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Thread: Another climate change switchback

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    Another climate change switchback

    Pointed out in Powerline by John Hinderaker:
    I’m so old, I can remember when global warming caused droughts. Or, put another way, climate change was making the Earth–in particular, the Great Lakes–drier. Thus, as I noted here [Lake Superior Drying Up Due to Climate Change! No, Wait…, Oct. 2017]:
    Hinderaker cites instances around 2013 when global warming was drying up the Great Lakes. (The National Geographic link is defunct.) Here's the Nat'l Resources Defense Council:
    ...It's no secret that, partially due to climate change, the water levels in the Great Lakes are getting very low. It's becoming such a problem that six U.S. Senators from Great Lakes states are upset with President Obama for overlooking the Lakes in his Climate Action Plan. Here are a few excerpts of the letter to the President from Senators Levin, Durbin, Franken, Brown, Schumer, and Stabenow:

    "We applaud the Administration for releasing a climate action plan...but were disappointed that the Great Lakes were not mentioned.

    "This year, Great Lakes water levels reached new historic lows severely hampering commercial shipping, jeopardizing recreational boating and fishing, devastating the tourism industry, threatening electric power generation, compromising water supply infrastructure, and exacerbating problems caused by invasive species.

    “In particular, the impacts of climate change on commerce and navigation should be of utmost importance. The Great Lakes Navigation System carries over 160 million tons of cargo annually.

    “Addressing the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes region is essential for the long-term health, safety, and prosperity of our country.”

    Why is climate change linked to lower water levels in the Great Lakes? Some models predict that climate change will increase evaporation in the Great Lakes due to warmer temperatures, especially since reduced ice cover in winter leads to more evaporation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently published a great piece connecting Lake Michigan’s record low water levels, climate change, evaporation, loss of winter ice, and the consequences for local communities. Although some uncertainty exists, as projected increases in precipitation may somewhat replenish low water levels, many regional officials are working today to minimize future climate risks on the Great Lakes.

    The six Senators on the letter to the President are not the only elected officials concerned about the Great Lakes. In 2008, the Great Lakes Compact was signed by the Governors of IL, IN, MI, MN, NY, OH, PA and WI, as a legally-binding water-management pact to ensure protection of the Great Lakes Basin.
    In a Congressional Record moment Hinderaker linked to (6/25/2013), Sen. Durbin gets excited:
    What we are seeing in global warming is the evaporation of our Great Lakes. It is a scary thing to think about what this will ultimately do to us.

    The President is going to face the issue head on. There are some who want to run away from it. They can do that if they wish. But their war on science, their war on health, their war on those destructive forces that are affecting the Earth is shortsighted. We need leadership on this, bipartisan leadership.
    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report is equally alarmist (7/27/2013), but backed up by Scientists rather than Nazi Hunters:

    Does Lake Michigan's record low mark beginning of new era for Great Lakes?
    Patric Kuptz means it when he says he grew up on the Great Lakes.

    "I've spent most of my life within 50 feet of here," the 37-year-old said on a sunny May morning, working on a boat near his third-generation family home — a brown brick duplex at the edge of Milwaukee's South Shore Yacht Club.

    This is where, as a boy, he Huck-Finned away his summers — chasing perch from the docks, splashing in the frigid surf and making all manner of mischief around the yacht club, news of which often made it home before he did.

    Today, Kuptz hardly recognizes the lakeshore as the one he grew up on, pointing to a beach that didn't exist when he was a kid in the mid-1980s, when the water was about five feet higher and yacht club members needed steps to ascend from the docks to their boats. When that record-high water dropped a couple of years later and those stairs were being thrown away, the young Kuptz couldn't believe it.

    He knew even back then that lake levels were a fickle thing, so he hatched a plan to stash the stairs in his garage — and sell them back to their owners when the lake bounced back.

    Kuptz is glad he never acted on it because the only record water level that has returned in the last quarter century is the record low set this winter. Today it is Kuptz who is convinced the lake isn't coming back, at least not in his lifetime, and now he is the one making plans accordingly.

    He sold his sailboat.

    "I actually bought a power boat because I'm worried about the draft," Kuptz said of the keel-grabbing water levels. "It's nuts. I'd never seen it this low."

