More tornado madness

by Judith Curry

With the tragic damage and loss of life in Joplin, the tornado madness continues unabated.   Here is the latest from Roy Spencer, Bill McKibben, and Joe Romm.

Roy Spencer

Rather than spouting “gut feelings” and making back of the envelope arguments, Roy Spencer has actually analyzed the U.S. tornado data since 1950, focusing on the largest F3-F5 tornadoes.

The bottom panel of following graphic shows what most meteorologists already know: there has been a downward trend in strong (F3) to violent (F5) tornadoes in the U.S. since statistics began in the 1950s. As seen in the top panel, this has also been a period of general warming. For those statistics buffs, the correlation coefficient is -0.31. Obviously, the conclusionshould be that warming causes fewer strong tornadoes, not more. (Or, maybe a lack of tornadoes causes global warming!)

So, how reliable is the tornado data?  I actually looked at the U.S. tornado data set in this paper, and inferred (like many others) that there is a substantial undercounting in the tornado database prior to 1990 and particularly in the earlier decades.  The main issue in the pre-Doppler radar and pre Weather Channel days was simple lack of identification, particularly the weaker ones. Circa 1970, the F- tornado classification was introduced by Ted Fujita at the University of Chicago, who had a personal research interest in the strongest tornadoes.  Classification of the strongest tornadoes was done operationally after 1972, but earlier ones were classified retroactively.  So, there may be some undercounting of the the strongest tornadoes and potentially some misclassification prior to 1970.  Such potential data problems in the earlier part of the record would make Roy Spencer’s negative trend even more pronounced!

Joe Romm

At Climate Progress, Joe Romm has assembled a number of opinions on this, including Jeff Masters, who stated:

In summary, this year’s incredibly violent tornado season is not part of a trend. It is either a fluke, the start of a new trend, or an early warning symptom that the climate is growing unstable and is transitioning to a new, higher energy state with the potential to create unprecedented weather and climate events. All are reasonable explanations, but we don’t have a long enough history of good tornado data to judge which is most likely to be correct.

Looks like Jeff forgot to look at the U.S. historical tornado data set.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben ties it all together with this essay posted at Salon:

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.

Summary

Cumulative catastrophic weather events are being used to support the case for global warming action.  Sorry Bill and Joe, but we need to look at each type of extreme event, in different regional locations, and then interpret them in the context of the local historical records, and then cumulatively in context with the teleconnection weather regimes and multi-decadal oscillations.   Once we’ve done that and then find an upward trend in frequency and/or intensity that cannot be explained by problems with the data record or natural climate variability or weather roulette, THEN lets talk about the potential impact of global warming.

100 responses to “More tornado madness

  1. Thanks for the information, Professor Curry.

    It is time for the scientific community to move their focus away from government research grants to the stormy Sun’s dominant control over Earth’s continuously changing climate!

    “Earth’s Heat Source – The Sun”, Energy and Environment 20, 131-144 (2009): http://arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

  2. jcurry says, “Looks like Jeff forgot to look at the U.S. historical tornado data set.”

    Jeff Masters said: “In summary, this year’s incredibly violent tornado season is not part of a trend. It is either a fluke, the start of a new trend, or an early warning symptom that the climate is growing unstable and is transitioning to a new, higher energy state with the potential to create unprecedented weather and climate events. All are reasonable explanations, but we don’t have a long enough history of good tornado data to judge which is most likely to be correct.”

    What are you disagreeing with here? That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

    • Rob Starkey

      Things—without having long term data, for Masters to state that-

      “this year’s incredibly violent tornado season is not part of a trend. It is either a fluke, the start of a new trend, or an early warning symptom that the climate is growing unstable and is transitioning to a new, higher energy state with the potential to create unprecedented weather and climate events.”

      That statement is unsupportable and in all probability WRONG.

      Today, we have higher populations exposed in areas where tornados occur, and have almost instant reporting of when they occur. As a result, people hear about these tornados and report them when in the past this did not happen. There is no data to support a claim that today is worse than the average over the last 1000 years?

      Masters statement is little more that hysterical propaganda claiming that CO2 is harmful.

    • Thingsbreak, take a look at the data at Roy Spencer’s data analysis. Nothing exceptional at all about this tornado season.

      • curryja says; “take a look at the data at Roy Spencer’s data analysis. Nothing exceptional at all about this tornado season.”

        Spencer himself notes that the Joplin tornado is one of the 25 deadliest (#8). That is by definition exceptional. It is also likely to be the costliest tornado from 1890-2011, although it’s possible that the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado of the same season will be as or more costly. The season so far is the deadliest in more than 50 years.

        Whether or not that is merely a fluke or something else is unknown according to Masters. Are you saying unequivocally that it is a fluke and nothing more without performing any further analysis? The way you ended your blog post does not make it appear so. Hence my question, what are you disagreeing with Masters about?

      • It is by definition a fluke.
        If we start getting
        1- more tornados over climatologically significant periods of time
        2-more intense tornados over climatologically significant periods of time,
        we can talk about trends and changes.
        We do not know what tornado frequency was hundreds or thousands of years ago in North America.
        It takes more than CO2 to effect climate, and it is not at all clear how CO2 is giong to act in the atmosphere, despite claims by those who are vested in promoting it.

      • thingsbreak …
        Every series with 25 or more members will have 25 members that are one of the 25 deadliest or coldest or hottest or wettest or driest or safest. And one of them will be number eight.

      • thingsbreak:

        Spencer himself notes that the Joplin tornado is one of the 25 deadliest (#8). That is by definition exceptional.

        Given the very large ratio of rural to built-up area, it’s uncommon for tornadoes – big ones included – to hit built-up, populated areas, and the few that do, unsurprisingly, cause a disproportionate amount of death and destruction.
        There’s nothing exceptional about the tornadoes themselves, it’s just by pure chance that their paths happen to cross built-up areas. And that cannot be attributed to anything except maybe luck – or lack of.

      • #8 is not exceptional. Its not a fluke. What would call #1-7?

        The language of what we mean by exceptional is subjective and not really an illumination.

      • Tornadoes that kill a lot of people or damage a lot of things are not so much products of the tornadoes themselves, but rather the use of the land underneath them.

        Tornadoes don’t know they’re coming upon a city, or advancing toward a trailer park (though I think they might ;-) … Tracking the deadliness or costliness of tornadoes and their outbreaks will not yield the proper statistics we should be examining. We need to be looking at the trend of numbers and intensities of tornadoes themselves, and after confirming some sort of trend, then work on establishing a corellatable causation for that trend.

      • Deadliness and costliness are simply a matter of people getting in harm’s way. By occupying tornado alley (and the Mississippi flood plain, and the coastlines, and …) in ever spiralling numbers, in ever more expensive digs.

  3. Rob Starkey says: “Things—without having long term data, for Masters to state that-”

    Jeff Masters said: “It is either a fluke, the start of a new trend, or an early warning symptom that the climate is growing unstable and is transitioning to a new, higher energy state with the potential to create unprecedented weather and climate events. All are reasonable explanations, but we don’t have a long enough history of good tornado data to judge which is most likely to be correct.”

    Rob Starkey says: “That statement is unsupportable and in all probability WRONG. ”

    In what way is that statement “unsupportable”? In what way is saying that we don’t have enough information to select the correct explanation “in all probability WRONG”?

    Rob Starkey says: “Today, we have higher populations exposed in areas where tornados occur, and have almost instant reporting of when they occur. As a result, people hear about these tornados and report them when in the past this did not happen.

    There are two pieces to this, observations and damages. It’s all but certain that increases in observational technology and coverage coupled with population increases in the relevant area have led to the same overcount of weaker tornadoes relative to stronger ones that plague the TC record. Nothing Masters is quoted by Curry as saying conflicts with this.

    In terms of damages, there is less agreement. Some have claimed that there is no increase in normalized damages, others that when you look at extreme convective events there is a statistically significant increase. In either case, nothing Masters is quoted by Curry as saying conflicts with this.

    Rob Starkey says: “There is no data to support a claim that today is worse than the average over the last 1000 years? ”

    Is that an actual question? If not, it seems to be in good agreement with Masters.

    • Rob Starkey

      Things (Steve I believe)- I will try to follow Judith’s example and be diplomatic-
      For it to be a fluke it would have to be out of the statistical norm. Is there any data to support that statement? I do not believe there is. Masters makes a statement inferring that something has changed in the climate that has lead to more tornados. He has no factual information to support that inference. If there was warming due to increased CO2 it would not result in more tornados in the US south, but in areas much farther north- Canada?

      Please look at the available data on tornados and you will find that what I have written is correct.

  4. Sorry Bill and Joe, but we need to look at each type of extreme event, in different regional locations, and then interpret them in the context of the local historical records, and then cumulatively in context with the teleconnection weather regimes and multi-decadal oscillations. Once we’ve done that and then find an upward trend in frequency and/or intensity that cannot be explained by problems with the data record or natural climate variability or weather roulette, THEN lets talk about the potential impact of global warming.

    Is that all? I suppose the elephant in the room must remain invisible until then?

    • Rob Starkey

      grypo– do you believe jumping to incorrect conclusions and then implementing “solutions” to non issues is a better approach? What elephant do you mean?

    • grypo,
      Are you referring to the elephant in the room that is AGW believers conflating every weather event into proof of doom?
      Or the increasingly common tactic of AGW believers blaming the victims for not beleiving in AGW?

  5. I can’t talk about it until Judy works through the rediculously impossible standards.

  6. Dr. Curry – Perhaps you might reconsider your last paragraph regarding the prerequisites for talking about the potential impacts of global warming. Your list strikes me as, um, overkill (in the Joplin, MO sense of the word).

    Without ignoring uncertainties, are there not sound theoretical bases for the hypothesis that warming, and the consequent increase in absolute humidity, would produce more intense storms of the type that that spawn tornadoes?

    • There is far greater warming and relative humidity in Florida than Missouri, and far fewer tornadoes. It is the clash of warm and cold air that causes these storms. That is why the occur more frequently in the spring and fall.

      • Pat Cassen

        Sure. And warm and cold air will continue to clash, but perhaps (probably?) more frequently, and with greater consequence, in those regions that are already prone to tornado formation.

        I know that we do not have a predictive theory of tornado formation, but my question stands: Are there not sound theoretical bases for the hypothesis that warming, and the consequent increase in absolute humidity, would produce more intense storms of the type that that spawn tornadoes?

      • Pat Cassen says: “my question stands: Are there not sound theoretical bases for the hypothesis that warming, and the consequent increase in absolute humidity, would produce more intense storms of the type that that spawn tornadoes?”

        Pat, yes, specifically an increase in CAPE as we warm. As with TCs, though, there is more than a single variable governing tornadogenesis and more than one is expected to change in a warming world. See:

        Trapp, R.J., et al. (2007): Changes in severe thunderstorm environment frequency during the 21st century caused by anthropogenically enhanced global radiative forcing. PNAS, 104, 50, 19719-19723, doi:10.1073/pnas.0705494104.
        Trapp, R.J., et al. (2009): Transient response of severe thunderstorm forcing to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L01703, doi:10.1029/2008GL036203.

      • Pat, that’s what snake oil salesmen would have you believe but what the science says it that the chances of a causal effect from GW (or AGW (or cAGW (or xcAGW))) are slim to none.

        The Tri-State tornado killed 695 in 1925.

        The great Natchez tornado killed hundreds(exact total is unknown) in 1840.

        If those regions had the same population of today those totals could have been 20 times larger. If you lived during those times you would be searching for any possible answers as well.

      • We build better. We warn earlier. Death rates would be lower.

        Last night I got the warning about 30 minutes before arrival. In 10 minutes I had all family heirlooms/important papers into the concrete storm cellar under my house. I then watched the the progress on radar on my laptop. Lots of rain, hail, and wind, but no tornado in my area. My cousin lost power where he lives, so he called me for live radar updates.

        Never did go to the bunker.

      • JCH, I am glad you are okay.

        When I lived in that part of the world as a kid we did storm drills in school. This was much before radar reports on the internet were available. Tornados can touch down in an instant, but you can see the storm clouds brewing in advance so I don’t know if I would put much extra faith in the modern warning systems. Communications are much better now but back then we knew if you saw a storm cell you got to the cellar quick so I don’t know if that is better than before or not. Some tornados happen at night so early warnings and internet radar would not help those. And when I go back I see more trailer parks and pre-fabs than ever so I don’t know if we are building tornado proof homes yet.

      • Pat Cassen

        thingsbreak – Thanks for the references.

        Teddy – “…what the science says it that the chances of a causal effect from GW (or AGW (or cAGW (or xcAGW))) are slim to none.”

        References? (I’m already familiar with the observational data, which seem to me to be insufficient to provide definitive conclusions. Also, I found Dr. Curry’s paper informative. So now I am interested in physically-based arguments.)

      • Pat, seriously dude? Its elementary. Just check Wikipedia entry for tornado records. The most devastating Tornados happened before global warming started. Check your historical death tolls. Then apply Isaac Newton’s rule 1 in De Mundi Systemate, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1726 edition.

      • Pat Cassen

        Thanks for the advice, Teddy.

        Dr. Curry – Notwithstanding the many factors that are involved in tornadogenesis (as per your paper cited above), are there not sound theoretical bases for the hypothesis that warming, and the consequent increase in absolute humidity, would produce more intense storms of the type that that spawn tornadoes?

      • Pat, Dr Curry’s summary said there is no real world evidence for that.

        Rule 1: We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Isaac Newton

        If there is no evidence then we can apply Newtons rule 4, that if there is no evidence for what you are hoping for then how do can you say there is any kind of “sound theoretical basis”? There are no pink swans, certainly it possible, but there needs to be some evidence.

        Rule 4: In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, not withstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions. Isaac Newton

        Your persistence indicates you will not stop asking until you get an answer that satisfies your belief system.

      • Pat Cassen

        Teddy, I am not looking for “…an answer that satisfies [my] belief system”.

        Of course evidence is crucial. I have stated that I regard the evidence so far as inconclusive. You disagree. Fine.

        I am not seeking anything unusual when it comes to the natural sciences: physically based arguments supporting a specific hypothesis. Thingsbreak has already provided references that provide some. I have seen others. Such arguments often provide the motivation to examine data in different ways, or to acquire new data that might not have been previously recognized as relevant. I doubt that Sir Isaac would be troubled.

        Dr. Curry has considerable research experience in these matters. I do not find it inappropriate to solicit her view. For all I know, she agrees with you.

    • No, Pat, it is both short-sighted and wrong for climatologists and politicians to attempt to use “Cumulative catastrophic weather events . . . to support the case for global warming action.”

      Whether or not you know it, there is no longer any reasonable doubt that Earth’s climate and weather are controlled by the violently unstable pulsar lurking inside an opaque ball of waste products that we commonly call the solar photosphere [1].

      1. “Neutron Repulsion”, The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011)
      http://arxiv.org/pdf/1102.1499v1

      • Pat Cassen

        Thanks, Oliver. I am long familiar with your ideas. I doubt if you recall our pleasant conversations on the subject, long ago at LPSC meetings. You were always the gentleman, despite your failure to convince your colleagues.

      • Thanks, Pat, for your kindness and for reminding me that you are the same Pat Cassen that I knew many years ago at LPSC meetings.

        As I recall, you were initially a ray of hope at the LPSC meetings.

        Now Al Gore, world leaders, and the UN’s IPCC have foolishly exposed the entire unholy, international alliance, – the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee, the International Alliance of National Academies of Sciences worldwide, federal funding agencies like NASA , DOE, NOAA, EPA, etc., leading research journals like Nature, Science, PNAS, etc., and once trusted public news outlets like BBC and PBS, – that hid and manipulated experimental data for decades to deceive the public about:

        a.) The Sun’s origin;
        b.) The Sun’s composition;
        c.) The Sun’s source of energy; and
        d.) The Sun’s dominant control of Earth’s climate.

        “The cat is out of the bag”, as noted above, and we cannot get straight answers from leaders of the scientific community now about misleading climate information. They are justifiably afraid.

        The government science edifice – and leaders of the political, news and scientific organizations – will be revised or replaced if Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia and climate auditors like Steve McIntyre, JoNova, Bishop Hill, Lubos Motl, Jeff Id and Professor Curry continue to disclose evidence that government-funded studies were used to deceive the public.

        We live in interesting times, Pat!

        Thanks for reminding readers that I tried to communicate unwelcome empirical facts about the nature of Earth’s heat source, e.g. ["The Sun's origin, composition and source of energy", Abstract 1041 , 32nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conf., Houston, TX, March 12-16, 2001, LPI Contribution 1080, ISSN No. 0161-5297 (2001)].

        http://xxx.lanl.gov/pdf/astro-ph/0411255%5D.

  7. Andrew Park

    Dear Starkey, grypo, nad the rest.

    Statistically, this is the old Type I versus Type II error issue. Would you rather risk rejecting a null hypothesis of no effect when it is, in fact correct (Type I), or would you rather risk accepting a null hypothesis of no effect when it is false, and there really was an effect.

    If you subscribe to the precautionary principle, you’ll tend to want to minimize the Type II error – because if there really is an effect of AGW on these weather events, then a policy to deal with it becaomes more urgent. On the other hand, if you want to satisfy what grypo calls “impossible standards”, then you obviously prefer to minimize your type I error – that is you want to be damned sure – or as sure as possible – that there really really is an effect.

    All of this matters, of course, when it comes down to spending money. If it is not AGW but simply changed settlement patterns or something that is causing vulnerability, then we should invest in, I don’t know, better shelters and early warning systems, or discourage people from living in the tornado belt. On the other hand, if it is AGW, and if recent events presage an unstable climatic transition (as Masters suggests is possible), then we have a wider problem. We still would need to make local investments to keep people safe locally. But more general policies woudl also be demanded.

    Me, I am not sure whether recent events are AGW related or not. On the other hand, I’m a precautionary principle kind of guy. Had the precautionary prinicple been used honestly in any number of cases, we would have had fewer collapsed fisheries, oil spills and failed mine tailings containments – albeit at a certain cost.

    • Rob Starkey

      Mr. Park

      Given that I live in the United States, a country currently spending at a rate not sustainable and as a result will need to greatly reduce services or increase taxes (some combination of both is inevitable). I would hope that we would spend our tax dollars wisely. IMO this means that we should have a darn good reason before spending our citizens very limited tax dollars.

      In regards to tornados, all of the data that I am familiar with indicates that there is absolutely reasonable relationship between higher CO2 levels and tornados in the Midwestern US. Therefore, I would not support spending our limited tax revenues to reduce CO2 in the hope that it “might” reduce tornados sometime, somehow.

      Looking at a broader perspective, I agree with Judith’s summary as written in the post “what we agree on”, but do think:
      1. There is not very good data available to determine the amount that additional CO2 will eventually warm the planet (the range of reasonable estimates is quite high)
      2. There is not really evidence that a warmer world is really bad for the United States, or humanity overall over the long term. There is almost ZERO reliable evidence of what the effects will be at a local or regional level.
      3. I believe that it will be impossible to lower worldwide CO2 emissions for several decades regardless of the how much the US lowers its emissions. This ultimately means that the need for adaptation to a somewhat changed climate by construction of better infrastructure is the most practical longer term solution
      4. The United States should implement policies that are good, 1st for its own citizens; and these policies should be economically sound and justified. The example is makes no sense to follow Hansen’s suggestion of shutting down all coal fired power plants at a cost of $1.5 trillion when it would at best avert a .08 C temperature increase. There are other ideas that I think make perfect sense. N example would be building significant number of modern nuclear power plants to reduce/eliminate the US’s need to import oil.

      • Rob Starkey

        woops– i should read what I write more carefully before hitting post.
        my comment should have stated “In regards to tornados, all of the data that I am familiar with indicates that there is absolutely NO reasonable relationship between higher CO2 levels and tornados in the Midwestern US.

  8. somebody should write a book about Romm and McKibben : “The Merchants of Destruction”

  9. Dr. Curry
    Thanks for this excellent post. I encourage all to read what Dr. Spencer posted on his blog concerning the record of strong (F3) to violent (F5) tornadoes. The data analyzed comes from NOAA and Dr. Spencer clearly shows a trend of decreasing F3 to F5 tornadoes from 1950 to 2010. How can any sensible person claim that global warming is causing more severe tornadoes? More importantly, how can any climate scientist allow the Main Stream Media to link this years outbreak of tornadoes to global warming? The evidence does not support the claim.

  10. Again Orwelian speak. The warming stopped! We are cooling now and if there is increase in tornadoes, it’s because of cooling.

  11. Bill McKibben’s argument stated:
    “that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year.”
    New Zealand had earthquakes, not floods, or are now the former caused by global warming as well? If he can’t get simple facts like this right, where is the credibility for the rest of his argument?

    • John from CA

      I agree, McKibben is very annoying when he pontificates. You’d think he’d never seen a La Nina before. None of the weather events are unusual and most were predicted months in advance.

      Its really sickening to see people use the tragedy to promote their cause.

      • Did you get sick when scientists used the BOM flood graph to promote denial, which is their cause?

      • John from CA

        There’s little to deny about the BOM.

        Could the BOM Get it More Wrong?
        http://joannenova.com.au/2010/12/could-the-australian-bom-get-it-more-wrong/

      • John from CA

        I love Joanne’s BOM thread comment:
        “There is a policy vacuum begging to be filled here. Will either side of politics in Australia spend a fraction of the carbon emissions reduction scheme to fly Piers Corbyn or Joe Bastardi out here and ask him to train up an Australian team to work on local conditions?”

        Favorite viewer comment under the thread:
        Nick: 
December 23rd, 2010 at 5:29 am
        Gee wiz.
        In the words of a confirmed Neanderthal, Jeremy Clarkson, whom I am a huge fan of, “How hard can it be”?
        I struggle to comprehend how [supposedly] clever people constantly fail to learn. Isn’t that why their there, because they can learn?

        If the world goes to Cr$56p and we have to start hunting and chasing our food, these guys would be [the] last blokes I’d have hanging [around], they’ll get you eaten by [something] they didn’t see. LOL : )

        A simple mind such as mine can see the basics a mile away. Sun, Oceans. Get a handle on the interaction of these 2 elements with the rest of the system and your home, with food : )

        I don’t usually resort to name calling, but most of these overeducated technical types, being paid for their opinion, are idiots. The people paying them are? no idea, but their not that clever.
        Lets have a performance based payment system. The same as most of the rest of us. See how they go with, hey? : )

        It seems the “wee folk” like myself would like some credible answers to obvious Climate Science failings.

      • John from CA

        Lets have a performance based payment system. The same as most of the rest of us. See how they go with, hey? : )

        IMO, its a great idea for Climate Science — perform or get out of the way.

      • ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’

  12. This statement by Bill McKibben:

    “It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

    It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events.”

    I find to be absurd in the extreme, and here’s why: It is a quite unscientific way to approach things, and in fact, goes against the entire thrust of what science is supposed to all about– which is finding the connections between APPARENTLY isolated, unpredictable, discrete events.

    Nothing on this planet happens in isolation, and the true path to wisdom (at least, scientific wisdom, and perahps even more broadly speaking) is to begin to see the connection between things. The multiple severe outbreak of tornadoes this year (and in other La Nina, cool phase PDO years, such as 1974) do have a common connecting thread to them andthey are not isolated events at all. To do what Mr. McKibben is suggesting, and to not make connections and to “think of them” as isolated events is to ask yourself to not be scientific about them. How is not looking for connections (i.e. to remain ignorant of the deeper connecting dynamics) “far better”?

    Finding the connections between things (because they do exist, between everything in this universe of ours) is the hallmark of a scientifc mind. Looking at the similar patterns (i.e. connections, Bill) in jets streams, wind shears, temperature gradients, ocean temperatures, etc. from one La Nina year and/or tornado outbreak to the next can go long way toward understanding the deeper dynamics and connections. These are not random events, but are rather based on dynamical chaos, and as such, exhibit basic patterns that repeat in space and time through deterministic processes. Bill, please don’t ask the scientific minded of us not to try and look for those connecting patterns. This search for patterns has nothing at all to do with whether you believe in anthropogenic climate change or not, which is an entirely different issue, but everything to do with the advancement of science.

    • John Carpenter

      I just thought he was being a bit sarcastic…. obviously he thinks there should be lots of connections between all these natural disasters and GW. He is being facetious.

      • Bill was of course completely sarcastic, poking fun at those who would call these events as completely isolated (and of course nothing to do with AGW or anthropogenic climate change!). Going along with his sarcastic tone, (responding as if he was serious) I was making a larger point about the role of science is all about finding connections, and some of the best or most exciting science finds the deepest (and most unsuspected) connnections.

      • I posted a forecast for most of this springs tornado outbreaks back on March 2nd results of that short forecast can be verified here.
        http://research.aerology.com/category/severe-weather/tornadoes/

        The cyclic pattern mechanism that is responsible for the repeat of the 1974 tornadoes in USA and floods in Australia is due to the 18.6 year variation in the declinational angle of the moon at maximum culmination, and can be seen here.
        http://research.aerology.com/lunar-declinational-affects-on-tornado-production/

        The overall big picture of how the earths climate is controlled by forces too big for human concern or effective involvement in my view can be found here.
        http://research.aerology.com/natural-processes/solar-system-dynamics/

        I am about two to three weeks away from updating my site to show better resolution maps for the 48 state contiguous USA, as well as adding Alaska and Canada in the upgraded format.

        When the latest data from Australia is released in June I will be adding rainfall and temperature maps for them as well (in about 2 months or less). I will be putting up maps of the past 6 months forecast by my method along with the actuals for Australia to show how well or poorly it caught the switch from drought to flood.

    • To do what Mr. McKibben is suggesting, and to not make connections and to “think of them” as isolated events is to ask yourself to not be scientific about them.

      McKibben was just being sarcastic. It is what Judith Curry is suggesting, though.

      “Prove to me that these 1000 persons died of lung cancer because they smoked two packs a day for 40 years! Show me the direct link!”

      It’s all just a coincidence. This we know.

      • The research into smoking and lung cancer found a relative risk of greater than 20 (that’s twenty!), at the 99% (yes, ninety-nine percent) confidence level – with a very strong dose-response.
        As far as showing correlation (but still not proving causation, BTW), that’s the gold standard.

        Compare that with the findings for tornadoes vs AGW, which are, er, what???

        Chalk and cheese.

      • WisconsinitesForGlobalWarming

        The lung cancer analogy is apropos in another way as well. Smoking alone is not the cause. There are many smokers who smoke all their lives and never get lung cancer? Why is that? Seems genetics also plays a role. (Which also explains why non-smokers also get lung cancer.)

        See: http://medheadlines.com/2008/04/03/smoking-cancer-may-be-linked-by-genetics/

        Could it be that CO2, like smoking, isn’t the only cause of climate change?

      • WisconsinitesForGlobalWarming

        And let’s not forget, not all smokers get lung cancer and some non-smokers get lung cancer. Could it be there are other factors involved in determining who does/does not get lung cancer? (Google “lung cancer smoking genetics” for the answer… I tried to include a link but my post disappeared, I suspect to a spam filter.)

        Is there a lesson there for the pro-AGW crowd?

      • Bad Andrew

        WFGW,

        You’re prolly already are aware of this, but for the benefit of newbies…

        The pro-AGW crowd doesn’t understand “lessons”. They are in “throw sh*t at the wall and see if it sticks” mode, and have been for many years. There’s no adjusting to new information. There’s just new (and old) information to adjust.

        Andrew

    • Rob Starkey

      R Gates wrote- “I find to be absurd in the extreme, and here’s why: It is a quite unscientific way to approach things, and in fact, goes against the entire thrust of what science is supposed to all about– which is finding the connections between APPARENTLY isolated, unpredictable, discrete events.”
      My response- Mr. Gates is actually WRONG on many levels. Science is not supposed to find the link between isolated unpredictable discreet events, science is supposed to find the TRUTH. I could point out many, many isolated unpredictable discreet events that have no relationship scientifically, but many be believed to be related by certain individuals. (often superstitions or religion related)

      Your “big picture” point that everything is related at some level is probably correct, but most of the links are so far removed to not be on statistical consequence. Example- the butterfly going past probably does impact the weather, but not on a level I really can determine or care about.

      • Some of the most profound insights in science have come from seeing the connections between things that others missed or were never aware of. You are simplifying or generalizing this by calling it “truth”, but that truth is ultimately about the connections between things. When Newton realized that the falling of an object on earth (such as a apple) was connected to the path of planets in orbit about the sun, that was one of the most profound connections ever made by a human…but that connection was made even more profound when Einstein saw they were both connected by the very shape and curve of spacetime.

        I stand by my assertion that the more you can see the connections between things, the greater wisdom you have.

  13. patrioticduo

    Hmmm, how about it doesn’t matter if the Earth is cooling or warming but rather the rate of change that determines the intensity of tornadoes?

    • Unless you can describe a plausible mechanism for that, I would call it clutching at straws.

  14. Right on in your summary, Judith, about what it will take to tease out relationships between tornado incidence, path, intensity, and climate change/global warming. Pretty close analogy to the work you’ve done looking at similar relationships between hurricanes and the longer-term variability/change. From society’s standpoint, the issue is not just the natural science but also the building codes, social science, and all the rest. As many of the comments pointed out, rapid social change, population growth, urbanization, demographics likely to be the big determinants of future vulnerability. We’re not exactly getting an A+ coping with today’s tornadoes, let alone those of the future. Hopefully we can draw the right lessons from this season’s tragic experience.

    • “We’re not exactly getting an A+ coping with today’s tornadoes, let alone those of the future. ”

      Only because life don’t grade on a curve. There were warnings that this would be a higher than average tornado season. The areas impacted had about as much prior warning as possible. Emergency crews are doing a hellava job. Relief agencies both public and private are doing what they do as best as they can do it. Perfection is something you may see on a report card , but life has a learning curve, not a grading curve.

      • The most important need is to include a concrete reinforced safe room below ground level, in all replacement houses that were lost to the storms, to prevent a repeat of the death tolls in another 18 years when they come back again.

  15. In Roy Spencer’s article, the spike of strong tornadoes in 1974 is dramatic. That year followed a strong La Nina, just as this year follows a strong La Nina.
    http://i43.tinypic.com/33agh3c.jpg

    The Australian flooding this spring was the worst since 1974. Australian weather is sensitive to ENSO.
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/04/neville-nicholls-on-australias-extreme.html

    Bill is correct that these events are interconnected, but the connection is not global warming.

    • The flooding in Queensland this year was worse than 1974.

      • The volume of total inflow into Wivenhoe Dam during the Event was 2,650,000ML. This volume is almost double (190%) the comparable volume of inflow from the January 1974 flood event, and comparable with the flood of 1893.

      It failed to exceed 1893, but came close. There have been lots of La Ninas since 1893.

      • Rob Starkey

        and the flood damage was largely due to poor dam management

      • That’s false.

      • There are always people who disagree with the truth.

        Look, this started with the idiotic notion that the dam was being managed according to the directives of evil “drought is perpetual” climate scientists. Once that was proven to be totally false, the liars retreated to the next trench, as usual. So you found them. Good for you.

      • JC,
        Are you a “Truther’, or do you have something to back up your version of the “truth”?

      • The drinking water storage component was determined by engineers before the Wivenhoe Dam was built, which was long before the recent drought. They based their design upon the historic record. How many evil “drought is perpetual” climate scientists were directing dam design and construction then: years immediately after the 1974 flood?

      • JCH:

        The drinking water storage component was determined by engineers before the Wivenhoe Dam was built

        And that would have been perfectly adequate, had they built the rest of the dams which the engineers had planned as well. But they didn’t, because they were deemed to be unnecessary by the ‘drought is perpetual’ crowd.

      • …or would it be a “Faither”?

      • JCH,
        And you seem to confuse your opinion with the truth.

      • No, I think that would be you.

      • Rob Starkey

        JCH
        – Did you happen to read the links on the dam that I posted?

        They confirm that the dam was maintained at 95% of its capacity prior to the floods, which would certainly not seem prudent for flood management. At a minimum, the dam authorities will be implementing new, different management guidelines for the future. That clearly demonstrates that they acknowledge they could have done things differently and thereby reduced/eliminated the flood damage.

      • Lol.

        Executive Summary

        In January 2011 unusually severe rainfalls fell on the catchment areas upstream ofWivenhoe and Somerset Dams, resulting in the largest inflows into both dams ever recorded. …

      • Rob,
        JCH cannot be bothered by mere facts or discussion. He has already signed off on his opinion, and is immune to new ideas.

      • Jeff Norris

        JCH
        Since the inquiry is still under way in OZ I was wondering if you might be willing to expand your comments. I suspect the operators will get hammered, especially for not updating the dam manual’s flow chart since it was devised in 1985 or having a GOTH plan. Additionally, the proverbial calls for better communications, scientific study, coordination during emergencies and of course the difficult task of balancing limited resources in an ever changing world will be highlighted.

      • It’s not necessary. JHC already knows the truth.

      • The graph of Neville Nicholls shows more rain in the early 1970s than during this past event, with the SOI the strongest prior to the current period.

      • I have no disagreement with that.

        A flood event is determined by the rainfall history of the catchment over the relevant timescale. You won’t find an answer in regional numbers and broad timescales.

      • Rob Starkey

        But you do find a problem when you keep a flood control dam filled to 95% of its stated capacity prior to a predicted rainy season.

      • Jeff Norris

        I believe the Dam operators have testified that they felt the forecasts were unreliable. I guess they did not trust the Scientist or perhaps the wrong ones.

    • Don B.,

      You should be more precise in your thinking. We can be certain that the tornadoes, floods, droughts, and all sorts of nasty weather is most certainly related to and caused by greenhouse effects caused by CO2, water vapor, methane, and other greenhouse gases. For certainly if there was no greenhouse effect, there would be none of this occurring, as the earth would be a solid chunk of ice and weather phenomenon would pretty much stop.

      The only issue really is whether or not the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases caused by humans had any contributing factor in these nasty weather events. Things don’t have to be all or none. If you believe, as I do, that the La Nina event of this past winter, as well as perhaps the related cold phase of the PDO contributed to these tornado outbreaks, you could also believe, as I do, that it is at least possible, that the character of these events could have been altered by the 40% increase in CO2 since the 1700’s. Notice, I said “altered”, not worsened. For all we know, maybe these outbreaks would have been worse if not for climate changes brought about by anthropogenic GH gas increases. The point being, to remain open to potential connections, and that a connection to one event (strong tornado seasons to La Nina for example) does not preclude connections to other events.

  16. Judith: Tamino has also chimed in:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/year-of-the-twister/#more-3800

    He concludes his post with, “2011 is already the ‘year of the twister,’ and it isn’t over yet. It also follows hard upon an onslaught of extreme weather events over the last year. Heat waves, floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, have inflicted heavy casualties around the globe, and the U.S. has not been immune to the plague. It’s long past time that we should take global warming seriously, not just as a scientific fact but as a genuine threat to health and safety. Forewarned is forearmed — unless the warning is ignored.”

    • Bob, thanks for the link, good post by Tamino, apart from the final paragraph that you cite

    • I don’t believe that GW would result in such sudden, extreme jumps in anything.
      Time will tell, but I suspect that spike will prove to be an outlier.

  17. I love Tamino’s use of the word “plague”. It has no place in anything that purports to be a scientific commentary, and identifies him accurately as someone with a set of religious beliefs about global warming/climate change/climate disruption. If tornadoes are associated with clashes of aold and warm air, then as the general theory of global warming predicts a flattening of the temperature gradient between the tropics and the poles, we should expect a reduction in tornado activity, and Dr Spencer suggests that is what is happening. However Tamino, McKibben and others seem to jump on any extreme weather events as evidence of catastrophic global warming without even attempting to present a logical explanation of why this should be so. If anyone can find anything more compelling than “the sky’s falling in” in their comments, please post it, as at the moment their views seem to be a logic-free zone.

  18. “It’s long past time that we should take global warming seriously, not just as a scientific fact but as a genuine threat to health and safety. Forewarned is forearmed — unless the warning is ignored.”

    Since Pat Cassen identified himself (above) as a fellow NASA scientist, I invite him to answer this response [Posted tonight from SE Missouri - under warnings of more severe weather and tornadoes]:

    No, it’s long past time that we should take the following experimental observations seriously, not just as scientific facts but as evidence that NASA and other federal research agencies have been hiding and manipulating experimental data since 1972 that revealed the violently unstable nature of “Earth’s heat source – the Sun” [1].

    1972. Variations in the isotopic composition of solar-wind implanted Kr and Xe in lunar soil #15601.64 [Srinivasan, Hennecke, Sinclair, & Manuel, Third Lunar Science Conference, vol. 2 (1972) 1927-1945]:

    http://www.omatumr.com/Data/1972Data1.htm

    1972. Differences in the isotopic composition of Xe in the Sun, the Earth, in bulk meteorites (AVCC), and in mineral separates of Allende and other meteorites [Hennecke, Sabu & Manuel, Nature 240 (1972) 99-101]:

    http://www.omatumr.com/Data/1972Data.htm

    1975. Excess Xe-136 linked to all primordial He in mineral separates of the Allende meteorite [Lewis, Srinivasan & Anders, Science 190 (1975) 1251-1261; Manuel & Sabu Trans. Missouri Academy Sci. 9 (1975) 104-122]:

    http://www.omatumr.com/Data/1975Data.htm

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    Reference:
    1. “Earth’s Heat Source – The Sun”, Energy and Environment 20, 131-144 (2009);
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

    • Joe Lalonde

      Oliver,

      Science has yet to contemplate that this planet could possibly have a second weaker magnetic field.
      Density of our core produces a very strong one.
      But what about the rest of the planet?
      It is still of enough density and motion to have this weaker field.
      It would help to explain why lightening does not go to the core but is from the planet.

