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Regional Climate Information: Real-world use (2)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 3:03 PM GMT en Noviembre 02, 2010

Regional Climate Information: Real-world use (2)

There is, perhaps to an outsider, a curious contradiction evolving in the climate-science community. On one hand we have concluded that the warming of the planet is unequivocal, attributable to the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel consumption, and that we need to do things to limit the warming – which most simply is to reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Therefore, we feel that there is enough confidence in climate change projections to warrant changes in the very foundation of our energy consumption; hence, the foundation of our economic success.

On the other hand, when we talk about the need for climate projections to contribute to planning for adaptation to climate change, there are many in the community who will make the argument that the projections are so uncertain that it is not possible to provide such information. An example of this sort of decision might be the size of the drain pipes in the urban flood controls or the need for a barrier to protect city water supplies.

This contradiction, we know enough to say we have to do something, but not enough to say what to do, is not a comfortable situation. To some, it raises issues of basic credibility; it is definitely fuel for the political position that it is too risky to our economic well being to take action on climate change. This sort of contradiction is, however, not so unusual. Think about the floods in Pakistan. We knew for 2-3 weeks that the water was flowing down the Indus Valley, but in a general way, it was not clear what to do downstream. It is still flooded in the Sindh.

Those people most interested in developing adaptation plans often want numbers, digital data, for the year, say, 2040. Their intuition is to ask for data that looks like today’s weather station observations. The reason for this is relatively simple – there are present-day tools for design and warnings that have been developed to use weather data and weather forecasts. This recognizes the implicit fact that weather is how climate interacts with people.

Though we have developed some skill in seasonal prediction, largely based on our ability to predict the El Nino-La Nina cycle, we have not developed much skill in actual climate prediction (see for instance, here and here). By climate prediction I mean, for example, will there be a flood at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in June of 2019? The conclusions that are drawn from climate models, with varying degrees of confidence, that there will be more intense floods and droughts use the models to provide guidance. This guidance is used in combination with understanding of basic theoretical knowledge like warm air holds more water; hence, it can support more intense storms. In some cases, we can use observations from the past to provide circumstantial evidence to support the robustness of our conclusions. With this information it is possible to provide guidance for those trying to make decisions, but it is a complex process that requires inputs from a variety of people who are knowledgable in the circumstances of a particular problem. This expert guidance or advice is sometimes referred to as translation, and more and more, we understand the need to have translators at the interfaces of all of the different types of expertise needed for problem solving. We understand the need to cogenerate solutions, and that one field of study, climate science, handing off information to another field of study, city wastewater managers, does not work so well. We simply do not have the ease of providing weather-like data without qualification.

I threaten to digress. A comprehensive climate model can provide a set of numbers that are time stamped with every hour of any year at every point on Earth. It is relatively straight forward to provide a bunch of numbers that look like the Wunderground Personal Weather Station network in Chicago for the year 2043. In fact, we have talked about this as a cool thing to do for the climate page. Most Wunderground devotees would immediately recognize that such a set of numbers may only constitute a party trick. There is not enough skill to pick out in which years there will be regional droughts, much less, whether or not it will rain in Naperville on July 4, 2043.

Nevertheless, there has grown up in the past few years a huge industry which not only takes archived climate model output and tries to increase the effective resolution through a variety of methods, but also use weather generators to generate daily high and low temperatures. This is called downscaling, the process of taking coarse resolution information and adding fine resolution information to customize it for a particular application. As you might imagine, there are widely varying opinions about this process. Some scientists think that this is a waste of time and resources, and others think it is a critical process in developing necessary climate adaptation plans. (For those who want to know more: a whole bunch of downscaling references from my class.) (and for your pleasure ClimateWizard and Canadian Climate Change Scenarios Network)

From a market perspective, there are many customers who want downscaled information and the basic information to feed downscaling algorithms is readily available through the CMIP-3 archive. Therefore, whether or not a subset of climate scientists think that downscaling makes sense, there will be downscaling of climate projections and use of that information.

Early in the 1990s I was involved in ozone research, and in particular, the development of weather-resolving global ozone models. These models challenged not only the computational resources of the time, but the human resources to evaluate their quality and interpret their results. In a meeting in the Damon Room of the National Center of Atmospheric Research, we were discussing the use of this new generation of model in official United Nations’ assessments of ozone depletion. I was on the side that it was too early to use these models, and that we needed months if not years to assess their quality and assure their robustness. On the other side was the argument that these new generation models WOULD be used; they existed, and someone would use them. One stream of the argument was that it was the responsibility of those most knowledgeable of both the strengths and weaknesses of the models to try them out in the assessment studies.

