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Review of Rough Winds: Extreme Weather and Climate Change by James Powell

Posted on 23 September 2011 by Anne-Marie Blackburn

Book cover for Rough WindsThe perennial question following any extreme weather event is whether climate change is responsible for the event in question. Until recently, the short answer to this question was 'No' but recent findings suggest that this answer needs to be refined. It is still not possible to state categorically that climate change has caused a specific event, and natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather. But climate change, through rising temperatures and water vapour levels for example, is changing the odds of extreme events occurring. The last couple of years have certainly seen a large number of extreme events take place, from the floods in Queensland, Colombia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the droughts in Texas, Australia, China and the Amazon, and record-setting high temperatures in countries that cover approximately one-fifth of the Earth's surface. Wildfires, snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes have also made the headlines in a number of countries. This has led to the appearance of new expressions: 'global weirding' and 'a new normal'.

It is within this context that Dr James Powell, whose book 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming is reviewed here, aims to find out whether there is now a 'preponderance of evidence' showing that climate change is truly under way, a situation which he argues warrants a response. He focuses on extreme weather for a number of reasons. Weather is what we experience on a daily basis and is therefore more tangible than some vague notion of climate change in distant countries or futures. Additionally, extreme weather can prove very costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and infrastructures, and we therefore all have a stake in taking preventative measures. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, increases in the occurrence of events such as extreme temperatures are the best harbingers of climate change. This is clearly illustrated in figure 1 below. With this in mind, the author frames the issue as one of risk management and compares it to the insurance industry: we take out insurance not because of a high probability of fire or burglary, but because we stand to lose a lot if we are uninsured and such an event takes place. Similarly, Powell argues, increasing and/or intensifying extreme events would require action to be taken - we should aim to 'avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable'.

Climate shift

Figure 1: Bell curve showing how an increase in average temperatures leads to an increase in hot and extreme weather. Note also that this doesn't mean there'll be no more cold weather: these cold events will become rarer but will not disappear. Source: US Climate Change Science Program / Southwest Climate Change Network 

After providing some background on recent events in the prologue, the author explains the science behind climate change and its possible links with extreme weather. This is an important step as it begins to answer the question 'Why are scientists predicting that global warming will cause intensifying and/or increasing extreme weather events?' This then provides a platform from which to analyse and look at the specifics behind recent events. In doing this, Powell shows how science proceeds from a testable hypothesis whose basis, in this case, lies in basic physics: rising temperatures should lead to an increase in water vapour levels. In turn, this additional heat and moisture should provide the perfect setting for the development of more, and more intense, storms. And so the stage is set: the hypothesis and assumptions are described and the case can now be built block by block.

The book is then organised in short chapters that each tackle a specific event or related extreme weather events - heat, drought, fire, rain and snow, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Powell is meticulous in his research and these chapters read like investigative reports, looking at events and placing them in their historical context, before looking at the evidence that helps determine whether climate change has played a role. And like all good scientific reviewers, the author is not afraid to discuss scientific uncertainties and diffculties which make attribution studies such a complex task. But this is more than a simple description of the mechanisms behind extreme weather. Powell discusses the resulting damage and suffering inherent to such events. This helps bring the message home: extreme events are more than abstract physical phenomena. They are some of the most destructive disasters than can hit you, and their toll can reach tens of thousands of deaths and billions of US dollars. If the overall impact of events paints a bleak picture, the personal stories are particularly harrowing. Unlike 2084, these are events which have already taken place and wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. And Powell's personal account of the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires somehow makes these events more tangible, particularly if you are lucky enough to never have faced such destructive forces.

Powell also addresses issues that have arisen, or could arise, from the responses and management of extreme events. For instance, the action taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to manage the 2011 Mississippi floods could have led to the river reverting to its alternate course, through the Atchafalaya Basin, an event which would have considerable impacts on downstream communities and shipping. Clearly, this did not happen this time, but should we run the risk of causing such a change again, or do we need to think of alternative solutions to manage future problems? Also, during the heatwaves in Europe (2003) and Russia (2010), people lost their lives because they did not know that they had to drink more water in warmer conditions or because they drowned after drinking alcohol. This clearly shows that simple measures, such as awareness campaigns, could yield significant results and allow us to protect ourselves against the worst effects of such events, which helps to address the issues behind 'managing the unavoidable'.

But the overall strength of his argument lies perhaps in the evaluation of predictions made by climate scientists. With rising water vapour levels now observed, is the expected increase in extreme precipitation events already noticeable? It appears so: analyses of US and northern hemisphere precipitation show just this. Similarly, changes in the timing of snow melt, and rising sea-surface and air temperatures have been implicated in wildfires, droughts and heatwaves. But at no point does Powell claim that climate change alone is responsible for all events in recent years. This is particularly true of tornadoes and hurricanes. Not only does he clearly state the uncertainties, he also points out other factors, such as river engineering projects, La Niña and forestry practices, that have played major, sometimes predominant, roles in some of the events he discusses. This is openness at its best, a way of pre-emptively answering those critics who tend to cherry-pick details and miss the whole picture when evaluating climate-related evidence.

So does Powell manage to answer the questions he sets out to answer, namely whether there is now a 'preponderance of evidence' that climate change is under way? He certainly makes his position clear: for him, there is already enough evidence to take action and prevent the worst from occurring. It is difficult to argue against this. Of course, extreme events have always occurred, without the help of humans, but it is the number of recent record-breaking events or worst events in decades that should make us stand up and take note. These come on top of trends that show rising global temperatures, melting Arctic sea ice, retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, and migrating species. All of this is consistent with what we expect from climate change. So do we now wait until we have absolute proof, which probably means leaving it too late to 'avoid the unmanageable', or do we start addressing the root cause of all these changes?

