Author Archives: Scott Weaver

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Posted in Extreme Weather, Health, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Scott Pruitt’s Misleading Senate Testimony – Will ‘Alternative Science’ Replace Real Science at EPA?

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NOAA/NASA

As a climate scientist who is trained to base his conclusions strictly on scientific evidence and not politics, I find it particularly troubling that Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is misrepresenting the scientific data that shows the earth’s atmosphere is warming.

Pruitt hopes to run the agency responsible for protecting the lives and health of Americans from environmental threats, and that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. And as the Supreme Court has ruled, EPA has the authority to address greenhouse gases.

However, in his testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18, and then in follow-up written answers to Senators, Pruitt made several misleading, or flat-out inaccurate, statements.

In his attempt at subterfuge, Pruitt leaned on false and misleading climate-skeptic myths that have been debunked time and time again.

For instance, consider this one question and answer:

Written question from Sen. Jeff Merkley: Are you aware that each of the past three decades has been warmer than the one before, and warmer than all the previous decades since record keeping began in the 1880s? This trend is based on actual temperature measurements. Do you believe that there is uncertainty in this warming trend that has been directly measured? If so, please explain.

Written answer from Scott Pruitt: I am aware of a diverse range of conclusions regarding global temperatures, including that over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the "hiatus." I am also aware that the discrepancy between land-based temperature stations and satellite temperature stations can be attributed to expansive urbanization within in our country where artificial substances such as asphalt can interfere with the accuracy of land-based temperature stations and that the agencies charged with keeping the data do not accurately account for this type of interference. I am also aware that 'warmest year ever' claims from NASA and NOAA are based on minimal temperature differences that fall within the margin of error. Finally, I am aware that temperatures have been changing for millions of years that predate the relatively short modern record keeping efforts that began in 1880. (Questions for the Record, page 145)

In response to the scientific evidence that the last three decades have each been warmer than the one before it, Mr. Pruitt offered negligent claims that both the satellite data and surface based observations have shown there to be no warming over the last two decades – the so-called global warming hiatus.

Science does not agree with this assessment.

The idea of a hiatus and a potential discrepancy between satellite and surface based data have been under intense objective scrutiny by the scientific community for some time – and the results are in:

  • NOAA scientists recently published a peer reviewed article in the Journal Science that clearly shows the “hiatus” to have never existed.
  • Then last month a follow up study, undertaken by a separate group of researchers as an objective check on the NOAA result, also confirmed that the global warming hiatus never happened.
  • Additionally, the alleged satellite discrepancy has also been debunked – its origin an artifact of necessary, but potentially faulty, post-processing techniques that are employed when using data gathered by a satellite from space, as opposed to direct surface temperature measurements from thermometers. Stated plainly, raw satellite observations from space are not as accurate as those taken in the actual location, so these raw observations need to be quality controlled for scientific accuracy.

Next, in the same answer, in what can only be described as countering his own misguided narrative, Pruitt attempted to blame the increasing temperature trend – which he just stated did not exist via the hiatus argument – on an unfounded discrepancy between satellite based and urban land based data.He claimed the increase in urbanization was causing a fictitious rise in global temperature – an impact long shown to be minimal at best, especially when applied to the massive geographic expanse of the world relative to the lesser change in the geographic extent of cities.

Pruitt went on to quibble with the fact that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, by overemphasizing the role of negligible differences in how various scientific agencies around the world calculate the globally averaged temperature.

Actually, the diversity of approaches is a scientific strength, because it provides a balanced view of the data – much like seeking a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. It's vital to note that despite these trivial differences in methodology, the three long-running analyses by NASA, NOAA, and Great Britain’s UK Met Office all showed 2014 to 2016 to be the three consecutive warmest years on record. This fact is indisputable.

Pruitt concluded his misdirection by pointing out his awareness that temperatures have been changing for millions of years, and predating the relatively short modern record. Mr. Pruitt is indeed correct that the rapid warming in recent decades is quite alarming in the context of the much slower and longer term natural changes – although I don’t think that was what he was trying to say.

