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Friday, March 4, 2011

Joseph Romm: Anthony Watts urges WattsUpWithThat readers to disrupt Forbes blog: “shout them down in the comments section”

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, March 4, 2011
Watts comments
Yes, discredited former TV weatherman Anthony Watts can’t stomach even a couple of scientists posting reasonable comments about an error-riddled piece from Heartland on a blog already over-run by the pro-pollution crowd.  He must marshall his readership to “shout them down in the comments section.”

Watts has, perhaps more than any other leading anti-science blogger, viciously smeared scientists — and tried to get his followers to game online voting  and pile onto other people’s comments sections (see Scientific American “horrified” by “the co-opting of the poll” by users of “the well-known climate denier site, Watts Up With That”).

In a new post, he reprints another piece smearing climate scientists by Joe D’Aleo.  By way of history, Watts and D’Aleo coauthored a “report” accusing top U.S. scientists of various kinds of misfeasance and malfeasance in the global temperature record.  It was utterly debunked last March (see Wattergate: Tamino debunks “just plain wrong” Anthony Watts).  As Tamino wrote, “your use of false claims to accuse NOAA scientists of deliberate deception was not just mistaken, it was unethical.”

Watts never retracted the attacks.  Instead, last Memorial Day, Watts directly questioned the patriotism of both Tamino and Rabett (see “Peak readership for anti-science blogs?“) leading Tamino to write, “This just might be the most loathsome thing Watts has yet done with his blog.”

Watts often feigns a demeanor of reasonableness, as when he had the chutzpah to write in June:

Overall there’s too much pointless bluster and sniping in climate science. I wish there was a volume control.  Kids, can we just all “get along”?
Seriously, a volume control — but only for others, as it turns out.

Later in August he demanded others “dial back the rhetoric.”

But by September, he was back to ‘normal’.  When the demented, violent James Lee held people hostage with a gun and bombs strapped to his body at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, MD, Watts wrote his most offensive headline to date:
And the first line of that post is “Well, you filthy readers, see what happens when we don’t acquiesce?“  And then amazingly, after being widely criticized, Watts wrote that he stood behind his offensive post and comments.

And that brings us to the D’Aleo post:
“Scientists” Pull a Snow Job on Reporters in Teleconference
It’s is just another excuse to smear climate scientists and spread disinformation.  Watts had previously attacked NSIDC director Mark Serreze.  Now he reposts D’Aleo writing about a “teleconference yesterday with a very confused Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, opportunist Mark Serreze of NSIDC” in a piece that doubles down on the smear: “Before Serreze took over NSIDC seeing the huge grant funding windfall opportunity….”  Yes, scientists are just in for the money.

By way of background, for years, Watts has been at the forefront of trying to push the anti-science meme that big snowstorms disprove global warming.  But whenever scientists have pushed back, explaining how big snowstorms are entirely consistent with climate science, he then launches another error-riddled smear.

What’s especially funny about this post is that Watts can’t even decide if climate scientists have always predicted global warming would increase extreme precipitation events or whether this is something new.

The D’Aleo post asserts:
Now the alarmists have flipped their position claiming warming means more snow….
And the Taylor post that Watts claims it supports his position is headlined, “Global Warming Alarmists Flip-Flop On Snowfall.”

But Watts leads his post with the cover of a 1996 Newsweek issue, “Blizzards, Floods & Hurricanes:  Blame Global Warming,” and Watts’ own caption is “Some things never change.”

Watts is a simultaneously attacking climate scientists for, supposedly, flip-flopping on whether global warming will lead to more severe snowstorms — and for always saying it would!

For the record, the Newsweek headline was, as you might expect, not what the stories inside were actually about.