I was on the wrong side of that argument in the Damon Room. It was true that new generation models would be used for a whole variety of reasons, ranging from scientific reasons to reasons of one research group trying to make their mark relative to another group. Not only was there a responsibility for the leading research groups to participate, but there was also a lot to be learned from trying to do those assessments.

In the discussion about whether or not model projections are ready for applications, there are arguments made that addressing applied problems are not really science. That a focus on applications diverts resources from needed science and diverts the most trained minds away from needed research. Such a position, however, does not recognize the challenging research problems of how to use climate information in real-world applications. Neither does it recognize that the demand for information is there, and that that demand will be met in some way.

Imagine that you are spending money for bridges or power plants or flood control. These expenditures are expected to last generations. You know that you need to consider climate change. You need to consider climate change in concert with many other issues, and the question might reduce to what incremental change do I need to make to my plans to accommodate climate change. Or the question might be more severe – is salt water intruding into my water supply? As a decision maker you are concerned technically and ethically. You might need to answer to political concerns, and increasingly, you are answering to your insurance company. You need climate data now – you can’t wait until the skill score of decadal predictions improve.

The scientific investigation of climate has revealed the need to do something, and you cannot wait until a certain skill score is achieved in climate models. There are many ways you can get some information. It would be nice to get vetted and branded information, but in the absence of that, you can get some information. Usually the information that you will use with be strongly influenced by ease of access and use. It would be nice to have ease of access and use to the best available data at any given time. It is not a simple manner to define “best available;” it is not a simple thing to manage the logistics of access.

If you examine the problem from the generation of climate knowledge to the use of climate knowledge, then there are research issues all the way along the path. Above, I mentioned the need for cogeneration of solutions to problem. Cogeneration means that all of the information providers are working together in the generation of solution paths. With this participation, the users of climate information learn how to account for the uncertainties of climate projections in their problems and climate scientists learn the requirements that are faced by the users.

We have been studying the use of climate information for, at least, 20 years, and from this experience, we know that it is naïve to image simply providing digital data. There is a need to develop translation services to complement the digital data. We know from experience in the weather community, that the notion that we can make the provision of digital data operational, somehow separated from research, is far from optimal. It sets up barriers between new developments that might improve forecasts, and it sets up barriers on best use of information. The idea that we might wait until the climate projections achieve some undetermined skill level, then pass it off as useful, neglects the fact that the bottleneck in the use of climate data does not lie first and foremost in the quality of the climate projections. This position of wait until the data are better neglects the research from years of learning how to use climate data. In fact, to wait until the data are better serves to fuel a wait and see approach in the development of policy and development of solution paths. We have made the argument that climate projections are robust enough to motivate controlling the emissions of fossil fuels. We need to address with equal energy the problem of determining the size of the levees in Fargo and New Orleans.


First Blog in this series

Pakistan: I am certain to maintain an interest in Pakistan far longer than the average disaster attention span. My youngest sister Elizabeth is Counsel General in Peshawar so I keep an eye on the news. Sindh is still flooded. Attention to the Pakistan flood is moral imperative, a humanitarian imperative, and a security imperative. (Pakistan Flooding: A Climate Disaster, Yours truly on Chicago-based Radio Islam, Rood interview)

Here are some places that my sister has recommended for the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan. Organizations she sees.

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

Portlight Disaster Relief at Wunderground.com

Figure 1. Despair of Pakistan’s forgotten flood victims: BBC coverage of continuing flood in Pakistan

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Quoting MichaelSTL:

Did you not see my previous post, which included a study which says that there will be FEWER but stronger storms? Again, FEWER storms - just as observed this year (and actually, the Pacific has shown a decrease for at least several years now; of course, part of this is the AMO, which increases Atlantic activity but decreases Pacific activity when it is in its current phase; when it reverses, we will see the opposite).

Fewer, fiercer tropical cyclones are in our future, study finds

Although global warming could cause the number of tropical cyclones to decrease around the world by the end of the century, the storms that do form probably will be more intense, a study in the journal Nature Geoscience finds.

One classic feature of a denialist is that they continue to spew misinformation no matter how many times facts are shoved into their faces - "Look - scientists predicted that there would be more hurricanes, but they are WRONG!".

So the 2005 Hurricane Season wasn't caused by Global Warming as some desperate doomers want it to be?

Mr. Gore has spread so much desinformation to the public, if the study that was conducted is accurate.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
The advocates here, are certainly more harsher than on another site that I talk about climate change on!