Pruitt seemed unaware of the latest scientific evidence on the various topics he chose to explore during his testimony. That indicates an ignorance of science coupled with a lack of preparation which adds up to being unfit to lead a scientifically-based government agency.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 3 Responses

These Critical Disaster Safety Efforts Will Be at Risk if Trump Eliminates the Climate Action Plan

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought 14-feet storm surges to the unprotected New Jersey shore and billions in damages. Photo: State of New Jersey

As you’ve probably heard by now, President Trump has replaced the Obama administration’s Climate and Energy web page with a new one that reiterates our 45th president’s promise to tear down the Climate Action Plan and expand our reliance on fossil fuels.

What you may not know is that this 180-degree policy shift will also undermine efforts to prepare for climate change disasters that are already upon us – at a great cost to public safety and our nation’s economy.

By rescinding Obama’s plan for turning the corner on climate change – in which a main pillar was to prepare the United States for its impacts – President Trump would make it harder for:

  • businesses to manage extreme weather-related disruptions to their supply chains
  • infrastructure developers to account for changes in extreme weather and coastal flooding from sea level rise, and to be able to withstand climate surprises
  • farmers to become adept at managing continually changing precipitation patterns
  • states to manage their water resource operations more effectively
  • state and local emergency preparedness personnel to effectively manage safety risks

In 2016 alone, the hottest year on record, we experienced no fewer than 15 weather and climate change-related disasters – at a total cost of $46 billion in damages.

Storms and other such climate disasters with costs exceeding $1 billion have increased in the U.S. over the last 37 years.  These are hard dollar facts nobody can deny.

Economically responsible leaders today continue to build resilience in the face of a changing climate. Critical elements of our society – including businesses, infrastructure, agriculture, and essential water resources – depend on such action.

Keeping citizens safe

I watched President Trump express his condolences to the families who lost loved ones to the severe weather in the South in late January. But we can do more than just express empathy when American communities are torn apart by disasters.

We can also mitigate such disasters by improving our resilience to climate change and by advocating for climate-smart policies.

One of the most important ways to increase our preparedness for extreme climate events is to continually improve and refine our understanding of how climate variability and change is linked to extreme weather.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan aimed to do just that by helping federal climate science research break new ground and continue to advance our understanding of impacts from both short-term climate anomalies – such as how El Niño and La Niña affect severe weather – and from impacts related to warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Throwing out the this plan is not how we protect the safety of our citizens, which, after all, should be the primary goal of any administration and the first way to keep America great.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

As Earth Gets Hotter, Scientists Break New Ground Linking Climate Change to Extreme Weather

So here we are again with yet another annual global temperature record. That’s right, 2016 will go down as the warmest year globally since record-keeping began, with preliminary reports indicating that 2016 was 1.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

If it feels like you’ve heard this song before it’s because you have. The last three years have all smashed the previous year’s record for highest globally averaged temperature, a clear signal that the Earth continues its unprecedented rate of warming.

For sure, the 2016 record was helped along somewhat by one of the strongest El Niño events on record, but we also know that over many years, such cycles have very little to do with the overall global warming trend from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The trajectory is clear.

But there’s more to the story. As temperatures rise, we’re also learning more about how these rising temperatures affect our weather – and extreme weather events, in particular.

With the help of new and evolving climate research, we’re detecting a stronger link between warming and changing weather patterns.

Rapid response: Climate analysis in real time

Until recently, all studies on climate attribution were typically published a year or more after a big storm or heat wave, long after news headlines and public attention had waned.

But the science of climate attribution – an emerging and rapidly advancing branch of climate science that separates out the greenhouse gas cause from naturally occurring causes to quantify the human impact – is becoming nimble.

The World Weather Attribution project, an international effort “to sharpen and accelerate the scientific community’s ability to analyze and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme-weather events,” now conducts initial analyses in near real time.

In 2016, this project covered the March coral bleaching in the Pacific Ocean, the May European rain storms, the August Louisiana floods, the extreme Arctic warming during November and December, and the December cold air outbreak over the United States – all significant weather events.

In four of the five events, scientists found links to human-caused climate change, with the December cold air outbreak being the only event without a discernible human fingerprint.

