Posts tagged ‘storms’

Most College-Age Kids Probably Can't Remember A Major Hurricane Landfall

Most folks, even those who say they are data-driven, are not data-driven.  They react to their perception.  If some sort of activity suddenly makes the news more, we assume that activity is increasing, even if all that is happening is that the activity is simply making the news more.

A lot of the folks who want to blame this year's landfalling hurricanes on global warming are making this mistake.  If you are 20, the last major hurricane landfalls were in 2005 when you were 8.  The last decade has seen a nearly unprecedented drought in US major hurricane landfalls, so against the backdrop of this drought, several major Atlantic storms seems highly unusual.  But I grew up in the 1960's to the 1980's on the Gulf Coast and hurricanes were a regular part of our life then.  When I lived in Clear Lake City, Texas, we had so many in a few years in the 1980's that I had a special spot picked out to park my car to keep it above flood waters.  In the 1990's, we had a memorable vacation where we rented a house on the North Carolina coast for a month and got hit by three hurricanes -- we spent the whole trip hiding in the laundry room from tornado warnings and evacuating back and forth to the interior of the state.

For those who like simple charts, the WSJ had a good one the other day:

Making this a chart of hurricane landfalls deals with the public perception issue, as landfalls tend to be the only ones we really remember.  But this is actually a terrible metric (even though it makes my point about Irma and Harvey not representing any sort of upward trend) because landfalls are random and may not really represent actual hurricane activity.  A better metric is accumulated cyclonic energy of tropical storms, which looks at a sort of integral of storm strength over time.  This does not show a trend either, but since I cannot find a chart of ACE updated with recent activity I am not going to put it up here.   Here it was as of June of this year, and this chart only goes back to 1970 -- if we had good data early in the 20th century it would have been much higher.



Towards Better, More Reliable Home Wifi -- Ditch the Products Meant for the Home

For years I have been struggling with a variety of commercial home wifi products.  I have been plagued by issues -- either they had poor range or they had to be reset every day or so or they did not play well with various extenders I needed to cover my house.  I have a one story house that sort of sprawls all over the place and is hard to cover, particularly since our internet connection to Cox Cable is all the way at one end of the house and some of the house has a cinderblock core just to make signal transmission even harder.

So my company had a contractor wiring up a customer location we manage and they were using a commercial product from Ubiquiti Networks.  I wondered why a commercial product would not work just as well in my home.  This Ars Technica article discussed how much better he thought the commercial products from Ubiquiti were than most consumer grade products.  I figured maybe the problem would be cost, but perusing the Unifi product line on Amazon, it seemed priced a bit higher than consumer products but not unreasonably so (also compare the Amazon star ratings for the Unifi products to consumer alternatives -- you will not see ratings this high).

I was a little intimidated that the setup would be hard but it was manageable if you know even a little bit about network addresses and how they work. And this video is absolutely fabulous -- I can tell you that if you follow along with this guy your system will work at the end of it.  Once it was running, the software is way easier to navigate than my old consumer products.

So several months ago I installed a Unifi system in my house with 6 access points (including on my patio and in my garage), a security gateway (the router, I think), a main switch, a couple of satellite switches, and the cloudkey which helps manage the whole thing.  I paid extra for the PoE switches (power over ethernet) so I could run the access points without having to plug them into an outlet and so in the future I could add PoE video.

What I like:

  • Reasonable cost
  • Setup not difficult if you follow the video
  • Rock-solid reliability
  • It reaches everywhere, with a single SSID so it acts as one seamless large wifi zone.
  • Ability to access the system remotely to check on status
  • Access points work via PoE so they mount on the wall or ceiling really cleanly and look great
  • Really good information about my network, not only every device and its IP and status, but also its bandwidth use and exactly how it is connected in the network tree (ie via such and such switch).

The only problem I have had so far is a moderately arcane one that took me a while to diagnose.  I use this system with my Sonos music system and I have a number of Sonos boxes around the house.  Most of these are wired, and so do not use the Sonos wired peer-to-peer mesh.  However, the Sonos boxes were trying to create wireless network amongst themselves that essentially created loops in my network where storms of traffic ran in circles.

This is where I had a learning opportunity.  Apparently network equipment has something called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP).  Basically through a priority and cost system, it allows you to specify preferred pathways and prevent data from looping.  But Sonos uses a really old version of this that does not play well with Unifi.  I will say that this is not just a Unifi problem as I had this exact same problem at another location with Sonos and the Google mesh wifi system.  At least with Unifi, there were STP settings I could play with (Google mesh wifi is a nice little plug and play product but forget it if you want to tweak anything at all).   As is usual nowadays for any known problem, the Internet has a bunch of articles on Unifi and Sonos compatibility issues.  Eventually by tweaking the STP priorities of the Unifi switches and simply turning off the wifi in Sonos units where I did not need the mesh wifi capability (a nearly undocumented feature that is revealed here) I got it all playing nice together.   I will add that though Sonos is a product I love (because my wife can actually reliably use it), their tech support never identified this problem -- they said they saw evidence of loops but would not admit that the Sonos peer-to-peer networking was helping to cause them.