Rough Winds was released as a Kindle Single and is currently at #3 under Earth Science. The good news is that you don't need a Kindle to read it - you can download apps to read it on PC, Mac, iPhone/iPad and Android. With the Horn of Africa and Pakistan experiencing severe drought and floods, respectively, as well a new La Niña possibly on its way, this is a timely book that I thoroughly recommend.

Download Rough Winds from Amazon.

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 235:

  1. DB @96 "So does Powell manage to answer the questions he sets out to answer, namely whether there is now a 'preponderance of evidence' that climate change is under way? He certainly makes his position clear: for him, there is already enough evidence to take action and prevent the worst from occurring. It is difficult to argue against this. Of course, extreme events have always occurred, without the help of humans, but it is the number of recent record-breaking events or worst events in decades that should make us stand up and take note." What I am attempting in these posts with muoncounter and skywatcher is to take the difficult stand and argue against the author's conclusion. The topic is that severe weather events are increasing in number. I am looking at past events to see if this is a valid conclusion. In all honesty try the challenge I had for muoncounter in Post #90. Look at drought animations of the last 30 years compared to another 30 year segment and see if there is evidence to support the claim made by the book. It is not an agenda. It is science. I am looking at evidence. Reporting does not go back very far and gets sketchy at best. What I provided in post 95 was a link to one of the years on the NOAA sight detailing extreme weather in the US. The overall year may have seemed normal but there were several extremes within that normal. The Earth has warmed a small amount from CO2 emissions and I am just supposed to accept that this small increase is responsible for highly unnatural extreme weather events. I think one seriously needs to examine some evidence before accepting this thesis as a reality or fact.
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    Response:

    [DB] "What I am attempting in these posts with muoncounter and skywatcher is to take the difficult stand and argue against the author's conclusion."

    and

    "It is not an agenda.  It is science."

    That is hardly a skeptical approach to take, to take a position and then look for evidence to support it.  You discount adaptation as a human response to minimize damage to property and loss of life due to severe weather and constantly cherry-pick isolated events to support your adopted position.  There is nothing scientific about that approach at all.

    "The Earth has warmed a small amount from CO2 emissions and I am just supposed to accept that this small increase is responsible for highly unnatural extreme weather events."

    The Earth has warmed by a truly staggering amount when one considers the converging evidence, such as the immense energy stored by the warming oceans since 1970 (to name but one example).  The warming experienced thus far is largely due to the CO2 emissions from 30+ years ago.  The emission rise since will cause a temperature rise that has yet to be felt (due to the lags in the system).

    "I think one seriously needs to examine some evidence before accepting this thesis as a reality or fact."

    That is truly apparent.

  2. muoncounter @100 The point of that post was not about the total number of huuricanes. It was that a disaster is very complex beast and not a very good indicator of what is really taking place. The paper shows disasters skyrocket (nonormalized data) but the actual number of hurricanes hitting had no trend. If you take in the population movement and the increase in property value you can see disasters do not always equate to the reality.
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  3. Norman #99: [BTW the link to Norman's article is still broken?] I read the Pielke paper, and I see what he tried to do. I don't think he succeeded, because his approach was rather like looking at tide gauges from the east coast of the USA and concluding that global sea level rise was nothing to worry about. But you didn't answer my key point - if the numbers of weather disasters increases faster than the number of geological disasters, then you're accounting for population, wealth etc. Why the disparity? Do Pielke's 'corrections' result in a large decrease in geological disasters over the same timescale I wonder? I also am not so concerned about specifically hurricane trends in isolation, as they are open for discussion (e.g. possibly reduced numbers of hurricanes but more severe ones, increased temperature/moisture supply but reduced wind shear etc). I'm much more concerned about overall trends in precipitation amount and intensity, and drought amount and intensity, and overall patterns of a range of different kinds of extreme weather. A 0.8C rise in global mean annual temperature is not 'small', unless you think the range of temperature change from glacial to interglacial is only 'moderate'.
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    Response:

    [DB] Fixed link.

  4. muoncounter @98 skywatcher quote: "Norman, is there a point at which you'll accept that extreme events are on the rise, seeing as you've been contesting everything in muoncounter's post? How many more extreme events will it take?" I do like science based evidence. I do not believe disater charts are a valid form of reporting extreme events for reasons I have already stated. Shifting dependent variable has an effect (population increase, movement, and property values are not a constant). Valid reporting would be of such a nature. Scientifically (precision is key) recorded extreme weather events based upon a set standard like hurricanes or tornadoes (some scale of severity). For rain it could be rainfall amounts and how much this rainfall event covers. More rain over a larger area is a higher category rain event. Compile the data and observe a trend. One extreme year is not a valid trend or some point outside the normal. Like this year Texas had a super drought and high temps. So far it was a one year event. If this would continue for a few years it would be good evidence for the book's thesis. muoncounter: "To that question, I would add: What makes you so sure, when a number of experts are saying you're wrong?" Who is saying I am wrong. I am not making any specific claim. I am only compiling data that is available on the Internet (preferablly from a reliable source like NOAA). How can I be wrong about anything by posting past PDSI graphs to show that patterns have repeated? I am not sure about anything at this time. I am just doing what a scientist should do. Research. The claim is made that there are more extreme weather events than previous times. Maybe there are but as little reporting of events was compiled in the past I am not sure what these claims are based upon. To get extreme weather events of the past you would have to go dig up archives of old papers and magazines to search for some weather extremes of the past. NOAA only goes back so far that is why I chose 1993 with a super storm. Even with hurricanes and tornadoes. Only those empacting people were reported. In the early part of the century (before planes and satellite views) people may not have recorded hurricanes that stayed out at sea. My claim is the information available about past weather extremes is fuzzy and not real clear (like a fog, one can make out the bigger items but many other items are lost that now are being counted and logged). Long post...sorry!
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  5. skywatcher @82 "When geological disasters increase more slowly than weather disasters, what is your explanation?" I have one possible explanation. Not necessarily a good one, maybe you won't accept it. Here goes. The population has increased as well as personal wealth and property over time. Disasters would increase as well if everything else stayed the same (more people could be killed or wounded as well as more dollar amount damage). Disasters are events that involve people and property. An F5 tornado is not a disaster until it causes some damage. Hit an empty field, no disaster. Hit a city and you have a major disaster. Only a few people are now tornado proofing their homes. I do not know any who make homes flood resistant except to build on stilts like in Galveston, Texas. However people moving into earthquake areas do build property to be somewhat resistant to quakes. The damage of a moderate quake with these building procedures in place is a lot less severe than in areas without rigid building codes. This preventative building code can explain why earthquake disasters are not following the weather related trends. How many more people are building in flood plains than in the past?
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  6. Norman, "I am not making any specific claim" You've made quite a few claims. You picked a few years, a few storms, a few months and said 'see? just like now.' You are 'arguing against the author's position' and yet I wonder: Have you read the book in this post? You've said that this past year was nothing other than the ordinary weather beast and that one year is not enough data. Here's what Jeff Masters, with 30 years in the business, says: "Never in my 30 years as a meteorologist have I witnessed a year like 2010--the astonishing number of weather disasters and unprecedented wild swings in Earth's atmospheric circulation were like nothing I've seen." You're citing drought information from 1914; yet you question hurricane records before the satellite age. Isn't that one-way skepticism?
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    Response:

