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Tilting at Windmills

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July 13, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

STORM WORLD....I completely spaced on this until just now, but I'll bet a few of you are still wondering what happened to Chris Mooney, who was supposed to be guest blogging here while I was on vacation last week. The short answer is that I ran into some technical difficulties on my end and wasn't able to create a guest account for him. So no guest blogging.

However, I did read his new book, Storm World, while I was on vacation, so let me take this chance to recommend it highly. The focus of the book is straightforward: is global warming producing more (and more intense) hurricanes? The answer, though, is probably not quite what you'd expect if you've read Chris's previous work, The Republican War on Science. Unlike RWS, there's nothing partisan about Storm World: it's a detailed, evenhanded, and deeply reported book about a topic of genuine contention in the scientific community. Not to give anything away, but the conclusion is that we really don't know yet what effect global warming is having on hurricanes.

Storm World contains a fair amount of history as well as a fair amount of technical discussion of hurricane science, and what surprised me the most was the fact that, apparently, we still aren't entirely sure about what causes hurricanes in the first place. We aren't completely clueless, of course, but there's still an awful lot we don't know. I guess I had always vaguely assumed that we had long since figured out the fundamental dynamics, given the years of hurricane flights and satellite photos and so forth that we've collected. But no. And needless to say, without that it's hard to say for sure what effect a warmer ocean will have on hurricane frequency and intensity. It's probably not a good effect, but it's still genuinely an open question.

So: good stuff. Storm World is a serious book, but also lively and lots of fun to read. Highly recommended.

Kevin Drum 12:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Comments

Yes! I was all psyched for Mooney's guest blogging! I even read the book and everything to prepare!

I am much with the sad, Kevin! Can he not guest blog for a few days, even though you're here?

Posted by: Caitlin on July 13, 2007 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I still can't create guest accounts. But if and when I ever get that capability back, I'll check with Chris and see what his schedule looks like.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 13, 2007 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

William Gray is the guru of hurricane predictions. When one reads about a prediction of, say, 17 named storms, he's generally the one being quoted. Gray has taken a strong position that global warming does not affect hurricanes.

That always seemed non-intutive. Hurricanes gain strength from warm ocean waters, so one would think that warmer waters would mean stronger hurricanes. However, common sense is not as good as expertise. I accept Mooney's and Gray's POV that we should not conclude that GW affects hurricanes.

Posted by: ex-liberal on July 13, 2007 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

I just read some interesting stuff on the NASA AIM satellite and noctilucent(mesospheric aka PMC's) clouds and how it may be related to GW.
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/aim/index.html


Posted by: Plasmon on July 13, 2007 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

I accept Mooney's and Gray's POV that we should not conclude that GW affects hurricanes.

I don't think that is Mooney's point. I haven't read the book, but Kevin implies that Mooney's point is we don't know one way or the other yet.

The fact is that there are so many near-chaotic influences on the weather, that nobody really knows what the exact changes are going to be. A lot more research is needed before we run off half-cocked in any direction.

Meanwhile, would it hurt to move (in a calm and deliberate manner, not a panic) away from oil, gas and coal to nuclear, solar and other things? There are an awful lot of reasons to do so besides climate change.

Posted by: harry on July 13, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Gray comes across in the book as a kind of sad obsessive who simply can't accept that new and important climate science has been done in the past 20 years. He's a charming guy, but pretty obviously no longer a clearminded observer. He apparently doesn't even believe in global warming at all, for example.

That said, there are several other highly regarded scientists who are in his general camp. They accept global warming, they accept and respond to the latest science, but they also disagree with much of it. All perfectly normal. The evidence in favor of a modest effect on hurricane intensity from global warming is growing, but it's not yet an open and shut case.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 13, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Years ago I did quite a bit of research on hurricanes and disasters--I was a bit of a hurricane junky. I read all of Gray's work and was fascinated with his hurricane forecasting work. One year I was very excited to meet him at the National Hurricane Conference. I did and came a way with one impression: arrogant asshole. He has come across the same way about Global Warming. Since he doesn't believe it and you do, you must be an idiot. I have no use for scientists with that kind of attitude and neither does science.
See:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301305_pf.html
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/gray-on-agw/

It's Friday--bring on the cats!

Posted by: none on July 13, 2007 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

It says something about the state of American culture that I saw the title of this post and of the book and assumed that it was a science fiction story.

Posted by: Thomas on July 13, 2007 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

"...what surprised me the most was the fact that, apparently, we still aren't entirely sure about what causes hurricanes in the first place."

weather is more complex than politics even though hot air is involved in both.

Posted by: supersaurus on July 13, 2007 at 6:06 AM | PERMALINK

Does the book get into crazy stuff like extreme climate events in deep time and hypercanes?

Basically, current GCMs can't model reasonable pole to equator temperature gradients during warm periods in earth history. Some people invoke very strong atmospheric heat transport to the poles or very strong advection of heat into the deep ocean by hurricanes. It's at least indirect evidence that hurricanes can get a lot stronger if you pump 10x CO2 into the atmosphere.

