CBS’s Face the Nation spent fifteen minutes today talking about “climate change” and its relation to the Moore tornado. The news outlet convened a one-side panel, with no climate skeptics present. The panelists, while on one hand saying there’s no link between tornadoes and increased CO2, on the other hand they were playing Janus and trying to convince the audience that now the weather has a new ‘personality’ while using scary and misleading graphics like this one:
The data so far this year says otherwise:
The desperation to link this tornado event to climate change in some way, even though the science says otherwise is palpable. An analysis follows.
First, here is the full transcript from CBSNews.com:
BOB SCHIEFFER: And welcome back to FACE THE NATION Part Two. For Page Two today we thought we’d explore a subject that affects everyone–the weather. So we have convened a panel of experts to tell us how bad things are going to get this summer and beyond. Heidi Cullen is the chief climatologist for Climate Central which is an independent organization of scientists and journalists who study the climate, now it’s changing; Jeffrey Kluger is an editor-at-large for TIME Magazine. He co-wrote this week’s cover story on the Oklahoma Tornado; David Bernard is with us in person today. He usually joins us from his weather watching post at WFOR TV, our CBS affiliate in Miami; and Marshall Shepherd is the president of the American Meteorological Society. He is in Atlanta this morning. Doctor Shepherd, I want to start with you because we’ve had floods. We’ve had droughts. We’ve had tornadoes. We’ve had superstorms. It’s cold when it ought to be warm and it’s warm when it is supposed to be cold. I guess, you know, if it starts raining frogs that’s probably the only thing we haven’t had so far. What is happening? Is this something different? Is this just a cycle? What’s going on here?
J. MARSHALL SHEPHERD (American Meteorological Society/University of Georgia): Yeah, well, it really– and– and I’m a professor at the University of Georgia and here in– in Georgia, we’ve actually had almost all of those examples that you just gave– tornadoes in Atlanta. We flooded in 2009, a really bad drought. I– I think it depends on which– which phenomenon you talk about. Certainly, as I often say, weather is your mood and climate is your personality, so on any given day you can have really cold weather or really violent weather, but the scientific literature, including our recent AMS Climate Change statement, does suggest that our climate is changing and I think we can say some things about certain weather phenomenon and climate phenomenon that are more linked to this climate change and we are in a different climate system now. Almost every weather phenomenon happens in a warmer and more moist climate. And so I– I think we do see some changes in our climate and some responses in our weather. I– I– I think it’s a bit premature to say that there is a definitive link between that Moore tornado last week and– and– and climate change. But I think more research is needed there.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well– well, Jeff, is there any consensus about what is causing this?
JEFFREY KLUGER (TIME): Well, in the case of the tornadoes, as Doctor Shepherd says, we’re reasonably sure that there is no link. And– and in fact, to the extent that climate change plays a role, the variables kind of neutralize one another, you get an increase in warm moist air, which feeds tornadoes, but you also get a decrease in the updraft, the vertical shear, so they sort of cancel each other out. I think what we see though the fact that we crossed four hundred parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere just last week. This is the highest it’s been since the Pleistocene era when there were forests in Greenland and sea levels were sixty feet higher than they are now. As recently as 1958, it was only three hundred and fifteen. So, we have supercharged, super accelerated CO2 input into the atmosphere and this I think is what’s driving so much of the mood or the– the personality, the climate change variables we see.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Doctor Cullen, there’s no question that it’s getting warmer. We have a graphic here that just shows 2012 was the hottest year on record. It shows how much hotter it was. The entire country was affected. Is this going to get any better or is it going to get worse?