    [DB] "one year is not enough data"

    Indeed.  Let's have Norman consider the period 2008-2011:

    JJA H & C

    June-July-August surface temperature anomalies in units of standard deviations relative to the climate of 1951-1980. [Source]

    From the above linked source:

    So the occurrence of unusual Texas heat and drought is consistent with expectations for increasing CO2.

    The frequency of an anomaly greater than +2σ is only 2-3 percent in the period of climatology for a normal distribution. The frequency of a +3σ event is normally less than one-half of one percent of the time. The numbers on the upper right corner of each map are the percentages of the global area covered by each of the seven categories of the color bar.

    [the above figure] reveals that the area with temperature anomaly greater than +2σ covers 20-40 percent of the planet in these recent years, and the area greater than +3σ is almost 10-20 percent. The United States has been relatively 'lucky', with the only +2-3σ areas being the Texas region in 2011 and a smaller area in the Southeast in 2010. However, these events are sufficiently fresh in people's memories that they provide a useful measure of the practical impact of a 3σ anomaly.

    [Emphasis added]

  7. Norman, You are right that if it was just one location during one year, it would be "just weather". It isn't though. The 2011 Texas drought isn't an isolated event. You are eyeballing charts and declaring that they support your already held convictions. That is how you can be wrong by compiling data; fallacy of composition and confirmation bias. You are picking any iota and clutching it, such as total days over 105 in Dallas, to prove that the observed weather is not unusual.
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  8. Norman - "I am not making any specific claim." Bzzzt!!! You have made a number of specific claims, mostly negative: * Extreme weather has not increased. * Records of disasters are biased by population shifts/changes, and no actual event changes have occurred. Hence the insurance information and FEMA disaster records are inaccurate. * Earthquake numbers are underestimated due to better building codes. * Reporting codes (for weather only, not earthquake, a peculiar distinction) have changed to increase disaster reports. I certainly may have missed a few. Stating that you are "not making any specific claim" is quite disingenuous. I will note that you have really not supported any of these claims with any data.
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  9. Can't say much more than KR here. Norman, you're clearly quite unwilling to accept evidence to the contrary of your specific claims, and I'm sorry to see that. You've made quite a few, and been rebutted many times now, yet you slide to another argument. Your explanation (without sources) in #105 is desparation in the way that adelady alluded to in my link above, and it's a shame to see. As for earthquake-proofing - ask the poor people of Christchurch. Geological hazards don't always strike where they always used to, and so your argument does not hold.
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  10. Could the moderator(s) suggest a better article to discuss the development of a quantitative methodology for comparing PDSI disparity than this book review?
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    Response:

    [DB] The only other thread to deal extensively with PDSI is this one:  The Dai After Tomorrow

    Your call on which is more appropriate; I am not impartial on this one ;)