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting MichaelSTL:

LOL, do you know why it is called "climate change", which is the real term that should be used (since warming by itself is actually a very minor effect)? More rainfall globally does not equal more rainfall at any particular spot - or droughts would never happen in the first place! And many areas that get drought will of course be getting floods some time later - or droughts where there were floods, but more intense droughts and floods (and interestingly, a rise in temperature alone - even with constant precipitation, means more evaporation and less soil moisture, which has the same effects as less rainfall; in fact, a general rule in physics is that for every rise of 10 degrees, chemical processes double in speed, including evaporation, so even a rise of only one degree, as has been observed so far, is significant).

It's called "climate change" because the climate changes. It's quite simple actually. Yet, if all types of extreme weather are observed with Global Warming, then what types of weather does Global Cooling cause?

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting MichaelSTL:

LOL, did you see my previous post on this and why it was expected to see low activity (except by delusional denialists like you)? And record low I bet is only for the eastern Pacific, while one of the strongest storms in history occurred in the western Pacific - ask the Philippines.

One storm does not mean that the total season was active.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting MichaelSTL:
I wonder what point Snowlover123 is making in comment 89; seems like he never even read the predictions for Pacific activity this year, which was for below normal activity in both basins (east and west). And he needs to do some reading on the expected influence of climate change on tropical cyclones - the consensus is that intensity of the strongest storms will (and has) increase - but no consensus on frequency. In fact, many studies indicate that activity will... wait for it... DECREASE. Like this:

Fewer, fiercer tropical cyclones are in our future, study finds

Although global warming could cause the number of tropical cyclones to decrease around the world by the end of the century, the storms that do form probably will be more intense, a study in the journal Nature Geoscience finds.

Now, I wonder if the Pacific has produced any significant storms this year?

800 PM PDT THU JUN 24 2010

...WITH AVA OF 1973.

Potentially catastrophic Super Typhoon Megi approaching the Philippines

The SFMR surface wind measurement instrument recorded surface winds of 186 mph in regions where heavy rain was not contaminating the measurement, but found surface winds of 199 mph in one region of heavy rain. Now, this measurement is considered contaminated by rain, but at very high wind speeds, the contamination effect is less important than at lower hurricane wind speeds, and it is possible than Megi's surface winds are close to a sustained 200 mph. This is supported by the flight level winds of 220 mph, which support surface winds of 199 mph, using the usual 10% reduction rule of thumb.

Typhoon Megi: The Strongest in the World

According to CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera, super typhoon Juan (international codename Megi) is "the strongest storm on the planet since 2005", and it is also the strongest storm that wreaked havoc in the Pacific Ocean since 1990.


Also, I am not sure what point he is making about the ENSO forecast.

The most recent (August-September) MEI value shows a continued drop from earlier this year, reaching -1.99, or 0.18 sigma below last month's value, and 3.39 standard deviations below February-March, a record-fast six-month drop for any time of year, while slowing down a bit at the shorter time scales. The most recent MEI rank (lowest) is clearly below the 10%-tile threshold for strong La Nina MEI rankings for this season. One has to go back to July-August 1955 to find lower MEI values for any time of year.

(previous monthly MEI discussion which I posted here, current has it a bit weaker but still at 2nd strongest)

Oh yeah, and the claims that there is absolutely no connection between climate change and the Pakistan floods, which couldn't be more wrong. But did climate change CAUSE the Pakistan floods? No, and nobody but the deniers (or uneducated) is claiming that it did.

PS: If you deny climate change so much, why are you posting on this site? You realize that Dr. Masters has to put up with constant threats from people like you? And yes, I am not kidding about the threats.

Yale profile of Wunderground.com's Jeff Masters: "The ignorance and greed that human society is showing [on climate change] will be to our ultimate detriment and possible destruction."

Masters reads plenty of other blogs, and is a fan in particular of John Cook's blogs at skepticalscience.com. He also frequents realclimate.org, climateprogress.org, and desmogblog.com, which he thinks does well at unveiling climate deniers%u2019 public relations campaigns intended to counter climate change science%u2026.

Masters considers himself different from most meteorologists, many of whom he says are unreasonably skeptical of climate change science. He says he thinks their skepticism stems in part from bachelors degree meteorology students' not being required to study climatology or climate science as part of their formal degree requirements.

Masters says he believes that the conclusions of the IPCC report are "genuine, valid, and probably understated." And he is critical of what he sees as well orchestrated and well funded climate misinformation campaigns.

