I really wish schools would teach statistics and probability to everyone.
Back in 2005, the unusual number of hurricanes was cited as "proof" that global warming was undeniable, and we all must sacrifice our SUVs to the gods. Now, we have GW skeptics claiming that the back-to-back snowstorms on the east coast are "proof" that GW is a fraud.
Both claims are bullshit.
First off, those particular events loom much larger in public discussion because they've received a lot of media attention. Any event in the imperial capital always gets a lot of attention. (Though in my opinion, anything that shuts down Leviathan for a week is a blessing)
More importantly, things that are defined by probabilities do not happen in the way common sense would expect. For example, a coin has a 0.5 probability of landing on heads and a 0.5 probability of landing on tails. If I flipped a coin 10 times and got 10 heads in a row, or 10 tails in a row, you might think something is wrong with the coin. However, those 2 outcomes have exactly the same probability as the outcome being heads-tails-heads-tails-heads-tails-head
s-tails-heads-tails, which would not raise an eyebrow.
Similarly, 2 or 3 100-year hurricanes coming back-to-back is not proof of anything in a complex weather system, nor is 2 or 3 severe snowstorms. (Similarly, 2 or 3 years without major hurricanes or snowstorms does not prove anything either)
Time's recent article
does point this out.
Ultimately, however, it's a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season's worth of storms — to disprove climate change (or to prove it; some environmentalists have wrongly tied the lack of snow in Vancouver, the site of the Winter Olympic Games, which begin this week, to global warming).
But it also raises more questions:
But as far as winter storms go, shouldn't climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32°F, it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms.
which raises the question about sea-level change. Much of Antarctica is well below 0C. A few degrees warmer will still be below freezing, which countering the sea-level rises based on huge amounts of aboveground antarctic ice melting into the sea.
The article's last claim is probably one of the best:
Weather is what will happen next weekend; climate is what will happen over the next decades and centuries. And while our ability to predict the former has become reasonably reliable, scientists are still a long way from being able to make accurate projections about the future of the global climate.
Maybe people should stop claiming GW is anything more than a guess.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., I'm looking at you. It's pretty hypocritical to complain about the right using anecdotes to discredit GW
when you have done the exact same thing yourself.