El Nino is back. What does it mean?

El Nino is the name given to the natural cycle that involves the eastern Pacific getting warmer in the area close to the equator. (La Nina is the name for the alternative cycle when the waters there are cooler. The two together are known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation – ENSO.) This is one of the most significant natural cycles and occurs every few years. It has the potential to change weather around the world. Take a look at this graphic showing the sea surface temperature anomaly. The darker the red, the warmer it is relative to the long-term average.

Source: Climate Reanalyzer

You can clearly see how the water temperature off western South America is warmer than usual, which is the classic definition of El Nino. The name comes from how local fishermen noticed the change  in the water and how it seemed to always arrive in the late fall – about Christmas time. El Nino means ‘the boy’ and refers to the Christ child of Christmas. The name has stuck.

But, the important thing is to notice how the warm water stretches all the way across the Pacific Ocean. The significance of this lies in the fact that warm water creates atmospheric low-pressure areas which results in thunderstorms. There is now a Pacific Ocean-wide corridor of low pressure which will allow thunderstorms to develop and travel all the way from Asia to South America. One of the things this leads to is a change in the Hadley Cells.

Hadley Cells are circulation patterns in the atmosphere. Warm air near the equator rises and then travels towards the poles at high altitude. When the air reaches the mid-latitudes it sinks back to the surface and travels back towards the equator. This circulates heat and causes the trade winds. A stronger El Nino results in stronger Hadley Cells. Live Science has a nice graphic here showing how this all works.

You can probably see where this is going. More heat is being circulated through-out the world as a result of El Nino. Changes in the heat and water vapor input in a given region will result in changes to the weather in that region. How much of a change and what kind can be expected? That is a big variable. Some regions will experience greater rainfall. Others will experience droughts. Depending on the strength of the El Nino event, the effect could be anywhere from very mild to catastrophic.

Some of the most dramatic example of El Nino effects is a series of famines that have occurred in what is modern-day India, including the Great Famine of 1876-1878 (5.5 estimated dead) and the Bengal Famine of 1770 (10 million estimated dead). These famines occurred when the monsoons did not occur and the crops failed. The famines were greatly aggravated by British mismanagement.

What has been found is that severe droughts in India always occur during El Ninos, but not every El Nino leads to droughts in India. The apparent link seems to be where the Pacific is warmest. When it is warmer in the Central Pacific, India has droughts. When it is warmest in the Eastern Pacific, India is spared. Take a look at the plot of surface temperatures, similar to the plot above.

Source: Climate Reanalyzer

The figure above showed the difference from the average. This plot shows the actual average temperature. The way I interpret this data is that it is warmer in the Central Pacific region than in the Eastern Pacific region off of South America. This could be bad news for India. The good news is that Britain is not handling the management any more.

But, El Ninos are not bad news for everyone. Actually, for us in the U.S. it will be a good thing. A typical El Nino brings mild temperatures and more rainfall for the southern half of the country. This would be particularly welcome in the mid-Plains and the Southwest where drought has been raging for many years. In fact, several states out here are at risk of running out of water.  More rain would be good.

So, let’s talk about the White Elephant sitting in the middle of the room. Is global warming affecting the ENSO cycle? Quite simply, we don’t know yet. There are some that believe a connection exists, but more data is needed. What is known for sure though, is the El Nino affects the short-term accuracy of our computer models. The models are highly accurate when predictable conditions exist. But, unpredictable events like ENSO and volcanic eruptions disrupt them. The good news is that when the events occur and are included in the models, the models once again become highly accurate – in excess of 95% accurate and getting better. I have not heard what the models are forecasting with the this current El Nino included, but I will keep a look out for any news.


Severe Weather in the United States

There was a very interesting article in the May 6th issues of Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union. The article, Severe Weather in United States Under a Changing Climate, takes a thorough look at the way various aspects of severe weather have changed since the 1950s and the message is pretty definitive. There is a nice graphic (figure 1 in the article) that shows the frequency of different kinds of severe weather in each decade since the 1950s. It takes a little bit of reading because there is so much information in the figure, but certain things really stand out right away. Below is a summery of some of the information in this paper.

Damages due to billion dollar events
The NOAA/NCDC Billion Dollar Weather website lists 151 weather/climate disasters resulting in at least $1 billion in damages that have occurred since 1980. The damages for these events have all been adjusted to reflect constant dollar values (2013 dollars). The total amount of damages exceeds $1 trillion. That comes out to about $3000 for every person in the U.S., or roughly $100 per year on average. The total for 2011 was for about $200 for every person ($60 billion total) and $360 per person in 2012 ($110 billion total). These costs are only as a result of the billion dollar-plus events and include such events as major heat waves, severe storms, tornadoes, droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfire. The list does not include expenses such as increased expenses for utilities, food and increased insurance that are the result of daily climate change conditions.