"They're able to persuade even intelligent people with a background in meteorology" that climate change isn't occurring, he said. "It's going to be a terrible wake-up call when the climate becomes unstable, and we%u2019ll kick ourselves for being resistant to cutting our use of fossil fuels."

He's shared these views in his blogs, not surprisingly leading to hundreds of "hate e-mails" a year. Critics call him biased and chastise him for defending scientists named or involved in last fall's hacked e-mails controversy at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. While he respects the right of these people to voice their point of view, he doesn't pull punches: "The ignorance and greed that human society is showing in this matter will be to our ultimate detriment and possible destruction," he says.

I wonder what happens to those who threaten him, especially via email, since bans usually only are from the blogs (especially if they are death threats).

That's quite a strong assertion to claim that 'I never read something.' That's technically impossible, as I went onto the same page that had the forecasts. The forecasts were to have below normal Accumulated cyclonic energy, because of the La Nina, and the cold PDO.

Now I'm wondering something- have you heard of the term "cherry picking?" It's a term that perfectly describes what you just did. You can't cherry pick one storm. Why not take a look at the total number of Major Hurricanes? Celia only made up 33% of the average number of Pacific Major Hurricanes. The real killer though is when you look at Accumulated Cyclonic Energy for the Pacific Basin.

The Total Accumulated Cyclonic Energy was 48. The average is a little more than 90.

Keep on making your claims about one system that didn't even affect any land areas, but one can easily see what you're doing, and it's blatently obvious.

Once again, you cherry picked in the Western Pacific as well. The season there runs year long, yet you can cherry pick only one storm? LOL!

"I'm not sure what he's talking about in the ENSO forecast."

I think you know perfectly what I'm talking about. The precious climate models that the advocates hug frequently just didn't get it right!

Here's a quote from Buzz Bernard's Weather Blog... the date is April 2010. This is when the climate models show "Neutral Conditions" at this time.

There is, however, a caveat. And that is that the current El Niño (higher than normal tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures) doesn't suddenly relent and shift to La Niña (lower than normal tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures). That doesn't seem likely. The current forecast is for El Niño to continue through the northern hemisphere spring and then transition to neutral conditions.


Thanks for that graph, by the way.

It looks like as if the only time that the cool phase of the El Nino Southern oscillation was stronger than it is now, was during the 60s and 70s, when Global Cooling was observed!

I have not attacked Dr. Masters- I think he is a very nice man, so I'm not sure why you're bringing up generalizations to fit your cause.

Unfortunately, you claim that Global Warming caused the Pakistan floods, and just left it there. Please provide a source that documents and states that the floods in Pakistan were because of Global Warming.

And thank you for posting the Doctor's opinion! I respect that. But, however he is in fact with the minority on this one.

Only 24% of meteorologists actually agree with the IPCC! It's a consensus Indeed, especially when only 54 people signed the IPCC report.

I like it how Micheal pretends that his advocate side is purely innocent. Here's a death threat on one Skeptic: "You will not live to see Global Warming."

Makes it no different, you're just making generalizations again.

Have a Great Day.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting cyclonebuster:

Is that so? Is that why we may make it to the "A" storm again this hurricane season? Perhaps, second time in five years?

We will not make it to Alpha again. The conditions are unfavorable for Tropical Cyclonic Activity to form. And if you believe that the Global Forecasting System can predict this, 16 days out, then that's a load of crock.

Why has there been record low activity in the Pacific for October and November, and there has been record high activity for the Atlantic? Is the Globe trying to balance itself out?
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Quoting cyclonebuster:

That's a bunch of crock more moisture IS more water.

Then why are droughts blaimed on Global Warming?
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92. Snowlover123
12:01 PM GMT en Noviembre 09, 2010

Since apparently your comment got deleted somehow, I am forced to reply without a quotation box.

"Before you make yourself look bad, read about the Pakistan Floods."


Why would there be a picture of Pakistan Floods on a Climate Change Blog, if it has nothing to do with Global Warming?

Don't even get me started about the advocate's appalling 10:10 Campaign, where they are teaching little kids that anyone who disagrees with AGW should be blown up.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
91. martinitony
10:36 AM GMT en Noviembre 09, 2010
Campaign Against Skeptics

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89. Snowlover123
3:09 AM GMT en Noviembre 09, 2010
Quoting cyclonebuster:
Tunnels reverse this! No wonder we have been breaking the records for number of hurricanes in a season!

