Conservative Think-Tank falsely conflates hurricane forecasting with climate change

Post by Dr. Ryan N. Maue

The National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative “think-tank”, has again issued a press release asking if NOAA is Smarter than Fifth Graders (?) when forecasting the number of Atlantic tropical storms in 2011. However, in their lame satirical attempt at making serious points, they reveal how little they actually know about seasonal hurricane forecasting. Amy Ridenour, president of the outfit, falsely conflates seasonal hurricane forecasting with climate science methods relating human-caused global warming to changes in x, y, and z phenomena.

Ridenour and her Think-Tank should not mock the researchers who are legitimately trying to determine the ferocity of the upcoming hurricane season – as preparedness is the key to preventing loss of life. NOAA, including the National Weather Service and the many labs around the US including the Storm Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center perform admirably to warn the public of impending situations, and often explain the causes and implications of weather phenomena in professional manners.

If you read the NOAA Hurricane Outlook for 2011, you will find the scientific reasoning for the upcoming “above-normal” hurricane season. However, predicting the exact number of storms is indeed a crap-shoot, as many tropical cyclones develop from small-scale, seemingly opportunistic disturbances that are not necessarily characteristic of the prevailing large-scale climate.  Looking to the tropical Pacific for the current and upcoming El Nino Southern Oscillation phase is well-established in the scientific literature to be a statistically significant and useful predictor of Atlantic and Pacific seasonal tropical storm activity.

“Washington, D.C. – The same organization that challenged NOAA to bragging rights for the best hurricane forecast last year using a trained chimp armed only with a pair of dice and a craps table is challenging the agency again: This time by putting two fifth graders up against the multi-billion dollar federal agency.

“Forecasts are just that: forecasts. All that matters is what actually happens,” said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “We should keep this in mind as we consider whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Past forecasts of rising temperatures, sea levels, and droughts and other extreme weather events due to rising concentrations of carbon haven’t proven any more reliable that NOAA’s annual hurricane forecast. Until their reliability improves, it would be irresponsible to base policy on them.

I ask Ridenour to retract her conclusions based upon her false logic, and issue an apology to the specific forecasters at NOAA, who are not invested in global warming prognostications, but legitimate public service in providing expert assessments of hurricane risk in 2011.

Instead ask this question:  how much money has been spent on seasonal hurricane forecasting research instead of climate change modeling scenarios for the year 2100?  If you are going to mock someone, then make sure you have the right target.

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Rhoda Ramirez

The trouble with NOAA senior mgt being so activist about AGW is that it taints all NOAA products. Having said that the NCPPR needs to be more thorough in its research or they too will be producing products that no one values.

Robert of Texas

I for one am not sure how forecasting either number or ferocity of storms, months in advance, is going to help unless you can also forecast where they will be at and at what time. You could have lots of storms and they all miss population centers – so the number of storms doesn’t necessarily translate to people impacted.
Everyone should already know they are at risk if they live on the coast. People should have already planed for what they will do. For those people living with their heads in the sand, I am not sure that better storm season forecasting will be any more effective.
Tornado warnings work because people can take action near the time of the event. They get projections of where the tornado will be and at what time. Knowing there is a 25% chance of more tornadoes this year is pretty useless to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against furthering scientific knowledge on weather forecasting, but I just do not see the immediate link to bettering people’s lives (or saving lives) by statistically forecasting how many storms there will be.

Adam

I really have to disagree with most of what you said. I have no problem with the NOAA studying how to predict hurricanes and refining their methods, but if they are not able to predict with more accuracy than just looking at past statistics would give you then there is no reason to base policy off of their predictions.
Granted the think tank has shown this to be the case in a way that appeals to the media, but this does not mean they are wrong. And as for mocking who needs to be mocked, we do enough global warming bashing on this blog. It is good to know others are mocking those who may feel neglected by our narrow-mindedness.

gnomish

well fire all the actuaries, then, cuz we have the noaa ‘camping’ in the name of science

Ulf

From the NCPPR press release:

“NOAA may have beaten our trained chimp, Dr. Hansimian, last year,” said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “But he was really only our second banana. Let’s see how NOAA can do against opponents with opposable thumbs.”