Trend That is Not A Trend: Increase in Typhoons and Hurricanes

The science that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and causes some warming is hard to dispute.  The science that Earth is dominated by net positive feedbacks that increase modest greenhouse gas warming to catastrophic levels is very debatable.  The science that man's CO2 is already causing an increase in violent and severe weather is virtually non-existent.

Seriously, of all the different pieces of the climate debate, the one that is almost always based on pure crap are the frequent media statements linking manmade CO2 to some severe weather event.

For example, Coral Davenport in the New York Times wrote the other day:

As the torrential rains of Typhoon Hagupit flood thePhilippines, driving millions of people from their homes, the Philippine government arrived at a United Nationsclimate change summit meeting on Monday to push hard for a new international deal requiring all nations, including developing countries, to cut their use of fossil fuels.

It is a conscious pivot for the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. But scientists say the nation is also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the Philippine government says it is suffering too many human and economic losses from the burning of fossil fuels....

A series of scientific reports have linked the burning of fossil fuels with rising sea levels and more powerful typhoons, like those that have battered the island nation.

It is telling that Ms. Davenport did not bother to link or name any of these scientific reports.  Even the IPCC, which many skeptics believe to be exaggerating manmade climate change dangers, refused in its last report to link any current severe weather events with manmade CO2.

Roger Pielke responded today with charts from two different recent studies on typhoon activity in the Phillipines.  Spot the supposed upward manmade trend.  Or not:




I am not a huge fan of landfalling cyclonic storm counts because whether they make landfall or not can be totally random and potentially disguise trends.  A better metric is the total energy of cyclonic storms, land-falling or not, where again there is no trend.

Via the Weather Underground, here is Accumulated Cyclonic Energy for the Western Pacific (lower numbers represent fewer cyclonic storms with less total strength):



And here, by the way, is the ACE for the whole globe:



Remember this when you see the next storm inevitably blamed on manmade global warming.  If anything, we are actually in a fairly unprecedented (in the last century and a half) hurricane drought.

Trend That Is Not A Trend: Creating a Trend From Measurement Changes

I was watching some excellent videos of recent Phoenix dust storms roll across the city.  I started thinking about a joke story:

Scientists report that the number of Phoenix dust storms have likely increased substantially since 1990.  Before that date, almost no cell phone videos exist of large dust storms in Phoenix.  Today, one can find hundreds of such videos on Youtube, mostly from the last three or four years.  Obviously we are seeing some sort of climate change

This would clearly be absurd -- there has been a change in measurement technology.  No cell phone cameras existed before 1990.  But equally absurd examples can be found every day.

  • With the summer of the shark, an increase in frequency of media coverage of shark attacks was mistaken for an increase in frequency of shark attacks themselves.
  • With tornadoes, improving detection of smaller twisters (e.g. by doppler radar and storm chasers)  has been mistaken by many (cough Al Gore cough) for an increase in the frequency of tornadoes.  In fact, all evidence points to declining tornado frequency
  • With electrical grid disturbances, a trend was created solely by the government owner of the data making a push with power companies to provide more complete reporting.
  • I have wondered whether the so-called cancer epidemic in India is real, or the results of better diagnosis and longer life spans

Postscript:  I remember when I first saw one of these storms rolling towards me after I moved to Phoenix.  Perhaps I should not have read Stephen King's The Mist, but I honestly wondered for a minute if I would live to regret not hopping in my car and racing to stay ahead of the wall coming towards me.


"Trend that is not a trend" is an occasional feature on this blog.  I could probably write three stories a day on this topic if I wished.  The media is filled with stories of supposed trends based on single data points or anecdotes rather than, you know, actual trend data.  More stories of this type are here.  It is not unusual to find that the trend data often support a trend in the opposite direction as claimed by media articles.

About That "Thousand Year" Storm in Colorado....

Last week I expressed my doubts that the storm in Colorado was really, as described breathlessly at the Weather Underground, a once in a thousand year storm (the logic of the article, and many others, being that one in a thousand is the same as "zero" and thus the storm could not have occurred naturally and therefore Global Warming).

Turns out it is not even close.  From the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University:

How much rain fell on Colorado this week? And where? Colorado residents can help the weather experts at Colorado State University answer these questions.

In response to the incredible recent rains and flooding in parts of the state, the Colorado Climate Center will be mapping rainfall totals and graphing hourly intensities for the entire state for the period beginning Sunday, Sept. 8 (as storms first developed over southern Colorado) through the end of the storm later this weekend

"As is typical of Colorado storms, some parts of the state were hard hit and others were untouched. Still, this storm is ranking in the top ten extreme flooding events since Colorado statehood," said Nolan Doesken, State Climatologist at CSU. "It isn't yet as extreme or widespread as the June 1965 floods or as dramatic as the 1935 floods but it ranks right up there among some of the worst.”

Among the worst, according to Climate Center data, occurred in May 1904, October 1911, June 1921, May 1935, September 1938, May 1955, June 1965, May 1969, October 1970, July 1976, July 1981, and, of course, the Spring Creek Flood of July 1997 that ravaged Fort Collins and the CSU campus.

