Commonly weather forecasters and those discussing climate change confuse us (and themselves) about weather and climate, often identifying ‘unprecedented’ weather events as evidence for climate change. This is odd because in other situations we do not usually imply that extreme events significantly modify long-term averages. Almost all definitions of climate refer it being a long-term average (at least 30 years) of meteorological (or weather data).
I have very poor maths. At school, having chosen to do A-level Geography rather than Physics my school said there was no need for me to take the extra maths class required in order to do the A-level Physics. In fact I was barred from taking the maths class, something I much regretted. I promised myself that I would learn A-level Maths, but I never got around to it. This lack has made me particularly sensitive to other people’s errors when they misuse the maths that I do understand – like that used referring to what average weather (=climate) means.
Recently I looked up the average temperatures for my current home town in East Anglia. For November the average high is 10oC and the average low drops to 5oC. In fact average lows never fall below 3oC (in December, January and February), but this winter we had two consecutive sharp frosts. Do these frosts imply we are suffering from global cooling? Climate change was not mentioned.
The highest average temperatures are experienced, as you might expect, in July and August (22oC). So when last summer we had several hot dry spells with temperatures in the mid to high 20s, should I be worried that East Anglia is experiencing climate heating? It definitely was mentioned, over and over again.
The answers to these two questions are obviously no, there is no evidence that these temperature deviations from a monthly average imply that East Anglia’s climate is changing dramatically and rapidly. What we experience, day to day, is weather, the average temperatures (if calculated correctly) are climate data. For day-to-day living, especially in a location like the British Isles, average temperatures (and other climate data) are fairly meaningless in terms of what to wear and other reasons we might consult weather forecasts. Weather here is dominated by short term cyclonic events and which type of air mass occupies our skies, which also can be very variable. Weather varies, commonly hourly and sometimes dramatically.
Yet I am told that the Earth’s average temperature is scheduled to increase by more than 2oC and many are now claiming this will be cataclysmic causing everything from massive sea-level rise to increased frequency of extreme weather events (all bad). Yet commonly there can be more than a 2o difference in the temperature between consecutive years.
Not a day goes by without some dreadful weather event in some part of the world is being claimed to be unprecedented and due to global heating. Such events are rarely, if ever, predicted ahead of time. Equally as rare is the average temperature increase at such disaster locations given, so that we might judge the likelihood of the linkage between the extreme weather event and climate change.
To put this all into perspective I only need to drive south 100 miles from my home town in East Anglia to London to experience much of the average temperature rise that the Earth may experience (winter high and low of 12o and 7oC; summer high and low of 23o and 15oC). Oh, those poor Londoners, they must suffer so.
Then there is the question of regional variation in temperature increases. It is generally accepted that the Arctic (or at least most of it) is warming several to many times as fast as the rest of the world. (But most of the southern part of Greenland and neighbouring Newfoundland and Labrador are cooling; strange that). This must imply, if the average temperature increase is to be around 2oC, that other parts of the world must be warming at a much slower rate, or heavens to Betsy, be actually cooling.
Yet this is not what our media say. They impose an Earth-average temperature increase everywhere. More wildfires in Greece; must be due to global warming. How much? Usually the predicted Earth average is implied. The heat-dome in Oregon-Washington State was stated to be so much worse because of climate chaos (one commentator – who must walk on his knuckles – saying the temperatures were several degrees higher than expected by adding their favourite average Earth temperature change (+1.5oC) to previous record highs in the area).
We sceptics are, I’m afraid, not immune. We revel at broadcasting colder-than-usual weather events as if they demonstrate that climate heating isn’t occurring. One ecently was a cold event with severe snowstorms affecting parts of northern China. It’s weather, folks. It should only be classed as climate change if the frequency of such events increased or decreased over decades. That weather forecasters have access to such data is very uncommon.
In fact climate change need not involve any change of average temperatures at all. However the frequency of warmer and cooler events might increase. This could happen with or without an increase in the yearly-average temperature. Thus even an increase in extreme cold events might occur at sites where the yearly average temperature is actually increasing. You would never guess that from almost all weather forecasts.
My wife (She who must be listened to) by now has got used to my shouting at the television when news programmes make completely unjustified claims. But I seem to be doing it more and more as newscasters (especially those telling climate disaster stories) confuse climate and weather and totally ignore other and commonly well-known factors. One that recently caused much tooth grinding – drought in Niger attributed to global warming, with pictures of desperate people with the goats set in a landscape of withered bushes and bare dry earth. But then my memory and scepticism kicks in. Niger is in the Sahel, which is supposed to be experiencing a greening due to CO2 fertilisation. This fertilisation also causes plants to become more resistant to water shortage, not less resistant. The news item never mentions how much hotter the temperatures are. Finally I note the number of large number of goats. I guess that improvements to plant growth encouraged goat flocks to increase. Goats are notorious around the world for having destroyed vegetation, resulting in badlands. Bet this is happening in Niger. Scream at the television. “She who must be listened to” just sighs.