Posted by: B on July 13, 2007 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Gray is, to put it bluntly, not credible on the subject. He is a textbook case of a person with fixed views in a changing field; the science has simply passed him by. His recent work, for example, simply ignores basic physics. Go to realclimate.org, do a search on William Gray, read and weep.

By the way, since a republican hack is certain to be claiming that cosmic rays or the Sun is causing climate change, there is a powerful new article out that is available on the web. It demonstrates that all trends in solar activity and cosmic rays over the last 20 years are opposite in sign to those required to explain climate change; in other words, it decisively falsifies silly claims based on Mars, etc. in favor of actual data on what the Sun is doing.

http://www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/media/proceedings_a/rspa20071880.pdf

Posted by: Marc on July 13, 2007 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, thanks for the explanation / clarification. I just assumed that your new team of humorless censors had blocked his IP address for pointing out the rash of deleted comments here, or perhaps Mooney noted the drastic drop in people visiting the site. Glad to know it was just the "guest account" thing.

Posted by: Pat on July 13, 2007 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

"or perhaps Mooney noted the drastic drop in people visiting the site."

of which we well note Pat is not one.

Posted by: why so stroppy all the time? on July 13, 2007 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

That was your vacation reading? Couldn't you have read, like, Proust or something? :)

Posted by: edub on July 13, 2007 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, stroppy, but actually, I AM one. I have posted here for over three years and one day had (one of) my IP addresses blocked for asking why certain comments were being deleted all of a sudden. But you can count for yourself. Look at the number of posts. Rarely does one break 100. A majority don't even break 50. I suspect people are being driven away, in part, by the censorship. I suspect its a vicious cycle. POst counts down. WM worries about advertisers. Begins to regulate the content heavily. More people leave. Return to step one.

Posted by: Pat on July 13, 2007 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

It's not exactly necessarily due to the chaotic nature of the atmosphere that global warming doesn't immediately imply increased hurricanes. Hurricanes feed off warm ocean waters, but they also, for example, require low wind shear (changes in wind with altitude) to develop, and how warming effects wind shear in the fairly localized cyclone development regions is not particularly straightforward.

And as far as Gray goes, he's part of an old school of observational meteorologists who at a fundamental level just don't believe in climate models. He routinely used to complain about too much funding of modeling and too little funding of empiricism in climate research. There's certainly lots wrong in the models (I like to say they're just good enough to be wrong), but he's been at the point for quite awhile where it's just not science that's driving him on this score anymore. This did make for some pretty entertaining Bill Gray talks at climate conferences (I particularly recall the ones where he likened modelers to monkeys), although it got old fairly quickly.

Posted by: matt on July 13, 2007 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know if Mooney addresses this, but I just learned that for the first time ever, the Dominican Republic is experiencing tornadoes. Something is happening with the weather.
B

Posted by: Betty on July 13, 2007 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

He's a charming guy, but pretty obviously no longer a clearminded observer.

Hey, the same can be said for "ex-liberal"!

Except that "ex-liberal" isn't charming.

And has never been a "clearminded observer."

And that William Gray at least had credibility once.

Never mind...

Posted by: Gregory on July 13, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

I hate to say I told ya so, Kevin, but...

GW is all a bunch of liberal hocus pocus.

Posted by: egbert on July 13, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

I particularly recall the ones where he likened modelers to monkeys

Did he keep telling you to dance?

Posted by: William Gray's Monkey on July 13, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Gray doesn't believe in global warming, or he doesn't believe that humans are causing gobal warming? I thought we have measured a temp increase over the years. Likewise we have measured a CO2 increase. Of course it's well known that thermometers have a liberal bias.

Posted by: JohnF on July 13, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Huh?
"And needless to say, without that it's hard to say for sure what effect a warmer ocean will have on hurricane frequency and intensity"
Untrue, at least for intensity. The basic reality of hurricanes is that they are spawned heat and die in cold....which is why, when hurricanes veer north, they die out over the colder water. All things being equal, higher temperature causes more intense hurricanes

Posted by: Stewart Dean on July 13, 2007 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

It says something about the state of American culture that I saw the title of this post and of the book and assumed that it was a science fiction story.

I assumed it was an account of the last few days in the Vitter household.

Posted by: shortstop on July 13, 2007 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

The evidence in favor of a modest effect on hurricane intensity from global warming is growing, but it's not yet an open and shut case. -KD

Indeedly diddly doo!
And then there is this theory...
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
www.post-gazette.com/pg/07142/787961-153.stm
Thirteen thousand years ago, as our ancestors were emerging from the Ice Age, geat balls of fire rained down on Europe and North America.
They descended courtesy of a nearly 1.8-mile-long carbon-rich comet that exploded miles above the planet. The dust from the fires that ignited the atmosphere blocked out the sun, prolonging the cooling of the planet for another 1,000 years [it would seem that we are warming still [if this theory is so]Frankly. I don'a think scientists uderstand scalar waves, our telluric core, and how they effect weather.