Actually, chimpanzees have opposable thumbs too…

Jeff in Calgary

What is NOAA’s annual hurricane forecast accuracy. Since I have started paying attention (3ish years) they have been very bad. It would almost seem that the forcasts are an attempt to further the AGW advocate’s case. I think that this is what sparked Ridenour’s statment.

John W. Garrett

The pioneering work of William Gray in identifying reliable indicators of annual hurricane activity are largely unknown to the general public. Dr. Gray’s work and his methods turned what used to be an activity that was rightfully compared to throwing darts or entrail reading into one with a reasonably successful record of accurately forecasting annual hurricane activity. Dr. Gray’s work deserves both recognition and commendation.
Ms. Ridenour and the National Center for Public Policy Research are, obviously, unaware of the advances that have occurred in forecasting annual hurricane activity over the last twenty-odd years.

RockyRoad

Being a Democrat or Republican; liberal, independent, or conservative; black, yellow, or white; highly educated or barely educated–none of these make you a better scientist, logical thinker, or immune to propaganda, lazy conjecture, and the global warming cult. The AGW disease cuts across all demographics.

John F. Hultquist

Ryan,
I agree with your basic points. Your last paragraph could also become a starting point for a list of issues on which research could bring some considerable benefits, in this sense: We should be doing X, rather than Y.
One of the Xs would be energy storage, the lack of which makes wind and solar part of a problem and less of a solution (1). The cash-for-clunkers thing was poorly conceived and poorly done. Likewise, etting up charging stations along long distance routes at public expense makes no sense — exchangeable batteries (refueling in minutes) does. There could be a long list of such ideas.
(1). By Ed Caryl on P. Gosselin’s site: http://notrickszone.com/2011/05/27/a-grid-manager%E2%80%99s-nightmare/

Jimbo

However, predicting the exact number of storms is indeed a crap-shoot, ….

What is the success rate of the NOAA is regarding storm prediction numbers?
Do we have a comparison with private weather companies?

If NOAA wants to be treated as credible and scientific, they must loudly, firmly and publicly disown the entire Carbon Crime. As long as they are going along with it, they deserve to be tainted by the stain of Wall Street Pseudoscience.

Tilo Reber

Ryan: “Making decisions based upon sea-level forecasts in the year 2100 is likely nonsense, but knowing in advance that an active hurricane season that favors Gulf of Mexico storms is on the way — is very useful information.”
So, Ryan, do you have a chart that plots predicted hurricanes against actual hurricanes. You seem to be trying to make a point that your work is important. I will agree that it can be if your predictions are accurate. If you can provide such a chart, maybe we can make an informed judgement.
[ryanm: i am not saying anything about my work at all. i am only discussing the NOAA seasonal hurricane forecasts which are based on sound science.]

Jimbo

I’m not saying I agree with the think tank but I suspect their thinking goes like this:
If fifth graders perform better than the NOAA then the NOAA is either guessing or their tools / methods are inadequate. If I lived on the US coast I certainly would want further research into hurricane prediction (with the co2 element left out). ;>)

frederik wisse

All i know is from following the forecasts the last 3 years and the real amount of storms hitting the us coast that a chimpansee rolling dices with 80% security would have produced better numbers than NOAA . Last they arrived at some number by counting all possible low pressure activities that never came near to any coast in the middle of the ocean . Only the temperature of the surface-water is the driving force of all hurricanes . And what do you notice in the mid-atlantic ? That again this season the sea-surface temperatures are relatively falling , whilst the sst in the gulf is getting further and further off from the increased temperatures measured a couple of months of ago . Again this season a no-hit event , like i forecasted for the last season and which actually came true apart from a small mexican incident in the gulf , may again astonish our bewildered scientists .

BravoZulu

The satire was aimed against nonsense claims by leftist activists like Hansen that claim that hurricanes are going to increase because of global warming. Maybe you should direct you attention at the people who claim to be scientists and spread misinformation rather than going after people who find that sort political opportunism and obvious distortion of science obnoxious. If I were given a choice between something that Hansen predicted and a chimp, I would go with the chimp every time because the chimp is not driven by political agendas and bogus assumptions.

