Tag archive for NOAA

CA water bureaucrat disses federal weather scientists

How often does one see an outright confrontation between state bureaucrats and federal scientists?

In my experience, well — never.

But that's what I saw last week at the Chapman Conference on California Drought

Organized by the American Geophysical Union, at a National Academy of Sciences center at UC Irvine, this conference brought together a hundred or so highly respected weather and climate scientists, many of whom work at a NOAA center in Colorado, with water authorities and bureaucrats in California.

The brilliance of those at the gathering was not in dispute, but, to my surprise, a real conflict surfaced between the two parties.

After hearing a solid day of bad news about drought, wildfire, groundwater overdrafting, and on and on, Jeanine Jones, a thirty-year veteran of California's state Department of Water Resources, took the podium, and — politely but unsparingly — unloaded on the uselessness of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration science.  

She spoke for well over an hour. Towards the end of her presentation, to a shocked audience that kept asking her the same basic question, Jones noted:

"I came into this meeting intending to be provocative and it's obviously worked."

Jones is not the biggest person in the world, and she doesn't bang the table and engage in dramatic displays, but her words clearly took her audience aback. 


[picture of Jones at another drought event in Irvine from San Gabriel Valley Tribune]

What did she say that shocked the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientists so?

In part she dismissed a great deal of their work. 

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. We don't need to know if we're in a drought or not. We rely on precipitation and expected run-off."

When asked what she might do differently if scientists could with skill forecast a season or two, or even better, a year or two, in advance, she all but scoffed. 

"Since we can't predict if next year will be wet or dry, shouldn't we plan for the worst? It's lucky for us that this drought occured during a time of general funding surplus."

"Like politics, all drought is local."

"In a recession, your neighbor loses your job. In a depression, you lose your job. It's the same with drought. Impacts increase with duration."

What is not useful, Jones said:

US Drought Monitor
Drought Impact Reporter
PDSI (drought index)
Climate Prediction Center drought outlook
Climate Prediction Center precipitation

Clearly her department did not take the NOAA's guidance regarding El Nino seriously. 

When pressed on the question of how much skill was needed, she said:

"We don't use skill numbers [from the scientific literature]. All I can tell you is what a Supreme Court justice said once, that I'll know it [a useful seasonal prediction] when I see it. Our view is colored by the fact that in recent years we have had some notable busts with the AO (Arctic Oscillation) and ENSO (El Nino/Southern Oscillation). ENSO connection in particular tends to be over-hyped."

Jones indicates that she's interested in Atmopsheric Rivers, and in research at the NASA-affiliated Jet Propulsion Lab into a linkage between a phase of the Madden-Julian Oscillation that seems to have a propensity for forming Atmospheric Rivers. But she had no use for most of NOAA's work. 

Repeatedly the scientists asked her version of the same question — why aren't these forecasts any good to you? — and repeatedly Jones, who serves as the "interagency drought manager" said that they "didn't tell a story" and added that she wasn't interested in the statistical "process" that produced the forecasts. 

Never seen anything quite like it. 

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NOAA: Arctic Warming = cold winters for Eastern US

Today the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration released the Arctic Report Card for 2014. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, but the first consequence of that warming, according to our national experts, is very very cold winters for the eastern United States. 

To quote: 

The warming Arctic atmosphere was strongly connected to lower latitudes in early 2014 causing cold air outbreaks into the eastern USA and warm air intrusions into Alaska and northern Europe.

An image depicting this coldness from January of this year makes the point graphically:



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Climate study surprise: warming to bring more rain to CA

A major study published today, based on 160 climate models compiled by researchers at NOAA, including a leading voice in climate modeling, Martin Hoerling, and Richard Seager, both of whom who have spent years projecting the impact of climate change on the West, concludes that California's epic three-year drought was not — repeat not — caused by climate change. They write:

The severe drought in California over the last 3 years (2011-14) is primarily due to natural climate variability, key features of which appear to be predictable from knowledge of how California precipitation reacts to tropical ocean temperatures. There has been no long-term trend in California precipitation; however, California temperatures have been rising and record high temperatures during the drought were likely made more extreme due to human-induced climate change.

During a press conference, Hoerling and Seager were asked specifically about a study I reported on a couple of months ago, by Daniel Swain, which indicated that the high pressure system, the so-called Ridiculously Resilient Ridge that formed off the coast and prevented storms from reaching California was linked to climate change. 

Hoerling said that yes, the "RRR" did prevent precipitation from reaching California, and yes, the very high temperatures in California these past three years — 2-3 degrees above normal — did worsen the drought, but they challenged Daniel Swain's analysis of that high pressure system off the coast. 