HEIDI CULLEN (Climate Central): It’s not going to get any better if we don’t do anything about it. I mean right now we’ve added about a degree and a half of extra warming to our atmosphere, the planet is that much warmer. And so what we are talking about is how does that extra degree and a half affect our day-to-day weather? And so right now I’d say that, you know, the jury is still out as to how global warming will affect tornadoes, which of those two variables will win out. But when it comes to things like heat waves, when it comes to things like heavy rainstorms, drought, wildfires, we know that, you know, the– the atmosphere is on steroids, if you will. So basically, you know, we know that we’d have to deal with weather-related risks. We live in a country that has always seen extreme weather. We’re basically moving in a direction where we’re going to see more and more of certain of these extremes and– and as we heard before that– that stuff is really expensive.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, but what is causing this?
HEIDI CULLEN: So, basically, add additional heat to the atmosphere, suddenly, you’re now adding more moisture to the atmosphere, so we know that certain kinds of extreme events are going to happen more frequently. So the heat wave that would only happen, say, one in a hundred years is now going to happen say once every fifty years. The statistics, if you will, the likelihood of seeing a certain kind of extreme increases just by the virtue of the fact that the planet is warmer, and then also when it comes to storms there is more moisture in the atmosphere. Those storms can now rain down more heavily and basically at the same time we’ve got more people in harm’s way. We saw that with– with Moore, Oklahoma, as well. So, you know, this combination of– of amplifying risks, more people in harm’s way, a warmer planet with more moisture to– to bring more storms into– into play, it basically just increases our vulnerability across the boards.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Dave Bernard, you’re our man on the hurricane watch. We talked to you many times during hurricane season and the bad news is NOAA has come out with hurricane season predictions that say it could be worse this year than it– than it was last year. They’re predicting a likelihood of, I think, thirteen to twenty name storms of which seven to eleven could become hurricanes.
DAVID BERNARD (WFOR Miami): Well, you know, the key here is we have been in a climate pattern for the last twenty years of excessive storms in the Atlantic Basin. That climate pattern, Bob, is still in place, so that’s the reason why we’re looking at an elevated number of storms. Now, of course, the key everywhere year is, where do these storms go? That’s one thing that we really can’t tell ahead of time. Last year, there were nineteen storms and basically we had Isaac hit Louisiana and, of course, Superstorm Sandy. But the majority of the storms, they stayed out to sea. But with a forecast like that and the potential for more land falling storms, I– I think there could be even a– a greater impact and what we learned from Sandy and even going back to Hurricane Katrina and basically what Doctor Cullen was saying, we have more people now living on the coast than ever before. So the impact potential really is that much greater and we have to learn how to mitigate against these storms. Clearly, that was not done in the Northeast. We’d gone so long without a significant hurricane there. We’ve seen that in other areas. We have to learn to live with these storms and going forward since we don’t know exactly where this climate pattern may take us. With a warming world we have to learn to adapt to these storms as well.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, Doctor Shepherd, let me just cut to the chase here. Are we doing something here on Earth that is causing the weather to change or is this just one of the cycles that– that what we go through?
J. MARSHALL SHEPHERD (American Meteorological Society): Yeah, this is a question I often get, Bob. Of course, I mean, it’s amazing to me when someone comes up to me and says “Doctor Shepherd, the climate change is natural.” I say, of course, it does. I should send my degree back to Florida State University, if I didn’t know that. But what’s most important about that is that on top of this natural variability, as– as Heidi mentioned, we now have a steroid. Think of a basketball player. I mean I’m a big basketball fan. We were in the middle of the playoffs right now. A basketball ten feet high think of it this way: Climate change is actually adding about a foot to the basketball floor so that more people can dunk the basketball. There’s just more amplification. That warmer and more moist climate is amplifying, as– as Heidi mentioned, some of the weather systems that we see. And one quick point I want to make. I often get the question: well, what is the big deal? One and a half degree? Well, if our child gets a one-and-a-half or a two-degree fever that may not sound like a lot, but our body responds to that and our climate system as well. But the scary news is we’re talking about an additional three- to ten-to-fourteen degrees perhaps in some models in the next one hundred years.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So Jeff?
