Right Opinion

Why a Warming World May Be the Cause of Less Weather Woes

Joe Bastardi · Jul. 13, 2016

This chart says some important things. From a tweet by Roger Pielke Jr.:

A few points:

  1. Relative to GDP, costly weather disasters are going the opposite way of what is being said by people cultivating apocalyptic fear over anthropogenic global warming. For instance, we know that longevity of life is increasing on the planet, but more people are dying now than they did a century ago. Why? Simple: There are more people on the planet. The global population stood at 1.6 billion people in 1900. There are 7.3 billion people today. So, historically, it is true that more people are dying today. It may even be true that more people are affected by bad weather than ever before. In fact, that should be intuitively true since there are close to 5.5 billion more people. But relative to population and property, losses have been decreasing, not increasing!

  2. It is obvious that Al Gore took the Katrina-year-driven anomaly and used it, along with the bulk of the rest of the AGW hysterics, to continue what is a false missive. There is certainly no increase in weather related disaster costs as a proportion of the GDP. Yet no one seems to want to address this or call anyone to account.

  3. The hard fact is that a warming world may lead to less, not more, weather related disasters, though with more people and property in the way every extreme event is capable of causing more damage. Imagine the 1938 hurricane hitting New England today, for example.

But there is a physical reason for why a warming world would mean less, not more, severe weather in the larger picture. The answer lies in where it’s warming and when.

There is no question that increased temperatures and energy in the oceans and atmosphere ups the overall ante. It’s analogous to someone who weighs 200 lbs. lifting weights and gaining 50 lbs. of muscle. Is that muscle applicable to the sport he chose? He may go from being a tailback to a linebacker, for instance. But does a linebacker put up the rushing yards of a tailback?

There is more overall “energy,” if you will, available in a warmer world.

Let’s look at the term “zonal potential energy.” Roughly speaking, this is the difference in energy between polar and tropical regions. The greater the difference, the greater the zonal potential energy, which means the greater the chance for a clash between the two.

The major tornado season of 2011 featured a huge clash in the means between the cold over Canada and the growing warmth in the U.S. So fights broke out all over the place.

Contrast that with this year, which we said even after the big burst in February would be well below normal with so much warmth over most of Canada and the Northwest U.S., and, relative to normal, not as warm in the South.

Lo and behold, tornadoes are running under the 25th percentile for the date and well under the max year of 2011.

However, if you are pushing the global-warming-is-causing-more-extreme-weather missive, every tornado or every flood is part of the worst-ever scenario.

Back to the possible physical reason. I have been laying this out for several years now. I do not have the time or money to research it in a way to prepare it for the kind of peer review demanded by many in the scientific community (and rightfully so). In what I do, we have a bare knuckles form of peer review; it’s called putting out a forecast and the reasoning behind it and having it laid bare for anyone in the blogosphere that wants to tear it up. So there is no luxury of having five like-minded individuals reviewing my work. Quite the contrary — just like this may be torn up for whatever reasons, the barbarians are always at the gate (and in many cases have good points!). This is something I have been working on for years about what I think is a distortion in the global temperature distribution that will have no choice but to try to go back the other way because of the very nature of the entire system (the grand slam of climate I have written about).

Think about this. Suppose almost all the warming that is originating in the non-tropical oceans — since the change in tropical sea surface temperatures in the ENSO region has been statistically negligent — is manifesting itself over the coldest and driest places in winters.

Let’s look at the time of the overall pause in temperatures. Where has much of the warming taken place? In the polar regions.

And guess when most of it is taking place? During winters.

Compare the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere polar regions, which have been colder than average in the summer. More importantly, though, the tropical Pacific, which is a huge global source region for what drives weather and climate, has seen no change overall — a bit cooler in the east, warmer in the west. This area carries much more influence than the Arctic or Antarctic on input to the atmosphere.

Now here is the Southern Hemisphere winter (our summer):

The big message here is that the tropical Pacific — by far the biggest input to the global pattern — is fairly average, while it’s the coldest places that have warmed. Arctic summers have warmed until the last five years, but not nearly as much as winters. And it’s Arctic summer warming that is the true ice cap concern.

This has some implications.

  1. The source regions for warm are not getting much warmer, but the source regions for cold are. This decreases the polar-to-equatorial gradients.

  2. As far as water vapor, given the amazing differences between warm and wet and cold and dry, it’s likely — and this will need studying — that the increase is far less using mixing ratios than what the temperature implications are leading the general public to believe.

  3. If the globe does start to cool in the decadol sense due to a flip in the oceanic oscillations — which is natural to the system — then there should be an increase in severe weather, as there will be corresponding cooling in the Arctic.

  4. It is not the temperature but rather the change in temperature that is huge. A warming north, with less or no warming in the warmest source regions on the planet, would imply an overall decrease in clashes that can cause the increase in extremes.

  5. Individual events can be a bit more robust, but only within the realm of natural variation, as there is a built-in cap that, as long as we don’t see the tropical oceans warm from one peak to the next in the natural decadal cycle, will be well within the realm of what nature has done and can do. We just could not observe it as well before. Remember, the satellite era started at the end of the last cold cycles of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The natural warm cycles have run the table since then and are now getting ready to turn.

  6. The response to the way the world has warmed relative to the entire system means that what Roger A. Pielke Jr. pointed out — for example, the year of Katrina being the anomaly, not the normal — makes sense. At least Al Gore made a lot of money and got an Academy award and Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps Roger should be nominated. I have my nomination speech all ready.

  7. Let’s say all the warming is from CO2, just to be nice. If CO2 is warming places where it is coldest and where the fewest people live, is it the menace it’s portrayed to be? Heck, that might even be considered a positive in some circles, as long as it’s during the wintertime in these areas.

Ideas are meant to be tested, but if you just sit on them they are not good. Perhaps some objective university somewhere will take these ideas and see if it can add to or, if need be, debunk them. It is a simple idea — the less the temperature gradient, the less chance of more frequent clashes. It’s where and when it’s warming that is huge here. And while it may stick in the craw of every alarmist, the facts do not currently support their alarm.

We can observe everything now, and we could not before. But with more people in the way, the decrease is factual. I must also say that I believe the excellence in warning systems (there are things the government is needed for and does a good job in!) is helping. In the end, this argues that adaptation and continued research in counter measures rather than some kind of prevention of something that has lead to such divisiveness and demonization would be the best course. And in that you have my full support.


Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm.

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