."Every flood event in Colorado has its own unique characteristics," said Doesken. "But the topography of the Colorado Front Range makes this area particularly vulnerable when the necessary meteorological conditions come together as they did this week."

So it is perhaps a one in fifteen year flood.  Note that (by the math in my previous article linked above) a one in fifteen year flood covering an area half the size of Colorado should occur on overage over 60+ times a year around the world.  Our intuition about tail of the distribution event frequency is not very good, which is just another reason they make a poor proxy for drawing conclusions about trends in the mean of some phenomenon.


New Emergency Broadcast Texts

Don't know if you have seen these, but many cellular networks activated the capability to broadcast government "emergency" messages in the last week.  Mine has gone off twice in 3 days.  I get a tone like the old emergency broadcast network test on the radio and then a text like this one.  Not sure why dust storms that are routine features of summer here in Phoenix warrant having the NWS spam my phone, but there it is.  Tornado and tsunami warnings certainly make sense.  Wonder when the first conspiracy theory / scandal hits, such as the election day alert that warns people to avoid travel.

photo (2)


PS, gotta love "til" rather than "until".   Can't wait for the "Tornado Warning - FML" message.

Best and the Brightest May Finally Be Open To Considering Lower Climate Sensitivity Numbers

For years, readers of this site know that I have argued that:

  • CO2 is indeed a greenhouse gas, and since man is increasing its atmospheric concentration, there is likely some anthropogenic contribution to warming
  • Most forecasts, including those of the IPCC, grossly exaggerate temperature sensitivity to CO2 by assuming absurd levels of net positive feedback in the climate system
  • Past temperature changes are not consistent with high climate sensitivities

Recently, there have been a whole spate of studies based on actual observations rather than computer models that have been arriving at climate sensitivity numbers far below the IPCC number.   While the IPCC settled on 3C per doubling of CO2, it strongly implied that all the risk was to the upside, and many other prominent folks who typically get fawning attention in the media have proposed much higher numbers.

In fact, recent studies are coming in closer to 1.5C - 2C.  I actually still think these numbers will turn out to be high.  For several years now my money has been on a number from 0.8 to 1 C, sensitivity numbers that imply a small amount of negative feedback rather than positive feedback, a safer choice in my mind since most long-term stable natural systems are dominated by negative feedback.

Anyway, in an article that was as surprising as it is welcome, NY Times climate writer Andy Revkin has quite an article recently, finally acknowledging in the paper of record that maybe those skeptics who have argued for alower sensitivity number kind of sort of have a point.

Worse than we thought” has been one of the most durable phrases lately among those pushing for urgent action to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But on one critically important metric — how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a “climate sensitivity” — someclimate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

By the way, this is the only metric that matters.  All the other BS about "climate change" and "dirty weather" are meaningless without warming.  CO2 cannot change the climate  or raise sea levels or any of that other stuff by any mechanism we understand or that has even been postulated, except via warming.  Anyway, to continue:

There’s still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a “benign” situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it’s getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight.

This is also not a “single-study syndrome” situation, where one outlier research paper is used to cast doubt on a bigger body of work — as Skeptical Science asserted over the weekend. That post focused on the as-yet-unpublished paper finding lower sensitivity that was inadvisedly promoted recently by the Research Council of Norway.

In fact, there is an accumulating body of reviewed, published researchshaving away the high end of the range of possible warming estimates from doubled carbon dioxide levels. Chief among climate scientists critical of the high-sensitivity holdouts is James Annan, an experienced climate modeler based in Japan who contributed to the 2007 science report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2006, he was already diverging from his colleagues a bit.

The whole thing is good.  Of course, for Revkin, this is no excuse to slow down all the actions supposedly demanded by global warming, such as substantially raising the price and scarcity of hydrocarbons.  Which to me simply demonstrates that people who have been against hydrocarbons have always been against them as an almost aesthetic choice, and climate change and global warming were mere excuses to push the agenda.  After all, as there certainly are tradeoffs to limiting economic growth and energy use and raising the price of energy, how can a reduction in postulated harms from fossil fuels NOT change the balance point one chooses in managing their use?

PS-  I thought this was a great post mortem on Hurricane Sandy and the whole notion that this one data point proves the global warming trend:

In this case several factors not directly related to climate change converged to generate the event. On Sandy’s way north, it ran into a vast high-pressure system over Canada, which prevented it from continuing in that direction, as hurricanes normally do, and forced it to turn west. Then, because it traveled about 300 miles over open water before making landfall, it piled up an unusually large storm surge. An infrequent jet-stream reversal helped maintain and fuel the storm. As if all that weren’t bad enough, a full moon was occurring, so the moon, the earth, and the sun were in a straight line, increasing the moon’s and sun’s gravitational effects on the tides, thus lifting the high tide even higher. Add to this that the wind and water, though not quite at hurricane levels, struck an area rarely hit by storms of this magnitude so the structures were more vulnerable and a disaster occurred.

The last one is a key for me -- you have cities on the Atlantic Ocean that seemed to build and act as if they were immune from ocean storms.  From my perspective growing up on the gulf coast, where one practically expects any structure one builds on the coast to be swept away every thirty years or so, this is a big contributing factor no one really talks about.