One of the articles, about the big January 1996 blizzard added a question mark “This Is Global Warming?” and didn’t talk about global warming.  The other piece was by science reporter Sharon Begley, about James Hansen, “He’s Not Full Of Hot Air,” which actually does a pretty good job of explaining the state of the science in this area:
Meaner storms: … one alarming prediction seems to be coming true: the expectation that, in a warmer world, extremes of wet and dry will intensify. As Earth’s surface warms, more moisture evaporates. Over arid regions, where there’s little to evaporate, turning up the thermostat would exacerbate droughts. Rainfall would thus increase over moist areas, like the coasts, and be rarer in the interiors of continents. “The odds of getting drought years will increase markedly,” says Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Hurricanes, too, should get more intense. “The warmer the ocean gets, the meaner the tropical storm,” says A. E. (Sandy) MacDonald of NOAA’s lab in Boulder, Colo. 
Last week’s blizzard can’t be blamed on the warming world. No storm or drought or heat wave ever can be so neatly diagnosed. “You can’t connect a given weather event on a particular day in a particular place with long-term climate change,” says physicist Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund.  
The snows of yesteryear prove that. The record Northeast blizzards of 1888 and 1947, after all, hit when the only greenhouse effect anyone cared about was the one that forces lilies to bloom for Easter. Extreme weather is connected to global warming more subtly. 
“All that long-term climate change can do is affect the probabilities,” Hansen explains. Instead of equal chances that any one storm will be heavier or lighter than normal, or any one day hotter or colder than normal, the climate dice are now loaded. The greenhouse effect, says Hansen, “has changed the odds” on extreme weather. 
Whatever its proximate cause, the blizzard of ‘96 is just what a greenhouse world would whip up. The storm was born when cold air blew down from Canada. The arctic air happened to smack into a warm, moist air mass hovering over the Atlantic Ocean. In a warmer world, those chance circumstances could be more common.  
“Global warming has made the Atlantic an even greater source of moisture” from evaporation, Hansen says. And when water vapor condenses, becoming liquid again, the process releases heat. So warm moist air that feeds blizzards is more likely to be parked over the Atlantic, just waiting for the delivery of a cold mass. “The greenhouse effect alters the probabilities [of having the ingredients of a massive snowstorm],” says Hansen. “In that sense the greenhouse effect is changing our climate now.”
Basic stuff, well explained, which some editor mangled with the cover story headline.  Just adding a question mark to that headline would have made it much better for a news magazine.

Yes, it’s true that, as Heartland and D’Aleo point out, the IPCC’s Third Assessment said of North America, “Milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms.”  It would have been nice if the IPCC had been clearer about when exactly they thought that would happen.  In general, the science always been pretty clear that the snow line would gradually move north, but the increase in moisture would lead to more extreme precipitation events of all kinds, with those events being snow when it was cold enough.

In any case, while Heartland and D’Aleo quote a now 10-year-old (!) assessment, the scientific literature since then has said again and again that we would see more extreme winter storms thanks to human-caused global warming (see An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!).  I’m sorry to repeat myself, but that’s what you have to do when the disinformers trot out 10-year-old reports.

Let’s look at the results of an actual, detailed study of “the relationships of the storm frequencies to seasonal temperature and precipitation conditions” for the years “1901–2000 using data from 1,222 stations across the United States.”  The 2006 study, “Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States“  (Changnon, Changnon, and Karl [of National Climatic Data Center], 2006) found we are seeing more northern snow storms and that we get more snow storms in warmer years:

The temporal distribution of snowstorms exhibited wide fluctuations during 1901–2000, with downward 100-yr trends in the lower Midwest, South, and West Coast. Upward trends occurred in the upper Midwest, East, and Northeast, and the national trend for 1901–2000 was upward, corresponding to trends in strong cyclonic activity…..
Results for the November–December period showed that most of the United States had experienced 61%– 80% of the storms in warmer-than-normal years. Assessment of the January–February temperature conditions again showed that most of the United States had 71%–80% of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years. In the March–April season 61%–80% of all snowstorms in the central and southern United States had occurred in warmer-than-normal years…. Thus, these comparative results reveal that a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901–2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.

The definitive recent report on the subject from the United States perspective is the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) U.S. Climate Impacts Report from 2009.  It reviewed that literature and concluded:

Cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent.

Large-scale storm systems are the dominant weather phenomenon during the cold season in the United States. Although the analysis of these storms is complicated by a relatively short length of most observational records and by the highly variable nature of strong storms, some clear patterns have emerged.112 (Kunkel et al., 2008) 
Storm tracks have shifted northward over the last 50 years as evidenced by a decrease in the frequency of storms in mid-latitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere, while high-latitude activity has increased. There is also evidence of an increase in the intensity of storms in both the mid- and high-latitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with greater confidence in the increases occurring in high latitudes.112 (Kunkel et al., 2008) The northward shift is projected to continue, and strong cold season storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent, with greater wind speeds and more extreme wave heights.68 (Gutowski et al., 2008)


The northward shift in storm tracks is reflected in regional changes in the frequency of snowstorms. The South and lower Midwest saw reduced snowstorm frequency during the last century. In contrast, the Northeast and upper Midwest saw increases in snowstorms, although considerable decade-to-decade variations were present in all regions, influenced, for example, by the frequency of El Niño events.112 (Kunkel et al., 2008) 
There is also evidence of an increase in lake-effect snowfall along and near the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes since 1950…
It Is also worth noting that the recent Nature study on the subject, which looked at the extreme precipitation data, including snow, found “human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas.”

The bottom line is that scientists predicted that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases would contribute to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events, and the data now finds, with extremely high confidence, that this is true.  And when it is cold enough, the intensified precipitation will come down as snow.

The extreme anti-science, pro-pollution bloggers like Watts may try to shout it down, but science, unlike right-wing politics, is not determined by who shouts the loudest.

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