JEFFREY KLUGER (TIME): And one of the problems is the problem is getting worse, as Doctor Shepherd says. We have now baked in another fifty parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if we turned everything around now, what’s in the pipeline already is going to increase up to four fifty and at a rate of 5.4 billion tons of CO2, the U.S. puts into the atmosphere every year and 2.4 million pounds per second that the world pumps in. We’re getting a level of consensus on thousands of peer-reviewed studies over decades that have established the– the connection between human activity and this kind of climate change and we have to face the reality that the problem exists and now we have to address it.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, what is the human activity then?
JEFFREY KLUGER: Well, the human activity principally is fossil fuels. Now finally, everybody attribute this is to cars principally. Actually forty percent of all of the contribution is our homes, our office buildings and things of that nature. Fossil fuels do make a difference. And we are actually making progress, the slow transition to renewables, the increase in– in mileage standards for cars. All of this is bringing these numbers down, but all that’s doing is sort of putting out the fringes of the wildfire that’s blazing. We have to get to the heart of it and began to shut it down.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And this is not just something that the United States that’s happening in the United States this is happening worldwide.
HEIDI CULLEN: That’s what’s so tricky about this problem, right? It’s– it’s kind of the ultimate tragedy of the commons in the sense that we all contribute to the problem and so it– it really, you know, someone once said that climate change is really about a million little fixes and it’s also the biggest procrastination problem in the sense that the longer you wait to fix it, the tougher it gets to fix so the sooner we start the better off we are.
DAVID BERNARD: And I really think adaptation is going to be the key. We’ve already baked in this CO2. We can’t get rid of that. So we have to learn to live with the way the climate is going and that means responsible development. We can’t keep building in the same places that maybe more prone to floods. I live in Miami Beach. We’re dealing with sea level rise. That’s something we’re going to have to think about going forward in this new reality.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Doctor Shepherd, what– what I find kind of interesting is kind of like– it’s kind of like the country is divided in half. The western half of the country going through these droughts, which bring on the fires and all of that. Yet, on the eastern side of the country we have all these floods that are– that are going on right now. Is there any reason, scientific reason, that it’s kind of divided the country in half like this?
J. MARSHALL SHEPHERD: Well, it– it is. One of the things that we’ve always known in the literature is that places that are drier likely will get more dry and places that are wetter will become more wet. If– you have to really look at how weather patterns occur weather patterns occur as big waves in the atmosphere. We call them scientifically raspy waves. And so if you look at a weather map, for example, on any given day in terms of weather you’ll have one part of the country that is cool and wet there and a big sort of dip in the wave pattern, a trough, as we call it. Meanwhile, you have– you’ll have a ridge of high pressure and nice weather in another part of the country. We’re– we’re it’s gorgeous here in Atlanta right now and I was watching the Braves and Mets last night in New York, pouring down rain and cool the last couple of days. That kind of take that sort of wave pattern and think about that from the perspective of climate. So you’re not going to have the same type of response everywhere. That’s why it’s important to keep that in mind when we hear “Well, gee, it’s really cold this last couple of weeks, what are you guys talking about, global warming?” You cannot say anything about the overall climate system by looking at the last couple of days or where you live. Boy, I wish I could actually predict my stock portfolio based on the stocks the last two weeks, the last two months. We can’t do that. We cannot do that with our climate.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know– and as is always the case around my house, we say when everything else goes wrong and top of it the toilet breaks. I mean, the least the– the thing you would least expect. In the middle of all this, Jeff, NOAA recently had one of its weather satellites go off line. What is the status of our technology?
JEFFREY KLUGER: The status of our technology is precarious and funnily it’s easy to fix it. We have two major weather satellites hovering over the eastern half– half– East and West Coast, the GOES East and GOES West, they’re called. They’re in geosynchronous orbit. They just hover there. We have five polar satellites. These are all set to go down at one form or another, to wink out between 2015 and 2016. The earliest we can replace them will be those very years, which means that if there’s any lag at all in launching construction schedules we’re going to be struck blind. This we saw the wages of back during Sandy when the GOES East satellite did go down for a few weeks just as this storm was brewing and we did not predict the sharp left hook Sandy took into the Eastern Seaboard that is exactly what did the sixty-five billion dollars worth of damage. It took the European system to weigh in and inform us that this was about to happen. Now we had just enough assets in place, a spare satellite in orbit to swing into position and take care of this. But if we don’t take care of this now and allocate the necessary money we are going to be vulnerable to whatever is out there.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I take you, you would endorse that?
