Not content with denying climate change, now WUWT is denying the weather. I noticed this claim about storm Jonas at WUWT today, which the meteorologist (ret'd) missed. Tim Ball is claiming that Jonas forecasts failed (archived here). In his article he weaves a conspiracy theory of mammoth proportions, ticking the boxes of six of the seven criteria for conspiracy ideation. This includes twisting the facts to fit his conspiracy theory. It also requires Tim to refer to a 12 month old article about last year's blizzard as proof that the this year's blizzard didn't happen - or something. Wrong storm, wrong year - Tim got his blizzards mixed up.
An overview of storm Jonas
Before beginning on Tim's wildly imaginative conspiracy theorising, here's a short recap of storm Jonas.
Storm Jonas was the fourth most severe storm in the region in at least the past 66 years. Early warnings began more than a week before the storm was forecast to hit, giving people plenty of time to prepare. All the weather models were in general agreement, unusually for a storm like this. The forecasts were remarkably accurate. The dump of snow on New York city was a bigger than expected but otherwise the weather forecasts were pretty well spot on. The storm killed 55 people, caused a storm surge as big or maybe bigger than Hurricane Sandy, dumped record snow in some built up areas, shut down activity in some of the busiest parts of the USA, and resulted in more than $2 billion damage.
I've added more detail below, as well as in the references at the bottom of this article.
Tim Ball's conspiracy theory - storm Jonas was a hoax
Tim Ball wrote an article under the headline: "It Is Time For A Complete Cleanup After "The Blizzard Of 2016."" As usual, it's difficult to follow his line of argument. It appears that Tim thinks storm Jonas was a hoax of the climate conspiracy kind. He wrote (with my emphasis of his conspiratorial theorising):
They are physically cleaning up after the “Blizzard of 2016” in the northeastern US. The job is not as onerous as anticipated and is going slowly because the government is in charge. However, it is time for an intellectual clean-up because of what went on. The entire sequence of events is a classic example of environmental and climatic exploitation that parallels the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) deception. They show what is wrong with weather and climate forecasts, and how it is all amplified and perpetuated by people who don’t know what they are talking about, or, worse, want to know.
The underlying objective was to hype the potential for catastrophe against a backdrop of implications that the event is unnatural. The actors on the stage were the weather office bureaucrats at National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who are key players in the global climate deception that is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Mainstream media TV meteorologists were seeking sensationalism under the guise of warning and protecting the people and supported them as usual. Regular mainstream media ambulance-chasing reporters, looking for extremes and creating them when necessary followed them on stage. They later produced stories explaining how the storm was evidence of climate change and global warming. They did this as they ignored the physical evidence, reality, the historical context, and the actual mechanisms of climate change.
There's more. Tim states wrongly that the forecast models "failed". They didn't. They were pretty well spot on. Nevertheless Tim wrote:
The Blizzard is a classic example of how those with a political agenda took a normal, natural, event and turned it into a potential catastrophe. They gave their claims legitimacy with computer models. The compliant sensation-seeking media repeated and amplified the story until politicians were left with no choice but to overreact. In fact, this is a self-inflicted wound because the politicians lead people to expect the government to look after them.
The final fiasco is that disciples of the false story about human-caused global warming saw an opportunity to further their agenda. They ignore the fact that the models were wrong about the blizzard and make claims that are scientifically inaccurate. Of course, they will never give up as long as they ignore reality and their jobs and careers are dependent on maintaining the deception. The storm of 2016 shows how the deceptions are occurring at the local and global scale.
Notice all the conspiracy theorising from Tim, even just in those few paragraphs, Tim has covered all but one of the seven criteria used to define conspiracist thinking. Take my interpretations with a grain of salt. I'm not a cognitive scientist and might have some of them wrong, but you get the general idea:
- Nefarious Intent or Questionable Motives : Assuming that the presumed conspirators, NOAA and NWS, have nefarious intentions.