Hoerling said that in a narrow sense the Swain study had a point, in that as temperatures go up, we should expect to see higher pressures around the world. (Not just in the North Pacific.) But he added that the Swain study that predicted increasing chances of a North Pacific High was "blatantly in contradiction to models that show a persistent low pressure system developing off the west coast," and said the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge is "absolutely not" what the models show for the future.

To quote from the study itself:

Diagnosis of CMIP5 models indicates human-induced climate change will
increase California precipitation in mid-winter associated with an increase in
westerly flow entering the central Pacific West Coast and a low pressure anomaly
over the north Pacific.

In other words, as Hoerling added in the press conference, California, especially central and Northern California, may expect to see more precipitation in the future — not less! (One caveat: our springs are expected to be hotter, so the effect may wear off sooner than in the past.) 

This study was challenged by the eminent Michael Mann in the Huffington Post. Mann brings up some conflicting studies, and makes some good points, but I have to say that the graphic the researchers choose to indicate the correspondence between the models and the reality, at a relatively low height, focused on the crucial area of the North Pacific is very impressive. If these same models that successfully modeled the drought of 2012, which was caused by a high pressure system in the North Pacific, indicate that we will have low pressure conducive to rain in that region — well, thank goodness!CAdroughtHoerling

All the caveats remain in place, of course — this is just one study, etc. But still. I'll take any good news on precipitation in California I can find, and discuss it until the cows come home and find some green grass to eat.  

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NASA vs. NOAA: battle of the winter forecast charts

The headline exaggerates, of course, but doesn't in fact mislead. Here's a graph of a NASA climate model, depicting a forecast of precipitation in the U.S. for the next winter. Colors tell the story. 


In truth, it's a little hard to decode the anomalies chart, but this turns out to be just one of eight climate models forecasts. The trouble is that seven of those eight, as Eric Holthaus mentioned this morning on Twitter, depict little or no rain for the winter three months in California. 

Troubling. Am trying to reserach, verify, discuss for a story. But also striking is this contrast with the NOAA forecast. 



It's a bit different isn't it? At least for SoCal. Much better chance of rain. 


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El Niño 2014 October forecast: Glass little over half full

NOAA released its October outlook for our winter, based on ocean temperatures, and continues to find a 60-65% chance of the appearance of the boychick.

Here's my fave set of graphs today, from another site, and here's my fave single graph:


These are tempeartures taken across a section of the equatorial Pacific, the vast belt across the widest girth of the planet, that the experts consider central for the formation of El Niño.

As you can see, this year is in the red — meaning warmer than usual ocean conditions, which harbingers a warm winter with possibility of wetness for California — but only by a tiny bit. 

It's especially small compared to big El Niño years such as 2010 and of course the epochal 1997-1998, a year of catastrophic weather that literally changed the world. Note too that the forecast was well in the red for 2012, a predicted El Niño, which did not develop and left us in drought. 

On the other hand, if you look at the depth of blue/cooling over recent years in this indicative region, you see a steadily diminishing. This was the point The New York Times made a month or so ago in a story with a conclusion that struck me as anomalously insightful. 

“Even if we don’t see an El Niño, it doesn’t mean California is going to be dry,” [the climatologist] said.

In fact, Mr. Halpert and Mr. Pierce said, one bright spot in the long-range outlook is that with the odds favoring at least a weak El Niño, the opposite weather phenomenon, known as La Niña, is less likely. La Niña occurs when Pacific water is colder than normal, and the result for California could be very dry weather.

“At least when you have a weak El Niño it’s not a La Niña,” Mr. Pierce said. “So that’s some limited good news.”

Impressive to me when a highly changeable news story remains relevant well after the pub date.

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66% chance of an El Niño — a big one — in 2014: NOAA

Scientists now are closely watching the Pacific and will know with more certainty in two or three months what the winter should bring. For now, all the trend lines are showing a greater likelihood of a wet winter than a dry one, particularly with the massive Kelvin wave still moving.

“Don’t hyperventilate yet,” Patzert said. “It’s a little too early to say the drought will be over, but this Kelvin wave is no dud. This is a stud.”

In March, the climate/weather experts at NOAA/the CPC/JPL/etc declared we had a 52% chance oi an El Niño. 

In April yesterday they said the chances had jumped to 66% –and it looks like a big one. 

From Paul Rogers' story in the San Jose Mercury News:

"Considering the desperate situation we are in here in the American West, wouldn't it be sweet if the great wet hope came riding over the horizon on these Kelvin waves?" said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The Kelvin wave now in the central Pacific is larger and warmer than any since records were first kept 35 years ago — even exceeding the Kelvin wave of 1997-98. That winter was the last major El Niño event, when rainfall across California was double the historic average, rivers flooded and mudslides closed highways. Seeing similar conditions shaping up, even early in the year, is attracting scientists' attention.

Patzert is only the most colorful of the many experts quoted on the building ENSO of 2014. 

