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Joe Bastardi / October 12, 2018

Challenging Global Warming Attribution to Hurricanes

Tropical cyclones are Nature’s way of taking the heat out of the tropics and redistributing it into the temperate regions.

I was challenged by a dear friend of mine on the other side of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) issue over a tweet I had posted countering Bette Midler — who always comes out after any weather event and blames climate change. In any case (as happens so often), if you love your opponent it can inspire you. So, I decided to share the following.

Tropical cyclones are Nature’s way of taking the heat out of the tropics and redistributing it into the temperate regions. I have preached the idea that the distortion of the global temperature pattern brought about by the warmth of the planet (which of course I believe is almost exclusively natural) may actually reduce the number of tropical cyclones. After all, if it’s already warmer to the north and pressures are already low, why would you need strong storms to redistribute the heat? In addition, the reduction of zonal potential energy, if there is more warming toward the poles than in the temperate regions, would lead to fewer storms globally in the winter.

As far as Michael the Monster (which our company jumped all over being a major from Sunday — and set up before that), we well know the 1935 hurricane went from a tropical storm to a Cat 5 in 36 hours, for instance. I posted yesterday on a real freak of nature: Gerda, which deepened while accelerating northeast off the East Coast in 1969. (Most storms weaken nowadays, though in the 50s they held their own.) There are countless examples of rapid feedback storms, and I have posted many times — including in the pre-Michael period — about how and why this would happen.

I don’t know if a lot of the man-made climate change attribution people study the tropics the way I do, since it was drilled into me from childhood that, in the end, the tropics, as a source region, push around the globe. That’s intuitive if we understand the amount of energy in the tropics and what water vapor is all about. For instance, at 40 degrees below 0, the amount of water vapor in the air for saturation is 0.12 grams. At 80 degrees, it’s 22.43 grams. So, there is 187 times more water vapor at 80 degrees than -40 degrees. Given water vapor is the number 1 greenhouse gas (GHG), guess who the boss is when it comes to weather and climate?

In any case, the trapping hot spot idea means that the subtropical ridge would expand and bigger, slower-moving storms would be the result. There is a problem with the idea that it is occurring now. While it’s true the ridge is a bit larger, it’s likely just cyclical since there has been no increase in water vapor above 500 millibars. In the tropics (because its warmer), 400 millibars is the crucial level to consider. In fact, the period 2006-2007 was antithetical to this theory — it was drying.

You see, at these levels, warm and wet is one thing as you will soon see; but, warm and dry is not the same thing. Tropical cyclones must work harder since the cumulus towers that reach to that level will entrain dry air and it will help destroy them.

But what about this year? Tropical cyclone activity is a whopping 150% of normal. Look at what we have this year.

Look in the western Pacific. Above normal, right?

Here is the typhoon season (for which we had forecast a big year — thank Wikipedia for the tracks you will see):

How about that?

Look further east where it’s moist:

Now look at the Atlantic where it’s dry. Nothing has been able to live in the deep tropics.

Opposite last year. But look at where our red zone for this year was from April, showing that would be the case:

It’s where they all headed: Three of them for the Gulf Coast and all of them reaching the Gulf Coast at their strongest levels. Florence was off her peak, but still 956 millibars. The point is this was seen before.

But why?

The overall global pattern. See, this is where I think the lack of forecasting every day while trying to get a jump on longer-term ideas clouds the vision of a climatologist. I will hear statements made after the fact and scratch my head, thinking, “Well, either the person was not looking, or they were, and said what they said for another reason.” But when you watch the tropics every single day (even in winter, because you understand you need to figure out source regions and the effect it will have for your client)… Well, that is different. I think climatology is essential in my job and in forecasting, but I also think forecasting long range would help people be more open-minded. In fact, I would love to teach a long-range forecasting course that acknowledges the warmer planet, but then takes that and tries to see how it can give us an even longer term edge in hitting patterns! Why? Because it stands to reason that a warmer planet may reveal longer-term signaling better. I am proving my point now. I based the evolving El Niño on winter drops in the Southern Oscillation index the year before — something that you could not see in the ‘50s through early '80s (with the exception of 1968) when the oceans were colder. I would be far less skeptical of claims made by the other side if I saw some of the why before the what like we try to do for you, as opposed to the why only when and after the what happens.

Now, one may argue, “Well, it’s chicken and egg here with the moisture. No storms, then no above-normal moisture.” Bingo, front row! The storms are going to where Nature sets them to go given the pattern. The huge key this year was the cool eastern Indian Ocean. This naturally means convergence in the typhoon areas of the western Pacific since higher pressures are likely show up around Australia and Indonesia. It also meant look out for the El Niño evolving (the SOI would drop and slow down the easterlies) but acting in tandem with a warmer western Indian Ocean. It means the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) would occasionally also try to come into favorable phases in the Atlantic Basin (8,1,2,3), and when it did, while the main development region due to overall hostile conditions there would not fire up, other areas further north would. (By the way, the same MJO phases point to a cold and stormy winter, which we are forecasting. See the attempt at linkage?) Anything that came west died. If they turned north or developed north out of the westerlies, that was fine. And yes, one long tracked storm did make it across — but we covered for that earlier. Remember Bill in 2009 in one of our analog seasons? It almost made it. And of course my current favorite from 2002 with Cat 4 Lili in the Gulf to open October!

But you see here an example of the intersection of what God made me to do: forecast. But the reason for questioning of the climate missive? You can’t have major sinking over the tropics in the means and then turn around and push a “hurricanes are worse than ever” missive. If you want trapping hot spots to really have this all take off, it has to do it over the tropics where all the water vapor is. If it’s not, there is something wrong with the theory. Warm and moist is a big deal, but it’s not the same as warm and dry. Finally, even in this year, the place where it’s more moist is displaced north. That is not going to be an every-year thing. It’s a direct response to the pattern we saw setting up in the preseason, and in large part may have due to the coldest June readings in the eastern Indian Ocean since the 1980s. You are seeing that in the North Atlantic now, too. Quite different from several years ago.

But for those on the other side of the issue (because I watch this stuff and see it’s drying overall in the deep tropics), that’s a problem with your theory. If it’s drying overall, it means you’re cutting the feet out from the idea of more storms in a fashion that is as alarming as portrayed, and it’s also not what you wish to see if you’re pushing a trapping hot spot idea. It means warmth from the oceans is not being pumped straight up, but is being distributed. The resulting very slight increases in water vapor in the arctic regions are skewing the global temperatures (temperature is not a linear measure of energy but we factor it in as if it is) while the place that needs the increase to solidify the trapping hot spot theory is drying overall.

My ideas are not gospel by a long shot, but they do involve the attempt to look at all around me. If you ever read The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, you know how I operate. A result is a product of many other events leading to it. (In the case of the book, the five travelers converged on a bridge that collapsed. There is an examination on how it happened and how they all converged.) My point is that dogmatically holding onto one reason in an infinite and constantly changing system is not how I do things. I try to look at all I can and weigh the strongest drivers. This then puts me into conflict when I hear things that are counter to what I am seeing. My only recourse is to make a forecast and then see how it turns out. As I said before, if I am right or add value, one has to wonder how I came up with it. But, then again, by looking at all the travelers, major drivers in the story of the weather, it can put you in conflict with folks that may not be looking at the same things you are. I see what they are doing. Sometimes I wonder if they see what I am doing.

Joe Bastardi, a pioneer in extreme weather and long-range forecasting, is a contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues. He is the author of “The Climate Chronicles: Inconvenient Revelations You Won’t Hear From Al Gore — and Others.”

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