Monday, January 25, 2016

Anthony Watts gets into a dither with global weather

Sou | 8:05 PM Go to the first of 23 comments. Add a comment
From some comments here at HW I discovered that there was a strange exchange at WUWT the other day. I say it was strange, because Anthony said he disagreed with a person while at the same time saying he agreed with him  - on the exact same point. Although it was strange, it was not uncommon as far as Anthony Watts is concerned. He doesn't understand what he reads, and doesn't seem to understand what he writes. He also demonstrates one of the telltale signs of a denier (and conspiracy theorist) - simultaneously adopting two mutually exclusive positions.

It started with the headline to the article from David Whitehouse (archived here - see Hotwhopper's Desperate Deniers Part 6): "2015 Global Temp, Or How Some Scientists Deliberately Mistook Weather For Climate"

The headline was over a graphic of Bart Simpson writing "climate and weather are not the same", which David Whitehouse and Anthony Watts should take to heart:

The headline prompted a comment from Harry Twinotter, that it would take a brave person to refer to conditions averaged over the globe for a year or more as "weather":
Harry Twinotter  January 23, 2016 at 2:05 pm
I can’t say I understand the headline for this article. It would take a brave person to call conditions averaged over the globe for a year or more “weather”.
Variation is the global climate, yes. Try comparing the global mean temperature of 2014-2015 with the last Great El nino of 1997/98.
This was picked up by Brandon Gates, who observed that maybe it is more weather than climate, relating it to deniers who try to argue that a winter blizzard means anthropogenic global warming isn't real:
Brandon Gates  January 23, 2016 at 5:49 pm
Harry Twinotter, "It would take a brave person to call conditions averaged over the globe for a year or more “weather”.
Especially compared to, “bbbbut blizzards!”. Compared to the standard, albeit somewhat arbitrary, definition of climate as the 30 year statistics of weather, I’d say it’s more weather than climate. 
Harry replied that he takes Brandon's point, but still doesn't feel comfortable calling something "global weather":
Harry Twinotter  January 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm
Brandon Gates. "Especially compared to, “bbbbut blizzards!”. Compared to the standard, albeit somewhat arbitrary, definition of climate as the 30 year statistics of weather, I’d say it’s more weather than climate.
I would not feel comfortable calling something “global weather”, but I take your point.

Anthony Watts saw two science-lovers taking up valuable space on his climate conspiracy blog with some sciency debate, and wrote:
Anthony Watts  January 24, 2016 at 7:06 am
Weather is local and regional in scope; microscale, mesoscale, or synoptic scale. There’s no such thing as “global weather”, but since both you and Harry are big on disinformation, I can see why you’d embrace something so wrong. 

Perhaps it's me that's a bit dim because I don't see the sense in Anthony's retort. It raises a number of questions, including:
  • What does Anthony mean by "big on disinformation"? Is he acknowledging that Harry and Brandon do a great service by calling out all the disinformation at WUWT? Perhaps Anthony is admitting he's a science denier and regards all science as "disinformation".
  • Is Anthony siding with Harry Twinotter, as would appear to be the case, that Anthony's headline is wrong and that the notion of "global weather" is wrong? If so, why does he suggest that Harry said the opposite to what he did say ("I would not feel comfortable calling something “global weather”"). Is Anthony writing in some kind of double-speak code?
  • If Anthony is saying that Harry Twinotter is correct (that one doesn't normally speak of "global weather"), would he also concede that David Whitehouse's article is full of disinformation?
  • Does Anthony think that "blizzards" are climate or does he agree with Brandon that blizzards are weather? If so, again, why does he talk about Brandon and Harry being "big on disinformation"?
  • Why did Anthony Watts pick out that little discussion to complain about, when there were dozens and dozens of very dumb, very wrong "thoughts" that he could have complained about instead?
  • Last but not least, as someone who can't even read a simple temperature chart, shouldn't Anthony Watts get off his high horse?

There's no evidence that "Some Scientists Deliberately Mistook Weather For Climate"

How about David Whitehouse's headline. Is it true that "Some Scientists Deliberately Mistook Weather For Climate"? If they did, David provides no evidence. He doesn't cite a single example. Not one.

Therefore I agree with Harry Twinotter (and Anthony Watts, if he was agreeing with Harry) that David Whitehouse's headline was cockeyed. David was confusing two weather phenomena, the "blob" and El Nino, with climate change as evidenced by the long term increase in global mean surface temperature (among other things).

