Jumped the Synapse: Thoughts without sponsors!

These are my thoughts that don't fit in my other blogs. They'll eventually cover a large range of topics.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Weather versus Climate

Global warming deniers often point to the inaccuracy of daily weather forecasts as a reason that global warming can only be considered a wild theory, at best.

"How can they be right about climate, when they can't even tell you what the weather will be like next week?", they say.

For instance, in Canada, our national forecasting agency got it terribly wrong this summer (summer 2004). In making their seasonal forecast, they looked at the ocean water on the West Coast and in the Labrador Sea. Chief climatologist David Phillips said it was so superheated it was like a "hot tub," he said, measuring about 5 degrees (F) above normal. Usually, as the water goes, so goes the land. So, Canada's weather agency, hand in hand with its supercomputer and complex global climate models, had predicted that June, July and August would be warmer and drier than usual right across the country.

Not this year. Instead, the great swath of Central Canada was cooled off all summer by a ferociously cold spring in the Arctic tundra, the second-coldest on record and a big climate surprise after the years of extraordinarily warm temperatures in the Arctic.

But when all was said and done, it was a stinker of a summer nearly everywhere in Canada: cool, wet and dull. In fact, it was the coolest summer since 1992, when Mount Pinatubo spewed ash into the atmosphere.

Global warming deniers look at events like this and conclude that there's no way that scientists could even have an inkling of what the climate will be in 50 years, given all the variables. But predicting climate and weather are quite different - like predicting in the late 1970s that the computer industry would grow, versus specific winners and losers in that industry.

Carrying forth that analogy, in the late 1970s, virtually all career counsellors pointed to the computer industry as an area of above average job growth. The factors were clear - computing costs were continuing to fall, and there was relatively little computer automation of many processes, and computers made information more freely available (at least to those within a specific business) and therefore was likely to improve efficiencies. This is like climate. The broad factors and trends are known, and can be projected into the future with reasonable certainty.

What they couldn't tell you, was who the specific winners were likely to be. This is like predicting the weather - a more day to day thing. IBM, they'd have probably said (then the largest computing company) would be the largest company. Few would have been able to forsee it's near flirtation with bankruptcy, or the rise of Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Cisco, or Sun Microsystems, for instance. Predicting company specific outcomes, is just like the weather, more variable than predicting broad trends based on well-known factors.

Today, we have the rise of genomics and nanotechnology. Without limitations via government regulation, these will be huge industries in the next 20-40 years. This is today's business "climate"

Yet I doubt anyone could tell me - at a rate better than chance - which companies will be the winners and which ones won't exist then. This is today's business "weather".

We know the broad trends for things that affect climate. The increased output of known heating trapping agents. If anything, everytime a serious report comes out, the prediction for the increase in temperatures keeps escalating, as the science and *measurement* gets better and better, and as past predictions are compared to what actually occurred. These measuremements and benchmarking against past predictions are almost invariably resulting in more dire predictions for future temperature, and the increase in significant weather events. But don't expect the scientists to be able to tell you there's going to be a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, September 5, 2006.

Climate versus Weather. Why they can be right on one, and wrong on the other. Don't be fooled by global warming deniers!

... another random musing


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