Well, blizzards in DC are no big deal as far as we are concerned here, but blizzards in Texas, that’s another matter. And with reports of a minute amount of snow sticking to the ground in Florida, we have what is really an unusual event: snow cover in every one of the contiguous states. (I spotted a tiny bit of frozen precipitation in Austin mixed in with the rain, but with my cowboy hat off and my Habs’ tuque on, I wouldn’t really have called it snow.)
So what are we to make of the snowpocalypse? Mark Morano very effectively makes hay out of it. Irritating though it is to see Climate Depot always featuring cold or snowy weather, Morano in this interview completely demolishes his opponent, who is bound and determined to make this huge snow event evidence “for”, um, “climate change”. Sneaking the last word in (over the rather pathetic whining of the interviewer) was a very effective little bit of norm-evasion on Morano’s part.
(Hints to interviewer: get an off switch on the interviewee’s audio channel. Use it. Don’t whine on air.)
Of course, the usual lesson can be learned. Use trained media-ready people for media interviews, avoid debates with people who have sharper debating skills than you.
But there’s another lesson here, too. Don’t overreach. Is there anything in any particular weather event (except prehaps ones far more bizarre than this one) that offers strong evidence for or against any theory of climate change? Morano says no, despite constantly implying otherwise on his aggregator.
His opponent (Daniel Weiss I believe) pretty much says yes, and Joe Romm does too.
- Clarification: As several correspondents point out, Romm does not make such a claim explicitly. In fact, neither does Weiss. By “pretty much” I meant only that an unsophisticated audience member could come away with that impression. I should have said that, and no more. I apologize.
What do I say? I say Weiss and Romm
have been tricked by Morano (have made a tactical error).
- Clarification: I should not have “tricked by Morano”. I don’t think Romm’s position is directly affected by what Morano says. And probably the tricking is inadvertent. We are in enough trouble already, though, without falling into rhetorical traps, and this “consistency” matter is one of them. That’s my point.
I strongly advise against this tactic. Not every bit of weather weirdness is anthropogenically forced. A far better response, for example, is the first half of Rachel Maddow’s. Unfortunately, she then gets the (in my opinion worthless) Bill Nye on to fall right into the trap.
So what’s going on?
Well, when this year is different from last year, the best place to look is not in gradual climate change but in large natural shifts in climate. Of these, the prime candidate should always be the big one, the El Nino/La Nina cycle (known in the field by the inexcusable name ENSO which stands for “El Nino Southern Oscillation” which sacrifices both the oceanographers’ poetry and the meteorologists’ precision for mealy-mouthed and worthless compromise. But never mind that.) Anyway, Google being my friend, I asked it “noreaster el nino” and was promptly rewarded with the following abstract:
Lynne M. Hoppe, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD; and D. R. Smith
A significant wintertime event along the East Coast is a marine cyclone called the Nor’easter. These storms occur when cold air from the continent interacts with warm air and water just offshore, associated with the Gulf Stream. This paper investigates whether El Niño events have any influence on the development of such storms. This paper looks at winter storms for the 1983-84, 1997-98, and 2004-05 events. The number of extratropical cyclones, intensity of these cyclones and the central and minimum pressures of the cyclones were gathered. By comparing these data, conclusions were made regarding the generation and movement of Nor’easter storms. The storms during El Nino events were pushed further south due to the jet stream being pushed further south. The frequency of storms increased during strong El Niño years (e.g., 1983-’84 or 1997-’98). Although the is ability to predict when or where these storms will occur is difficult at best, this study provides clues to better understand the effect of El Niño on these extratropical marine cyclones.
Okay, kids? Got that? Jet stream moves south, and more noreasters happen IN EL NINO CONDITIONS. The US is just going to be more snow-covered in El Nino conditions.
Then there’s the question of whether more intense snowfalls are a likely result of a warming climate. Well, let’s stick to the US again. Here we have the question of whether El Nino years will become more frequent and intense, for one thing, and whether various other contributing factors will become more favorable to noreasters for another.
Now one big argument is that there are signs of larger intense precipitation events. This is true.
One problem with this is that a snowfall is not an intense precipitation event. It’s a prolonged precipitation event. The actual rate of water mass precipitation is not high. So this doesn’t really fit in with the idea of less large scale organization and more intense small scale organization, which is what I understood the expectation from climate change to be, at all.
And, John Nielsen-Gammon makes a cogent argument that snow events in particular have a maximum intensity that is set more by very constant aspects of nature than by climate variables. I’m not sure it’s a perfect argument (it may be moister tropical air riding up over the cold front) but it does make a certain amount of sense to me.
On the other hand, it is very much what we expect from El Nino events. So we should stop at saying “this is not inconsistent with expectations” rather than saying “we expect more of this sort of thing in the future” unless it’s actually the sort of thing we expect more of. Which, in this case, it actually ain’t, at least on present evidence.
Which brings up the quandary of the notorious concept of “consistency”. And that’s another can of worms.
But for now, when we are back on our heels under the force of our opponents’ misrepresentation and innuendo, this is hardly the time to be making s**t up. We don’t expect these big snowstorms in DC to go away forever for a while yet. Big snowstorms are not significant evidence against anthropogenic climate change (as apparently Morano knows, who’d have thought it?).
But big snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic or the South, particularly in El Nino years, are not evidence in favor of anthropogenic climate change either. They are not the sort of thing we particularly expect more of because of human interference. At best it seems to me that the case is uncertain.
Okay? Okay then.
Update: I should point out that nobody I know of said “caused by”. All were careful only to say “consistent with”.
I’d like to make clear that I am not praising Morano in this piece. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I think Morano is skilled, but that doesn’t mean he is using his skills in a decent or honorable way. I don’t mind when Morano drives traffic here, but I have no expectation that we are friends and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if, given a suitable opportunity from his perspective, Morano would do me great harm for small gain.
I don’t agree with Romm’s approach to this particular matter, but as I’ve said before, in the grand scheme of things we are both working for the same things. Nothing in this piece should be taken as a condemnation of Joe Romm or an endorsement of Morano! I just think Joe is making a tactical mistake.
Dallas pic via Huffpo; an ordinary day in Montreal (false watercolor: Cote des Neiges in the snow; click image for 1000 pixel version) is my own. If you like my landscapes there are more at PECULIAR MO .