She goes on to say that rising sea levels may have made the storm worse, but I demonstrated that it couldn't have added more than a few percentage points to the surge.

Sandy and Global Warming

The other day I linked my Forbes column that showed that there was no upward trend in global hurricane number and strength, the number of US hurricane strikes, or the number of October hurricanes.  Given these trends, anyone who wants to claim Sandy is proof of global warming is forced to extrapolate from a single data point.

Since I wrote that, Bob Tisdale had an interesting article on Sandy.  The theoretical link between global warming and more and stronger Atlantic hurricanes has not been fully proven, but the theory says that warmer waters will provide energy for more and larger storms (like Sandy).  Thus the theory is that global warming has heated up the waters through which hurricanes pass and that feed these hurricanes' strength.

Bob Tisdale took a look at the historical trends in sea surface temperatures in the area bounded by Sandy's storm track.  These are the temperature trends for the waters that fueled Sandy.  This is what he got:

If he has done the analysis right, this means there is no warming trend over the last 60+ years in the ocean waters that fed Sandy.  This means that the unusually warm seas that fed Sandy's growth were simply a random event, an outlier which appears from this chart to be unrelated to any long-term temperature trend.

Update:  I challenge you to find any article arguing that Sandy was caused by anthropogenic global warming that actually includes a long term trend chart (other than global temperatures) in the article.  The only one I have seen is a hurricane strike chart that is cut off in the 1950's (despite data that goes back over 100 years) because this is the only cherry-picked cut off point that delivers an upward trend.  If you find one, email me the link, I would like to see it.

Government Pollution and Risk Prioritization

A number of times in the past I have pointed out that government bodies in the US tend to be among the worst polluters.  While we sit around and argue about parts per billion of CO2 in the atmosphere, billions of gallons of raw sewage are being dumped into rivers.  I remember when I lived in Boston, the city just piped sewage out into the harbor.  When it got to disgusting and finally garnered a bit of negative media attention, they solved the untreated sewage problem by ... building a longer pipe and dumping it further out in the  ocean.   I worked at an Exxon refinery for a few years and it was always frustrating the regulatory attention we got on the smallest discharge (in general, the water we discharged had to be cleaner than the body of water we were discharging into) when local municipalities were dumping untreated sewage during storms into the same water, without consequence.

Anyway, here is a post from John Hanger via the Unbroken Window blog

A main goal of this blog is to help its readers prioritize the biggest threats to water quality and to understand that, though gas drilling impacts are real, they are well down the list of the most serious causes of pollution of Pennsylvania’s waters.  A must read is yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette front page story about the massive amounts of sewer overflows that reach rivers in the Pittsburgh region multiple times each year. annual volume of untreated sewage reaching rivers and streams is reported as 9 billion gallons per year and occurs in 30 to 70 storms annually, according to the Post Gazette.  And the bill for stopping this pollution and cleaning up is a staggering $2.8 billion.To make matters worse, the same problem of untreated sewage flowing into rivers and streams that the Pittsburgh region is confronting is found in many communities across Pennsylvania as well as in New York and other states.  While America’s sewage overflow problem dwarfs the impacts of gas drilling on water quality, it normally attracts little media attention or sustained public concern.  There are no Hollywood stars campaigning to stop these huge amounts of sewage from going into rivers.  There are no HBO movies on the problem.

Normally, this huge source of pollution that threatens public health and safety is ignored or draws a yawn.

Good risk prioritization is virtually impossible in the current state of the media and political dialog.   Mike Rizzo, writing at the blog, makes a good point:

if you asked people if the government should allow an odorless, tasteless, highly explosive gas to be piped into your house, where a small leak in a pipe could cause the entire house to explode, they would surely say No Way! But then ask them if natural gas stoves should be permitted in their homes and to a man they’d all say, “Of Course.”

Katrina Flashback

It is December, 2005.  The Gulf Coast had just been pounded, in succession, by Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.  Everyone was talking about how global warming seemed to be intensifying hurricanes.  In a speech just after Katrina, Al Gore said

 When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic floodwaters five days after a hurricane strikes, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe but to hold the processes of our nation accountable, and the leaders of our nation accountable, for the failures that have taken place....

There are scientific warnings now of another onrushing catastrophe. We were warned of an imminent attack by Al Qaeda; we didn't respond. We were warned the levees would break in New Orleans; we didn't respond. Now, the scientific community is warning us that the average hurricane will continue to get stronger because of global warming. A scientist at MIT has published a study well before this tragedy showing that since the 1970s, hurricanes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific have increased in duration, and in intensity, by about 50 percent....

Two thousand scientists, in 100 countries, engaged in the most elaborate, well-organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind, have produced long-since a consensus that we will face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we act to prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming....

At about the same time, the IPCC was in the process of preparing its fourth report, later released in 2007.  It said, in part:

Several peer-reviewed studies show a clear global trend toward increased intensity of the strongest hurricanes over the past two or three decades. The strongest trends are in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. According to the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4), it is “more likely than not” (better than even odds) that there is a human contribution to the observed trend of hurricane intensification since the 1970s. In the future, “it is likely [better than 2 to 1 odds] that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical [sea surface temperatures].”