    Nobody has.
    This fellow is one of several like-minded science types featured in the report:
    The lake level, of course, has been in constant flux since record-keeping began a century and a half ago. Tracking it on a graph is like looking at an EKG monitor. Little blips and dips reflect seasonal oscillations that cause the lake, in a typical year, to vary about a foot between summertime high and wintertime low.

    In addition to those annual ebbs and flows are larger swings that span decades tied to long-term weather patterns, with Lake Michigan's record high topping out more than 6 feet above the record low set this January.

    Draw a red line through the middle of all those highs and lows and you get what was, up until 1999, Lake Michigan's long-term average surface level — 579 feet above sea level.

    That year the lake mysteriously took its 3-foot dive, and it has stayed down for nearly a decade and a half — and counting.

    Previous drops into low water, in the 1920s, '30s, '50s and '60s, were always followed by a quick and sustained rebound beyond the long-term average. Usually it happened within three or four years, though the slow but steady climb during the Dust Bowl droughts took the better part of the '30s.

    But with this ongoing low water, which has never shown an indication that it is on a sustained track back toward average, decades of rhythmic pulses hitched to the red line appear to have stopped, or at least stalled.

    Frank Quinn, a retired hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, has been tracking lake levels for more than a half century, and he's heard all manner of crazy theories for the previous lows. Atom bomb testing was a popular culprit in the 1960s, and rumors swirled for years of a secret canal under Niagara Falls channeling flows to thirstier regions.

    The truth was always a little drier — the lakes were simply suffering from a lack of rain and snow.

    What's going on today is different.

    "Based on the precipitation we've had, we would not expect to have the record low lake levels that we have," Quinn said.

    Last year was indeed extremely dry. But the past 14 years, on average, have been wetter than usual for Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are actually one body of water connected at the Straits of Mackinac.

    Even so, the lakes remain about a foot and a half below their average for this time of year.

    So where did all the water go?

    This is not a story about climate change.

    It is a story about climate changed.
    I especially like Mr. Quinn, though, because he cites "all manner of crazy theories for the previous lows" ("Atom bomb testing was a popular culprit in the 1960s, and rumors swirled for years of a secret canal under Niagara Falls channeling flows to thirstier regions."), even as he jumps on board the latest such.

    Hinderaker features a handy chart, and it's easy to see how, if the chart were cut off in 2013, you might fret.



    Of course, as Yogi Berra allegedly said, making predictions is hard, especially about the future. My personal track record of political predictions is so bad, for example, I should probably go into the Climate Change business.

    "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

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  3. #2
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    Having been in the professional weather game as an adjunct to air quality analysis, I can say with no reservations that nobody knows what they are talking about.

    Local weather varies (sometimes extremely) in response to a lot of things including 'God knows what'. We simply don't have a reliable timeline. Our best efforts at capturing real time data on temps, humidity, wind speed, sky conditions, and a number of other parameters are like 20 years old. That's when we got reliable telemetry data.

    Before then (and satellite data), we had a lot of 'by guess and by golly' data on some parameters. Some of it was as accurate as possible given the tech but a lot of it was sketchy since actual real humans recorded it under varying conditions (including blind drunk) and often using instruments that hadn't been calibrated in a decade. On top of that, many, many monitoring stations were perfectly fine when initially built but eventually became surrounded by urban heat sinks or parking lots.

    NOAA is notorious for maintaining monitoring stations by parking lots or atop urban buildings. Much of their urban data is suspect at best.

    Then you have the fabled "data smoothing". This is a statistical technique to "normalize" data sets based on previous trends and/or expected future trends. This works pretty well for money but is less successful in depicting the natural world. Having designed more than one model, I can tell you that no model can approach true predictive value. They can hint or confirm but they can't predict. There are simply too many variables including all the stuff you didn't even think of because it didn't seem relevant at the time. A weather model (climate model) is severely limited. You are inputting data you believe is crucial. It may be but you aren't inputting factors that are equally crucial that you haven't recognized yet. And you aren't running it over long enough time frames. Weather moves in seasonal, annual, and decadal waves along with much longer cycles (20, 60, 120 years and beyond) tied to small variations to our axial tilt and range as well as the behavior of the Sun in it's cycles which we frankly don't know enough about.

    So, it's a crap shoot beyond a couple of months and we blow that pretty often.
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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