- Persecuted Victim: Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution. This is the only one that Tim missed out, this time around. Or I couldn't find him self-identifying as a persecuted victim.
- Nihilistic Skepticism or Over-riding Suspicion: Refusing to believe anything that doesn't fit into the conspiracy theory. For example, refusing to believe that storm Jonas was as bad as was reported.
- Nothing occurs by Accident: Weaving into the conspiracy narrative the fact that it wasn't just NOAA and NWS who are in on the conspiracy, all the mainstream media and TV meteorologists were too - they were "seeking sensationalism".
- Something Must be Wrong: Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators. His notion that the motives of NOAA and NWS were to perpetuate the climate hoax conspiracy, while mainstream media and TV meteorologists said the same thing, but in their case it was "ambulance-chasing" and "seeking sensationalism".
- Self-Sealing Reasoning: Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for (or of) the conspiracy. Again, Tim seems to think that evidence that everyone, from government weather services to mainstream media, all forecasting the same thing, is proof they were all in on the conspiracy.
- Unreflexive Counterfactual Thinking: This refers to hypotheses "built on a non-existent, counterfactual state of the world, even though knowledge about the true state of the world was demonstrably available at the time". In this case, storm Jonas happened almost exactly as forecast, but Tim is trying to argue that, contrary to all evidence, it was somewhere between "normal" and non-existent, and claimed (wrongly) that the forecasts failed.
Tim Ball's unreflexive counterfactual thinking
Tim went on to tell his readers how the forecasts were hyped on the grounds that all the weather models were, unusually for a storm, predicting something similar. For Tim, that seems to be evidence of something or the other. This seems to be a great example of unreflexive counterfactual thinking on Tim's part. Tim quoted an article at Slate:
“Since early Saturday, nearly every single run of every major model has shown the potential for a foot or two of snowfall on a track to hit somewhere between Northern Virginia and Boston. What’s amazing—perhaps even more so than the impressive potential snow totals—is that all the major weather models are already locked in so far in advance. Simply put: There’s definitely a big storm coming, it’s just the details that are still being worked out.”And made the comment:
Notice it is ‘definite’ because all the models agree.Then he wrote something very odd. As I've pointed out further down, Wunderground weather forecaster Steve Gregory wrote, after the event:
Forecasts for the Super Blizzard of 2016 was one of the best examples of increasing model skill in recent years – with both the GFS and ECMWF calling for a major snow storm in the Mid-Atlantic region over a week ahead of time – and with little deviation in the forecast right up thru the event itself.By contrast, Tim said that the prediction was wrong. Which is wrong. The forecasts described in the Slate article were pretty well spot on. It panned out almost exactly as forecast. Tim isn't just a climate change denier, he's also a weather denier. I expect he had to be if he was to try to fit his conspiracy theory to the facts. Rather than adjust his theory to fit the facts, he indulged in some unreflexive counterfactual thinking and changed the facts to fit his conspiracy theory. He wrote:
I am sure many skeptics reading the Slate quote immediately ignored what it said when they read the phrase “every major model.” Once again they are justified as the failed predictions attest. In this case, it is not just a single model failure but all of them.
2016 blizzard was not "normal", it was a notable among notable nor'easters
Tim's claim that all the models failed isn't borne out by the evidence. Nor was his apparent claim that the storm wasn't any big deal. I say apparent, but as always it's difficult to fathom just what Tim Ball is trying to say. Tim claimed:
The storm of 2016 was a standard “Nor’easter. They are so normal that there is a separate entry in Wikipedia.Wikipedia lists around 28 nor'easters that were "notable". That is, they were not "normal" or "standard". The January 2016 storm is described it as "very severe", including a storm surge rivaling that of Hurricane Sandy. In other words it was a notable among notables, not at all normal or standard:
January 2016 blizzard (also known as Winter Storm Jonas, Snowzilla, or The Blizzard of 2016 by media outlets) - Between January 23rd and 24th, a very severe Nor'easter dumped 2 to 3 feet of snow in the East Coast of the United States. States of Emergencies were declared in 12 States in advance of the storm as well as by the Mayor of Washington D.C.. The blizzard also caused significant storm surge in New Jersey and Delaware that was equal to or worse than Hurricane Sandy. Sustained damaging winds over 50 mph were recorded in many coastal communities, with a maximum gust to 85 mph on Assateague Island, Virginia. A total of 55 people died due to the storm.
