Climate denialists on Texas weather 2011: Ain’t no heat wave, on average

August 8, 2011

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

In defense of his claim that Texas has not warmed over the last century (“Texas temperatures not rising; Wisconsin temperatures not rising”) and, therefore, Texas does not suffer from global warming, and therefore there is no global warming and no ill effects from warming, Steve Goddard posted this today:

Year-To-Date In Texas

Posted on August 7, 2011 by stevengoddard

Almost as warm as 1927, 1925 and 1953. Only a degree cooler than 1911.

It’s heading for 105°, but since it was 15° one day in February, that averages to 60°, so Texas is okay, according to Goddard.  In their drive to fuzz up the facts and surround policy debates with snark, the denialists will deny anything, leave no weather record untwisted, and deny the sweat on the nose on their face.  According to Goddard, snow in the Great Basin means no drought in Las Vegas, as shown by there being no drought affecting Lake Powell.

Remember Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams’s old line?  “Fighting ignorance since 1973 (it’s taking longer than we thought.)”  Yeah, that applies to climate denialists in quantity.

Here’s what’s going on in Texas right now:

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  •  Texas A&M says the drought of 2011 is the worst ever 1-year drought in Texas history; note how their press release describes the event, and the increasing heat:

    Preliminary reports from the National Climatic Data Center indicate that July 2011 was the warmest month ever recorded statewide for Texas, with data going back to 1895, [State Climatologist John] Nielsen-Gammon reports. The average temperature of 87.2 degrees broke the previous record of 86.5 degrees set in 1998. The June average temperature of 85.2 was a record for that month and now ranks fifth warmest overall.

    Rainfall totals were also unusually light across the state. The July monthly total of 0.72 inches ranks third driest, surpassed by the 0.69 inches recorded in both 1980 and 2000. This is the fifth consecutive month in which precipitation totals were among the 10 driest for that month, says the Texas A&M professor.

Drought and searing heat in Texas.  Caused by climate change?  That’s difficult to say, difficult to trace.  Made worse by climate change?  Most likely.

Dallas media track the consecutive days over 100° F.  It’s a form of misery index — people can recover from a day or two over the century mark.  But more than a couple of days and the heat begins to take a heavier toll on people, on plants and animals, on houses, on cars, on crops, on everything we do in Texas.  It’s difficult to make news make sense on weather stories.  Tracking the number of days over 100° gives a quick graphic for television news, and puts the story into the vein of a sports record story, a narrative people know.

Here’s how things stack up in Dallas, in terms of days over 100°:

Rank Year Consecutive 100° days
1 1980 42
2 2011 37 (and counting)
3 1998 29
4 1952 25
5 1999 24
6 1954 20
7 2006 19
8 2010 18
8 1978 18
10 1956 17

If one looks at the heat streaks, one cannot help but notice that all of the top ten streaks have come since 1952, and that three are in the last decade, five since 1998.  Brutal heat streaks appear to be coming more frequently, many close on the heels of previous heat streaks, and with greater severity.

That is what one would expect from global warming.

Moreover, the recent streaks show greater oscillations.  2011 also saw snow and freezing weather in Dallas, a rarity.  Greater oscillations in weather also would be expected from global warming.

Goddard offers a comparison of January to June temperatures — the coolest part of the calendar year, and leaving out most of the heat-streak days — and on that basis of a half-comparison, he suggests (doesn’t say — he doesn’t want to be caught lying outright) that there isn’t a warming problem in Dallas in 2011.

Heat stroke?  It’s a figment of your socialist imagination.  14 dead?  They probably were smokers.  Global warming?   Not if Steve Goddard can find a statistic somewhere that can be manipulated to appear to deny it.

What do his charts show for July and August of those years?

Finally, there is this:   Assume for a moment that there has been no significant warming in Texas as a complete landmass over the past 100 years:  Does that mean Texas is not battered by any warming that occurs elsewhere?

Of course not.  The current drought in Texas is thought to be triggered in no small part by the La Niña effect, a chilling of the surface of the Pacific in a broad band that stretches west of Peru for about 5,000 miles to the far South Pacific.  La Niña is a counterpart to El Niño, a warming of the same band of water that produces different, not-average weather effects.  The cycles are not well understood as to cause — there are good hypotheses being tested — but it has been observed that, especially in the latter part of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, these cycles are speeding up.  The best, not-disproven hypothesis is that these cycles react and speed up due to global warming.

So, to the best of our hypothesizing today, the Texas drought is a function of global warming, in timing, frequency and severity.

This demonstrates the ultimate problem with using a local temperature readings to make authoritative statements about global warming, even averaged over about a hundred million acres like Texas:  Problems of global warming are not always simply problems of temperature, and non-local causes may cause local effects that will not show up in temperature, especially local effects in precipitation, in timing and amounts.

Botanists, foresters, range scientists and biogeographers noticed effects of warming 50 years ago, with the migration of species northward, and up mountainsides.  Wildlife managers noticed altered migrations of game birds and non-game birds about the same time, migration alterations that continue to today.  Plant zones used by farmers and gardeners demonstrate a good deal of change, generally favoring warming, over the past century.  Evidence for warming is quite solid without a single temperature reading.

A bastion of average temperature non-increases, if Texas is one, may still be hammered by warming and its effects in the Pacific, and especially in the Gulf of Mexico.  Is it fair to say the entire system shows no signs of warming?

So we should ask:  Are temperatures and precipitation averages, frequencies, timing and totals, about average for the last century or two?  Then  the case for global warming is a bit weaker.

Dallas will eclipse the previous record string of 100° F days in the next week.  All of Texas is in severe drought, and most of the state is in extreme drought.  Sounds as if there is something going on with the climate.

Last year the denialism sites lit up with a report that a fourth grade student in South Texas had a science project that disproved global warming, and which won an award from the National Science Foundation.  It was a sad hoax.  The speed with which these sites pounced on the report should have warned us that a school of thought devoid of practical results from the lab bench or observation in nature gets too desperate for results, and will cut corners to claim them.  Goddard’s reports repeat the bad methodology of that hoax.

Richard Feynman once wrote, wryly, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”  Goddard and other denialists appear to read that wrongly, thinking that experts are not to be trusted, and that all experts are ignorant of all things, and therefore stupid.

Politics and especially the politics of science cry out for someone to read Feynman — actually read what he wrote.  Feynman said we should not assume all scientists are infallible.  He did not write that all scientists are fallible and wrong.

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