"We're seeing a pretty strong tilt toward El Niño," said Michelle L'Heureux, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

But what could end one extreme could begin another: Researchers are particularly intrigued by an enormous mass of warm water flowing through the Pacific that has been linked to heavy winter downpours and flooding in the past.

The satellite picture of the Kelvin wave is indubitably awesome. 


Scientists now are closely watching the Pacific and will know with more certainty in two or three months what the winter should bring. For now, all the trend lines are showing a greater likelihood of a wet winter than a dry one, particularly with the massive Kelvin wave still moving.

"Don't hyperventilate yet," Patzert said. "It's a little too early to say the drought will be over, but this Kelvin wave is no dud. This is a stud."

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Cyclone Phailin may be strongest storm ever to hit India

Eric Holthaus tweets an eye-opener:

He tells the story with intense power, beginning (interestingly) with the NOAA image. 


Yet it's possible he buries the lede, as at the end of the story he casually mentions:

India has already evacuated
more than a quarter-million people in advance of Phailin’s
landfall, amid reports of price gouging for vegetables and other

Whether or not this is enough to prevent disaster, it's amazing we haven't heard of it.

Budget troubles, apparently. 

Update one day later: In fact, this morning the NY Times put the evacuations in the hed:

With Mass Evacuations, India Braces as Powerful Cyclone Heads for Coast

Point being that we can't stop a huge storm from coming on-shore, but we can prepare for its arrival. Adaptation, in other words. That's the real question for the 21st century. Will we adapt? 

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Scientific language for non-scientists: climate change x10

Deborah Byrd, founder of the great EarthSky network, has always had an ear for the language as well as an eye on the sky, and writes this week of two climate change studies, both of which found that the change was happening ten times faster than in the past…in fact, faster than in the past sixty-five million years

These phrasings seem pretty straightforward, and possibly even hard-hitting, in contrast to the blandly bureaucratic diction of an NOAA administrator, releasing a 2012 State of the Climate report.

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place," said Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. 

"Interesting?" I guess I'm too sensitive, as a famous poet named Dylan once said, but this kind of bizarrely unemotional language about vast and harmful changes in our world just drives me crazy. Sounds like a mortician discussing an unusual disease detected in an autopsy. 

Back to Deborah, who I think does a much better job of putting the news in context. 

"Two recent studies suggest that the climate warming occurring on Earth today is happening at a dramatically fast rate. It’s this rate of change, scientists say – the speed with which average global temperatures are expected to climb over the coming decades – that will make the ongoing climate warming troublesome for living things on Earth. Both groups of scientists used the phrase “10 times faster” to describe climate changes. One study, from Stanford University, suggests that climate change is happening 10 times faster than it has at any time in the past 65 million years. The other study, from the University of Texas, suggests that Antarctic permafrost is now melting 10 times faster than in 11,000 years, adding further evidence that Earth’s Antarctic is, in fact, warming just as Earth’s Arctic is.

Climate warming 10 times faster than in 65 million years. In a study announced August 1, 2013, Stanford University climate scientists say that Earth is undergoing one of the largest climate changes in the past 65 million years. They say, moreover, that the change is currently on pace to occur at a rate 10 times faster than any change in 65 million years. Without intervention, these scientists say that this extreme pace could lead to a 5-6 degree Celsius spike in annual temperatures by the end of this century.

Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field, both senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, published these results as part of a special report on climate change in the August 2013 issue of Science. They conducted a “targeted but broad” review of scientific literature on aspects of climate change that can affect ecosystems, and they investigated how recent observations and projections for climate change in the coming century compare to past events in Earth’s history.

For instance, they compare the current warming to the 5-degree-Celsius temperature hike that occurred 20,000 years ago, as Earth emerged from the last ice age. They say that change was:

… comparable to the high-end of the projections for warming over the 20th and 21st centuries.

The difference is that, at the end of the last ice age, the warming took place over thousands of years. The same warming now is expected to occur over decades. Diffenbaugh and Field note that, as the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age, plants and animals moved northward to cooler climates. Similar (but possibly less successful?) migrations are expected in the coming years.

Diffenbaugh and Field also say in their press release that:

… some of the strongest evidence for how the global climate system responds to high levels of carbon dioxide comes from paleoclimate studies. Fifty-five million years ago, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was elevated to a level comparable to today. The Arctic Ocean did not have ice in the summer, and nearby land was warm enough to support alligators and palm trees."

[graphic from the NOAA report]


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Little on the dry side in California?

NOAA says it's not likely to change:

Drought map

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President Obama talks climate: 12 hottest years, in last 15

The earth’s getting warmer: “Yes, it’s true that no
single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on
record have all come in the last 15.” President Obama, in the State of the Union Address:

You can see that in NOAA’s record of global temperatures.

From Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Weather nerds will note how much colder La Niña years once were, compared to neutral or El Niño years — but not today. 

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