of a season or storm’s intensity, but it only factors in wind velocity and duration. We’ve learned in recent years especially that there is a LOT more to a hurricane than wind speed, pressure, surge, etc. Not all 125 mph storms are alike. So while this season may go down with the perception of sort of a bust (since the US was spared) and even ACE to some extent, this season was definitely hyperactive and worth the insane forecasts put out prior to the start of the season. I think we just simply dodged a bullet this year. It doesn’t make anyone more overdue or less overdue or anything…it just is what it is.
Lastly, in what could be the coolest minor league sports move ever, the Omaha Royals have changed their name to the “Storm Chasers!” I don’t know if the Royals “brand” has been tarnished in recent years, which prompted the change, but it’s really cool regardless. The article does point out that things have changed in recent years (see: Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Richmond Flying Squirrels, etc.). I’m all for cool minor league team names.
Just a quick synopsis here on what’s coming. The image to the left shows the GFS model’s depiction of weather on the West Coast come Saturday evening. This is a MUCH different look than we’ve seen of late out here, with almost 60-70% of days I would suspect having offshore flow, dry weather, and oodles of sunshine…a nice respite after an awful summer. Well, the storm door has officially opened. And it starts this weekend. Strong low pressure off the British Columbia coast is driving a series of cold fronts, rain, and snow into the Northwest and eventually down the coast. By Saturday evening, that low pressure parks along the Oregon coast. As we go through the next few days, each one of the cold fronts swinging through is going to reinforce and strengthen cold air over the Northwest, driving down snow levels to around 2,000′ initially, then below 1,000′, and then perhaps down to “ground level” by the time we get to late in the weekend, so places like Seattle and Portland may not be exempt from snowfall. And this could set the stage for a White Thanksgiving for a lot of places in the Northwest.
Down here in California, it’s going to get colder as well, with Sierra snowfall likely, and even snow in the SoCal mountains. Just assuming from the maps, without specifically forecasting, that snow levels will approach or dip below 5,000′ in the San Gabriel and/or San Bernardino Mountains early next week. The question I guess becomes whether or not we see any precipitation at that time. This is a very interesting and cold pattern for the West Coast though, so the next few days definitely should be fun to watch.
This cold air should also work its way to the east during Thanksgiving week, bringing a pretty strong cold shot to the East cities just after Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!
Interesting thing I came across yesterday evening. Dr. Judith Curry posted a blog entry detailing the lineup at a Congressional hearing next week. Find the post here.
Dr. Curry has begun to completely differentiate herself from the rest of the climate science crowd. Her blog (linked above) has become a great resource of honest, unspun, unbiased, non-partisan debate on the science of climate change. Those of you who don’t follow climate science closely may not realize how much of a hotbed the internet has become for “partisan” sniping back and forth on climate change. There are literally dozens of blogs… some that are advocating anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and those that question it. If you visit Dr. Curry’s blog, she has listed a boatload of blogs on her sidebar that delve deep into the fray on both sides.
Let me sidetrack here briefly and give you my own perspective on this issue.
I’ve opted to keep an open mind in the climate science debate. I’ve undergone quite a transition in my development from a student to meteorologist…from initially thinking Al Gore was doing a great public service with “An Inconvenient Truth” to eventually thinking he’s actually the reason climate science in politics is an utter trainwreck at present and did a dramatic disservice. I’ve kept an open mind on theories about climate change. I don’t pretend to be a climatologist, but I’ve seen enough issues with modeling and quality of observations to be extremely skeptical of the “science is settled” argument. I think that statement was dishonest, unfair, and represents all that is wrong with how climate science has been conducted to this end. I am skeptical of the IPCC, as I don’t feel a government sponsored panel really has the best interest of the science at heart (there are too many conflicts of interest on that side of things).
However, I know climate scientists, I’ve read research, I’ve seen things that don’t make sense, and I’ve seen and heard enough of this to not take the traditional uber-conservative point of view that this is all smoke and mirrors and there’s nothing to see here.
