2012 ranks as 54th in 'extreme weather' events

Paul Homewood ranks the data from NOAA/NCDC in a pragmatic way, and comes up with this graph.


Figure 8

An Alternative Look

We often hear today’s climate described as “post-normal”, but what was so normal about climate 50 or 100 years ago? The bottom line is that the climate of the last couple of decades or so is what we have all lived through, and adapted to. Bearing this fact in mind, and putting more emphasis on what most people would regard as extreme weather, I have come up with my own index, based on:-

  1. Cold temperatures in winter – the colder it is, the more “extreme”.
  2. Hot temperatures in summer – the hotter it is, the more “extreme”. (I appreciate Minnesota might like a warmer summer, but I have to draw the line somewhere!)
  3. Annual precipitation variation, compared with the 1981-2010 mean, (both higher and lower).
  4. Tropical storms/hurricanes, as calculated in NOAA’s index.

Rather than using the “percent of area affected” system that NOAA have adopted. I have chosen a ranking system. Each year since 1910 is given a ranking for each category, with “1” being the least extreme, and “103” most extreme. The four individual rankings are then averaged together, to give the overall ranking.

The results are shown in Figure 8. (above)

2012 finishes with a ranking of 54, making it an unremarkable 46th most extreme, out of 103. The individual rankings are:-

Category Ranking
Winter Mean Temperature 3
Summer Mean Temperature 101
Rainfall Variation 89
Hurricanes/Tropical Storms 22

Under my ranking system, the worst years for extreme weather were:-

Year Comments
1936 2nd coldest winter, as well as 4th hottest summer and drought.
1933 5th worst for hurricanes, hot summer, dry.
1910 4th coldest winter, driest year on record.
1988 8th driest year, 9th hottest summer
1955 Cold winter, very dry, hurricanes.
1918 7th coldest winter, dry

My system does have one drawback – based on national data, regional variations could be missed. For instance, a wet East Coast could cancel out a dry West Coast! However, I think it is fair to say, that in 2012 the warm and dry weather was pretty well distributed.

See his full post here.

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January 21, 2013 9:43 am

In the North Europe we are experiencing something of a colder winter than normal. Polar vortex has split again in a very similar manner to the one in 2009

January 21, 2013 9:51 am

Maybe an indicator of extreme weather is to measure the percentage of population that died as a direct result of the extreme weather. After all, that is the ultimate extreme weather.

January 21, 2013 10:01 am

So 2012 was, er, pretty average, then. Gosh, things really are worse than we thought 🙂

January 21, 2013 10:12 am

Index design is never easy, and always has flaws. I think including both “cold” and “hot” ranks, and then averaging them (with or without other stuff) is dubious. Perhaps an improvement would be to combine “hot” and “cold” by taking the maximum of the two, not the average; then average with the other stuff. Still, these kinds of combinations of apples and oranges are always awkward.
You have three dimensions (temp, rain, storm), not four. You might plot each year’s three values in 3D Euclidean space, than take the distance from the origin as your final “extreme value”, and rank those. But the choice of Euclidean space is already imposing hidden assumptions.

Pamela Gray
January 21, 2013 10:25 am

How about this study? If it bleeds it leads. Or in other words do a study on the affects of whether or not you hear the tree falling in the forest or the city. Keep the overall ranking attached to the physical properties of each event. Add a value for whether or not the event occurred in unpopulated/noncontroversial areas versus media blanketed/population areas (after all we don’t know what we don’t know happened). Add another value for media coverage. Finally keep the value for year of occurrence.
My hunch is that populated/controversial area media hype affect with a decadel order affect will be discovered and will demonstrate disregard for the individual physical properties of the event. The physical properties only statistic will remain random with no order affect. The location statistic will show an order affect as will the year of occurrence and media hype. Recent extremes in populated or controversial areas will show the greatest affect. This is important with only two conclusions to come to. Either weather is a sencient entity that has it in for targeting humans in populated areas, or it is our perceptions alone that show an increase in extreme events.
All of a sudden, people will begin to get that duped by the snake oil salesman feeling.