Jonas was the fourth most severe storm in at least 66 years
It's not just Wikipedia. Going by the accounts of weather experts (which Tim is not), the storm was anything but standard or normal. It was a monster of a storm and the fourth most severe storm in at least 66 years. According to Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Wunderground.com:
The massive blizzard that rocked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. last weekend, killing at least 58 and leaving over $2 billion in damage, has been rated the 4th most severe snowstorm to hit the area in the past 66 years, said NOAA. A Category 4 or “Crippling” rating was given to the storm using NOAA’s Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, also known as NESIS. NESIS scores are a function of the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snow, and the number of people living in the path of the storm. Wikipedia has a list of NESIS rankings based on the original scale (created by Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini] as well as a revised version implemented by NOAA in 2005.
The only stronger storms on the NESIS scale since 1950, according to NOAA, were:In their article, Jeff Masters and Bob Henson also indicate the rating of the storm using different measures. By whatever measure, it was a big one. In some regions that more commonly get heavy snowfalls it wasn't too special. In others it was sufficiently unusual to shut down major cities.
- Category 5 - March 1993, Mid-Atlantic/New England
- Category 5 - January 1996, Midwest/Mid-Atlantic/New England
- Category 4 – March 1960, Midwest/Mid-Atlantic/New England
Wrong year: wrong storm - Tim's "failed" claim is based on a January 2015 article
Getting back to Tim Ball's article, I'm still trying to figure out what made him think the forecasts and all the weather models "failed". What he did was quote from articles about a storm forecast in January a year ago, writing:
There is one interesting difference from previous failures that may reflect a growing awareness in the weather agencies that a credibility gap is growing. In an article titled “Snowstorms forecasters under fire as ‘historic’ accumulation failed to materialize” the spokesperson for the US National Weather Service said,And quoted a slab of text from an article on CBC News published on Jan 28, 2015. (Can someone tell Tim what year this is?)
At first I figured that Tim knew that he was writing about two completely different storms. But I read and re-read what he wrote. It seems to me that he really thinks that storm Jonas didn't happen, repeating his wrong notion at the end of his article. He seems to think that Jonas didn't shut down New York and Washington and other places along the mid-Atlantic coast. As reported at Weather.com:
Winter Storm Jonas is the first snowstorm on record to bring 2 feet or more of snow to both Baltimore and New York City. Parts of the greater Washington, D.C. area also saw over 2 feet of snow, bringing the urban corridor to a grinding halt.
The 2015 storm Juno and its forecast was different in some respects and similar in others. From what I can gather it was mainly New York city that didn't get the dump of snow that some had forecast. Most other places did. It was a big storm, and rated a long entry in Wikipedia. It differed from the 2016 storm in that it appeared in weather models only a couple of days before it hit. Also unlike the 2016 storm, it didn't appear in all the weather models, or not at the same time. It was a very tricky storm. It didn't cause as much overall damage as the one this year did.
You can read about the "Blizzard of 2015" in an article by Bob Henson and Jeff Masters at WeatherUnderground. It includes discussion of how to best convey uncertain forecasts, particularly when the worst case scenario can cripple cities and be deadly. (The discussion would go over the head of a conspiracy crank like Tim Ball.)
Before the 2016 storm arrived, Eric Holthaus mentioned the 2015 storm (in the article from which Tim quoted), saying how this forecast was different to the one in 2015, warning:
For those of you wishing this storm away, the forecast is a sharp contrast to the late-January blizzard of 2015 that famously spared New York City at the last minute. This week’s storm will be a sprawling slow-mover, virtually guaranteeing heavy, multi-inch snowfall across a vast swath from Virginia to New England. So, my advice from October still stands: Buy a snowblower.