So what happened?  Since Wilma in 2005, we have gone 6 full years without a category 3+ hurricane making landfall in the US, the longest span since 1900 without such an event.  And the clock is still counting.  When alarmists of all stripes were breathlessly predicting hurricane after hurricane in late 2005, the reality is that we wouldn't see another in the US for  over six years.

Of course, US landfall is in fact a terrible indicator of hurricane activity.  Its relevant to us, but it is a pretty random metric.  I said this when there were a lot of landfalls and I say it again since there have been so few.

A better metric is accumulated cyclonic energy, a sort of time integral of all large cyclonic storms worldwide.  Here is the most recent ACE figures:

As it turns out, the total strength of hurricane and hurricane-like storms has been falling almost since the exact day of Al Gore's speech in 2005 (another Gore effect!)  In fact, of late, it has hit numbers close to all-time lows.

Of course this chart will go back up some day, and then back down, and then up ... because hurricane activity has always been cyclical over decadal time scales.

The media loves to trumpet end-of-the-world predictions from folks like Al Gore and Paul Ehrlich, but they never go back five years later and back-check their predictions.  And despite their horrendous record for accuracy, the media eagerly publishes the next one.  Here is a proposed editorial rule for the MSM -- no breathless publication of anyone's next prediction without first revisiting the last one.

Manufacturing News to Fit the Narrative

OK, so the Eastern narrative on Arizona is that it is full of a bunch of wacked-out xenophobic conservatives.  And sure, we have our share.  But the NY Times delves into an issue that, living here, I had never even heard of

The massive dust storms that swept through central Arizona this month have stirred up not just clouds of sand but a debate over what to call them.

The blinding waves of brown particles, the most recent of which hit Phoenix on Monday, are caused by thunderstorms that emit gusts of wind, roiling the desert landscape. Use of the term “haboob,” which is what such storms have long been called in the Middle East, has rubbed some Arizona residents the wrong way.

“I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic after a particularly fierce, mile-high dust storm swept through the state on July 5. “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

Presumably Yonts also uses some numeric system other than arabic numerals for his math as well.  Seriously, I could mine any community and find some wacko with some crazy idea.  Good journalists are supposed to have some kind of filter on these things to determine if they really are some pressing regional issue.  I live here and I have not heard one word about any such controversy.  But it fits the NY Times caricature of AZ, so they ran with it.

In fact, I think "haboob" has caught on pretty fast because it is a fun sounding name and it is something that is unique to AZ vs. other states.    After living on the Gulf Coast and in tornado alley and on the west coast, it is kind of nice to live in a place where the worst natural disaster you get is a dust tsunami that makes you have to go out and wash your car.

More on Our Dust Storm

I blogged on our dust storm last week.  It was really bizarre to watch it rolling in on us.  It was one of those things that you know intellectually is not really threatening but a steady diet of Stephen King and other authors had some part of my brain wondering if I shouldn't be driving north at 90MPH to stay ahead of it.

By the way, such storms are called a "haboob".

Radley Balko linked this time lapse video.

Dust Storm

We get dust storms from time to time here (though not as often as, say, in Eastern Washington, at least from the short experience I had there).  Last night we had a big one, and as usual every surface is covered in dirt.  While it was going on, it looked like a London fog, but with dirt instead of water.

What made this one different for me is that I got to see it roll in from the south.  It was an amazing sight.  It looked like a scene from Steven King's the Mist, or perhaps from the bottom of a volcano slope watching a pyroclastic flow coming at you.  It reminded me of standing in the streets of Manhattan on 9/11 and watching the cloud of debris coming at us after the first tower fell.  Here is a picture from the AZ Republic of the storm rolling in from the south like a giant tsunami.

Here is a video of it rolling in, which is really cool, if you can ignore the end-is-near typical style of local reporting that has to blow up every odd event into a catastrophe demanding that one tune in at eleven.

Progressives and Capitalism

My Forbes post this week is on progressives and capitalism:

Progressives are often as overwhelmed by the world economy as primitive man was by his natural environment.  Just as the primitive man was confused by and fearful of storms and earthquakes and drought and disease, progressives are befuddled by the rise and fall of industries, booms and recessions, wealth and poverty.  And just as primitive men invented gods and myths to help bring order and a sense of controllability to events they didn't understand, progressives create governments in the hopes of imposing top-down order on a chaotic economy....

The children of the 1960's had a number of catch phrases, among them "power to the people."  The irony is that no system in history has ever empowered individuals as much as has capitalism.  Capitalism is the only way to organize economic activity without the use of force, the only approach that does not require that a few human beings be given power over us to guide our activity from above.  This results in an order that is emergent and bottom-up, as beautiful in its complexity as anything in nature.  And, and order that is as terrifying to progressives as nature was to primitive man.  As a result, progressives would trade it all away, would accept a master, would accept impoverishment and stagnation, in order to attain predictability.