January 21, 2013 10:28 am

One of the factors behind NOAA’s “Extreme” claim for 2012, is that the winter was mild! This effect is then doubled up, because they include both daily maximums and daily minimums in their index.

Gail Combs
January 21, 2013 10:31 am

NeedleFactory says:
January 21, 2013 at 10:12 am
Index design is never easy, and always has flaws. I think including both “cold” and “hot” ranks, and then averaging them (with or without other stuff) is dubious. Perhaps an improvement would be to combine “hot” and “cold” by taking the maximum of the two, not the average; then average with the other stuff…..
No, I disagree. The cold/hot extremes combined in a year are an indication that the jet stream has moved from zonal into a meridional pattern with blocking highs of cold or warm weather. It also will effect extremes of rain and/or drought. Therefore it is an indication of an actual change in the climatic pattern.

Rhys Jaggar
January 21, 2013 10:38 am

Insurance companies have one single measure: how much did they have to pay out on weather-event-related claims?
Clearly, when THEY measure things, they will be aware that events in particular cities, in particular scenarios, have a far greater effect than in other places. They couldn’t care less if there were 500 hurricanes if they blow themselves out away from major high-value centres of population.
The media will measure things in terms of ‘front page stories’, ‘top of the news’ events. That is, in fact, remarkably editable, isn’t it? Is extreme cold in Kazakhstan ‘newsworthy’ on CNN? Certainly not as relevant to US citizens as drought in Texas, is it??
The general public measure it by ‘how often things seem to happen’, which is of course impacted upon by what hits their home district, what they see on the news and whether they immerse their brains in any other relevant information, be that historical data, foreign news sources etc etc.
The ski resort industry measures it by events which impact on ski season profitability and ski resort health/viability. A generally cold winter can be ruined by one 4 day shot of torrential rain up to 12,000ft at the wrong time of the season, after all. The financial viability may be loaded asymmetrically across the season: in Europe, that’s Christmas/New Year and February. In the US,
Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year and Spring Break. There can be great snow into May in Europe and no-one really cares, because no more tourists are coming. If the snow only starts coming in mid February but continues till end-April, it’s still a useless season. Because the skiers didn’t come or had a useless holiday when hordes of them were there. The key performance indicators are different, aren’t they?
You can say the same for farmers. Key frosts, hailstone events, extreme tornadoes can devastate crops in what is, climatically, a fairly average year. Usually, of course, correlations between weather and crop yields are clearer. But they don’t necessarily correlate with scientists’ statements and different farmers may have different outcomes with the same weather.
Scientists try and draw up ‘reasonable criteria’, which however you try and spin it are usually loaded in some way or another. What IS the most important thing, after all?? At the end of the day, it’s a consensus of what scientists THINK is the most important and those things which scientists see as validated by peer groups and funders.
At the end of the day, there are going to need to be different sets of criteria for different user/target groups.
I don’t think it’s realistic to expect one ‘measure’ to accurately reflect the multiplicity of sensitivities that our economies display to weather events.
I hope our politicians reflect that in the way they spend taxpayers money in future………

Dan Tauke
January 21, 2013 10:44 am

“Extreme” by definition is relative, and this argues that is should be relative to the time you are in, not some other time (ie: It is the t=now deviation that matters, not the longer term change in mean plus the current deviation). I believe it is healthy to separate the two to truly isolate “extreme” in the context by which it is usually mentioned (ie: today).Can’t speak to the particulars of the index, but the approach makes sense.

January 21, 2013 10:45 am

Climate change will mean snowy winters will be a thing of the past, kids just won’t know what snow is, blah blah blah
Now in the UK snowy winters are extreme weather events caused by climate change, global warming, whatever

Bruce Cobb
January 21, 2013 10:49 am

Somebody had better tell Obama. In his Inaugural address he seems convinced that “raging fires”, “crippling drought, and more powerful storms” are the reality.
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

January 21, 2013 10:54 am

Out of the six parameters used by NOAA, 2012 is tops for max temps, 2nd for min temps, and 5th for PDSI (which is partly temperature based).
On the other three, 2012 was well well below average.
So really they are just saying that 2012 was a warm year.