  11. Thanks for the pointer. I call the article on Dai more appropriate than this one, since the Dai dataset will be used for a global analysis. Norman, I would appreciate your input on the quantitative PDSI disparity metric.
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  12. DB @96 My contrail concept: "The 0.01 watts/meter of contrails is its effect on the entire globe (the contrail coverage of the globe is small) but in localized areas that may have a high degree of contrail formation (based upon upper atmpospheric conditions) the effect can influence the local region (still a small part of the globe) to a greater degree." Your response to this postion: "For example, your Black Knight routine after the lack of evidence supporting your position on contrails was pointed out to you," I did find some evidence supporting my postion. Contrail information. Look at the concluding remarks. Regionally contrails can add 4 watts/meter^2 radiative forcing. Yet over the whole globe their effect is very small. This is very close to my postion on contrails.
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  13. KR @108 and skywatcher @109 KR I did like your bullet format but I am not sure my button was zapped. I will repost your bullets and then defend my position, it this is okay. KR's Bullets. *Extreme weather has not increased. Perhaps I give you the perception that I am saying that "extreme weather has not increased" but the reality of my posts does not support this claim. In post #30 I do state my position: "My position on this topic is that there is not enough data to make a declaration of certainty on the topic. I think earlier data on severe weather events was not as fully reported as today. I do not think there is adequate accounting of severe weather events to take a strong position that the number and intenstiy of severe weather events has certainly increased. I am not stating it has not. I am making the case that there is not enough good reliable data to make any claim of certainty on this issue at this time and we may not know for many more years. Your contention is that if we wait to see if it is getting worse, it might just be too late." And in post #60 "This thread is not about global warming (evidence would suggest a degree or 2 of warming depending on your temperature scale). It is about extreme weather events. Are they increasing because of the global warming? That is what I question. I am not saying I am correct in my position. I just of the opinion that at this time there is not enough good, reliable data to make a sound judgement upon this issue. I see some blogs throw out the year's worst weather events and tell me things are getting worse. Maybe they are, I just need more evidence than one or two years worth of data. Need a lot more from a lot more areas and over a lot longer time period. Need a consistent way of logging an extreme event. I think monetary damage is not a good one. Hail size, area of coverage, duration of hail storm. That is much more scientific. Get enough of this data compiled and you can answer the question in a sound scientific way based upon solid data."
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] fixed closing tags. < /B > ends bold and < /I> ends italics.
  14. KR @108 I think best to break up your bullet and respond to each individually or the post will get too long. * Records of disasters are biased by population shifts/changes, and no actual event changes have occurred. Hence the insurance information and FEMA disaster records are inaccurate. This postion is based upon the research of Pielke. Disaster as a proxy for extreme weather events is questionable. Besides Pielke research into the matter I have a thought experiment for you to consider on this issue. Some big disasters are floods, costing billions and killing people caught in the flood waters. Others fires. Hurricanes and tornadoes. The thought experiment to demonstrate a point. Consider the idea that insurance companies require changes before they will insure property. Here are the changes. In fire prone areas the property owner is required to have at least 200 feet of sand between their property and the nearest forest and a sprinkler system to put out any embers that approach the property. All home owners in floodplains are required to have their homes on stilts high enough so the bottom of the property is above the highest recorded flood stage (Galveston has homes on stilts to save the property from storm surges). People living in tornado alley will be required to tornado proof their property ("One construction method has been shown to stand up to 250 mph winds, which provides you and your family with far more protection than conventional wood framing. That construction method is called ICF (insulating concrete forms")). Roofs made of hail resistant material in areas prone to such events (Wyoming for instance). People are not allowed to build expensive property on coastlines prone to hurricanes and storm surges (low cost cabins would be okay). Along with the property saving methods described, life saving knowledge would be far more widespread (don't go outside when lightning is close, stay off roads with water running over the top, no hurricane parties, etc). Now with all these in place the number of disasters would drop off considerably but the extreme weather would be the same. Trending disasters would not tell you anything about what the weather is actually doing. A system of reporting that does not rely on property values and human fatalities would be the only actual scientific method of determining if weather related events are actually trending upward.
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  15. KR @108 * Earthquake numbers are underestimated due to better building codes. I am not making a firm statement on that one. I do know that in earthquake zones they do have building codes designed to reduce death and destruction and can work fairly well for the more numerous magnitude 5 quakes but would probably not help much in a 7 or above. Here is what my post said. "I have one possible explanation. Not necessarily a good one, maybe you won't accept it. Here goes." It was just food for thought, not an elaborate explanation for the difference between the disasters. I had a debate with Tom Curtis on this question on another thread Post 83 on this thread.
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  16. Bibliovermis @111 "I would appreciate your input on the quantitative PDSI disparity metric." I will have to claim stupidity on this one. I am not sure what you are asking and could not find a link to give an explanation of what you are asking.
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  17. Norman, My proposed disparity metric is on the Dai After Tomorrow article. You were making the assertion that the current extreme dry and extreme wet weather is not unusual by providing a few images. I want to create a more robust way of validating such an assertion.
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  18. DB @101 Your statement: "You discount adaptation as a human response to minimize damage to property and loss of life due to severe weather and constantly cherry-pick isolated events to support your adopted position. There is nothing scientific about that approach at all." Cherry=picking "Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias. Cherry picking may be committed unintentionally." What I am doing is not cherry picking, it is random picking. It would be like reaching blindfolded into a basket and pulling out cherries at random and presenting this. I go to the NOAA site looking for past examples of severe weather events. I just picked a date a random that was far away from recent times and presented it to demonstrate that extreme weather takes place maybe more often than a randomized statistical approach would allow. I do not think extreme weather is the same as a random event like dealing a straight flush from a deck of cards. My perception (from what I have read on meterology is that extreme weather occurs because of some known atmospheric event...it would be closer to someone manipulating the cards in the deck to favor the dealing of a straight flush). I am not convinced that one can use random event statistics to determine the likihood of extreme weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, wind)
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  19. DB @106 and adeladay @85 Both of your posts are similar and I would expect to see warmer weather patterns around the world as it has heated by about 0.8 C since pre-industrialization. Warmer temperatures are not necessarily extreme. You can have patterns that make one part of the globe very warm (which has been happening as long as temperature records have been taken, in the area of Omaha NE the record high temp is over 20F above the average high temp). In my area as a low pressure system approaches from the west, it rotates counterclockwise first will pull up warm moist gulf air into the region raising the temperature maybe 20F above normal, than as the low passes it will bring down cold air from the north and drop the temp about 20F. These temperature swings are not like a random dice throw. They are predictable and have an established linking mechanism. One thing is certain in all the variations of temp. When all added up the amount above the historic average is about 0.8 C. If half the globe is 5 C above normal, then the other half has to be 4 C below normal to balance the total anomaly for the globe.
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  20. muoncounter @113, Thanks for fixing the tags and letting me know how to close them if I choose to use them in the future.
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  21. Bibliovermis @107 "You are eyeballing charts and declaring that they support your already held convictions. That is how you can be wrong by compiling data; fallacy of composition and confirmation bias. You are picking any iota and clutching it, such as total days over 105 in Dallas, to prove that the observed weather is not unusual." I am not claiming the observed weather is not unusual, the drought in Texas is extreme. It is still unusual as such droughts do not occur often, but they do, and eventually you will have one that was worse than the previous ones. I would suggest you try the challenge I gave muoncounter in post #90. Do your own "eyeballing" of two animation runs of NOAA drought conditions for US. See what you think.
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  22. muoncounter @106 You quote Jeff Masters "Never in my 30 years as a meteorologist have I witnessed a year like 2010--the astonishing number of weather disasters and unprecedented wild swings in Earth's atmospheric circulation were like nothing I've seen." This is not a scientific position, it would be considered an expert opinion. In his post he does bring up some other years to compare to. This approach does not give one the true extent of the weather conditions. One claim was that a storm over Minnesota had a pressure reading that was the lowest since records were kept (all records seem to be broken eventually). He compared one other year that was a previous record. What is missing is a historical view of a large number of low pressure readings to determine it this reading was way off the charts or just a little above what has already been taking place. Two other meteorologists do not share Jeff Masters Expert Opinion. One is Anthony Watts and the other Joe Bastardi. Both of them are meteorologists that have been in the field for many years. They would see similar data that Jeff Masters is exposed to. Why don't they see this same extreme year?
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  23. Norman "... all records seem to be broken eventually..." And the longer a record's been kept, the less likely it is to have a record broken when the system in question is stable. That's why the ratio of hot records to cold records is so useful. If weather patterns were holding steady, then the statistical expectation would be for new hottest ever records to be balanced by new coldest ever records - I'd leave it to the statisticians to determine what period would be suitable to confirm 'balanced'. At the moment, it's not possible to do this because in the US the decadal hot/cold ratio has been running at more than 5 to 1. And now we have a single month, August, where the ratio is 22:1, and a whole summer where the ratio is 11.4:1. How is it that we're now in the position that, the longer records are kept, they're more likely to be broken - but only if they're on the hot side rather than the cold?