I have two or three main points of contention regarding climate change: The first is that I think cap and trade is a complete joke, will only hurt the economy, and provide no substantial justifiable environmental benefits. I believe that if policymakers are going to address climate change, the United States should not be the only country taking action, especially when the economic consequences are likely to be so drastic. And “capping” emissions accomplishes nothing. If you’re really looking to address that as a problem, they need to be cut…not capped.
My second point of contention is when climate change proponents and deniers instantly pounce on a weather event as evidence of AGW occurring or not occurring. And I feel that stance has really screwed up this debate.
As I’ve developed further in this field I’ve tried to develop a middle ground perspective, which is sound science: Be skeptical, question everything, but don’t ignore certain things that are obviously occurring. And I’ve progressed from center left, to far right, back to an optimal middle ground on the issue now. And to bring this full circle, that seems to be where Dr. Curry is coming from. There was an incredibly well written profile of Dr. Curry published in the November 2010 edition of Scientific American magazine. What Dr. Curry has done that has been so unorthodox, is that she has crossed lines that many AGW proponents have refused to cross: She’s engaging the community of skeptics. This has been something that has been desperately missing from this whole debate over the last 10+ years. She just “gets” it (a lot of it is (I think by her own admission) learning from experiences in the past that she probably mishandled), and that’s what’s so refreshing about her blog and her becoming a rock star in the field of climate change.
This will be an interesting hearing next week. It’s entitled “A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.” And I certainly hope this can be a rational conversation. The House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment is headed by Rep. Edward Markey, and also includes California Rep. Henry Waxman (of Waxman-Markey Bill fame). Since this meeting is occurring before the change of hands in Congress, Dr. Curry was actually asked specifically by the minority party (GOP) to “discuss how we can go about responding to the climate change issue in the face of uncertainty, dissent and disagreement.” What is also interesting is that she is the only person on the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Working Report to be allowed to testify by the GOP.
So I think a couple things can happen here. Either the Republicans are going to seize on Dr. Curry discussing how and why it’s rational to engage the skeptical community and spin it as that even the climate scientists truly aren’t sure. Or, the democrats are going to try and discredit Dr. Curry. Or, this may actually start a rational, sane debate on climate change science, uncertainty, and direction in Congress that needs to be had. My hope is that option three is the one that this committee chooses to run with.
If anything, I think we all can agree that it’s time to set a new energy policy in place that focuses on more domestic production of energy and puts us on a more sustainable path. This is why I truly hope President Obama can channel 1994 President Clinton over the next two years. If both sides can compromise, I think something good can come of this.
In the meantime, I encourage anyone with an interest in a side of climate change you won’t hear about in the mainstream media to bookmark Dr. Curry’s blog, Climate, Etc., and check out some of the postings there from time to time.
Came across a bunch of information on some historical weather on this, the 35th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I wrote briefly about the Edmund Fitzgerald a few weeks ago during that bomb of a storm in the Upper Midwest. Today there are many perspectives and talking points on this storm. And there’s also another storm celebrating its 97th anniversary today: The White Hurricane of 1913.
From the Updraft Blog in Minnesota, Paul Huttner discusses whether or not modern weather forecasting may have saved the Edmund Fitzgerald. It’s more than likely the case that it would have. Modern forecasting would have done a lot to minimize losses in some past events. And if you’ve noticed, there has not been a wreck of quite that magnitude on the Lakes since that storm.
In the Watts Up With That? blog, Ric Werme discusses some of the other great storms of the Great Lakes. A great historical summary. Of note, the first storm he describes from 1913, is that White Hurricane. A book with that same name was written a few years back. Anyone with any interest in shipping, storms, or weather history would enjoy that book thoroughly. Also, WROC in Rochester, NY has a brief entry on that storm. While the Edmund Fitzgerald takes the modern cake for big storms on the Lakes, the White Hurricane of 1913 was an amazing tragedy and meteorologically mesmerizing storm.
So this was truly one of the more memorable storms in our nation’s history. And of course, we can thank Gordon Lightfoot for immortalizing it in song.
Other Historical Tidbits
Some other odds and ends about past weather today:
WLFI in Indiana has a cool blog entry on historical autumn severe weather outbreaks in that part of the Midwest. A lot of people associate severe weather with spring, but it’s certainly true that autumn can produce some ferocious severe weather outbreaks.
