Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ingrid's picking back up

I don't want to say "I told you so," but you might plan to not be in Manhattan on, say, October 4th.
I guess it's worth being explicit about what I believe is going on here, which is that the models used to predict cyclone development and track, and even the distinction between tropical cyclones and run-of-the-mill storms, are based on the Ocean-Atmosphere interface behaving like it has for the past few hundred years. As a civilization, we have a lot of experience with the Atlantic, and we feel like we pretty much know how it responds to stimuli.

But we changed it.

The mixed layer's different, the gulf stream's different, the injection of fresh water and the freezing of salt water, they're all different. So, we no longer have a system with familiar response characteristics. But, admitting that we changed it, and taking that into account when we predict what's going to happen with any particular storm, is a very political move.

This is what's so fascinating about the story of X. Bill Proenza, which I'm starting to think would make a good opera. X complains about the stupid Mars lander, and his staff denounces him. They were siding with the funding priorities of the administration. And they may also be resisting the influence of climate change on hurricane formation. There are political fish to fry at the NHC.

Here's an example from a New York Times story about the scientific debate regarding whether climate change is increasing the general badness of storms:

But when Christopher W. Landsea analyzed historical records of hurricane activity, he concluded that satellite observations and other new techniques had increased scientists’ ability to detect major storms, skewing the frequency data. Dr. Landsea, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, reported this conclusion this month in EOS, an electronic publication of the American Geophysical Union.

This kind of he-said-he-said debate often leads people to dismiss a subject as one about which nothing will ever be known with confidence. In fact, the give and take is an example of the way scientists tug and haul at their own and others’ findings until a consensus takes shape.

No. Introducing uncertainty into a conclusion that we're pretty sure is true is how corporatists deter collective action in the Rovian era. This 'debate' that's going on? The NHC is the only organ on the skeptics side quoted in the article. And this brings us directly to William Gray, the Edward Teller of Climate Change*, who creates a safe zone for meteorologists who choose through political expediency to not believe the climate change is worsening Atlantic storms.

William Gray, OK, did a lot of good for his country, and deserved his position as king of all hurricane forecasters. This guy, really, is a pillar of the hurricane forecasting community. And he doesn't believe in significant global warming, much less that it's affecting the hurricane seasons. This is from Wikipedia:
William M. Gray, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University: "This small warming is likely a result of the natural alterations in global ocean currents which are driven by ocean salinity variations. Ocean circulation variations are as yet little understood. Human kind has little or nothing to do with the recent temperature changes. We are not that influential."[26]) "I am of the opinion that [global warming] is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people." [27]) "So many people have a vested interest in this global-warming thing—all these big labs and research and stuff. The idea is to frighten the public, to get money to study it more."[28])
Dr. Gray has a lot of adherents among government hurricane forecasters. They probably wouldn't go so far as to publicly doubt anthropogenic global climate change, but they'll make the softer case that its not affecting hurricane formation. And so the models are still good. And so everything we're seeing is inexplicable.

On the one hand, my point will be strengthened if Ingrid does do a little wall formation and mosey up the coast. On the other, I'd prefer that she die out as a rainy patch in the Caribbean. The great thing about betting on trouble is that you're either right or better off.

* -- in the sense that Edward Teller chose political advantage over integrity, in creating the Hydrogen Bomb, in testifying against Oppenheimer, and in promoting the Strategic Defense Initiative. He's like the bogeyman of 20th Century American Science.

No comments: