by Judith Curry
Hurricane Sandy is having many repercussions beyond the obvious damage.
NOAA and the NHC
While the forecast for Sandy has been widely lauded and contributed greatly to minimizing damage and loss of life, exactly how much credit here is deserved by NOAA and the NHC?
Kerry Emanuel has a hard hitting op ed in the WSJ entitled Why America is Falling Behind the World in Storm Forecasting. Excerpt:
Why have we fallen so far behind? While there are many nuances to this answer, the basic reason is a failure of political will. The Europeans spend somewhat more on numerical weather prediction and run their models on larger and faster computers; they have also been more effective that we have in involving academic researchers in the development and improvement of their models. They appear to recognize that the monetary savings of skillful weather forecasts far outstrip what governments spend on the weather enterprise.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article entitled Why Europe Deserves Your Respect: They Had First Word on Sandy. Marshall Shepherd, Professor at University of Georgia and President-elect of the American Meteorological Society is quoted extensively. Some excerpts:
Specifically, while U.S. computer models still had Hurricane Sandy dying in the deep Atlantic, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, located in the United Kingdom town of Reading, declared that Sandy was about to give the northeastern United States a devastating right hook.
Budget cuts have already pushed the government-fueled weather forecasting industry to the edge, Shepherd said. The National Weather Service currently survives on less than $1 billion a year. Even deeper cuts are in the offing.
“It’s a national disgrace,” University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass charged earlier this year. U.S. firms are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to obtain proprietary data from European forecasts, he reports.
Cliff Mass’ essay was discussed previously on U.S. weather prediction: falling behind.
On the thread Hurricane(?) Isaac, I described how modern ensemble based hurricane forecasting (used for example by CFAN and WSI) were far outperforming NHC hurricane forecasts. Now I see from Mike Smith’s blog that even Accuweather outperformed NHC on the Sandy forecast.
The problem with the NHC forecasts is more fundamental than the NOAA GFS model not performing very well. The NHC forecasters are using 20th century forecast methods, while the private sector is using 21st century ensemble based methods. The NHC does a ‘poor mans’ ensemble, pooling the deterministic runs of different forecast models. They use only the NOAA GFS deterministic forecast to force the regional models (e.g. GWRF, GFDL) which they have counted on to provide better track and intensity forecasts (which have been all but useless because they are being forced by the erroneous large scale fields from the NOAA GFS forecast.)
This is a problem that requires more than a good forecast model and money to fix. The National Hurricane Center needs to catch up with the private sector (and university research) and enter the 21st century of ensemble based hurricane forecasting.
An interesting development: Mike Smith of Accuweather has a new blog post The National Weather Service should not investigate itself. Excerpts:
The National Weather Service has put together a “service assessment” team to review its performance in Hurricane Sandy. I recommend they stop right now and not waste our money.
Instead, the NWS should ask the National Research Council or some other independent organization to do an independent assessment of its performance along with that of Mayor Bloomberg and other emergency officials. We need a comprehensive overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the warning system and response.
The NWS service assessment (SA) program is badly broken. The Joplin tornado SA was a complete joke. It never mentions its own mis-location and misreporting of the tornado’s location and direction of movement. The SA report issued in the wake of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in the South omitted several crucial issues.
I’m a huge fan of the NWS (as anyone who has read Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather can attest), but I also believe we have to be scientifically honest in order to continue to improve as an applied science. The NWS is hardly disinterested in its own performance.
Its global warming (?) stupid (?)
Bloomberg’s Businessweek cover story is Its global warming stupid. ThinkProgress has some excerpts, but the title pretty much says it all.
As a result of Sandy, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed President Obama in the U.S. Presidential race, in an article entitled A vote for a President who will lead on climate change. Excerpt:
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
In following the U.S. Presidential polls, President Obama seems to have received a ‘bump’ from Sandy, with the effective response by FEMA and his reassuring public statements. Mitt Romney, in contrast, had previously argued for the dismantling of FEMA and turning over responsibility to individual states.
While Sandy was arguably not a black swan in terms of geophysical events, it might turn out to be a black swan in terms of Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. The Daily Climate just posted an article Sandy rewrites the election. We’ll see. Excerpt:
You don’t have to be a climate scientist to sense the catastrophic change in weather. Mere days before the election, even a few hardboiled conservatives are shifting their views. GOP New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, confronted by Hurricane Sandy, has abandoned “Small Government” to embrace his new best friend, President Barack Obama. And conservative New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now endorsed the President over Mitt Romney.
Solidarity among hurricane scientists/forecasters and climate dynamicists
A few climate scientists have been speaking out about a link between Sandy and AGW, in this Scientific American article quotes Jon Foley (expert on climate impacts and food security) and Raymond Bradley (paleoclimatologist). I have also seen similar statement from Michael Oppenheimer (political scientist). Munich Re is also making statements on this.
While the politicos are pushing hard on a link between Sandy and global warming, the scientists who actually understand this (i.e. publish in the area of hurricanes, mid latitude weather dynamics, climate dynamics) seem united in agreement that there is no link between Sandy and global warming. This unity is most apparent among twitter exchanges, but you can see it in the media also if you actually keep track of who are the real experts on this (and not just climate impacts ‘experts’).
How can anyone make a credible argument that Sandy is associated with global warming? The main link that people talk about is high sea surface temperatures being associated with increased hurricane intensity. Yes, the sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic are high this season. But of the 10 hurricanes we’ve seen this season, only one reached major hurricane status, and it was a relatively wimpy Category 3. The storm surge? Can anyone make a serious argument that order 10 cm of sea level rise made a difference in Sandy’s storm surge? Scientific American is pushing the idea that the sea ice minimum is causing negative NAO, and influenced Sandy’s behavior. Predicting the variations of NAO is very difficult beyond a few weeks since it varies all over the place, particularly during autumn. Linking this to Sandy in any sensible way seems highly implausible.
The best article I’ve seen on the Sandy-AGW issue is from the Politico Sandy and Climate Change: Its Complicated. Some brief excerpts:
Curry has published research tying increases in global hurricane intensity since the 1970s to rises in global temperatures. Still, she said, “Every time you have one of these events happening, you have people stretching” to attribute it to climate change —and it is “unconvincing and it’s misleading.”
“We have little theory to help us understand the connection between climate and such complicated weather events, so making any sort of connection between Sandy and climate change, even in terms of probability, would be very dubious,” James Kossin said.
One inconvenient truth: While scientists have conducted numerous studies on links between temperatures and hurricanes, no real research exists on how climate change would affect hybrid storms like Sandy, said Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.