Calling BS

Over at Climate Skeptic, I am running a series on flaws in the recently released Global Climate Change Impacts Report (pdf).  I won't repeat everything over here, and the series is likely to go on for weeks - it is a target-rich environment.

But I thought the folks over here would enjoy the following, wherein I call bullsh*t on a chart that particularly enamored Kevin Drum.

UPDATE:  I obtained more information from the EIA.  My hypothesis below is correct.   Update here.

For this next post, I skip kind of deep into the report because Kevin Drum was particularly taken with the power of this chart from page 58.


I know that skepticism is a lost art in journalism, so I will forgive Mr. Drum.  But in running a business, people put all kinds of BS analyses in front of me trying to get me to spend my money one way or another.  And so for those of us for whom data analysis actually has financial consequences, it is a useful skill to be able to recognize a steaming pile of BS when one sees it.  (Update: I regret the snarky comment about Kevin Drum -- though I disagree with him a lot, he is one of the few folks on either side of the political aisle who is willing to express skepticism for studies and polls even when they support his position.  Mr. Drum has posted an update to his original post after I emailed him this information).

First, does anyone here really think that we have seen a 20-fold increase in electrical grid outages over the last 15 years but no one noticed?  Really?

Second, let's just look at some of the numbers.  Is there anyone here who thinks that if we are seeing 10-20 major outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes (the yellow bar) in the last few years, we really saw ZERO by the same definition in 1992?  And 1995?  And 1996?  Seriously?  This implies there has been something like a 20-fold increase in outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes since the early 1990's.  But tornado activity, for example, has certainly not increased since the early 1990's and has probably decreased (from the NOAA, a co-author of the report):


All the other bars have the same believability problem.  Take "temperature extremes."  Anyone want to bet that is mostly cold rather than mostly hot extremes?  I don't know if that is the case, but my bet is the authors would have said "hot" if the data had been driven by "hot."  And if this is proof of global warming, then why is the damage from cold and ice increasing as fast as other severe weather causes?

This chart screams one thing at me:  Basis change. Somehow, the basis for the data is changing in the period.  Either reporting has been increased or improved, or definitions have changed, or there is something about the grid that makes it more sensitive to weather, or whatever  (this is a problem in tornado charts, as improving detection technologies appear to create an upward incidence trend in smaller tornadoes where one probably does not exist).   But there is NO WAY the weather is changing this fast, and readers should treat this whole report as a pile of garbage if it is written by people who uncritically accept this chart.

Postscript: By the way, if I want to be snarky, I should just accept this chart.  Why?  Because here is the US temperature anomaly over the same time period (using the UAH satellite data as graphed by Anthony Watt, degrees C):


From 1998 to today, when the electrical outage chart was shooting up, the US was actually cooling slightly!

This goes back to the reason why alarmists abandoned the "global warming" term in favor of climate change.   They can play this bait and switch, showing changes in climate (which always exist) and then blaming them on CO2.  But there is no mechanism ever proposed by anyone where CO2 can change the climate directly without going through the intermediate step of warming.  If climate is changing but we are not seeing warming, then the change can't be due to CO2. But you will never see that fact in this helpful government propaganda piece.

  • DrTorch

    Couldn't demographics simply be a part of it?

    The populations of NC and FL continue to grow, and these are states that are most affected by hurricanes. Used to be people didn't live there b/c they are the states most affected by hurricanes. But now we have Federal Disaster Relief.

    Anyway, if we have many people moving to where natural disasters strike more often, it seems as though we'll see an uptick in electrical grid disturbances, even if number of storms or their intensity stays the same.

  • Nobrainer

    Unfortunately the reported information source is woefully incomplete.

  • Nobrainer

    Although it appears that NERC has reports on similar, if not the same, data.

  • Scott

    Seems that the non-weather related grid disturbances want to ignore the rolling blackouts in California in 2000-2001, the New England grid collapse in 2003, and the rolling blackouts in California in 2005? I would expect outage spikes around these time periods.

  • Craig Loehle

    Several things have been happening. The major building period for power lines and stations was several decades ago. Aging transmission systems will have more outages. Second, resistance to building more power plants means the system is more strained now (closer to max capacity) which also means more outages. The biggest bar in 2008 was hurricanes + storms but there were no (pretty sure) landfall hurricanes in 2008 but plenty of snowstorms that downed power lines.

  • DrTorch


    Actually there was a huge landfall hurricane (Ike) in 2008. It went up the Mississipi River and affected the midwest. Folks in OH were w/o power for a few days. Very atypical.

  • Michael

    Here in Cincinnati, Ike and a few dry summers put a strain on many of the older trees in the area. It's not uncommon for these trees to drop branches and take out power lines. I could see how some might claim each of the outages were related to Ike. But in the end it's just a natural event (Ike) that caused a change to the local ecosystem (trees) that takes a few years to express.

  • Foxfier

    I know the Methow Valley has had a lot more power outages-- because environmentalists are suing to prevent repair or expansion of the only route for power to get into the area, so a single bad snow storm or even a *car accident* can take power out of the entire area.

    Causes like that might effect other places.

  • Jaycee

    Alternative explanation for those power outages : maintenance has been decreased to cut costs and improve profits, and more outages are being blamed on weather in order to avoid contractual penalties.

    "It wasn't our fault, that micro burst windstorm took out the lines. We're not liable."

    I'm not suggesting this definitely IS the cause, just pointing out that it's easy for alternative explanations to be pretty plausible.