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  24. Norman, AGW is not going to be the cause of all extreme weather events. It just makes some of them more likely and more frequent. Last year there was the Russian heat wave, this year the American midwest heat wave/Texas drought. You can refuse to see a pattern if you want. Even if the frequency and severity of these events continues to increase, you still will have a case to continue attributing causes to other factors. This is not an area where attribution can be proven without any doubt. It's only one piece of the puzzle. It would be like trying to pinpoint the one and only human behavior responsible for the global recession. So this is kind of a moot argument. On another note, if you say that Anthony Watts is a meteorologist, I assume you have some credentials of his to support it; what are they? Sorry but telling the forecast on radio or TV does not count, it does not make one a meteorologist. I can interpret aviation weather products and translate them into plain language, I understand what they mean, I understand the atmospheric dynamics behind it. That does not make me a meteorologist. A solid relevant background, long time study and the resulting expertise would. Considering that Watts wasn't sure whether (no pun intended) or not carbonic snow might fall on Antarctica, I'm thinking his experise is somewhere between highly questionable and non-existent. Considering once again that, recently, the very author of a paper he misunderstood (on cloud forcing) had to correct him twice on the meaning of the paper, I have plenty of evidence indicating that any time spent to read whatever Watts has to say is wasted. Do you have solid evidence to the contrary?
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  25. Norman, you're not seriously taking Joe Bastardi seriously are you? I thought better of you than that. See here at SkS, from ClimateCrocks (see around 7 min), at Climate Progress with lots of links, here by Tamino or on Arctic sea ice. Joe Bastardi has been so often, so egregiously wrong, it's painful to watch.
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  26. Norman. "Both of them are meteorologists that have been in the field for many years. They would see similar data" Here's some of the data they would 'see': -- source In order to see something, one first must open one's eyes. Bastardi and Watts are known to be in denial; that can be likened to looking, but not seeing. That leads me to conclude they did not see 2010 for what it was, whereas Masters did. Can you see from these graphs that the current situation is unprecedented and a good example of 'extreme'?
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  27. I must point out (again) that the ratio of hot to cold records is not corrected for UHIE and local effects. I pointed out one example up-thread (gravel and anomalously high readins on radiational cooling mornings at DCA) that make it much harder to reach a new record minimum. In many other cases, UHIE will cause new record maximums. It is typical that these anomalies can induce a degree or two trend over a period of record, e.g. http://www.springerlink.com/content/t7wk687082451443/ All the major global temperature indexes homogenize their station records to correct this effect. While the effect is small (< 0.1 C) for the globe as a whole, it is certainly not negligible when considering record values at individual stations.
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  28. Norman - I'm going to rejoin those various bullets, as I believe the whole is greater than the parts. It's my opinion that you have indeed made a number of claims in this (and related) threads: * Extreme weather has not increased. I may have overstated this - what you are actually asserting is that it's impossible to prove that extreme weather has increased. That seems to be a firmly held opinion, and I believe is leading you into confirmation bias, shaping what evidence you find acceptable. * Records of disasters are biased by population shifts/changes, and no actual event changes have occurred. Hence the insurance information and FEMA disaster records are inaccurate. This postion is based upon the research of Pielke. Disaster as a proxy for extreme weather events is questionable. This is an extremely strong statement, claiming that a particular dataset is invalid support. References? If it's based upon research, please point to the references involved. As you may be aware, there has been considerable discussion of Pielke's preference for regional climate over global indicators, to the extent that some (and I include myself) consider it a distraction from the global issues. I do not recall anything from Pielke stating that regional events have not changed recently. You have not (IMO) justified the "Disaster as a proxy for extreme weather events is questionable" statement. Money talks, and I would consider the Munich RE data extremely informative as a result. Perhaps the data is biased by economic events - if so, how, by how much, and how might that data be corrected? Those are reasonable questions if the evidence indicates error/bias in the data. You haven't taken that first step. * Earthquake numbers are underestimated due to better building codes. * Reporting codes (for weather only, not earthquake, a peculiar distinction) have changed to increase disaster reports. Here is what my post said. "I have one possible explanation. Not necessarily a good one, maybe you won't accept it. Here goes." Lacking evidence, this is a "Just So Story", not science. See also Wishful Thinking. --- and finally, the nail in this particular coffin: What I am doing is not cherry picking, it is random picking. It would be like reaching blindfolded into a basket and pulling out cherries at random and presenting this. I go to the NOAA site looking for past examples of severe weather events. I just picked a date a random that was far away from recent times and presented it to demonstrate that extreme weather takes place maybe more often than a randomized statistical approach would allow. (emphasis added) In other words, you searched for extreme events at other times, ignoring statistical indications and trends, in order to present possible counter examples. This is classic cherry-picking, Norman. It's (from the definition, "a kind of fallacy of selective attention"), hunting for the subset of data that supports your hypothesis and ignoring the mass of evidence that might contradict you. You've done this with (as I recall) just Dallas weather rather than Texas, just days >105 rather than mean temperatures, selected dates from history rather than trends, on and on and on as others have called you on your data selections. At this point, with cherry-picking firmly established as a core of your arguments, I'll have to take this as evidence that the Extreme weather has increased hypothesis is rather strongly supported by your inability to disprove it.
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  29. Norman: "Two other meteorologists do not share Jeff Masters Expert Opinion. One is Anthony Watts and the other Joe Bastardi. Both of them are meteorologists that have been in the field for many years. They would see similar data that Jeff Masters is exposed to. Why don't they see this same extreme year?" You've asked the right question, Norman, but for the wrong reason.
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  30. KR @ 128 "I may have overstated this - what you are actually asserting is that it's impossible to prove that extreme weather has increased. That seems to be a firmly held opinion, and I believe is leading you into confirmation bias, shaping what evidence you find acceptable." I did not know that is what I was asserting. I explained what I believed would be a good way to determine if extreme weather is increasing. You create scales like hurricanes and tornadoes for other extreme weather events and then you collect the data and see if the trend is positive. This is a certain way to prove extreme weather is increasing. * Records of disasters are biased by population shifts/changes, and no actual event changes have occurred. Hence the insurance information and FEMA disaster records are inaccurate. I am not claiming insurance and FEMA disaster records are inaccurate. I am claiming disasters involve humans and property and with shifting growing population and more valuable property it will tend to distort the connection between real events. I presented a useful thought experiment to demonstrate the point. If you have the same number of extreme events a year but the population moves to areas more prone to these exteme events (such as moving into tornado alley, moving along coasts with numerous hurricane strikes, moving into flood plains with known history of flooding) and builds bigger better houses and fills them with higher cost items you can see that even if the number of extreme events stayed the same, in this scenerio disasters would increase as the extreme events would have a better chance of causing more damage and death. This is a clear case showing how disaster events do not have to correlate with actual number of extreme events. Just think it through. You can take the thought experiment either way. Here is some evidence that no visible trend exists in US disasters over a 22 year period (1988 to 2010). If you remove the extreme hurricane Katrina (which did not kill so many in itself but a faulty built levi was the problem with this one) you can see there is no significant trend in monetary or fatalites caused by extreme weather events. 22 years of weather related disasters in US. Above link from this page Link to graph above.
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  31. KR @ 128 "* Earthquake numbers are underestimated due to better building codes. * Reporting codes (for weather only, not earthquake, a peculiar distinction) have changed to increase disaster reports." I believe this earthquake chart may show my case in point. Also please look at how ridiculous claims are about earthquake disaster number. Check out the world earthquakes for the years 1976 and 1977. Very close to the same number of earthquakes but look at the huge difference in fatalities. If disaster reports for earthquakes are relatively flatline they really do not address the actual disaster of an earthquake. That is a side point (something to consider). The big point would be to look at the fatalities around the world from earthquakes. Then look at the US fatalities. The percentage of earthquake number to fatalities is much lower in the US. I wonder why? Is my building code argument really that lame to you? What answer can you provide for this difference in fatalities to earthquake number between the US and the rest of the world? But the bigger thought here is that disasters are not a good way to determine extreme weather frequency. All I ask for is a better system, does that make me a "bad guy"? I think it would qualify for scientist. Less dependent on a shifting variable like human behavior, population increase, property values, dumb choices, etc. Earthquake data.
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  32. KR @ 128 "In other words, you searched for extreme events at other times, ignoring statistical indications and trends, in order to present possible counter examples. This is classic cherry-picking, Norman. It's (from the definition, "a kind of fallacy of selective attention"), hunting for the subset of data that supports your hypothesis and ignoring the mass of evidence that might contradict you." That is not at all what I did or described that I did. I went to the NOAA website that lists extreme weather events for given years. I selected one (without looking at the others) and posted the result in #95 to muoncounter with a link to the NOAA page I grabbed it from. I would agree with you on cherry-picking if I looked at many extreme weather reports and picked the most extreme out of the bunch. I did not do this and do not know what the other years hold in terms of extreme weather.
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    Response:

    [DB] "I would agree with you on cherry-picking if I looked at many extreme weather reports and picked the most extreme out of the bunch. I did not do this and do not know what the other years hold in terms of extreme weather."

    Relying upon happenstance in the absence of known, statistically robust, methodologies is sheer folly.  So then call it raspberry/orange/apple/kiwi/squash/etc-picking.  Closing ones eyes and walking into a busy thoroughfare because one doesn't believe in extreme traffic doesn't make one's body impervious to being run over.

  33. KR @ 128 "You've done this with (as I recall) just Dallas weather rather than Texas, just days >105 rather than mean temperatures, selected dates from history rather than trends, on and on and on as others have called you on your data selections." I had pointed out that warmer low temperatures are not dangerous to the human life, that 2011 had 3 F warmer nights is not the important stat for extreme weather. It is the very high temperatures that lead to fatalities via heat stroke. The higher the high the more dangerous to human life. That is why I included that in the post. "At this point, with cherry-picking firmly established as a core of your arguments, I'll have to take this as evidence that the Extreme weather has increased hypothesis is rather strongly supported by your inability to disprove it." You can take the same challenge I posted to muoncounter in Post #90 Go to the NOAA page he linked to at #58 and put in 1981 to 2011 for any month you wish to view (I chose August since it is a warm month). Shrink the screen and go to the site again and try another 30 year period and shrink this one as well. Run the two side by side in an animation and you see if you can see clear evidence that severe droughts and floods (very wet conditions) is increasing based upon another set of 30 years.
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  34. DB @ 132 Thanks, I am working on getting the "known, statistically robust, methodologies." I was just stating that my approach is not cherry-picking. I did not say what I did was the best choice of methods (grab bag is probably the most descriptive).
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    Response:

    [DB] Best wishes then.  In the meantime your current approach is scientifically similar to this one.