I am sure, if asked, most  progressives would profess to desire iPod's and cures for cancer.  But they want these without the incentives that drive men to invent them, and the disruption to current markets and competitors and employees that their introduction entails.  They want to end poverty without wealth creation, they want jobs without employers, they want cars without unemployment for buggy whip makers.  When it comes to actual, real-world legislation, progressives will nearly always embrace predictability and egalitarianism over innovation and growth.

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.

Warmer and Richer

Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a Cato study that finally gets at an issue I have tried to press for years:  That even if one accepts the worst of the IPCC warming scenarios (which I do not) the
cost of CO2 abatement, particularly in terms of lost economic growth, is far
higher than the cost of rising temperatures -- ESPECIALLY for the poor. 

Hurricanes are a great example.  The world is probably warming a bit due to man's CO2, but likely less than the catastrophic rates one sees in the press.  This warming may or may not increase hurricane severity.  But let's assume it does.  Let's say Asia faces an extra cyclone or two each year from global warming. 

Over time, trends in deaths from hurricanes and severe deaths have shown no correlation with storm frequency or severity.  Death rates from storms track nearly perfectly with wealth:  As wealth has increased in the US, severe storm deaths have dropped to nearly zero;  Where countries are less wealthy, they experience more death.  Bangladesh is not the site of some of the deadliest storms on record because they get hit by the worst storms, but because they are poor.  (figure source)


As a result, if we really face this tradeoff (which I doubt) the world still is better off richer with 10 hurricanes than poorer with 8.

The Houston Rabbit Warren

Growing up in Houston, one of the odder parts of the city, even for a local, is the underground tunnel system downtown.  The system was built, I presume, because you can't even cross the street in the summer time in 100 degree / 100% humidity weather without sweating through your suit coat.  The tunnel system has become quite extensive, such that you can navigate for miles without ever seeing the light of day.  Casual observers often comment on the lack of pedestrian traffic in downtown Houston, but that is perhaps because they never looked under ground.  Over time, underground shopping malls and restaurants and food courts appeared along the tunnels, bringing even more people under ground.

The tunnels are especially difficult to navigate, because there are no visual clues (e.g. we are heading to that building over there) and no signs.  We used to joke people had been lost down there for decades.

Well, the secret is apparently out, as the NY Times has discovered the Houston tunnels.

Seared by triple-digit heat and drenched by tropical storms, midday
downtown Houston appears eerily deserted, the nation's fourth-largest
city passing for a ghost town.

On the street, that is.

below, there are tunnels at the end of the light "” nearly seven
color-coded miles of them connecting 77 buildings "” aswarm with
Houstonians lunching, shopping and power-walking in dry, air-chilled

"Nothing says north, south, east or west. You have to memorize the
buildings," said David Gerst, a lawyer who opened a lucrative sandwich
shop "” BeWitched "” off the East McKinney (green) tunnel network under
Commerce Towers, the former Chamber of Commerce building converted to
condominiums. For access to the 3,000 people who stream by his shop
each lunchtime in what tunnel merchants call the holy hours, Mr. Gerst
pays $2,500 a month rent for 800 square feet, more than what surface
lunch space may command.

This is the best part:

It was not centrally planned; it just grew, inspired by Rockefeller
Center in New York. But it is not connected to a transit network. And,
befitting Texans' distrust of government, most of it is private; each
segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to
allow the public access during business hours "” and then locks the
doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the
former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders

Storm Frequency

I already discussed Newsweek's happy little ad hominem attack on climate skeptics here.  However, as promised, I wanted to talk about the actual, you know, science for a bit, starting from the Newsweek author's throwaway statement that she felt required no
proof, "The frequency of Atlantic hurricanes has already doubled in the
last century."

This is really a very interesting topic, much more interesting than following $10,000 of skeptics' money around in a global warming industry spending billions on research.  One would think the answer to this hurricane question is simple.  Can we just look up the numbers?  Well, let's start there.  Total number of Atlantic hurricanes form the HURDAT data base, first and last half of the last century:

1905-1955 = 366
1956-2006 = 458

First, you can see nothing like a doubling.  This is an increase of 25%.  So already, we see that in an effort to discredit skeptics for fooling America about the facts, Newsweek threw out a whopper that absolutely no one in climate science, warming skeptic or true believer, would agree with.

But let's go further, because there is much more to the story.  Because 25% is a lot, and could be damning in and of itself.  But there are problems with this data.  If you think about storm tracking technology in 1905 vs. 2005, you might see the problem.  To make it really clear, I want to talk about tornadoes for a moment.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore and company said that global warming was increasing the number of tornadoes in the US.  He claimed 2004 was the highest year ever for tornadoes in the US.  In his PowerPoint slide deck (on which the movie was based) he sometimes uses this chart (form the NOAA):

Whoa, that's scary.  Any moron can see there is a trend there.  Its like a silver bullet against skeptics or something.  But wait.  Hasn't tornado detection technology changed over the last 50 years?  Today, we have doppler radar, so we can detect even smaller size 1 tornadoes, even if no one on the ground actually spots them (which happens fairly often).  But how did they measure smaller tornadoes in 1955 if no one spotted them?  Answer:  They didn't.  In effect, this graph is measuring apples and oranges.  It is measuring all the tornadoes we spotted by human eye in 1955 with all the tornadoes we spotted with doppler radar in 2000.   The NOAA tries to make this problem clear on their web site.