His error is similar to that which Hollin and Pearce made in their paper in Nature Climate Change. David Whitehouse seemed to be under the illusion that one year's temperature rise alone was sufficient for scientists to agree that climate change is happening. Or at best, he seemed to be alleging that scientists were attributing the entire rise in surface temperature in 2015 to anthropogenic global warming. He's wrong. Some of it was attributed to El Nino. However it's the long term trend, which 2015 added to, that is evidence of climate change.

Let me illustrate first with an animation of two short periods of time from recent years:

Figure 1 | Global mean surface temperature changes over a four year period. Data source: GISS NASA

Both the above charts span a period of four years. If you took either of them in isolation from the long term, you would be wrong to argue that they meant the world is cooling or warming. They just mean that over the short time span illustrated the global mean surface temperature was hotter or colder at the end of the four years than it was at the beginning of that four year period.

Now look at the long term, which unequivocally demonstrates that the world is heating up:

Figure 2 | Global mean surface temperature changes since 1880. Data source: GISS NASA

The ups and downs along the way do nothing but demonstrate that for short periods, the annual global mean surface temperature can jump up or down from one year to the next. This can be because of internal variability, such as an El Nino event, which can shift heat from the ocean to the sea surface to the atmosphere and to the land surface. Or it could be the impact of volcanic forcing, which can cool the planet for a couple of years. However over the longer term the world is clearly getting hotter.

It's the long term trend that scientists are referring to when they talk about global warming.

So when David Whitehouse tries to argue that scientists have confused weather (in the form of an El Nino and a blob) for climate, he is very wrong. He is thinking in terms of Figure 1, while the scientists are thinking in terms of Figure 2.

Look at the evidence

Here are some quotes from media articles to illustrate this:
Global temperatures in 2015 were by far the hottest in modern times, according to new data from American science agencies. 
By placing the 2015 temperature in the context of "modern times", it's clear that this ABC article is consistent with Figure 2, not Figure 1.
Climate change has surpassed "symbolic thresholds," the organization warns in a report released Wednesday from Geneva, with global surface temperatures set to breach a 1 degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels. The previous warmest year was 2014 and the past five years are shaping up to be the hottest such period.
Again, this article from National Geographic places the 2015 record (and the past five years) in the context of the rise in temperature from pre-industrial levels. It is consistent with Figure 2, not Figure 1.

From the press release from NASA about the hottest year on record:
The 2015 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York (GISTEMP). NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2015 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data. 
Once again, the article places the 2015 record in the context of the long-term warming trend.

You might ask how was global temperature reported in 2008, when it dropped to a four year low? This is from the NOAA Global Analysis for 2008:
The global January-December temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces was 0.49°C (0.88°F) above the 20th century average, tying with 2001 as the eighth warmest since records began in 1880. Globally averaged land temperatures were 0.81°C (1.46°F) above average, while the ocean temperatures were 0.37°C (0.67°F) above average, ranking as the sixth warmest and tenth warmest, respectively. Eight of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, part of a rise in temperatures of 0.5°C (0.9°F) since 1880. See the global time series.
Once again, the temperature for 2008 was placed in the context of the long term record, consistent with Figure 2, not Figure 1.

Can one speak of "global weather"?

I'm not so sure than it's always wrong to speak of "global weather", though I won't be surprised if some experts will correct me. There are lots of websites that report world weather. There's a website that compares weather on Earth with that on other planets. Anthony himself has quoted a tweet from Roger Pielke Jr, saying: "How long does our global good weather luck last?". (Which makes one wonder how Roger missed the all the massive floods, droughts, fires and storms).

A few hours ago, Anthony posted a video that he called "amazing". It was from NASA's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office. In one of the files on the GMAO website, was the statement:
Our Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model is used for global weather and climate applications, in assimilation as well as simulation
The Bureau of Meteorology doesn't have the word "weather" in its climate glossary. NOAA does, and describes it as:
The state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. Weather refers to these conditions at a given point in time (e.g., today's high temperature), whereas Climate refers to the "average" weather conditions for an area over a long period of time (e.g., the average high temperature for today's date).

So I'll let you argue among yourselves as to whether or when it's ever okay to speak of global weather :)

Whether global weather is okay or not, the point remains. David Whitehouse was wrong. The scientists who spoke about 2015 and global warming did not confuse weather and climate.

From the HotWhopper Archives


  1. Anthony displays the skill and economy of a fine poet. His short reply to Harry and Brandon revealed everything we need to know about the man.