The 2016 forecasts were very good
While Tim thought the storm forecasts failed, the experts didn't, except for the fact that New York city got more snow than was expected. Wunderground weather forecaster Steve Gregory wrote, after the event:
Forecasts for the Super Blizzard of 2016 was one of the best examples of increasing model skill in recent years – with both the GFS and ECMWF calling for a major snow storm in the Mid-Atlantic region over a week ahead of time – and with little deviation in the forecast right up thru the event itself. But while the actual northern edge of the snow verified amazingly close to model forecasts, total snowfall in the northernmost sector of the storm turned out to be much greater than originally anticipated. Of all model forecast metrics – this one aspect of the storm ‘should’ have been anticipated by most seasoned forecasters (including myself!).He went on to explain why the heavier snowfall in the northenmost sector should have been anticipated, talking about "an enhanced ‘deformation zone’", which forms as a storm matures, but is difficult for weather models to capture well. Steve Gregory explains:
Deformation zones are very complicated processes in the atmosphere, and are usually found at the outer edge of an extratropical low pressure system – and most notably for an occluded storm near and to the north of the NW-N-NE sector of the surface occlusion. They are areas where the atmosphere is being stretched and sheared in different directions. ...
...The enhanced snow bands within the deformation should have been anticipated by most seasoned forecasters – and considering I discussed this exact feature the day before the storm – this admonishment goes double for me!For an excellent discussion and links to more in-depth explanations, go to Steve Gregory's article.
Stefan Rahmstorf explores possible linkages with AMOC
I've mentioned this realclimate article previously but in case you missed it, Stefan Rahmstorf wrote:
Blizzard Jonas on the US east coast has just shattered snowfall records. Both weather forecasters and climate experts have linked the high snowfall amounts to the exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures off the east coast. In this post I will examine a related question: why are sea surface temperatures so high there, as shown in the snapshot from Climate Reanalyzer below?He is discussing the possible linkage with the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which seems to be slowing down.
The WUWT 'One World Government' conspiracy theory
The remainder of Tim's article was even less coherent than the first part. He couldn't distinguish between weather forecasts and long term climate projections. As well as that confusion, Tim tied himself up in knots with his conspiracy theorising, writing how:
- The NOAA and NWS are the IPCC. (They aren't. They are US government agencies. The IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific agency of the UN, not the USA.)
- Climate projections are wrong. (They aren't. The world is warming just as expected.)
- Maurice Strong did something or the other to make US politicians subservient to the World Meteorological Organisation. (Maurice Strong is a central figure in Tim's "One World Guvmint/New World Order" conspiracy theory.)
- Storm Jonas was a "a standard “Nor’easter”. (Tim couldn't seem to make up his mind whether it happened or not.)
References and further reading
- Reflections on the "Blizzard" of 2016: A Rant about Transferring Energy to the Coast - article by Lee Grenci, 27 January 2016
- Blizzard Overview and Why NYC Got Much More Snow Than Forecast - article by Steve Gregory, January 28, 2016
- Winter Storm Jonas: Fourth Strongest Nor'easter since 1950 - article by Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, January 29, 2016
- Colossal Nor’easter Dumps Record Snow from Maryland to New York - article by Bob Henson, 24 January 2016
- Blizzard of 2015 Brings 2 - 3' of Snow and Questions About Forecast Accuracy - article by Bob Henson and Jeff Masters, 28 January 2015
10 Insane Conspiracy Theories About The New World Order - article by Andrew Handley, March 24, 2014
- It's the snow not the cold, Eric Worrall - January 2016
- More wild weather for the USA - January 2016
- Curses! It's a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over - July 2015
- various articles about other wacky WUWT "climate hoax" conspiracy theories, from Tim Ball, Anthony Watts and others.