The next step for climate science: to project how future weather events will change under different scenarios spelled out by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Extreme weather in a 1.5° or 2° degree world

Scientists are engaged in a new international research effort trying to predict differences in weather extremes under both a 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, the targets discussed during the Paris climate talks.

Although climate change impacts on weather extremes are already underway, as 2016 has shown, it is critical to understand potential socioeconomic consequences under these two policy scenarios.

We’ve already experienced more than 1 degree Celsius of global warming and its impacts. The big question now is to what extent the next degree will be worse than the first.

As we continue to break heat records, quicker climate analyses and better predictions will be critical as we adjust to our rapidly changing climate – and science is on the case.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science| Comments are closed

We Lose More Than You Think if NASA's Climate Science is Cut

NASA

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

A senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump is urging the new administration to shut down NASA’s world-leading climate science work. The idea, apparently, is that turning away from facts about climate change will make it go away.

That would not only be devastating for global efforts to keep our climate safe, but a severe problem for anyone who depends on cutting-edge weather prediction – including farmers, states vulnerable to destructive storms, businesses and our economy as a whole.

The problem is that climate and weather research comprises a “seamless suite” of services. Advancements in climate modeling support critical weather prediction modeling.

Since weather prediction and short-term climate prediction (think El Niño, drought and so on) are important to all Americans, cuts to climate research at NASA would have large economic consequences and negative impacts on efforts to protect American lives and property.

This work is particularly important in dealing with weather disasters occurring across the southern tier of the United Sates. And as the climate continues to change, weather prediction will become ever more important for preparedness and planning.

The bigger picture is that climate change is on a path to cause trillions in damage to our economy, according to Citibank estimates. That’s why so many leading businesses want to keep us on track to cut carbon pollution. If we don’t we will be leaving a terrible burden for our children.

Science Makes America Great

America was born in an age of reason. Our founders respected science.

Science made America what it is – it helped us win World War II, the space race, the Cold War and made us the preeminent global power.

Weather and climate prediction have provided incalculable value to our economy and saved untold numbers of lives.

Slashing vital research on climate – as suggested by Bob Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who now serves on Trump’s NASA transition team – will hurt everyone, no matter who they voted for.

Posted in Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Hurricane Matthew And Climate Change: What We Know So Far

Image source: NASA

Hurricane Matthew. Image source: NASA

As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is battering the Atlantic coast of Florida, having wreaked havoc on Haiti and the Bahamas. In Haiti hundreds lost their lives due to the Hurricane’s destructive winds and storm surge.

With half a million Floridians already without power even before Matthew makes landfall, there is sure to be significant damage in Florida and other portions of the southeast U.S. from this Category 3 storm, the first major hurricane to strike the U.S. since Wilma in 2005. Our first and highest priority is to help the victims and others in the path of the storm.

However, as with any destructive weather event, people are asking about the role of climate change.

We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges, like the one that swamped lower Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Coastal towns suffer greater damage because the ocean starts out higher, and the storm shoves more water inland. Coastal states like South Carolina and Florida – and the rest of us through taxes and insurance rates – will pay billions as a result.

But what about the connection between climate change and the strength of hurricanes themselves?

Hurricanes are fueled by the warm waters of the tropical oceans, which have been warming as the result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, hurricanes are also impacted by wind shear – the change of wind speed and direction with height. For a hurricane to grow and strengthen it needs a low wind shear environment, and some research indicates that climate change may actually increase wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. And that’s the rub. When it comes to climate change and hurricanes, the warming oceans and increasing wind shear are in competition. Science is still working out which mechanism will dominate as the global climate continues to warm – so stay tuned.

But there is more to the story than just the relationship between the intensity or frequency of hurricane and global warming. Because the climate system is so complex, no storm happens in a vacuum. Scientists have been working on the issue of “attribution”— How much can we know about the link between specific storms and climate change? The organization Climate Central has also been working intensively in this area.

While we await attribution studies, we shouldn’t lose site of the bigger picture: we already know that climate change is doing tremendous damage to our environment and our economy. Citibank estimates the cost of inaction on climate change is in the trillions. So let’s first help those hurt by this storm, then focus on cutting the pollution that is causing so much damage to our world.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Oceans, Science| Comments are closed
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