Saturday, January 20, 2007

Oneo Climate Change

Dr. Heidi Cullen has been with the Weather Channel since 2003 and has nicely complimented the synoptic, day by day forecasting there with her short "Forecast Earth" segments on how climate affects weather patterns and the lives of people around the world. Taking the Weather Channel position was a bold move for Dr. Cullen, moving from hard science to the more commercially driven market of television meteorology. By all appearances, however, she was appreciated by her colleagues there and successful enough in terms of ratings for them to launch another program, "The Climate Code" in the fall of 2006.

Dr. Cullen's blog, Oneo Climate Change, explores topics from her programs with updates from primary scientific literature. She has had guest postings from other scientists and a few policymakers, most recently Christie Todd Whitman. She does not really write partisan political analysis, though, beyond advocating better funding of science and alternative energy technologies. Her program on global warming was actually quite supportive of nuclear power plant construction here in Georgia, which has been a priority for our Republican governor, senators, and congressmen.

In spite of what has seemed to me extremely restrained and careful analysis of climate science, Dr. Cullen has recently been pilloried by right wing talk radio personalities Melanie Morgan and Rush Limbaugh, blogger Matt Drudge, and even a staffer of Senator James Ihofe named Marc Morano who runs a partisan political blog beneath the banner of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. What exactly set off this whole firestorm?

Dr. Cullen's post back before Christmas on December 21st, 2006 was actually a comment on an interview with Washington, D.C. meteorologist Brian van de Graaf posted on a local weather blog, capitalweather. Toward the end of that interview, van de Graaf is quoted as follows:

History has taught us that weather patterns are cyclical and although we have noticed a warming pattern in recent time, I don't know what generalizations can be made from this with the lack of long-term scientific data.

Dr. Cullen studies climate, long term and large scale patterns of weather. As both Dr. Cullen and I know, there is really no lack of long-term data if you look in the scientific literature. The data are from diverse sources, particularly going back before the period of instrumental record, and they are not always in agreement. The cyclical patterns to which van de Graaf refers have been reconstructed using historical records and "proxy" data (tree rings, ice cores, corals, etc...) prior to the period of instrumental record. Pat Michaels and other scientists who dismiss the role of greenhouse gas emissions in changing our climate have actually themselves invoked these long-term data.

The anthropogenic global warming, on the other hand, has all happened within a period for which we have measurements of the sort that meteorologists are trained to make and report. Dr. Cullen is by no means the first climatologist to criticize meteorologists such as van de Graaf for ignoring climate trends within the period of instrumental record. Her post in fact drew upon a strident post on capitalweather itself entitled "Since when do weather junkies stick their head in the sand?" by the journalist Andrew Freeman.

As Freeman and Cullen both note, the American Meteorological Society issued a statement in 2003 stating that there is clear meteorological evidence for global warming. In 2005, the AMS also endorsed the National Academies statement which corroborated the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This was how the issue of certification came up which has been such a focus for blogger rants in the past few days. Meteorologists such as Brian van de Graaf of WJLA, Channel 7 in Washington D.C. and James Spann of ABC 33/40 in Birmingham proudly display the AMS "seal of approval" in spite of issuing strong denials of the findings of climate science.

Thursday's blog by Spann including the following statement substantiating exactly what Dr. Cullen was saying:

I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made global warming hype.

Today, Spann has been having his 15 minutes of fame on all the right wing spin outlets and claiming over 300 favorable posts on his blog.

Meteorologists are not required to take courses in climatology, and many of the broadcast meteorologists are trained in crash programs combined with on the job practice. If you have any doubts about the type of science they are trained to do and where they are getting ideas about climate change, there is ample evidence on the Eastern US Weather Forums blog from the past week. Those with a broad educational background, particularly Ph.D scientists, are well aware of climate change and contributing scientific papers on the subject. This certainly includes senior meteorologists Steve Lyons and Greg Forbes of the Weather Channel. None of us in the sciences are in favor of censorship, but credentials confer respect and many of those getting the most airtime right now have not made any effort to familiarize themselves with any of the evidence.

As in most scientific fields, some prominent meteorologists of the older generation have tended to resist the relatively recent ideas about human influence on climate. Max Mayfield, recently retired from National Weather Service, declined to pass judgment on linkage between tropical cyclones and global warming and emphasized the "multidecadal" pattern also relied upon by William Gray. Unlike Gray, however, Mayfield did not actually dismiss the warming trend in sea surface temperatures. Furthermore, Heidi Cullen's "Forecast Earth" program back in the 2004 hurricane season also declined to attribute those individual storms to global warming. While Gray is outspoken in denying human influence on climate, he is also well known to make use of the ENSO and other climate change mechanisms in his hurricane forecasts.

I think that my first source on this was Heidi's blog itself, but good posts have also been made now by Kevin Vranes, Richard Littlemore, Coby Beck, Eli Rabett, Andrew Dessler, Glynn Wilson, and Scientific American's Christopher Mims. There was a very balanced article published yesterday in The Independent by David Usborne. A particularly interesting comment was left on Mims' Scientific American blog by Andrew Freeman, whose criticisms of de Graaf were what inspired Heidi's original post:

the intent behind my post and I believe behind Dr. Cullen's is that TV meteorologists need to be educated on the science. Not that they need to adhere to some dictated prevailing view, but that they need to know how proxy records are used to unlock the secrets of past climates and how climate models work etc. I've found TV met(eorologists) to be some of the most ignorant scientists around on climate change, and for various reasons they're much more contrarian than the meteorological community at large. They tend to view it as a political issue, not as a scientific matter.

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At 6:18 PM , Blogger J said...

Check out the sexy photo of Heidi Cullen at her website:

At 6:43 PM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

Interesting. I would link to it, but I am sure that it will be taken down within a few days.

At 12:10 AM , Blogger GW said...

Looks like Spann's 15 minutes sputtered to five...

James Spann's Fifteen Minutes Sputters To Five

At 12:13 AM , Blogger GW said...

The Locust Fork Journal


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