The NWS in Washington, DC (Sterling, VA) has gone through and re-sorted snowfall data for Baltimore. They’ve now compiled the top 10 list of snow there, with some new rankings of the biggest storms. Not surprisingly, 2010 shows up on that list a lot. Interesting to note that the big time 3 day events have been extremely rare since 1960.
The Capital Weather Gang has a nice retrospective on Black Sunday and the Dust Bowl. Just an awful event.
Some perspective on this hurricane season. I don’t like to talk about places being overdue or “lucking” out in the weather. But given the extreme amount of activity this hurricane season, the United States truly dodged a bullet. Despite 19 storms and 12 hurricanes, the US was spared this season for the most part. But remember, it only takes one storm (see the hurricane season of 1992 and Hurricane Andrew).
An interesting 24 hours here in SoCal. This story about the “missile” is fascinating. If you haven’t seen the video, here’s the report from a San Diego CBS affiliate (they do a lot of cross-work/outsourcing to their sister station in LA):
So you be the judge. Is that a missile? At first, I was flat sold on it. And to some extent I’m still skeptical it isn’t. What appears to be a rapid movement of whatever it is has me still curious. Time for the obligatory: BUT. But…sunset can do some mighty weird tricks to your eyes. I’ve seen high level clouds at sunset that were at least 100 miles offshore before. And as explained in this blog entry (based on a similar event from several months ago), it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that what was witnessed off the coast of LA was not a missile, but a contrail from a commercial jet. In fact, the author of that blog has pinned down what flight they suspect it was. The government subscribes to that theory…for what it’s worth I suppose. The chopper pilot who caught whatever it was seems to be convinced otherwise. I’m going to cautiously side with the government’s explanation for now. Like I said, weird optical tricks can be played on you at sunset, and the theory about the flight, the timing, and the flight path makes sense. Yesterday was a decent day for contrails as well, so that explanation doesn’t come off as a cop out…it seems rather legitimate. We’ll see what we find out down the line.
Indonesia continues to be active. Mt. Merapi is so much of an issue right now that President Obama is having to cut short his visit to the country because of concerns about ash from the volcano. Ash and aircraft do not mix at all, so this is probably a prudent move. The image to the left is damage from Merapi as seen by James Reynolds, a videographer of all things natural disaster. Like the volcano in Iceland earlier this year, there is a webcam set up near the mountain. Unfortunately this seems to be very hot and cold, so you may want to bookmark it and periodically check it. According to the Eruptions volcano blog, the estimate is that Merapi has had a VEI (Volcano Explosivity Index) of between 3 and 4 so far. Just to put this in perspective, Mt. Redoubt in Alaska, which erupted in the spring of 2009 was around a VEI3. Our Icelandic volcano this past year (Eyjafjallajökull) was probably similar, if not a little less than Redoubt. So there isn’t anything substantially noteworthy about this from a large scale perspective at this point. For Merapi, this is a pretty typical eruption for it, where historically they’ve had VEI3-4 eruptions.
Lastly, here’s some Associate Press footage of the ash cloud from Merapi. Certainly an impressive scene:
Hitting the Links
Snow fell in Denver finally today, marking the first for them this winter season as well. Those of you snow hounds will enjoy some of the videos in that link, shot by storm chaser Tony Laubach.
A weather enthusiast in Seattle has been analyzing the satisfaction or misery of the summer and winter seasons by doing a statistical analysis. Well, it turns out the summer of 2010 was the 6th worst summer in Seattle since 1948. Summers and autumns in Seattle can be phenomenal, so this is ashame, especially since we’re in a La Nina, which climatologically favors greater than normal precipitation in the Northwest in winter.
Lastly, a fascinating blog entry…warning: long read about the scientific method and its applications in the current climate science debate. The author is a sociologist of science (awesome title), which basically means he’s studying the philosophy of science. It’s well worth a read (in fact, I am going to re-read it), as the argument about adhering to the principles of the scientific method has been a point of contention, especially since Climategate.