Comments by Dr. Ryan N. Maue
Apparently we can throw away the meteorology textbooks, fire the forecasters at the National Weather Service, and tell universities and research labs that they have utterly failed to explain the origin of “monster snowstorms”. Renowned theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku crosses disciplinary boundaries to provide the readers of CNN.com his opinion on the recent winter weather over the Northeast and elsewhere. However, his explanations are hand-wavy, lacking peer-reviewed foundation, and quite equivocal — yet typical of the recent media rush to blame winter weather or any weather on global warming. However, as a theoretical physicist, Kaku needs to do a lot better and consult any weather forecaster that knows why there were snowstorms in the 1770s, 1970s, and still today. At the AMS meeting, Dr. Trenberth highlighted the reason: “winter”. CNN.com article link.
From Monster Snowstorms still spell global warming, I copy a few paragraphs and get to the important one…
New York (CNN) — The weather seems to be going berserk, with more snow dumped on our beleaguered Northeastern cities in a month than in a year, paralyzing business and our lives. Records are being broken even as we speak…
Basically, snowstorms in this region arise from the collision of cold Arctic air from Canada moving south and bumping up against warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, causing water vapor to condense and freeze and then form snowstorms, which travel up the Northeast corridor.
Among many factors, the amount of snow dumped is largely driven by the amount of moisture in humid air and not so much the temperature, and this seems to go against common sense.
Here’s the false dichotomy that Kaku sets up:
“There is no single smoking gun that can point us to the origin of these monster snowstorms. But we can focus our attention on two likely culprits. The first is pure chance. There are many random fluctuations in the weather due to many diverse factors (for example, last year’s weather was affected by El Niño).”
“But the second is global warming.”
Similarly, the main consequence of global warming is not warming at all but instead increasingly violent swings in the weather, with droughts and famine in one area occurring at the same time as flooding in another, and snowstorms in one region at the same time as hot spells in another.
More from Kaku:
“I saw this two weeks ago when I spoke in São Paulo, Brazil, where there were massive, lethal mudslides caused by unrelenting, pouring rain, which in turn might have been caused by increased moisture in the air. Of course, this means only that global warming is consistent with the monster storms hitting the Northeast, not that it is the only definitive factor.”
And as the Earth continues to heat, it means that there will be more moisture in the air to possibly drive more monster storms and hurricanes, simultaneously with droughts and hot spells. So we might expect more unusual, bizarre weather patterns in the future.
And unless something is done about it, get used to it.”
From someone of Kaku’s reputation and credibility, I am surprised to read this very basic and hand-wavy, meaning factually light, screed that is barely above high school level science. Perhaps that was what was requested by CNN.com or whoever solicited this contribution, but come on. Kaku sets up a false dichotomy: it’s either random chance or it’s global warming (or I guess both). But, then proceeds to equivocate on every major point thereafter. To summarize, he says we need to do something about it.
Just a suggestion, if this is what the media establishment is putting out there to win over the public hearts and minds on draconian carbon taxation, then at least come up with some hardened facts. I am happy to hear the mention of El Nino, but the transition to a very strong La Nina is likely more important on top of the other alphabet soup of atmosphere/ocean oscillations on a bunch of timescales. It’s like the media, liberal politicians, and now television series scientists awoke out of a coma and are marveling about the drastic changes in the weather/climate all around them. It’s snowed before, it’s flooded before, and it will again. There is plenty of literature on storm track dynamics, extratropical cyclones, and countless broadcast meteorologists that could help a theoretical physicist out. Heck, turn on the Weather Channel and watch the jet stream blue-worm graphic.
Addendum: Mike Smith at Meteorological Musings also has a good essay on the Kaku căca .
Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. has a related story here – Anthony