40 shades of green

Call it as you see it. And call out the politically driven lockers too. Good on you.
40 shades

Theo Goodwin

Good for you, Dr. Maue. This kind of helpful self-criticism is what is needed in climate studies. However, your follow through is lacking. Will you be self-critical? Will you swear never to use the word ‘prediction’ unless you have some physical hypotheses which can explain the phenomenon that you claim to predict? That would mean that no one in climate science can use the word. Will you agree that neither NOAA nor anyone else can do better than look at old charts and graphs and extrapolate from them? Notice that extrapolation does not fall into the realm of science.
You are quite willing to accept my requests as regards landfall for individual hurricanes, so what is it exactly that you claim to understand scientifically? Does the average citizen care about this information that you can provide on good scientific grounds?
Global Warming hysteria was launched in part because meteorologists and other “weathermen” have hyped themselves as having a scientific understanding of various phenomena when they have no such thing. To wrestle AGW hysteria to the floor, we must squeeze our weather forecasters (not predictors) until there is not one drop of illusion remaining in them.

Theo Goodwin

Ryan Maue says:
May 27, 2011 at 11:58 am
“Insurance, commodities, energy, agriculture, transportation, tourism, government, and others use the seasonal forecasts to assess and mitigate risk. The reason is $$$. For the amount of research dollars and manpower invested in the seasonal hurricane forecast, the economic impact is huge.”
But it is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money that pours into lotteries. Worse reasoning I cannot imagine.
“Making decisions based upon sea-level forecasts in the year 2100 is likely nonsense, but knowing in advance that an active hurricane season that favors Gulf of Mexico storms is on the way — is very useful information.”
To whom? To the residents of Florida? No. Now, having predictions of landfall at particular time and places would be of immense value, but you cannot do that. To investors? Well, sure, but they pay for this information. They would not rely on NOAA if NOAA gave door prizes.

Bill Jamison

Can anyone point me to demonstrated benefits of accurate hurricane season predictions? Since the predictions are in a very real sense vague, meaning they can’t predict the when or where, they provide very little benefit. It’s not like cities or governments must prepare in some unusual way if the predictions calls for a slightly more active season versus a slightly less active season.
I really don’t see much benefit from these predictions.
People that live in areas susceptible to hurricanes must be prepared during the hurricane season regardless of whether it’s a busy or quiet hurricane season.

DirkH

This video from the Offshore Marine Service Association appeared for me as Google Ad under this post; and it might be worth a watch for everyone interested in Gulf Of Mexico drilling vs. Salazar/Obama.
http://www.youtube.com/user/OMSAssociation?feature=pyv&ad=9179509061&kw=obama#p/u/0/2xE2YVK6rKU

Frank

What you’re seeing is the damage done to climate science by Mann, East Anglia, politicians and the rest of CAGW mafia. Congratulations to Dr. Maue for trying to bring science back into good repute.

Dr A Burns

I prefer Madam Zelda and her crystal ball to NOAA guesses.

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane forecasts aren’t based upon political agendas and bogus assumptions.

Don’t piss on my leg and try to tell me it’s raining.
You stand to lose nothing by these laughably meaningless assertions. Make a solid, unqualified prediction & ifwhen you’re wrong, quit the prediction business and go wash dishes somewhere. Otherwise you’re just another quacksalver defending his ointment business.

BenfromMO

Ryan M.,
I do think there are some responsible scientists in NOAA…but in the meantime the success rate of the organization and the usefullness of their (LONG-RANGE) forecasts are another thing alltogether.
I mean, their prediction is basically worthless…it has such a high spread that a monkey shooting at a dart-board is almost as useful. And I have noticed that after predicting weather patterns in 6 months times for only 3 years almost now, I do much better then they do. Why is this? I shouldn’t be doing better then people who have done this as a carear, for me its just a hobby.
Same with the hurricane prediction. I make a small window of a prediction. If I am wrong, I admit it afterwards and learn from what I did wrong.
Granted its not just the NOAA that gives such a large window for their prediction…but I kind of wonder what is the point of this in the first place.
That being said, the NOAA does provide other services which I rather enjoy and use quite a bit. I have no issues with the job of immediate forecasting that they do, they seem to do that as good as one would expect…the weather after all in the short-term tends to be very difficult as we all know.
But for their hurricane predictions? I would rather take the monkey in the dartboard if it was mission critical.

