Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Weather, Fringe Talk And Debunking

CHICAGO (AP) — For millions of people enduring this week's extreme heat and humidity, it feels like they're living in a pressure cooker. And in a sense, they are.

Much of the United States is trapped under a heat "dome" caused by a huge area of high pressure that's compressing hot, moist air beneath it, leading to miserable temperatures in the mid-90s to low 100s and heat-index levels well above 100 degrees.

"It's hot no matter what you're doing or where you are," said Tim Prader, a 50-year-old construction worker who was taking a break Tuesday at a job site in St. Louis. Although his huge Caterpillar excavator has air conditioning, he couldn't entirely escape. "When you're done for the day, you're ready to eat, drink and hit the couch."

The oppressive conditions extend from the northern Plains states to Texas and from Nebraska to the Ohio Valley. And they're expanding eastward.

When a high pressure system develops in the upper atmosphere, the air below it sinks and compresses because there's more weight on top, causing temperatures in the lower atmosphere to heat up, said Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md.

The dome of high pressure also pushes the jet stream and its drier, cooler air, farther north — it's now well into Canada — while hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico circulates clockwise around the dome, traveling farther inland than normal.

(more at the link)

Weather here in the Midwest lately has been HORRIBLE!

And it’s really getting to me. I like peace and quiet. I really like peace and quiet. But this hot weather has been so hot that even at night temperatures only go down a few degrees. Normally in the summer I run my air conditioner during the day and switch it off right before I go to sleep. The cool air usually stays cool until the morning and I can sleep comfortably cool and in a quiet bedroom.

But now the air conditioner has to stay on all night. Humming, clinking, buzzing.

This heat—and the endless humming, clinking and buzzing—is getting on my nerves.

And I’m a guy who perspires. I mean I sweat. So for the most part I need to keep two tee shirts around—one I wear when I go out which pretty much stays soggy from sweat, and one I wear when I get back home which stays pretty dry thanks to the cool air from the noisy air conditioners.

This weather doesn’t work for me. Somebody needs to do something about it. This is the 21st century. This is the George Jetson world. I read science fiction when I was a kid. By now cities are supposed to be under giant glass domes and climate-controlled and all that. We’re supposed to be comfortable all the time.

Damn it, people are working on the flying cars but nobody—so far as I know—is working on the giant glass domes to cover major cities and create climate-controlled wonderlands.

Damn it!


I’m not going to link to any fringe sites, but I want to talk about some fringe speculation about the current weather and some debunking that was done even before much of the fringe talk started.

Here is a paragraph from the AP link at the start of this post about the current weather:

“The dome of high pressure also pushes the jet stream and its drier, cooler air, farther north — it's now well into Canada — while hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico circulates clockwise around the dome, traveling farther inland than normal.”

So the accepted mechanism behind the current HORRIBLE heat is that hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico is the culprit.

Well, some people are wondering if this relates to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.

The general fringe belief is that temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico are anomalously high because the huge influx of oil into the Gulf from the Deep Water Horizon spill has “de-coupled” the Gulf from the currents circulating in the Atlantic. That allows the Gulf simply to accumulate heat and, so to speak, simmer. A more convoluted fringe belief is that, also, at the same time the Gulf has been de-coupled from the Atlantic, oil continues to leak from deep water fissures and the upwelling oil melts frozen methane hydrate deposits and that process adds to the heat accumulating in the Gulf waters. (Here is some background info on methane hydrates: Methane hydrates and global warming)

So, the fringe thinking goes, the gradually heating Gulf waters change the weather patterns across the US, keeping the jet stream abnormally far north. (There are other suspected consequences of the Gulf “de-coupling” from the Atlantic, but these are the most interesting speculations right now.)

I have no idea if any of that is true.

It all sounds vaguely reasonable to me in an Oliver Stone sort of way, but I’m one of those people who just likes cause-and-effect. I sometimes see causation when the only thing really going on is just random, emergent changes, normal patterns of variation within chaotic (deterministic but non-periodic) complex systems.

And it turns out when some people first talked about the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico possibly impacting US weather, a reasonably smart fellow did a remarkably detailed and data-centric analysis of the suggestion and the current temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico SEEM to be within normal variations which have held steady for decades and decades. Check out the debunking here: Are Gulf Of Mexico Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies Near To Record Levels?

Now, I have just one observation about this. The fact that the current high temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico are consistent with past examples of the high range of the temperature variations doesn’t mean that these current high temperatures AREN’T caused by geophysical changes to the Gulf. It is a strong indication that they’re not, but only time will really tell. If the current temperatures remain high for a longer period than the high temperatures existed in the past that would be an indication that something odd is happening.

It’s interesting that the fellow debunking the Gulf speculations threw tons of numbers at his readers, but he never derived an expected periodicity to the past excursions into high temperatures.

That would have been an interesting and testable number.

Everyone interested in this issue could have watched to see if the current high temperatures declined (or remained high) after this-or-that number of weeks as they have in the past.

Still, time will tell.

There are so many smart activists on all sides of the climate-change debate that someone with access to and knowledge of these databases will fire up their copy of Mathematica and create a post, somewhere, with some interesting charts and graphs.

If I hear about them, I’ll re-post them.

Now I’m going to go put in ear plugs and get some sleep.

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Hot Red Earth, Cold Blue Jazz

The Application Of Beyond Understanding

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