HEIDI CULLEN: I– you know, I couldn’t have said it better. Right now ninety percent of the data that goes into our weather models comes from satellites and this infrastructure it’s critical, it’s our eyes in the sky and if we lose it we’re flying blind. And we desperately, I mean, as a country that sees a lot of extreme weather across the board we need strong forward-looking forecasts.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’ll let you close it out here, Dave. What do we look for?
DAVID BERNARD: Well, I think as we go through the next few months everybody needs to keep in mind that regardless of where our climate is heading in the next fifty, one hundred years, the hurricane season it’s here now and that’s hurricane preparedness week and as we saw it last year, everybody from Maine to Texas, you need to be ready, you need to have a plan.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I guess we can’t say have a nice day to close out this segment, but thank you all for being here. We’ll be back in just a minute.
The video of this segment is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50147675n
I’ve made several responses about this need to try to link tornadoes to climate change over the years, and this is just another sad claim by activists that can easily be falsified by the data. A list of my previous responses follows, but let’s take one instance from the interview where Dr. Heidi Cullen says:
So, basically, add additional heat to the atmosphere, suddenly, you’re now adding more moisture to the atmosphere, so we know that certain kinds of extreme events are going to happen more frequently.
I don’t even need to look at long-term data to falsify this nonsense, just looking at seasonal variations is more than enough. If extreme weather events like tornadoes are more common due to more heat being in the atmosphere, then you’d expect more tornadoes when it is warmer, right?
First let’s look at solar isolation versus temperature on a yearly basis in the northern hemisphere. Plotted below, from the middle of tornado alley is the daily temperature data for Manhattan, Kansas for the year 2006. Compared to the normalized insolation from the sun. In the spring the temperature mostly lies beneath the energy. After the peak energy it tends to be above the energy curve due to the time lag.
Graphic by John Kehr, The Inconvenient Skeptic.
Note that peak temperature lags peak solar insolation. Solar insolation is a function of Earth’s orbit around the sun. Insolation peaks with the summer solstice, typically on June 21st each year, but temperature continues to rise after that.
You can plot insolation vs temperature for just about any northern hemisphere city and see the same result, it is a well-known relationship. Temperatures peak around late July to early August.
By Dr. Cullen’s claims of more heat being in the atmosphere, we’d expect to see tornadoes peak around August, right? The real world data says the opposite:
Tornadoes peak in May and June, prior to the peak temperature, which is a proxy for heat in the atmosphere.
So if more heat in the atmosphere produces more localized extreme weather events, as Dr. Cullen insinuates, we’d see peak tornadoes aligned with peak temperature. But, we don’t.
Dr. Cullen is being an advocate, rather than a scientist, but we already knew that since she works for a privately funded advocate organization, Climate Central.
See more reasons why this linkage of temperature and tornadoes fail:
Further reading in the Washington Post:
Linking tornadoes to global warming a “myth”
Michael Smith, Published: MAY 24, 2:47 PM ET
Mike Smith is a meteorologist, the senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and the author of “When the Sirens Were Silent” and “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather.”
5. Climate change is producing tornadoes of increasing frequency and intensity.
There have always been F5 tornadoes, and we will continue to experience them regardless of whether the Earth’s temperature rises or falls. National Weather Service figures show, if anything, that violent tornadoes — F3 or greater on the Fujita scale — are becoming less frequent. There is no trend, neither up nor down, in the frequency of all tornadoes.
The Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston tweeted after the Moore tornado: “Climate change people do themselves a huge disservice by running to that after every disaster.”
I heartily concur.