Jeff Carlson

Ryan,
you are right that many folks use hurricane forecasts for business reasons … what you don’t seem to appreciate is that NOBODY would use the NOAA forecast … nobody that is trying to make money that is …
The NOAA brand is sullied I don’t care what division you work for … is it guilt by association … why yes it is …
but then after some time has passed if you still work at NOAA and they still have the Climategate crew onboard then guess what … You have chosen to associate with the guilty … either way, cry me a river and clean up your shop …

I agree with Bill Jamison. Money spent on predicting hurricanes is money wasted. Instead, it should be spent on hurricane preparedness.

Bruce

Sorry Ryan. I cannot trust the NOAA.
“As the funding agency and a contributor of scientific expertise for this study, NOAA commends the members of the Committee on America’s Climate Choices for their diligent work over the last three years and their valuable contributions to this monumental effort.
This final report, from the nation’s most esteemed scientific body, is another independent, peer reviewed scientific report that adds to the growing body of scientific information telling us that climate change is occurring and poses significant risks to America’s economy, communities and natural resources.
This report not only re-affirms the broad international scientific consensus about the causes and consequences of climate change, but makes clear that comprehensive, sustained efforts must begin today to deal with those consequences. As the report states, the question is no longer if the climate is changing, but rather what are the options for dealing with it. Specifically, what are the tools and information that communities need to 1) understand the risks, 2) prepare for and deal with impact already occurring and 3) understand what actions they can take to limit future emissions and the magnitude of future impacts.”
Blah blah blah …
http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110518_americaclimatechoice.html

Latitude

“If you read the NOAA Hurricane Outlook for 2011, you will find the scientific reasoning for the upcoming “above-normal” hurricane season. However, predicting the exact number of storms is indeed a crap-shoot”
“Insurance, commodities, energy, agriculture, transportation, tourism, government, and others use the seasonal forecasts to assess and mitigate risk. The reason is $$$. For the amount of research dollars and manpower invested in the seasonal hurricane forecast, the economic impact is huge.”
=============================================
Sorry Ryan, I fail to see the connection.
NOAA does not make predictions about landfall, and the list you made does not give a rats rear about fish storms.
NOAA predicting an above average season, then giving numbers/guesses that fall well within a “normal” season is nothing more than CYA, smoke and mirrors and hysterics.
“”6 to 10 could become hurricanes””” or could not, that’s like saying a 50% chance of rain. 6 is well within “normal”, not “above normal” but it’s not even a forecast, it’s a “could”
“”3 to 6 major hurricanes “”, so which is it? normal? or above normal?
Again, unless NOAA stops naming every two clouds that get within talking distance, narrows the cone of death from New York to Rio…….what exactly is NOAA forecasting?

Theo Goodwin

Conversations like this should motivate all of us to ask what science is. My response is that science is sets of reasonably confirmed physical hypotheses which permit explanation and prediction of the phenomena in question. No reasonably confirmed physical hypotheses, no science and certainly no predictions.
People who are disappointed by my little definition should learn to be proud of their hunches and proud that they do not confuse their hunches with science.

[ryanm: i am not saying anything about my work at all. i am only discussing the NOAA seasonal hurricane forecasts which are based on sound science.]
Ryan M:
Don’t use small case for “I” it makes you look very “affected”. ALWAYS take the time to use proper spelling, grammer, and punctuation. (Also, it can make you look lazy, which I’m sure you are not.)
[ryanm: this is a blog — and this is my “in-line” commenting style. and by the way, grammer is not spelled with an “e”]

Jimbo

BravoZulu says:
May 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm
The satire was aimed against nonsense claims by leftist activists like Hansen that claim that hurricanes are going to increase because of global warming.

