Friday, April 29, 2011

Leave it to the NY Times to Write an Inaccurate and Insensitive Article

I had planned on moving on to other topics today. There is little more to say about the tornadoes of the last three weeks until the investigations are completed. As I was going through my email this morning, a reader sent me a link to this article in The New York Times:  

Predicting Tornadoes: It’s Still Guessing Game

I thought my book Warnings pretty well makes the case that we have become highly skilled at forecasting tornadoes. With regard to the recent tornadoes this article and, especially, this article convincingly make the case that these tornadoes were very well forecast.

The Times' article begins with this statement:

The cruelty of this particular April, in the number of tornadoes recorded, is without equal in the United States.

This may or may not be true. The statement is at least premature. The NWS Storm Prediction Center March 8th changed its methodology which allows more reports of tornadoes and other severe storms to be logged (see first note here). We don't know yet whether this is a record April.

Tornadoes in particular, researchers say, straddle the line between the known and the profoundly unknowable.
“There’s a large crapshoot aspect,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. 

It is correct that we do not fully understand the physics of tornadogenesis but we understand the conditions under which large tornadoes (like Wednesday's) form so we can forecast them and issue warnings for them with high accuracy. If you don't believe it, just scroll back through the forecasts of the last three weeks on this blog or, for Wednesday's storms go here or here for just two examples. It is hardly a "crapshoot."

Nevertheless, scientists can only guess when and where tornadoes will actually strike.

That statement is so silly I will not bother to comment. The superb forecasts and warnings of the past month easily refute it.

The next paragraphs are, I suspect, the real motivation for this article:

When technology can predict oncoming storm tracks and conditions with greater certainty than ever, and scientists assert with growing unanimity a human impact on climate, what is a natural act of God and what is more correctly the province of humans themselves? Where is the place of psychic shelter in an age when the lines between fate and human action are blurred?
The prevalence of hurricanes, droughts and floods has been linked in many climate models to the impact of a warming planet. Such a connection is more tentative when it comes to twisters.

Ah, 'climate change.' The article goes on to discuss the Times' linking of these tornadoes to climate change. This linkage can be easily refuted.

This is a graph of world temperatures complied by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (global warming advocates). I have placed arrows pointing to the temperatures in 1884 (the "Enigma Outbreak" which killed as many as 1,200 in the South), the 1936 Tupelo/Gainesville tornadoes (which killed 800+), the "Superoutbreak" of tornadoes in 1974, and Wednesday's. Note that these tornado outbreaks -- which killed even more people -- all occurred with cooler atmospheric temperatures. It is absurd to link Wednesday's tornadoes to current world temperatures!

The article goes on to babble,

If scientists cannot be sure — or trusted, as doubters of climate change might say — then where should an ordinary person on the ground turn for solace or strength in the raging maw of a storm?

Can't be "trusted"? As an atmospheric scientist, I resent this. Meteorologists have worked tirelessly over the last month to provide excellent forecasts and warnings of these storms that have been credited with having hundreds of lives.

Few publications can go off the rails like the Times when they want to find an excuse to write about 'climate change.' It would be nice if, occasionally, they got their facts right.


  1. I'll have what the 1st anonymous is having...

  2. Global warming in the 1880's, 1930's, 1974, 2011? Alot easier to see that every 40 or 50 years the ingredients come together just right (or wrong is a better word) and large, long-track tornadoes tap into the jet stream and move across the Mississippi Valley. Todays tornado forecasting is not guessing. The PDS tornado watch gives almost as much lead time as hurricane forecasting. The only problem is we can't evacuate the Mississippi Valley like we can a coastline. After tornadoes are on the ground-the warnings are tremendously accurate and timely down to the neighborhood and street. With most tornadoes getting in a safe place in your home will save your life. With Wednesday's outbreak your only safe place was out of the path or underground. Here's a haphazard forecast that will probably come true. If we don't get this global warming in check there will be another outbreak like Wednesday sometime between now and 2047 in the Mississippi or Ohio valley.