    By all means, acquire those methodologies, do the work and disprove what the current experts in the field are saying.  You will be welcome to submit the work here as a guest post if it meets publication standards.

    Until then, please try to adhere to the topic of the OP.

  35. Numbers of earthquakes do not change because of building codes. Numbers of extreme weather events do not change because more people have nicer houses. -- source (2004) Note: number of events by decade is up by a factor of 5 in 5 decades. Here are tropical storms, rather than just hurricanes: --source A 2005 study published in the journal Nature examined the duration and maximum wind speeds of each tropical cyclone that formed over the last 30 years and found that their destructive power has increased around 70 percent in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (4). Another 2005 study, published in the journal Science, revealed that the percentage of hurricanes classified as Category 4 or 5 (the two strongest categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale) has increased over the same period (5). Note 4 is to Emmanuel 2005 Note 5 is to a paper co-authored by J. Curry. Like the man says, "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
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  36. Norman #133 "I had pointed out that warmer low temperatures are not dangerous to the human life, that 2011 had 3 F warmer nights is not the important stat for extreme weather. It is the very high temperatures that lead to fatalities via heat stroke." Heat stroke is not the only hazardous outcome. Warmer low temperature can lead to heat exhaustion and mortality. Kalkstein and Davis (1989) http://coaps.fsu.edu/pub/williams/Thesis/2563853.pdf point out that in most statistical models, (high) minimum dewpoints and minimum temperatures have a direct relation to mortality.
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  37. Muoncounter, there are two problems with your lower graphic. First there is an undercount of North Atlantic TCs in early years. Landsea 2007 estimated it at 2.2 for 1900-1965 Mann et al 2007 countered with an undercount of 1.2 pre-1944. The problem that neither paper analyzed was more recent overcounts in named storms that is exaggerated by the 10 year moving average and truncated vertical axis in your chart. Typically the overcounting is in the eastern Atlantic using modern satellite coverage. Here is an example from last year http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2010/GASTON.shtml? where TC Gaston briefly reached 35 knots by satellite estimate (no surface or dropsonde measurements), got named, and drifted west for a week as a minor disturbance still named in the discussions so that if it came back to life it would keep the name. The Landsea paper resulted in this graphic:
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  38. Eric#137: Some valid points; we've been around the hurricane argument many times. Some studies say no trend, some say numbers and intensity increase. No studies say the trend is down; that warmer SSTs means everything will be nice and comfy. The point was, is and will remain thus: There are a significant number of extreme conditions around the world consistent with climate change; there is a valid physical mechanism for warming as the cause of said change and a valid physical mechanism for the cause of said warming. The explanations offered in response seem to cluster into a. 'older data is no good' or 'there's no trend,' which boil down to 'let's wait and see;' b. 'more people live in risky areas' or 'disaster counts don't mean anything,' which boil down to 'we're all gonna die eventually anyway;' c. 'this has all happened before' or 'its not that bad' or 'its just the weather,' which boil down to 'don't worry, be happy.' Has anyone seen a credible paper saying that conditions are getting milder?
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  39. Muoncounter, my best guess is intensity will be up, but frequency is still an open question. In any case, named storms far from land barely reaching a 35kt threshold are not a very relevant example of extreme weather. Your explanation (a) could be valid when there is a low frequency of incidence making it difficult to pick out a trend (as is the case with intense TCs). With some forms of extreme weather your explanation (b) might be valid (e.g. floods which are localized and recurrent versus intense TCs which affect a much larger and newer area). Explanation (c) seems invalid to me since a more intense TC is almost always bad at landfall.
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  40. Eric (skeptic) @ 136 Thanks for the link to heat related deaths. That was counter intuitive.
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  41. DB @ 134 "By all means, acquire those methodologies, do the work and disprove what the current experts in the field are saying. You will be welcome to submit the work here as a guest post if it meets publication standards." I think regardless of work I would do on the topic it will not be accepted in journals. Here is why. My credentials. I have a BA in Chemistry. Long ago I did take one year in Meterology (I did receive an A). There are many people with degrees in Meterology or Climatology that want to get their research published. I cannot forsee any publication opening up their limited space to anyone with a science degree while they have so many applications from those with credentials in the field of study. Therefore I would conclude I would never be able to post such an research project. But I do thank you for the offer. The nature of my posts may seem to lack a consistent overall methodology. Mostly because I am responding to specific points brought up in someone's post. At times it does lead to divergence from the OP. My efforts on SkS are not to disprove the expert opinions or findings. (some may feel that is my goal). I am of the opinion that maybe too many just accept an expert opinion without doing active research on their own to question it. I am just working to keep the thought process active, think for yourself, question everything. Maybe it does not come across in that fashion.
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  42. muoncounter @ 138 "Has anyone seen a credible paper saying that conditions are getting milder?" Maybe not a paper but you Texas precipitation graph in post 126 does show some improvement. Before 2011 there is a clear signal of less drought conditions after 1960. You can see many more severe dry years before 1960 than after so that would be one example to attach to a paper on the subject is someone where to write one. Extreme tornado count is down which would be good news for homeowner's.
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  43. Norman#141/142: "My efforts on SkS are not to disprove ... maybe too many just accept an expert opinion without doing active research on their own to question it." To question the experts, without the intent of disproving them? And yet you don't seem to search for understanding the expert opinions; instead, as here, you imply that Jeff Masters is wrong because Bastardi and Watts don't say the same thing. "Texas precipitation graph in post 126 does show some improvement." The entire point of the 3 graphs in that comment was to show that this year is extreme - something you have disputed repeatedly in spite of the obvious evidence. Even Louisiana, with all the flooding due to spring runoff from the midwest, is 30% below its long term mean. That point alone is the very definition of the extreme conditions described in this post. Oh, your tornado graph misses the 80 EF3-5 tornadoes through just mid September of this year. That will make 2011 the 2nd highest (after 1974). Pretty extreme year, no?
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  44. muoncounter @ 143 With keeping with the OP: "'Why are scientists predicting that global warming will cause intensifying and/or increasing extreme weather events?'" That is the question posed in the article above. I would not disagree that the drought in Texas or Lousiania is extreme (well outside the normal). Nor severe tornadoes in 2011. Nor even that 2010 and 2011 had extreme weather events occur. Yes they did have extreme weather events. But I still stand by the fact that your graph of Texas and the tornado graph above both show that the trend in extreme weather is decreasing and that is the topic. The topic was not if 2011 had extreme weather events or not but if the trend for extreme weather events is increasing.
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  45. muoncounter @ 143 "To question the experts, without the intent of disproving them? And yet you don't seem to search for understanding the expert opinions; instead, as here, you imply that Jeff Masters is wrong because Bastardi and Watts don't say the same thing." I am not implying he is wrong, I was just making the distinction between an expert opinion and a scientific study. Here is what you posted by Jeff Masters "the wild roller-coaster ride of incredible weather events during 2010, in my mind, makes that year the planet's most extraordinary year for extreme weather since reliable global upper-air data began in the late 1940s. Never in my 30 years as a meteorologist have I witnessed a year like 2010--the astonishing number of weather disasters and unprecedented wild swings in Earth's atmospheric circulation were like nothing I've seen." He states this without graphs or trend analysis so it is his opinion (expert) and the two other Bastardi and Watts do see the same data (which I do not see on a daily basis and could not offer an opion at all on the matter) but do not form his opinon. I was not saying he is wrong I was just wondering why the others do not see this if it is this obvious. Also I am researching to understand Masters opinion on the matter by looking into historical extremes of the past to see if he is correct with his opinion.
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  46. muoncounter @ 143, The data I have seen would indicate that there are extreme weather events every year somewhere on the globe. I have been called wrong or incorrect (although what I am doing is looking on the web for extreme weather events in the past...not sure how this proves I am wrong). When I make some declarations it is with a "maybe" or "possibly". I am not making a statement "it is". The question is are they increasing trend wise. Even if 2010 was an overall extreme doe that mean that the trend for extreme weather is increasing? Did 2009 have more extreme weather events (in number, duration, or intensity) than 2008 and 2008 more than 2007 etc...that would be a trend in increasing extreme weather. One or two years will not make a trend. If 2012 is calm then what of the thesis?
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  47. 146, Norman, You are creating strawmen. First, obviously there is going to be noise in the system. You know very well that your requirement of 2010 > 2009 > 2008 > ... is not valid. Second, you also recognize that you've been following an anecdotal argument to a statistical question. You admit that the question becomes one of average frequency and intensity, and yet you've been arguing it by cherry picking events from the past, as if finding a previous, intense drought or hurricane invalidates the intensity we see today. Third, you know that we've already been through a variety of measures of extreme event intensity (dollars in damages, loss of life), and you know that there are many obscuring factors (such as changes in population, early warning and engineering improvements, total property value exposed to danger, changes in reporting methods, etc.) that make comparisons over long time periods difficult. Lastly, you know that we are still early in the game, so gathering the statistics to demonstratively prove the point simply cannot happen at this point in time. So in the end what your comment tells me is that you know that everything that you have been saying is wrong. You know that anecdotal evidence of past extreme events is meaningless. You know that there is noise in the system, so an obvious, stepwise progression is not going to happen. You know that the statistics have not yet been there to definitively prove the case. And you know what the whole point of this post and thread was about. From the original post above:
    It is within this context that Dr James Powell, whose book 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming is reviewed here, aims to find out whether there is now a 'preponderance of evidence' showing that climate change is truly under way, a situation which he argues warrants a response.
    You said you were going to buy and read the book! Have you done so yet? Perhaps all of your questions would be answered if you did. Making what you know to be incomplete, invalid and confusing arguments in the meantime is unacceptable.
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  48. 146, Norman, Bastardi and Watts are first class, agenda driven masters of distortion. They are also absolutely, positively, not scientists, let alone unbiased observers. Using them as an appeal to authority completely invalidates your argument. It is in fact one of the real definitions of the fallacy of an appeal to authority, that is to appeal to someone who is not actually qualified as an authority on the subject. (-snip-)
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    Response:

    [DB] Emotion-laden comment snipped.

    Some added context for the lay reader:  both Bastardi and Watts have a history of making conclusions not only unsupported by science, but also in violation of many laws of physics.  Various debunkings of both are readily available throughout the blogosphere.  The best are at Open Mind.

    The difference between B&W and Dr. Masters is that Dr. Master's observations and conclusions are supported by physics and the literature in climate science while that of the former duo is not.

  49. Norman#145: "states this without graphs or trend analysis so it is his opinion" Circular reasoning. There are graphs aplenty; the question I asked you relative to the 3 graphs in #126 still stands: "Can you see from these graphs that the current situation is unprecedented and a good example of 'extreme'? " Please answer this yes or no. "there are extreme weather events every year somewhere on the globe." I'm sorry, I find that statement to be utterly devoid of meaning. We're 100+ comments into this thread and going in circles; we went in circles for 400+ the last time this happened. I wonder: Do you understand what is meant by 'extreme' in the context of weather?
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  50. My kindle should arrive Monday and then I will order and read the book. This page seemed interesting: http://climate.met.psu.edu/www_prod/features/rainextreme.php It includes the recent extreme rain in early Sept. which clipped Harrisburg, PA. I have no idea how valid the analysis is. I would have also liked to know the period of record for each station and whether that would be a factor in the statistics.
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