With increased national doppler
radar coverage, increasing population, and greater attention to tornado
reporting, there has been an increase in the number of tornado reports over the
past several decades. This can create a misleading appearance of an increasing
trend in tornado frequency. To better understand the true variability and trend
in tornado frequency in the US, the total number of strong to violent tornadoes
(F3 to F5 category on the Fujita scale) can be analyzed. These are the
tornadoes that would have likely been reported even during the decades before
Dopplar radar use became widespread and practices resulted in increasing
tornado reports. The bar chart below indicates there has been little trend in
the strongest tornadoes over the past 55 years.

So itt turns out there is a decent way to correct for this.  We don't think that folks in 1955 were missing many of the larger class 3-5 tornadoes, so comparing 1955 and 2000 data for these larger tornadoes should be more apples to apples (via NOAA).

Well, that certainly is different (note 2004 in particular, given the movie claim).  No upward trend at all when you get the data right.  I wonder if Al Gore knows this?  I am sure he is anxious to set the record straight.

OK, back to hurricanes.  Generally, whether in 1905 or 2005, we know if a hurricane hits land in the US.  However, what about all the hurricanes that don't hit land or hit land in some undeveloped area?  Might it be that we can detect these better in 2006 with satellites than we could in 1905?  Just like the tornadoes?

Well, one metric we have is US landfall.  Here is that graph  (data form the National Weather Service -- I have just extrapolated the current decade based on the first several years).

Not much of a trend there, though the current decade is high, in part due to the fact that it does not incorporate the light 2006 season nor the light-so-far 2007 season.  The second half of the 20th century is actually lower than the first half, and certainly not "twice as large".  But again, this is only a proxy.  There may be reasons more storms are formed but don't make landfall (though I would argue most Americans only care about the latter).

But what about hurricane damages?  Everyone knows that the dollar damages from hurricanes is way up.  Well, yes.  But the amount of valuable real estate on the United State's coast is also way up.  Roger Pielke and Chris Landsea (you gotta love a guy studying hurricane strikes named Landsea) took a shot at correcting hurricane damages for inflation and the increased real estate value on the coasts.  This is what they got:

Anyway, back to our very first data, several scientists are trying to correct the data for missing storms, particularly in earlier periods.  There is an active debate here about corrections I won't get into, but suffice it to say the difference between the first half of the 20th century to the latter half in terms of Atlantic hurricane formations is probably either none or perhaps a percentage increase in the single digits (but nowhere near 100% increase as reported by Newsweek).

Debate continues, because there was a spike in hurricanes from 1995-2005 over the previous 20 years.  Is this anomalous, or is it similar to the spike that occurred in the thirties and forties?  No one is sure, but isn't this a lot more interesting than figuring out how the least funded side of a debate gets their money?  And by the way, congratulations again to MSM fact-checkers.

My layman's guide to skepticism of catastrophic man-made global warming is here.  A shorter, 60-second version of the best climate skeptic's arguments is here.

Update:  If the author bothered to have a source for her statement, it would probably be Holland and Webster, a recent study that pretty much everyone disagrees with and many think was sloppy.  And even they didn't say activity had doubled.  Note the only way to get a doubling is to cherry-pick a low decade in the first half of the century and a high decade in the last half of the century and compare just those two decades -- you can see this in third paragraph of the Scientific American article.  This study bears all the hallmarks -- cherry picking data, ignoring scientific consensus, massaging results to fit an agenda -- that the Newsweek authors were accusing skeptics of.

Update #2:  The best metric for hurricane activity is not strikes or numbers but accumulated cyclonic energy.  Here is the ACE trend, as measured by Florida State.  As you can see, no upward trend.


Someone Check the Thermostat! Part 2

In the past, I have argued that it is odd that climate scientists ignore the changes in solar activity in their models.  Despite the fact the sun's activity is at a very high level (vs. the past several hundred years) the most recent IPCC report says they think that earth's temperatures would have fallen in the 20th century absent anthropogenic effects.  So then why is this happening:

Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap,
writes Jonathan Leake.

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C
since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth
over approximately the same period.

Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.

mechanism at work on Mars appears, however, to be different from that
on Earth. One of the researchers, Lori Fenton, believes variations in
radiation and temperature across the surface of the Red Planet are
generating strong winds.

a paper published in the journal Nature, she suggests that such winds
can stir up giant dust storms, trapping heat and raising the planet's

Almost every planet in the Solar System has been found to be warming over the last several decades.  At what point do we turn our attention, at least in part, to Mr. Sun?  (Hat tip Q&O Blog)

British Censors Rewriting... the Future?

Government censors often try to rewrite the past, but Reason's Hit and Run passes on this funny story of British attempts to rewrite the future:

Britain's Meteorological Office has instructed forecasters to describe the
country's damp, dismal, seasonal-affect-disorder-inducing, godawful weather in
Bob Rossian terms:

Prolonged sunshine is expected under new "positive" forecast
guidelines issued by the Meteorological Office...