Temperature extremes
The article states the average temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees F since 1895 with most of the warming occurring since 1970, “culminating with the warmest year on record in the United States in 2012.” They found there has been a significant increase in the number of record high temperatures the last two decades. There has been a significant drop in the number of record low temperatures over the same period. Heat waves have become more frequent across the U.S.

Precipitation extremes
Over the last three decades the heaviest rainfall events in rainy areas have become more frequent and the amount of rain in heavy rain storms has been significantly above average. Other areas have seen significant decreases. The total number of extreme snowstorms has been substantially higher the last three decades.

Floods and droughts
There has been no nation-wide trend detected for droughts, but regional trends have been detected. In particular, the on-going drought in the western U.S. has resulted in the driest the region has been in 800 years. Floods have followed the same pattern. We don’t know enough yet to detect a nationwide trend, but regional trends have been detected. In other words, it appears the regions that tend towards the dry end are getting drier and regions that tend toward the wet end are getting wetter.

Hurricanes and severe storms
There has been an increase in the intensity, frequency, and duration of category 4 and 5 (the strongest) storms in the Atlantic. The number of category 3, 4 and 5 storms in the North Atlantic since the year 2000 is the greatest since the 1950s. This increase in activity is linked to higher sea surface temperatures. The number of strong tornadoes and East Coast winter storms have not been seen to have changed over the last 60 years.

As we all know, weather forecasting is complicated and difficult. So, too, is the climate. But, what we see is a very clear picture that severe weather in the U.S. is becoming ever more severe. We may not have all of the details worked out just yet, but there can be no doubt that the weather is changing in response to a changing climate. And, once again, we see the end user is the one that gets stuck paying the bills. Everyone always passes increased costs on to their customers. The people at the end have no customers to pass it on, so they get stuck.

So, when you decide to deny climate change and resist efforts to do something about it, be sure to pull out you checkbook and make out a check to the rich and powerful.

Have I become a target of the Heartland Institute?

I may be flattering myself, but I may have become a target of the Heartland Institute. If you are not familiar with this prize group, they are one of the prime climate change denier organizations. If they really are targeting me then I am truly flattered.

I made some comments on a blog posting by Tom Donelson on a website called Texas GOP Vote pointing out many flaws in his claims. What happened? I got challenged to a debate by James Rust of the Heartland Institute. He wanted each of us to put up $10,000 for a two hour debate. The winner got to donate the money to his choice of charity.  I don’t work for charity, and I certainly am not going to be crazy enough to pay $10,000 for every chance to debate a denier. With their stack of money I would go broke very quickly. Instead, I invited him to take up my $10,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. So far, no submission from him. Funny, if it is as much of a sure thing as they claim, you would think it wouldn’t be any trouble for them to prove their point. Well, what do you expect, after all.

Then, today, I received a comment from Russell Cook, also of the Heartland Institute. It seemed to me to be some kind of intimidating message. He wanted me to reveal what proof I had of my statements and he wanted to know if I had all of this clandestine information on skeptics. Really weird. What I find very interesting is that the Heartland Institute has someone on their staff (payroll?) with (according to their webpage) a job description that includes this statement:

He specializes in research of the origins of accusations leveled at skeptics and the associations of people surrounding it, most notably anti-skeptic book author Ross Gelbspan.

Really? They have a guy for the purpose of hunting down people that criticize deniers? And, he specializes in one author in particular? This really says an awful (emphasis on awful) lot about the Heartland Institute and Russell Cook.

Now, this blog is not about exposing deniers and criticizing them, no matter how much fun it is. This blog is to discuss the issues of global warming and highlight science on the subject. But, when something is put forward by groups of individuals it is reasonable to investigate the background of those individuals. It really is unfortunate that all the climate change deniers have what I would generously call questionable backgrounds. That is not the point of my postings, but it is relevant.

So, I have now been challenged by two individuals from the Heartland Institute within a matter of a couple of weeks. Why in the world do they feel so threatened by a little blogger like me? If this blog and my comments upset them so much, wait until they read my book. Boy, are they gonna be pissed!

New Book Has Been Published

My new book has been published as an ebook for Kindle on Amazon.com. Undeniable: Dialogues on Global Warming is in a debate format involving three friends along the same style that Galileo used when writing his books. One friend is an advocate of global warming, one is a denier and one goes back and forth. This format gave me the opportunity to present both sides of the argument and examine them critically. The premise of the book is that there is so much science supporting climate change that you don’t need to be a scientist to prove it anymore, anyone can do it. I tried to make the conversation interesting and an easy read, but it is full of science.

Someone that believes in global warming doesn’t really need to read this book. They already know it is real and don’t need proof. Someone that doesn’t believe in it won’t read it. They are not interested in the facts and have rejected science. This book is principally written for those people that don’t know what to believe and want to learn more.