January 21, 2013 11:20 am

It is scary that Obama and his state run news media can’t process accurate scientific data. Is the President a moron? Is the President corrupt? Is the mainstream news media uneducated peanut heads? Is the mainstream news media corrupt? This is scary. I think I live in China. The leaders say whatever they want no matter how stupid and the news media supports what they say no matter how stupid. Journalism 101 must be a brain removal.

January 21, 2013 11:54 am

One of the most dishonest aspects on NOAA’s part is this map.
Click on “2012 was warmest etc…” and then look at the map. They even have the nerve to mention tornadoes!!
A reader, who did not know better, would assume that apocalypse was on its way.
Shame on you, NOAA!

Doug Huffman
January 21, 2013 1:33 pm

On plotting in multidimensional space, be careful, as the dimensions of the n-ball increase the hyper-volume concentrates near the surface. This observation inspired a most delightful essay, ‘The Mathematical Impossibility of Compromise’
The first paragraph as teaser – “The supreme postulate of Liberalism, social engineering, social activism, social advocacy, rights movements, peace movements, the United Nations… is that compromise is possible. By crippling the able and enabling the crippled we can all get along. It is rigorously mathematically demonstrated that no compromises exist for complex multi-variable problems, even in theory. Zealot religions of tiny-minded fanatics know what they are doing. Diversity (a word grievously devalued in the manner of “gay”) is mathematically guaranteed, irrevocable, inevitable disaster. (http://mazepath.com/uncleal/comprom.htm)”

January 21, 2013 2:00 pm

response to Gail Combs:
I’m not sure we disagree; we may be talking past each other.
(1) the OP says:
in winter – the colder it is, the more “extreme”.
in summer – the hotter it is, the more “extreme”.
Consider two hypothetical years, both in some sense extreme:
year1: +40°C in summer, -30°C in winter
year2: +40°C in summer, +30°C in winter
Which year is more extreme?
year2 is more extreme than year1 because both summer and winter are extremely warm; but
year1 is more extreme than year2, because the winter not extreme (according to the OP’s definitions cited above).
This is one reason for my objection to averaging the extremes: it introduces an unstated assumption in the meaning (definition) of “extreme”. A year such as year1 winds up being completely unexceptional, temperature-wise. I won’t elucidate an easy fix to this, because I have little regard for indices committing category errors.
(2) I’m not sure what any of this has to do with the jet stream (even though the dynamics of the jet stream clearly affect weather in large regions, and climate too if patterns persist long enough before changing.)

January 21, 2013 2:25 pm

@highflight56433: uh, no. That doesnt work. The population that didnt get killed by tornadoes (which always exists) and suddenly gets killed is because these people moved INTO the tornado zones and not that the tornadoes just came out of no where looking for people in mobile homes. Thats the sort of logic that runs the global warming engines.

January 21, 2013 2:28 pm

Typo alert: I meant to say “year2 [not year1] winds up being completely unexceptional, temperature-wise.” Year2 will have a very high (perhaps highest) extreme rank for summer, and a very low (perhaps lowest) extreme rank for winter. Average the two and you get something near (or exactly in) the middle — unexceptional!

Doug Huffman
January 21, 2013 2:59 pm

I have always appreciated the apocryphal observation that mobile-homes, a.k.a. trailers, seem to attract tornadoes. A wise man explained it to me thusly, the original settlers of an area learned empirically the good and bad places to site their homes. The developers arrive and soon can’t afford the good home sites, so they buy the remaining cheap lands – that the traditional families avoided for knowing that too many homes had been destroyed by tornadoes – or hurricanes, avalanches, wildfire, et cetera.

michael sweet
January 21, 2013 3:19 pm

You have used the extreme warm weather in the winter to average out the extreme hot weather last year. You need to count extreme heat in the winter as extreme heat. the extreme heat over the winter caused the soil to dry prematurely and that contributed to the drought.
Of course you can average out winter heat by only counting winter cold. That does not mean that the weather was not extreme, only that you are not counting the extreme weather that happened.