There is no need to dwell on a "small chance of showers" when "mainly dry"
tells a better story. If there are "localised storms" then it must be "dry for
most". Clouds over Manchester mean generally clear visibility for motorway

I don't know what the Brits are complaining about in a forecast such as "small chance of showers".  In the States, the same forecast would be communicated as "huge, civilization ending storm approaching - details at 11".  When I lived in St. Louis, I remember that the local news successfully predicted 11 of the last 3 snowstorms.

Update:  I appears that the media has also been reporting 11 of the last 3 murders:

Five weeks after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, some local, state
and federal officials have come to believe that exaggerations of mayhem by
officials and rumors repeated uncritically in the news media helped slow the
response to the disaster and tarnish the image of many of its

Claims of widespread looting, gunfire directed at helicopters and
rescuers, homicides, and rapes, including those of "babies" at the Louisiana
Superdome, frequently turned out to be overblown, if not completely untrue,
officials now say.

The sensational accounts delayed rescue and evacuation efforts already hampered
by poor planning and a lack of coordination among local, state and federal
agencies. People rushing to the Gulf Coast to fly rescue helicopters or to
distribute food, water and other aid steeled themselves for battle. In
communities near and far, the seeds were planted that the victims of Katrina
should be kept away, or at least handled with extreme caution.

I had my own commentary about media malpractice here.

This is Sick

The town of New London, CT, is assessing nearly 5 years back rent on Susette Kelo and other property holders whose land the Supreme Court recently allowed the city to confiscate.  As it stands, if New London has its way, Kelo will not only lose her house, she will also be wiped out financially, all for the crime of owning the land where New London wanted condos and hotels.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that the city's original seizure of
private property was constitutional under the principal of eminent domain, and
now New London is claiming that the affected homeowners were living on city land
for the duration of the lawsuit and owe back rent. It's a new definition of
chutzpah: Confiscate land and charge back rent for the years the owners fought

In some cases, their debt could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Moreover, the homeowners are being offered buyouts based on the market rate as
it was in 2000...

The New London Development Corp., the semi-public organization hired by the
city to facilitate the deal, is offering residents the market rate as it was in
2000, as state law requires. That rate pales in comparison to what the units are
now worth, owing largely to the relentless housing bubble that has yet to burst.

"I can't replace what I have in this market for three times [the 2000
assessment]," says Dery, 48, who works as a home delivery sales manager for the New London Day . He soothes himself with humor:
"It's a lot like what I like to do in the stock market: buy high and sell low."

And there are more storms on the horizon. In June 2004, NLDC sent the seven
affected residents a letter indicating that after the completion of the case,
the city would expect to receive retroactive "use and occupancy" payments (also
known as "rent") from the residents.

In the letter, lawyers argued that because the takeover took place in 2000,
the residents had been living on city property for nearly five years, and would
therefore owe rent for the duration of their stay at the close of the trial. Any
money made from tenants, some residents' only form of income, would also have to be
paid to the city....

An NLDC estimate assessed Dery for $6,100 per month since the takeover, a
debt of more than $300K. One of his neighbors, case namesake Susette Kelo, who
owns a single-family house with her husband, learned she would owe in the
ballpark of 57 grand. "I'd leave here broke," says Kelo. "I wouldn't have a home
or any money to get one. I could probably get a large-size refrigerator box and
live under the bridge."

I want to barf.  Hat tip to Reason's Hit and Run.

This Was Inevitable - Environmentalists Try To Blame Tsunami on Global Warming

Global warming advocates are already trying to make hay from the recent tsunami disaster (via Reuters, who else)

"Global Warming, Pollution Add to Coastal Threats"

Creeping rise in sea levels tied to global warming, pollution and damage to coral reefs may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in future, experts said on Monday.

Of course it says " the future", but advocates want you to believe that the death toll is due in part to global warming.  Forget of course that the world has yet to see any rises in ocean level (presumably due to melting ice somewhere) or that the basic disaster mechanism of earthquake causing tidal wave has nothing, zero, nada to do with climate.

The argument that clearing mangrove swamps may make a tsunami worse may or may not be true to some extent, but this is only a secondary effect.  The primary, by far, human activity that affected the death toll is the desire by humans to live on the coast.  Unless you want to change this (and I would bet that a disproportionate number of the world's environmentalists make this same personal choice to live on the coast) it does not really matter if there are mangroves or not.

Ironically, the primary way to avoid such disasters is not by reversing human technology (as global warming activists want to do), but by increasing it, in the form of warning systems and evacuation routes.  Global warming advocates actually want to keep everyone poor - they blame wealth and progress for global warming, but note that wealthy countries like the US (the global warming great Satan) has had the technology and the wealth to afford to put systems in place that would have prevented such a huge death toll.  Wealth, prosperity and technology are what would have averted this disaster, and it is just these things that global warming advocates oppose for Southeast Asia.  So here is my alternate headline and first paragraph:

"Poverty, Lack of Technology add to Coastal Threats"

The creeping influence of global warming advocates and treaties that are limiting 3rd world growth and prosperity may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in future, experts said on Monday.