I hope you read it. I hope you enjoy it. But, mostly, I hope you learn that global warming is real and a very serious problem that we need to address.

Christopher Keating

Update on NIPCC

So, I’ve been reading the reports posted by NIPCC and it has been very interesting. Not because I have seen anything worth reading, but because of the massive amount of writing they put out there. Unfortunately, from what I can tell so far, none of it is scientifically valid and you don’t have to go far to find out why. Check this list of Lead Authors/Editors from their latest report on Biological Impacts:

Idso, Craig D.
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change

Idso, Sherwood B.
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change

Carter, Robert M.
Emeritus Fellow
Institute of Public Affairs

Singer, S. Fred
Science and Environmental Policy Project

If you are at all familiar with the climate wars you will recognize at least two of those names. Craig Idso and Fred Singer are two of the most notorious climate change deniers and are funded by The Heartland Institute. To be thorough, let me say that The Heartland Institute is the same group of people that promoted that cigarette smoking was harmless and CFCs are harmless to the environment. Today, they are promoting the idea that second-hand smoke is harmless.

Sherwood Idso is Craig Idso’s father and the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a well-known climate change denier organization. Robert Carter rounds it out. He is also a well-known climate change misinformer.

When you look at the credentials and track-history of the people in charge of the report you really know everything needed about the report itself. This is a group of people who are professional climate change deniers and it is well documented that each of them has engaged in disinformation on the topic.

I will comment on some of the specifics of their report, but they have cranked out thousands of pages and it is not possible for me to spend the time needed to debunk it all. Which, of course, is their objective. But, I will do what I can.

Texas GOP and Climate Mythology Claims

I dearly love my home state of Texas and feel privileged to live here. Unfortunately, when you have a population of over 26 million there are going to be those individuals you wish lived somewhere else. One such example is Tom Donelson, who writes for the blog Texas GOP Vote. The saving grace is that he may not actually live in Texas. He is a real estate agent in Iowa (at least his link says he is) who apparently thinks he is smarter than all of the climate scientists in the world combined.

The issue I have with Mr. Donelson is the work he does as a climate change denier. Why this issue has become a rallying cry for the GOP is beyond me. I am certainly not a liberal, but I have no problem with following the scientific evidence to where it leads me. So, why do Republicans like Mr. Donelson deny climate change science and then make every effort to convince other people that climate change isn’t real?

Mr. Donelson wrote a blog entry, The Mythology of Climate Change, where he makes many of the same tried and false claims that climate change deniers keep making. I have engaged in a couple of responses with him on his claims. It is clear that neither will ever convince the other to change their minds. Mr. Donelson cannot change my mind because he is not presenting any credible, valid scientific evidence. In fact, several of his claims are just plain false. If he could provide credible scientific evidence to support his claims I would have to follow the scientific evidence and change my opinion. But, like I said, there is no such evidence. I have been reading and working in this field for over 30 years and have read thousands of papers and articles on the subject. I have met with leaders in the field and leading dissenters and been able to discuss the issues first hand with them. The conclusion is always the same: The amount of scientific evidence on climate change is so large that it is incontrovertible that climate change is real and is being caused by human activities.

So, Mr. Donelson will not be able change my mind until such a time that he can show me scientific evidence to the contrary. At the same time, I will never be able to change Mr. Donelson’s mind. He has bought into the myth of climate change denial. He ignores any scientific evidence to the contrary and has abandoned logic. All I can provide is scientific evidence and logic, so anything I say or do will be fruitless.

However, I might not be able to change Mr. Donelson, but I hope I can prevent someone else from becoming like him.

So, the fight continues.

Where are we going with the environment?

Climate change is not the only thing affecting the environment. Some of the other issues we have been forced to address in the past are acid rain, ozone depletion, pesticides and even over-fishing. We humans have managed to make a mess of the environment and its is going to take some real effort to make things better.

Earth Day is one of those things we do to help bring attention to the situation. Earth Day this year falls on April 22 and events are planned worldwide.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has 25 sites in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network for the purpose of in-depth studying of various ecologies around the world. The ecologies include diverse regions to provide a picture of the planet. Places located within the U.S. include such places as acid rain lakes in the Adirondacks, the Arctic in northern Alaska, the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast, the desert region around Phoenix, Arizona and river basins in Wisconsin. NSF held an annual mini-symposium on February 21 of this year to discuss where these ecologies are going.

Off course, there is bad news. Things are changing and not many of the changes are for the better. Some of these environments will take hundreds of years to recover from the damage done to them. The good news is that some of them are recovering. We are making a difference in some areas. Acid rain is a good example. We have managed to make some significant improvement here since the 1990s.

This is something we need to focus on when we discuss climate change. The climate is changing due to our actions. But, we can change the way we do business and maybe reverse some of the damage. At least, we can work to slow down the rate of change.