Posted by: Plasmon on July 13, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

It appears that last year's hurricane bust in the Atlantic has put a certain amount of humility into some people that was lost in the previous two seasons. Of course, if this year is like 2005, then we can expect more mega-cane literature the following year.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 13, 2007 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

On the current state of the science, it's too soon to tell:

6. It is likely that some increase in tropical cyclone peak wind-speed and rainfall will occur if the climate continues to warm. Model studies and theory project a 3-5% increase in wind-speed per degree Celsius increase of tropical sea surface temperatures.
Some evidence hints are a worsening condition

...a new study in the journal Nature found that hurricanes and typhoons have become stronger and longer-lasting over the past 30 years. These upswings correlate with a rise in sea surface temperatures.
The duration and strength of hurricanes have increased by about 50 percent over the last three decades, according to study author Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge....

There is certainly no reason for global warming deniers to crow about the science at this stage of knowledge.

Posted by: Mike on July 13, 2007 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Gee, Egbert says GW is a liberal hocus pocus. But the National Acadamies of Science of both the US and GB say it is real. Who to believe?

Posted by: fafner1 on July 13, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

With the extra heat in the tropical oceans it seems that either hurricanes will be more intense and frequent, or other storms like the ones that occurred last autumn and early winter in Florida, will be the new norm. Those storms in Florida contained out of season tornadoes and were quite destructive. All of that extra energy near the tropics is going to move toward the poles. Whether we call it hurricanes or tropical storm fronts is of no consequence to the people living in the paths of destruction. I hope everyone will keep that in mind when counting hurricanes.

The exact kind of storm that develops depends on many meteorlogical conditions. The amount of energy moved poleward depends on global warming.

Posted by: slanted tom on July 13, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

July Scientific American has an article that says warmer oceans are causing more severe huricanes and that there will be down years, as there always has been. They say el Nino, la Nina timing explains the slow huricane season just past.
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=26648CBA-E7F2-99DF-3CB0746D5B44B707

Posted by: bushburner on July 13, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey - you might ask the people of Australia or the Philippines whether they consider 2006 to be a "bust" year for tropical storms

Posted by: snoey on July 13, 2007 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

The hurricane question, as with the larger global warming question, is too important to leave in the hands of scientists or knowledgable science writers. These questions must be decided by politicians and pundits, confident in their understanding of the Bible and their close personal relationship with their Intelligent Designer, who wouldn't allow such catastrophes to strike us unless there was sinful behavior involved.

Posted by: Qwerty on July 13, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Evidently Egbert is about 10 years old. Anyone much older than that has seen the climate change, dramatically, in their own lifetimes. In my just sub-50 year life, I've seen warm weather in Ohio increase by 4-5 weeks a year; spring comes early and cold weather holds off until November now. My mother, in her 70s, has seen enough change in her lifetime that it scares her crapless.

We can argue about the means of climate change, but not the facts. Unless, of course, we're Egbert or one of the other conservative cretins infesting the site with their mindless blather.

Posted by: Susan on July 13, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Marc posted about these folks upthread but I`ll make the reference more obvious

For all things climate related be sure & check what actual climate scientists have to say at Real Climate; you, of course, don`t have to believe what they say but you should at least know what it is they think

Here is their review of Storm World

"If you don't deal with reality, reality will deal with you" - C.J. Campbell

Posted by: daCascadian on July 13, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Unlike RWS, there's nothing partisan about Storm World: it's a detailed, evenhanded, and deeply reported book about a topic of genuine contention in the scientific community."

Hey, wait, so RWS is skimpy, biased, out-of-the-ass, and addressed to the flat earth controversy?

Posted by: Kyle on July 13, 2007 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Recognize that there are two separate issues here. The first is tropical storm formation off the coast of Africa (tropical storms may, but need not, develop into hurricanes). The second issue is tropical storm intensity. Formation is not well-understood, but intensity seems to be fairly well correlated to sea surface temperatures. Tropical storms are one way by which increased temperatures in the sub-tropics are distributed northerly.

Posted by: raj on July 14, 2007 at 5:23 AM | PERMALINK

I want to thank everyone here for the comments--and of course, to thank Kevin for the thoughtful review, which is an honor.

For added perspective, I think that the LA Times today also really understood what I was trying to do with the book
http://www.latimes.com/features/printedition/books/la-bk-hayden15jul15,0,5474330.story?coll=la-headlines-bookreview

Posted by: Chris Mooney on July 15, 2007 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Egbert: Chris Mooney does not say that global warming is "hocus pocus". Indeed, if you've read what he's written about the subject, he says exactly the opposite. The particular question addressed in Storm World is whether the warming trends of recent years are creating more hurricanes of greater intensity. Chris says that the jury is still out on that question.

It is certainly true that recent years have featured a large number of Cat5 hurricanes (cyclones, typhoons). But trying to draw the causal link between warmer weather and the hurricanes is hardly a straightforward enterprise.

Posted by: Whispers on July 15, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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