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VIRTUAL CLIMATE ALERT

December 18, 2001 Vol. 2, No. 46

With Michael Powell’s December 17th story headlined "Northeast Seen Getting Balmier," The Washington Post bids for a place alongside such potential tabloid gems as "Bin Laden Is My Alien Baby," "Santa Busted In Christmas Eve Breaking and Entering Spree," and "Cleveland Fans Win Good Sportsmanship Award."

Powell’s article concerns the impacts of climate change on New England and as best we can tell from his reference to reports "commissioned by Congress" appears based upon a U.S. Global Change Research Program report released back in September. "[Scientists on a panel appointed by the Environmental Protection Agency] conclude that global warming is already occurring, noting that, on average, the Northeast became two degrees warmer in the past century," Powell writes. Yet, on page ii (the introduction to the USGCRP’s "Preparing for a Changing Climate: The New England Regional Assessment Overview") we read, "Overall, the region has warmed [from 1895 to 1999] by 0.7°F." Huh? Powell’s coverage exaggerates the warming to a level nearly three times greater than what actually has been experienced, something that could be discerned without even reading the body of the report!

Powell’s coverage also ignores the fact that during the past seventy years, temperatures in the Northeast actually have declined. As Figure 1 shows (using data freely available from the National Climatic Data Center), the warm-up that is responsible for the 0.7°F rise since 1895 occurs in the period from 1895 to 1930 – more than seventy years ago and during a time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hardly was beyond their pre-industrial level.

Point-by-point, let’s deal with other of the piece’s journalistic nuggets:

"[By the end of this century] New York could have the climate of Miami"

While this may be an interesting illustrative concept, New York City never can have Miami’s climate.

Miami is located at latitude 26°N and is surrounded by a warm, tropical ocean. Nearly all of Miami’s weather results from systems that originate over (or in association with) the Gulf of Mexico or the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Such an oceanic influence moderates Miami’s climate so that its summers are not too hot (with an average July maximum temperature of 89.0°F and record July maximum temperature of 98°F), and its winters never too cold (average January minimum temperature 59.2 and record January minimum temperature 30°F).

New York City, on the other hand, sits at the eastern edge of a continental land mass at latitude 41°N. Since weather systems at this latitude primarily move from west to east, the vast majority of The City’s weather originates over the continent. Continental systems are quite different than tropical systems. They tend to be much drier and therefore have a much greater range in temperature. Average July maximum temperature at LaGuardia Airport is 83.9°F and the record July maximum, 107°F. In January, New York City’s average minimum temperature is 25.5°F, with a record of minus 3°F. In other words, New York’s winter values are some 30 degrees below those of Miami while its July record maximum value exceeds that of Miami.

For New York City to enjoy a climate like Miami’s, the entire circulation system of the atmosphere and ocean must completely break down and be reorganized. The trade winds would have to shift about 1500 miles northward and all of the city’s weather come from the east. More important, New York City would have to become surrounded by hundreds of miles of soup-warm ocean. Michael, this is not going to happen no matter what you think you read!

"By 2080, storms with 25-foot surges could hit New York every three to four years, inundating the Hudson River tunnels and flooding the edges of the financial district, causing billions of dollars in damage."

Suffice it to say that never in recorded history has a 25-foot storm surge hit New York City. As a matter of fact, no place on earth experiences 25-foot storm surges at a frequency of three to four years. It’s difficult even to imagine such otherworldly conditions conjured from what Powell earlier refers to as the "middle-of-the-road and sometimes contradictory predictive models" upon which the report is based.

"The brilliant reds, oranges and yellows of the maples, birches and beeches may be replaced by the browns and dull greens of oaks... [Within twenty years] the changes could potentially extirpate the sugar maple industry in New England."

If one accepts the outlandish proposition that New York City someday can experience Miami’s climate while 25-ft storm surges routinely pound the Northeast coastline, then yes, New England’s maple industry probably will be pulled up by the roots and destroyed completely, only to be replaced by such vibrant industries as rampart building, skin diving, and sugar cane-raising.

But a couple of tourism bureaus might want to look into what amounts to a pretty bad slam on forests further south. If the autumn colors generated in the oak, pine, gum, and maple woodlands of North Carolina’s and Virginia’s Blue Ridge move to New York and points north, then the Taconic State Parkway soon will experience the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. Oh, and by the way, oaks manifest a sharp red-brown (not dull green) leaf coloration toward the end of the leaf-gaping season.

In fairness, we can cut Powell some slack. His reportage, because it relies on the U.S. National Assessment of global warming, is rooted in something that very nearly represents scientific malpractice. How so? The two models that drive the Assessment (and generate all these scary stories) perform worse than does a table of random numbers when asked to simulate the behavior of U.S. climate in recent decades. The medical analogy is this: the models that drive the U.S. national assessment are less effective than is a sugar pill prescribed to remedy a headache. This inadequacy was demonstrated to the U.S. National Assessment team, in a letter dated August 20, 2000. They are aware of the problem, yet continue to use these models. Further, the models are driven by scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions that are known to be failing, even today.

* * * * *

Greening Earth Society Virtual Climate Alerts are published periodically in response to news coverage of climate-change advocacy that seeks to portray weather events and hypothetical climate scenarios generated by computer-based climate models as "climate reality." Virtual Climate Alert draws upon the expertise of Greening Earth Society science advisors and is coordinated by New Hope Environmental Services of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Figure 1. The temperature trends in the Northeast Region from data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center. The temperature history since 1985 shows a rise of 0.7°F, but this entire rise occurred prior to 1930. From 1930 to 2001, the trend is slightly negative.

 

 



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