Sometimes, I’m Left Speechless

Every once in a while, I’ll come across a comment in the global warming blog-o-sphere that is just so staggeringly ill-informed, so breathtakingly out of touch with the science, so – well, naive or dumb – that I’m left wondering whether or not winning the “global warming is a hoax” debate is tenable. I came across one such comment this afternoon on WUWT:

Here’s a thought {I have them on occasion}:

AGW proponents are fond of making a fuss about how their models are forecasting future climate, not weather; implying that just because weather forecasts are so often wrong, the same cannot be said of climate forecasts.

So what we have here is a three-month climate prediction {not weather forecast} that is so wide of the mark that the question that should be asked is:

If NOAA can’t correctly predict the climate three months out, why should anyone believe any climate prediction for a hundred years out?

This comment was in response to a post deriding the CPC’s seasonal forecasts. In short, the CPC may not have done a very good job anticipating this winter’s trends. I say ‘may‘ because we’re not even halfway through winter; it’s quite premature to evaluate the forecast, especially given the crazy and anomalous December we just experienced. Nevertheless, I’m not interested in arguing about the CPC’s forecast. I care about the frequent misunderstanding that skeptics have with respect to weather/climate models and forecasts in general.

The commenter here begins with a false premise. He offers no data confirming that “weather forecasts are so often wrong,” and as a matter of fact, I highly contest this notion. 24-hour model forecasts are very decent when it comes to the general weather – temperatures, chance of precipitation, and movement of major atmospheric features. Sure, they need forecasters to fine-tune, but in general, the forecasts are more than adequate. There seems to be this huge perception within the public that weathermen always get the forecasts wrong. This seems to be nearly universal; I’m playfully mocked by my family and friends all the time because of it. But when this attitude – which is usually based on one or two personal anecdotes – muddies the facts about the science in general, something is seriously amiss, especially when applying the attitude to something unrelated (in this case, climate forecasts). Climate forecasts are nothing like weather forecasts; the tools used to make them aren’t even similar. We work with different assumptions and different tools when making the two. It’s tough to draw parallels between the two.

From here, the commenter continues to make another false assertion. There is no such thing as a “three-month” climate prediction. As a matter of fact, a three-month prediction is still weather forecasting! Sure, we can use climatology to influence our forecast (for example, if it’s April, my three-month forecast might imply that things are going to get warmer due to the onset of summer). However, it’s still weather forecasting. There’s a point to distinguish here: NCEP used coupled global circulation models (read: climate models) to aid in their mid-range forecasts. This is because weather models aren’t suitable for month-long predictions. Weather models aren’t flux-corrected the way climate models are to deal with the changing energy budget over month-long time scales; if a weather model were run for a month, its output would be garbage. Furthermore, the dynamic models used in these forecasts are merely a tool in a suite to aid forecasters. You can read more about NCEP seasonal forecasts here. As a summary, there are certain factors such as ENSO and the PDO which will dominate the mid-range weather trends, but our ability to forecast these are poor. NCEP uses oher methods to help compensate for this.

In summary, we’re really just looking at a comment from someone who knows nothing about what they’re commenting on. Unfortunately, this seems to be pandemic in the climate change debate, particulary when it comes to the hard science of modeling (which is applied physics). That a commenter would honestly believe our ability to forecast for three-months out say sanything about our ability to project for decades out is not that unexpected; an armchair weatherman would probably not have enough training to understand that we’re talking about fundamentally different things here with different assumptions and concerns. But it is quite depressing that someone would think that a lack of training whatsoever in the topic qualifies them to make assertions about it.

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~ by counters on January 10, 2009.

One Response to “Sometimes, I’m Left Speechless”

  1. AS an ex-Navy meteorologist/ oceanographer, I feel the same when listening to the pro and anti gw people. one spat of warm weather and its global warming, one winter storm and its a hoax. GW and the environment is too important to politicize. There is a difference between current weather and climate. We do not know enough, but either way, lets reduce, re-use, and recycle. Let’s find sources of clean energy.

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