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Joe Bastardi / October 29, 2018

Increased Water Vapor, Not CO2, Most Likely Reason for Recent Warm Septembers

In my opinion, September provides interesting clues as to why the planet is warming, and to me, all roads lead to water vapor being the culprit. The arguments branch out, of course, but think about the oceans. They are slow to change, right? Well, what happens when you add more water vapor to the air? Does it not stand to reason it would have some lag effect on the seasons?

In my opinion, September provides interesting clues as to why the planet is warming, and to me, all roads lead to water vapor being the culprit. The arguments branch out, of course, but think about the oceans. They are slow to change, right? Well, what happens when you add more water vapor to the air? Does it not stand to reason it would have some lag effect on the seasons?

Let’s examine this idea using the month of September.

Over the last five years, sea surface temperatures surrounding the U.S. and much of the planet have been the warmest on record for any five-year period. You can kick and scream all you want about what it may have been like 70 years ago, but I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with some of the ideas on my side of the debate because they are comparing current cooling to what was incredible ocean warmth during the recent Super Niño. The post-event cooling is relative and still not anywhere near where it was after the last El Niño.

Here are current sea surface temperatures:

Here’s 2012, after the last El Niño (same time spread):

Today, the oceans are warmer this far removed from El Niño.

The temperature link is obvious. Globally, the last below-normal month, based on satellite data from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, was around this same time in 2012. We are warmer now and still have not achieved a single below-average month.

The huge 1997-98 Super Niño is when we went from predominately cold with spiking warmth to predominately warm with the occasional cold month. I believe the reason is because of the huge amount of water vapor launched by that late ‘90s El Niño. All that water vapor was distributed over a period of decades and established a new “pause” higher than the preceding one, with most of the warming where it’s coolest and driest. A leftover increase of only .05 grams/kg of water vapor makes the biggest differences in very cold areas, which then, of course, gets incorporated into the “global temperature.”

While temperate regions settle down to relatively little temperature increases, the polar regions during their respective cold seasons look like red paint bombs were splattered on them and skew the global temperature. This, of course, is parried into a planetary emergency, when in reality the overall effect is relatively benign and in line with what supports life and prosperity quite well. The last Super Niño is likely doing the same thing, with a higher pause being the result. However, the warmer it gets, the harder it is to keep it that warm given the amount of energy needed to sustain heat. Therefore, the new baseline should not see as great of an increase as it did following the '97-98 El Niño.

But water vapor increase is why most of the warming is showing up where it’s coldest and driest. It’s “easier,” if you will, to warm those areas. I don’t want you thinking I am going over to the “dark side,” as has been rumored. I am simply shining a light on the true cause by talking common sense about the cooling we have had the past two years and the pause. Stories about record cooling, etc. are only relative to how warm it was. People on the other side of the debate can easily counter that this is the warmest post-Niño period on record, and they are right.

I believe the temperature pause is at a new baseline, which is higher than the one before, but it takes more to keep it there. The AMO may be starting to turn, which may be a counterbalance to some degree. However, the decrease in solar radiation may mean more ENSO events via reduced easterlies in the tropical Pacific. Yet you have to account for ocean warmth. Many say it’s caused by CO2. Given the heat capacity of the oceans, it is very hard to believe that one tiny part of the air (.04%) is pushing around the oceans. My take is that the combination of many events, not the least being two centuries of high sunspot activity, has to be a big source.

However, think about how much we do not know about ocean warmth, like underwater volcanoes. Another thing to consider: If it is true we are pulling out of a glacial period, maybe all we are seeing is where the earth is supposed to go. Perhaps the set point is higher. But who knows what the planet’s temperature is supposed to be? If I am right about the step-up function of temperatures, it has to be water vapor and Super Niños that do it.

I don’t know how anyone can prove that gradual increases in CO2 suddenly cause Super Niños to proliferate. It has to be something much grander that likely has to do with the ocean itself — perhaps the buildup of heat from natural sources and an intersection of cyclical events in the ocean. But that is above my pay grade.

Returning to the evidence of a seasonal lag-water vapor correlation: When we look at the last five Septembers, there is an extra .05 to .15 grams/kg of water vapor in the air in much of the country compared to the 30-year mean ending in 2010.

I have shown the mixing ratio charts for you many times. In summary, temperatures are not a linear measure of energy. Moreover, the colder and drier it is, the more impact water vapor has on temperatures.

The oceans around the U.S. have been warm the last five Septembers.

The result on water vapor is predictable. I showed it above, but here it is again to drive home the point. The link is intuitively obvious.

Let’s now look at the average September temperature over the last five years.

Interesting how there is more warmth around the Great Lakes and Northeast. Let’s dig deeper for clues as to why those areas have been so warm.

Here are maximum temperatures:

That would figure again in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes since the sea surface temperatures and lakes are warmer and averages are falling faster. But max temperatures overall aren’t as anomalous, and herein is where the hint lies. Water vapor would more greatly limit temperature drops at night.

The urban heat island effect and land use contribute too, but overall, water vapor is the big cheese. And it’s occurring now!

As of the 25th, this is the second-coldest October for the U.S. as a whole as far as maximum temperatures are concerned.

But yet it’s only in seventh place overall.

How so? Nighttime lows are sitting at tenth-warmest!

Here is what you must ask yourself: If you can decipher a direct tie between water vapor and temperatures, with the most effect where it’s coldest, what should be the overall driving source of warming? It would have to be water vapor. What is the source of extra water vapor? The oceans. What is warming the oceans? It is tough to grasp that a steady input of a trace gas is controlling them. The more likely culprit lies within big events over large timescales. Finally, let’s remember the definition of weather and climate: nature’s eternal search for a balance she cannot have simply because of her design. That’s what we are seeing.

Understanding seasonal lags 
is important going forward, as it may be skewing a bit more toward endless summers and, conversely, later springs. More snow in colder areas may mean later cold. Aprils in much of Canada have grown colder. This is part of cyclical climate change theory — warmer oceans, more water vapor. Though colder regions warm more, they do not warm enough to stop it from snowing more in the cold season. It takes longer for snow to melt. When it does melt, there’s more runoff into the Atlantic, which may be why we see the north Atlantic cooling. Keep in mind, most of the U.S. is closer to the equator than the north pole, but look at the last five Aprils in Canada.

Now check out the change in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures since 2012.



Is it “climate change”? Of course! The climate always changes and adapts. Is it CO2? How can one say it is when there’s an obvious water vapor link? I suspect the reason for climate change lies within the total picture, not the micro picture. If you are the dumbest man in the room, as I try to be, you are open to everything you see and look at the total picture. You try to weigh everything and weigh it correctly. If you are the smartest guy in the room who is out to prove your theory is correct, you may be glued to that very thing you know best. Yet you do so at the expense of the total picture.

Over the years I have noticed everyone seems to have their one “pet” idea. Is that idea at the expense of all other ideas and the total picture? No matter what the reason, we can’t run from warmer oceans. Nor can we run from the water vapor-temperature link and the resultant challenges it presents for people trying to show the why before the what. The weather can teach you that expertise is quite limited, hence the reason one must confine it to a very small area to truly be an expert. Unfortunately, nature does not operate according to very small things. It operates according to the total of all things. So in a way, this boils down to a question of humility in the face of nature. That has to be balanced with the rational pursuit of the correct answer. This doesn’t mean you should abandon your ideas. It does mean you should allow them to be challenged.

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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