  2. we know that weather records are being smashed with regards to record high temperatures (I believe Scotland has just broken one for January)

    we also know rainfall/precipitation records are being broken, again consistent with AGW theory

    does anyone have any stats on record low temperatures being broken

    for the "natural variability" theory to be supported, one would expect similar low temp records to be broken

    1. It snowed in the US Senate Chamber in February '15. That's an all time low.

    2. Tadaaa.

      Well there is that weird cold blog in the northern Atlantic. I think it was the only region on the global temperature anomaly map that showed record cold (compared to the baseline).

    3. Here is the map


    4. Thanks Harry and a picture paints a thousand words!!!

      it seems an article of faith in deniersville that

      Record Cold = Climate
      Record Warmth = Weather

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. @PG

      lol - Inhofe, what a chump

      he wears his ignorance as a badge of honour

      I call it "anti-knowledge"

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Tadaa and Harry.

      That cold blob is only cold because it moved away from the even colder place where it originated, to a location where the ambient temperature is relatively warmer - even after extra absorbed heat in the cold mass is accounted for.

      Had the meltwater not been fluid and easily mobile it would represent a warm(er) anomaly for its place of origin, and therefore directly reflect the consequences of global warming. Further, that area of the northwest Atlantic would not be cooled and thus not show up as a negative anomaly...

      So not only is there really very little by way of record lows, when movement of thermal energy is mapped around the planet and accounted for in relative terms, there is even less on the 'record low' side of the ledger.

    9. yes, that's what I was getting at - record recorded lows

      we seem to be busting record recorded highs every week (it seems)

    10. In answer to the original question, and putting it into a global context, I believe that in the entire ~130-year long instrument record (i.e., since the 1880s') the last time there was a year that had a record cold global temperature was over a hundred years ago.

      There have been somewhere around fifty years since that time that had record warm global temperatures, but not one record cold global temperature.

      That should tell us something.

  3. As I read it Whitehouse is issuing instructions to all the dupes who come to WUWT for the misinformation they then parrot. The latest instructions are:

    Do not say the 2015 record temperatures are due to an El Nino because, embarassingly, we have been using the 1997/1998 El Nino temperatures to pretend there was a pause in global warming. Instead, claim it is due to weather - nobody can remember what the weather was like in 1997/1998 - and then nod wisely when another imaginary pause can, for a while, be claimed as soon as we go to La Nina conditions.

  4. As a far of variability on all spatial and temporal scales, I have no problem with the term "global weather".

    You can use weather for the small scale and climate for the large scale. Where to draw that line is arbitrary and depends on the context, ideally is defined in advance.

    In German we have a word between the normal use of weather (up to a day) and the normal use of climate (decades) which is called "Witterung". I think the normal use of Witterung is for about a week to a season. Which still leaves us with the problem how to call all that stuff between a season and decades. As long as that word does not exist, let's be liberal with our use of the terms weather and climate.

  5. Meanwhile, in a Galaxy far away from wherever it is the WUWTers live:

    Record hot years near impossible without manmade climate change – study

    1. Millicent.

      The denialism in the comments thread makes me despair.

      It seems that every Duningly-Krugered, blue-singleted, Year 10-graduated (maybe...) Renaissance man thinks that they understand statistics and physics better than those chardonnay-swilling, data-adjusting, government-tit-sucking, conspiring scientist types - who have, just quietly, created the world where they can sit at a keyboard and type their opinions for all the world to see.

      Humanity is its own chlorine for disinfecting the gene pool.

  6. Sou,

    I appreciate this follow-up article, always gives me a little extra swagger when you quote me here. It's also nice to be properly cited and interpreted correctly, something the WHUTTers consistently don't do with *anyone*.

    BTW, Harry is obviously the disinformer here ... Victor agrees with me. Or does that make me the disinformer? Damn .... :)

    Ok, maybe a little too much extra swagger. Cheers.

    1. Being a reasonable and agreeable chap I also agree with Harry Twinotter.

      Context normally makes clear what version someone is trying to express.

    2. Victor,

      Well crap! :)

      As is so often the case in WHUTTerville, Anthony is allergic to context and completely glossed over Harry's most salient point:

      Variation is the global climate, yes. Try comparing the global mean temperature of 2014-2015 with the last Great El nino of 1997/98.

      I think we can all agree that's a devastating argument, but some people are also allergic to consensus.

  7. Replies
    1. Yes, but -- skimming the abstracts -- not in the sense that David Whitehouse's article was attempting to knock "some scientists" for "forgetting".

  8. I'm pretty sure GOES is about global (weather and climate) not (global weather) and climate.

    But regardless, I've more than once seen the various oscillations termed "weather" -- basically, defining weather as variation and climate as the mean. Under that definition, you can think of weather on large spatial and temporal scales.


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