Note. I am fully aware that much of the Earth does not have weather anywhere like as variable as the British Isles, so that weather and climate can be more similar than in the U.K. In fact when we lived in the San Francisco area (with its Mediterranean climate) we got used to rain-free summers. So much so that during a short visit to Iowa from California one summer I took no rainwear, and was duly punished by being drenched upon arrival at the Iowa City airport.
So we get accustomed to climate but are commonly surprised by weather. One might even construct a new aphorism: anything unprecedented is weather, anything expected is just climate.
Alan, since you mention Niger, I can’t resist giving Niger Negatives a plug:
You’re right, of course, Niger’s problems aren’t climate change related.
“One might even construct a new aphorism: anything unprecedented is weather, anything expected is just climate.”
The irony here is that the climate alarmists’ aphorism whenever we get ‘unprecedented’ extreme weather (e.g. intense rainfall, extreme heat) is: “This is exactly what we expect due to climate change”.
Jaime, there is so much of this. I’ve noticed weather forecasters on BBC radio saying during a warm spell that “it’s hotter than it should be at this time of year”. I’ve never heard them saying, during a cold spell, that “it’s colder than it should be at this time of year”.
Similarly, NOAA’s monthly “climate” reports, which I draw attention to once a month, regularly focus on extreme weather that they think supports the “climate crisis” narrative, while ignoring events such as extreme cold and snow. The recent snow and cold in places like California and China didn’t merit a mention. Alan is right to point out that unusual weather events are just that – weather – and don’t represent climate change unless a long-term trend is discernible. However, I mention such weather fairly regularly as a counter-balance to the likes of the BBC and NOAA, which regularly tell us breathlessly about unusual heat but which are often reticent about mentioning unusual snow and cold.
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In a similar vein, the 40C record last summer was used as evidence of incipient climate catastrophe, or whatever we’re calling it now. As readers will remember, I discussed the validity of the record itself. But even accepting the record was true, I probably did not point out that the mark of 40 was reached for a short time in the grand scheme of things. By definition the average of a day’s temperature is more informative than its maximum (although it was indeed constantly hot for those 3-4 days). In other words it does not seem to make sense to get too excited about an extreme temperature reached once a year for half an hour.
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Forget flash floods (weather). The Met Office is warning us that ‘flash droughts’ are becoming more frequent due to climate change:
“The Met Office’s Dr Peili Wu is one of the paper’s authors. He said: “The transition to more flash droughts is being driven by a combination of rainfall deficit along with amplified rates of soil moisture loss.”
The paper highlights that the transition from slower-onset droughts to flash droughts is projected to expand to most land areas. This transition will become most pronounced with higher rates of global greenhouse emissions.
The paper – A global transition to flash drought under climate change – has been produced by an international collaboration featuring scientists from China, the UK and the US. The paper will be published in the journal Science. The lead author is Professor Xing Yuan of Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology.
The research is part funded by the Climate Science for Service Partnership China (CSSP China) project, a collaborative climate science initiative between research institutes in the UK and China. CSSP China is part of our Weather and Climate Science for Service Partnership (WCSSP) programme, supported by the UK Government’s Newton Fund.”
Not published yet. I would be very interested in reading it once it is.
It has been published. First impressions: they retrospectively identify sub-seasonal ‘flash droughts’, inspired apparently by the rapid onset of the California drought in 2012 (which went on to become a multi-seasonal drought), then they reanalyse soil moisture data going back to 1951 and find that there has been a modest increase in rapid onset sub-seasonal droughts – now retrospectively identified as ‘flash droughts’. In the paper they admit that the main driver of ‘conventional droughts’ is natural multidecadal variability such as ENSO/PDO/AMO/NAO, amplified by other factors such as land use, water usage etc. They then use CMIP6 model ensembles to attribute this modest increase over a relatively short time period (which shows some signs of cyclical variability) to anthropogenic forcings, defining natural forcings ONLY as volcanic and solar, and completely ignoring other factors such as changing land use etc.! It’s science Jim, but not as we know it. They found a new ‘thing’. They went looking for a signal of the ‘thing’ in the data and then they attributed that signal to man-made greenhouse gases.
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Hi Alan – great post
“heavens to Betsy” takes me back, never heard that for years 🙂
I was led to believe that the Poles (plural) were heating more than the equator region. But Antarctica has shown no warming for 70 years. Why are things so lop-sided?