Some papers appear to show an increase in hurricane frequency during cold periods and a decrease during warmer periods. Maybe I’m living in denial. ;O)
http://www.co2science.org/subject/h/summaries/hurratlancent.php

Roy UK

Ryan I think I see the point you are trying to make. Your forecasts are useful because they are used by lots of other agencies in their budgeting, planning and preparing.
I think that you do not like it when your data is being interpretted and twisted by people like Al Gore for political purposes. ie Human caused Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Disruption by CO2.(But I would like to hear you say it).
I also think that The National Center for Public Policy Research do not like it when your data is being interpretted and twisted by people like Al Gore/Newspapers/Scientists for political purposes.
You later say “These forecasts have nothing to do with climate change…”.
Have you ever called out a newspaper, scientist, blogger or politician for using your data in this way? If you haven’t why not?
You have called out the NCPPR so lets see where you called out other people for connecting a large hurricane season to Human caused Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate disruption.

BarryW

Conservatives are no better than Liberals when it comes to scientific ignorance. Ryan, the problem is that NOAA is predicting a target number with an uncertainty. This leads the general public to assume that they are absolutely sure of themselves (the public doesn’t understand the range they just see numbers). If they want respect, get out of the crystal ball game. Just call it lower, higher or about average because of x. Don’t make it seem more accurate than it really is. When they start acting professional and not like carny shills then they will get respect. If they want to play numbers then do it in the office. Not any worse than betting on the NCAA tournament.

Jimbo

It’s interesting to note that the Met Office abandoned its seasonal forecasts (predictions?) when it was clear to everyone that they were actually doing more harm than good. The harm being ungritted, icy roads, excess cold weather deaths and businesses stocked with thin jumpers and spring gear. ;O)

Jimbo

Small clarification:
The Met Office continues to offer its seasonal forecasts to gullible institutions and businesses.

As was said earlier, I think this was pushback aimed at NOAA based on their bogus manmade global warming / carbon dioxide scam. They have befouled their own nest (and in the case of Hansen keep on doing it). It will be a long time before the public trusts anything out of them at any level. You have no idea how damaging this all has been to federally funded science – perhaps rightly so. Cheers –

Rich Horton

Dr. Maue writes: “NOAA’s seasonal hurricane forecasts aren’t based upon political agendas and bogus assumptions. Neither are Gray and Klotzbach from CSU or any other outfit that puts out forecasts. ”
Maybe you could call it not “political”, but there most definitely have been forecasts that have been used that have very little to do with science and everything to do with making money off of… some might say bilking… consumers.
The RMS forecasts (as recounted here) sure seems to have been an unholy collision between greed and climate alarmism. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to exonerate “any other outfit.”

1DandyTroll

So, essentially, they’re a bunch of liberals at heart.
OMG! What a disgrace.

PJB

Baby, meet bathwater.
Insurers and re-insurers set up their cash-flows to anticipate the size of the upcoming seasonal claims. Ballpark figures work for them and allow the forecasters to include enough factors to come up with a reasonable estimate.
From what I have seen, there is no real CAGW flavor to the NOAA hurricane analysts. In fact, being meteorlologists, they tend to be realists and very skeptical of the CO2 scenario as a driver of anything more than hype.
The motives of the attackers may be valid, but their target should be justified. Take on the NASA GISS nitwits as they are deserving of wrath and scorn. No global warming prediction has panned out, disaster wise. Hurricane prognostication, OTOH has helped to raise awareness of disaster mitigation and emergency management.
hold them to a higher standard but accept their limitations as well.

jorgekafkazar

Past forecasts of rising temperatures, sea levels, and droughts and other extreme weather events due to rising concentrations of carbon haven’t proven any more reliable [than] NOAA’s annual hurricane forecast. Until their reliability improves, it would be irresponsible to base policy on them.“ –Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Their? Who is “they?” that is the question. The way I read this, NOAA’s annual hurricane forecast is held up as a minimal level of performance to surpass before betting the entire economy of the US on global warming prevention. Is the statement ambiguous? Yes, if you understand “policy” (of some sort or other) to be based on hurricane forecasts. The quote is a syntax failure, not a scientific one. A clarification is most certainly called for. An apology? Wouldn’t hurt.