Researchers find ocean temperature threshold for hurricanes is rising
University of Hawai%u02BBi at M%u0101noa
Gisela E Speidel, (808) 956-9252
Outreach Specialist, International Pacific Research Center
Nat Johnson, (808) 956-2375
Researcher, International Pacific Research Center
Posted: Nov. 8, 2010

Tropical ocean thunderstorms. Image courtesy NASA
Tropical ocean thunderstorms. Image courtesy NASA
Average observed tropical (black) and estimated SST (blue) rose together in the last 30 years.
Average observed tropical (black) and estimated SST (blue) rose together in the last 30 years.
Scientists have long known that atmospheric convection in the form of hurricanes and tropical ocean thunderstorms tends to occur when sea surface temperature rises above a threshold. So how do rising ocean temperatures with global warming affect this threshold? If the threshold does not rise, it could mean more frequent hurricanes. A new study by researchers at the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) of the University of Hawai%u02BBi at M%u0101noa shows this threshold sea surface temperature for convection is rising under global warming at the same rate as that of the tropical oceans. Their paper appears in the Advance Online Publications of Nature Geoscience.

In order to detect the annual changes in the threshold sea surface temperature (SST) for convection, Nat Johnson, a postdoctoral fellow at IPRC, and Shang-Ping Xie, a professor of meteorology at IPRC and UH M%u0101noa, analyzed satellite estimates of tropical ocean rainfall spanning 30 years. They find that changes in the threshold temperature for convection closely follow the changes in average tropical sea surface temperature, which have both been rising approximately 0.1%uFFFDC per decade.

%u201CThe correspondence between the two time series is rather remarkable,%u201D says lead author Johnson. %u201CThe convective threshold and average sea surface temperatures are so closely linked because of their relation with temperatures in the atmosphere extending several miles above the surface.%u201D
The change in tropical upper atmospheric temperatures has been a controversial topic in recent years because of discrepancies between reported temperature trends from instruments and the expected trends under global warming according to global climate models. The measurements from instruments have shown less warming than expected in the upper atmosphere. The findings of Johnson and Xie, however, provide strong support that the tropical atmosphere is warming at a rate that is consistent with climate model simulations.

%u201CThis study is an exciting example of how applying our knowledge of physical processes in the tropical atmosphere can give us important information when direct measurements may have failed us,%u201D Johnson notes.

The study notes further that global climate models project that the sea surface temperature threshold for convection will continue to rise in tandem with the tropical average sea surface temperature. If true, hurricanes and other forms of tropical convection will require warmer ocean surfaces for initiation over the next century.



Great to see you again. Are you glad to see me?
This is pure cherry picking. Why? The Global Accumulated Cyclonic Energy for the Paciic basin, which provides 2/3 of the World's Tropical Cyclones is at Record Lows! You guys were hyping last year about how "global warming" is causing the Pacific to produce more hurricanes! Once that cold PDO came back on, stifling hurricane activity, the advocates became quite quiet...

NOAA Average[4] 15.3 8.8 4.2
NOAA 1995-2008 average[4] 14 7 3
NOAA 27 May 2010[4] 9 - 15 4 - 8 1 - 3
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– –––––
Actual activity
(Up to November 8) 7 3 2

The actual activity is roughly 50% compared to normal.

BTW, how's ATHiker doing? Could you tell him I say hi, and that I was right about the monster La Nina that came on?

It just proves to you how cruddy Climate Models are.

here is the model forecast in May of 2010. Where's the Super La Nina that's happening right now?
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
88. Snowlover123
3:02 AM GMT en Noviembre 09, 2010
This is a complete lie! There is no scientific evidence to back up that the Pakistan Floods are conncected to Global Warming in any way shape or form!

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
87. DontAnnoyMe
2:43 AM GMT en Noviembre 09, 2010
Quoting cyclonebuster:
If true, hurricanes and other forms of tropical convection will require warmer ocean surfaces for initiation over the next century.

Makes sense, if one assumes that tropical convection's main purpose is to cool down the tropics and warm up the poles. Since the poles are getting warmer - supposedly due to GW- the tropics would respond accordingly with fewer storms due to the higher formation threshold.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
72. atmoaggie
1:43 AM GMT en Noviembre 08, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:
It appears that Arctic amplification (warming due to heat being released by ice-free ocean) is currently in full force:

Wonder how warm November will be if this persists (so it is cold around Antarctica and the SE U.S., but compare the extent and magnitude of warm and cold anomalies).
If you want to actually make any sense of extent, I'd not post anything but polar stereographic maps when discussing the Arctic...

Though that map is better than *some*, Africa is 14 times the size of Greenland in real life.
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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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