      Science has stated that planets are inert and just run on the stored energy that was infused billions of years ago.
      Yet, the core of the sun and all the planets but 3 are within a day of circular rotation even though they come in different sizes and densities. After 4.5 billion years there should be quite a difference in their rotation speeds.
      So, the sun’s magnetic field in rotation has a greater influence and gives us the boost of energy that we are NOT inert which also explains gravity as us being “like bugs on a windshield” effect.

  19. Patrick Kelly

    So McKibben thinks that

    …here have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year.

    Perhaps he can get away with that sort of assertion, speaking about far away lands, to a largely US audience. Responding from Australia, I can assure other readers that there has been nothing at all “unprecedented” about any of our weather events in the past year.

  20. Once we’ve done that and then find an upward trend in frequency and/or intensity that cannot be explained by problems with the data record or natural climate variability or weather roulette, THEN lets talk about the potential impact of global warming.

    Regretably, there is something distinctly unscientific about the above process. Perhaps it is merely the result of casual writing which has allowed the imprecision t sneak in, or perhaps it is the result of bias.

    The formulation of the above that would accord with the scientific method would be this:
    Once we’ve done that and if we find an upward trend in frequency and/or intensity that cannot be explained by problems with the data record or natural climate variability or weather roulette, THEN lets talk about the potential impact of global warming.

    It’s quite possible that my “denialist” tendencies have read more into her summary than it warrants, as the “if” may very well have been implied.

    Or perhaps not….

  21. ferd berple

    AGW has claimed a number of lives of late. Having concluded that CO2 was drving warming, researchers failed to adequately consider the effect of natural variability and left the world unprepared for the effects of prolonged cold. The warm bias built into the climate models misled governments around the world as to the true nature of the threat, leaving them ill prepared. That will be the legacy of AGW and Climate Science in the history books.

    “Of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome.”

    Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds

    • ferd,
      I have found that old book one of the most valuable for the understanding of the AGW movement.

  22. Historical question: Did the various tribes of Native Americans all have words for “tornado”? Even a “small” tornado is pretty impressive, and if they were relatively common events one would expect the tribes living in the middle of North America to have terms for these storms. Anyone have any sense of this?

    • Brandon Shollenberger

      Lots of tribes did. I’ve heard a few in my lifetime (I had Native American godparents), and I’ve heard even more myths about tornadoes.

      I’m sure you can find plenty with Google, such as the Chippewa word for tornado, geezheebasun.

      • Thanks Brandon. I figured the words and terms were out there. On the flip side, since >90% of all tornadoes in the world are in North America, it must have been quite the revelation to European settlers to see their first hear the stories and then eventually experience their first tornado. My understanding is that the “Battle of Fallen Timbers” in Indiana referrred to an area knocked down by a tornado.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        I’m glad to help, though I wish I could have provided more information. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept in touch with any of the Native Americans I used to know.

        As for settlers, they wouldn’t have been as surprised as you might think. Tornadoes are far more common in the United States than anywhere else, but they aren’t limited to it. Tornadoes do happen in Europe so settlers would have known about them. Of course, a lot of them would have never seen a tornado before, and the first one you see is always shocking.

        As for the Battle of Fallen Timbers, you are right about it. A tornado had knocked down some trees in the area not very long before the battle, and the Native Americans fighting in it used the fallen trees for camouflage. You can’t see any sign of the tornado nowadays, but it is a pretty area.

      • Brandon Shollenberger

        By the way, if you want to know about tornadoes and their effects, you should look to the War of 1812. The British had invaded the country’s capital, but they were pushed back when a tornado struck their encampment and forced them to retreat. That area doesn’t get many tornadoes, so it was a rather strange coincidence.

        It was called an act of God by a lot of people.

  23. I’ve long had the impression that AGW is the modern day witchcraft.

    200 years ago if it flooded, or didn’t rain, or birds migrated differently or anything else happened it was “witchcraft” and the “witches” had to be found and publicly destroyed to show the piety of the community.

    Nowadays it’s all the fault of “Climate Change” and the nasty, evil “deniers” have to be found and publicly destroyed to demonstrate piety.

  24. Don Lindsay

    I think Jeff Masters is right: we don’t know, yet. Roy Spencer’s analysis is technically naive and doesn’t deserve to be taken as some sort of flat out proof.

    1) 2011 isn’t over yet. The word we’re searching for here is “rigor”.

    2) Spencer drew one straight line through 60 years worth of one particular kind of data. Other analyses are possible – for example, a ten year moving average , or a different choice of storm categories. Is his result robust? Maybe, but the web page Dr. Curry linked to does not make that case.

    Given the incidence rate of “flukes” lately, I don’t rule out the climate having found a “new equilibrium”, to use a phrase that Roy Spencer has used elsewhere. If you don’t like that idea, have words with its originator.

    Don Lindsay, Ph.D.