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Friday, November 16, 2012

Climate Science




Winter has arrived in my part of Texas. Tonight we will drop into the thirties for a few hours. The high for tomorrow predicted to be 66 degrees. The mild winters are one of my favorite things about this part of Texas. Yes, I am a weather wimp. Now I wonder what this winter will bring. Last winter was mild, not even a single full day of freezing. The winter before had three snows and a few ice storms.
I arrived in Texas as a twelve year old. I expected cowboys and Indians riding horses, dirt packed trails with tumbling sage brush. To me Texas was Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, good guys in white hats. These high expectations became one of the great disappointments of my life. I had almost recovered from the truth of Santa Claus and now the truth about Texas. San Antonio, Texas, a large modern city with paved roads, electricity, phones and shopping malls. We had moved from an Air Force base in Tullahoma, Tennessee. We moved in January, from the deep snows of the Smokey Mountains to the mild winter of south central Texas. I still remember the humiliation and ridicule heaped on me by the local boys when I arrived for school in a short sleeve shirt in the dead of a Texas winter. Fifty four years later and I have acclimated. Sixty eight degrees tomorrow will feel cold to me.
Over more than five decades I have been in and out of Texas, traveling America and the world. During this time the weather has changed. This is a personal empirical observation, the most noticeable being that the hundred year events now occur every few years. What used to be extreme and rare weather events are now extreme and common weather events. This not an impression based on reported events due to improved worldwide communications, this is my observation of local conditions. Local weather I have personally witnessed from Washington State to Florida. Local weather I have personally witnessed across Asia and Central Europe. Local weather I have experienced over 50 years. The only tool required for this conclusion about climate change is my memory.
The debate over climate change is taking place between scientist and lawyers. The organizations challenging climate science are staffed by professionals with law degrees and communication degrees. Climate science is being presented by organizations dominated by professionals with science and mathematics degrees. In a public debate between a lawyer and a scientist how will that go? One example is the climate change petition signed by 31,478 self identified scientists and organized by lawyers. Anyone can sign these petitions. You can sign it today, adding one more scientist to their list. This is another brilliant piece of misinformation that is representative of the entire effort from the right wing nuts. This petition is easily debunked.
I cannot predict the weather for this winter. I can predict the climate for the next decade. Just as the individual gamer at a Casino cannot predict her next throw of the dice, the Casino can predict with great accuracy the money they will take in each week. This is the law of large numbers. One of the climate predictions is an increase in extreme events. The probability has changed. No one can predict the strength of the next hurricane, but the odds that it will be stronger have doubled.
I will not enter into an argument with some climate denier lawyer. I will have a range of winter clothing available. Just playing the odds, this is more likely to be very mild winter or a bitter winter. Normal has now become unlikely.

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