Tilo Reber

Ryan: [i am only discussing the NOAA seasonal hurricane forecasts which are based on sound science.]
If the forcasts are based on sound science then they should produce sound results. So let’s see a chart comparing forcasts and results for the last 20 years.

jorgekafkazar

Rich Horton says: “…The RMS forecasts…[seem] to have been an unholy collision between greed and climate alarmism.”
RMS = Rhesus Monkey Statisticians?

Theo Goodwin

PJB says:
May 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm
Baby, meet bathwater.
“The motives of the attackers may be valid, but their target should be justified. Take on the NASA GISS nitwits as they are deserving of wrath and scorn. No global warming prediction has panned out, disaster wise.”
To be honest and to avoid defamation of science, they have to switch from ‘prediction’ to ‘hunch.” All they have are hunches. I can read some old graphs and extrapolate just as well as they, but I will not call it science.

eyesonu

Ryan Maue says:
Insurance, commodities, energy, agriculture, transportation, tourism, government, and others use the seasonal forecasts to assess and mitigate risk.
Please tell me what value this provides. Will my insurance premiums decrease if a less than normal prediction is made? Do farmers plant more or less crops depending on these predictions? Are the airlines canceling flights as a result of these predictions? Are the power companies stockpiling more line equipment? As with the MET office, the UK govt. bought their warm predictions the past couple of winters and was totally unprepared. Mitigate risk … what?
On a likely determinable downside, perhaps some tourists may view these predictions (and possibly believe them) and adjust their travel plans away from the coastal areas.
These predictions are not worthwhile, but just a publicly funded game to try to justify maintaining their employment and status quo. I could argue extensively the downside to relying on such a prediction yet could not find a place to start to argue the upside. Thank you for your post but I’m not buying your argument.

Leon Brozyna

Something like Gresham’s law in economics (bad money drives out good money) applied to science.
When the bad science of AGW drives out the good science and gets all the funding and headlines then all science is painted with the hue of AGW science. As a result, all science gets mocked, as is happening here.
The recent active tornado season was forecast well in advance of it happening. It didn’t help the citizens of Alabama or Joplin; we’ve still got a long way to go in that department. But good work and slow progress keeps being made (no thanks to Mr. Roker, as you noted in your earlier piece on the tornado events).
The same is happening here. Let’s not mock serious work which is still, even after all these years, in its infancy. And let’s not lump serious, honest efforts at forecasts with the AGW tainted efforts of others. Perhaps Ridenour and the NCPPR should sharpen their focus and distinguish between the honest science and those AGW proponents cashing in on what’s left of the reputation of real science.

Dave

Two small points to be made here:
1) WUWT needs more of this kind of thing. What one might call ‘pseudo-sceptics’ are just as capable of putting out propaganda as the ‘warmists’, and should be ridiculed for it just as much here on WUWT – which stands for good sense and rational debate.
2) Dr Maue, I challenge you to prove your claims. Not that I think for a second that they’re false – I possess greater knowledge of your work than is presented in this post. But it’s not good form to present things this way. It would be better if you provide some links to your – general, plural ‘you’ – work so people can judge for themselves how accurate and useful you have been.

RomanM

Ryan, there’s no convincing some people that there are individuals who are trying to do genuine science and advance our knowledge of the world forward , even in the climate business.
Although the quality of current predictions of the intensity of the next hurricane season could be better, I have been impressed by the great improvement in the shorter term predictions of hurricane behaviors by the same people once those hurricanes have formed.
I am deeply dismayed by the relatively large group in this thread who seem to be unable to distinguish between the science activists and the real scientists who do not have an agenda to push at us. The press release by Ms. Ridenour could be classified as displaying the same lack of understanding. Their comments do not reflect well on those trying to deal with AGW believers in a genuinely scientific manner.
[ryanm: you get the point of my posting — we went through this 5-years ago over at Steve’s site. 🙂