January 21, 2013 9:46 pm

Samuel Pepy’s Diary for this day, 1661. Note the warmth….
Monday 21 January 1660/61
This morning Sir W. Batten, the Comptroller and I to Westminster,………….. So home to supper and then to bed, having eat no dinner to-day. It is strange what weather we have had all this winter; no cold at all; but the ways are dusty, and the flyes fly up and down, and the rose-bushes are full of leaves, such a time of the year as was never known in this world before here. ………..
The Thames froze regularly at this time, so it seems weather extremes are nothing new….. not that any clinate alarmist would admit that!

January 22, 2013 10:25 pm

Mike Jonas says:
January 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm
The study misses the main point – language changes much more by changed meaning of existing words than by introduction of new words or by existing words being used more with their existing meaning.

A great example is the change of the meaning of “sea level” to mean “ocean volume” by the U. of Colo. a year or two ago, so that a declining rate of sea level rise due to sinking ocean basins could be restored to its previous trajectory.
An equally bad one is the misuse of “extreme event” by NOAA, as described in this thread.
One definition of “extreme” is “far from average.” But the connotation of the word—i.e., its suggestive overtone—is “far from average in a bad way.” Strictly speaking, a mild winter and a mild summer may be called extreme, in that they are unusual. But in ordinary discourse, those terms would not be used—rather “mild” or “cozy” or comfortable.”
NOAA, by counting mild seasons as “extreme” has given the public an exaggerated impression of how extreme 2012 was. Even if this wasn’t its intent when it set up its guidelines for computing extremeness, the unintended misleading consequence should now be apparent, and a separate table should be set up solely for “negative” extreme events. That should be the one the media is alerted to in official press releases.
Hmm, now that I check my (Cassell’s) dictionary, I find that the denotations are in line with the connotation I described above, making the NOAA behavior more reprehensible. Here they are:
1. of the highest degree, most intense. 2. Beyond what is reasonable, immoderate. [That would rule out the characterization of “moderate” summer and winter temps as being “extreme”.] 3. Outermost, farthest. [Ditto.]
But the next definition allows NOAA to play a deceptive word game—it’s technically defensible, but it’s deceptive to employ it: 4. At the utmost limit, at either end. Technically, a cool August may be extreme for August, but it is not extreme weather for the humans who experience it–it is mild or comfortable weather. But NOAA is saying it is extreme weather.

January 23, 2013 5:35 am

michael sweet says:
January 21, 2013 at 3:19 pm
You [the head post] have used the extreme warm weather in the winter to average out the extreme hot weather last year. You need to count extreme heat in the winter as extreme heat. the extreme heat over the winter caused the soil to dry prematurely and that contributed to the drought.
Of course you can average out winter heat by only counting winter cold. That does not mean that the weather was not extreme, only that you are not counting the extreme weather that happened.

Of course there are SOME negative effects from warm winters (and cool summers). But these on their own aren’t sufficient to categorize them as extreme, because they are far outweighed by the positive effects. For instance, lower mortality rates, lower fuel bills (less heating and air conditioning needed), plus a longer growing season.
And it’s not clear to me how much drought would be caused by a winter that is, say, 1 or 2 degrees C warmer than normal. Is it really that significant?

January 24, 2013 9:01 am

Paul Homewood is the guy who did the data aggregation for the nation as a whole- it is done regionally on the NOAA site.
I just spent a half hour looking for his bio to check his bona fides and connections to various cabals but can’t come up with anything except his blog. He is a sceptic but not a denier, from what I can tell.
I don’t have a problem with the climate (like it cares) and the way it veers all over- the ENSO and Pacific decadal oscellation are in progress, the planet is wobbling predictably on a periodic 50,000 year cycle and the sun is going into a quiescent phase similar to the Daulton Minimum. None of the effects of these events are completely understood, yet the predictive models are all based almost exclusively on trace gas forcing and amplitude, when it appears that the complex interplay simply doesn’t work that way.
I completely buy into the idea that humans have an impact on the environment- I just think that there are bigger issues at play, and do not like the fact that the science has turned into political science. I heard that weasel Michael Mann on NPR a while back and he is all about policy, not the discredited hockey stick.
I am working from home due to the Extreme Weather event. The budget chaos has things slow on the SIA-2 front until Sequestration is resolved, but there is a logjam building and it is liable to happen all at once, so we may need your help in the March timeframe. If they figure it out.

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