Why Can’t American Forecasters Be This Frank?

The New York Times reports record high temperatures in Europe:

PARIS, April 30 — The month of April was so warm and so dry across Western Europe that it rewrote the weather record books in country after country, national weather services said today, as hot air masses from Africa and the effects of a changing climate combined to drive up temperatures and drive away rain.

April 2007 was the eighth consecutive month of higher-than-normal temperatures in Germany, and the 13th straight month of unusually warm conditions in France.

Reporter James Kanter then quotes a French forecaster, who declares bluntly:

“The sustained period of above-average temperatures across a number of countries is undoubtedly linked to global warming,” said Patrick Galois, a forecaster at Metéo France. May, June and July are also expected to be unseasonably warm, Mr. Galois said.

Why can’t American forecasters speak so plainly? When we had a three-week heat wave in California last summer, with temperatures reaching 118 degrees in the San Fernando Valley, forecasters were uniformly loathe to say anything more than the usual "this is not inconsistent with global warming, but of course we had a 117 reading back in l953, so blah blah blah– "

Yesterday yours truly had the chance to see Bill McKibben speak on his new book, Deep Economy. I asked him a question–essentially, is global warming made in the USA?–and he said yes, it is. He added Europe accepted global warming ten years ago, while we here in America are still struggling with ExxonMobil.

The unwillingness of American forecasters to make the connection between heat waves and global warming is a good example of ExxonMobile’s success and our unwillingness to face the facts.

Here’s Heat_wave_baby_photo_2
 how one European feels about summer in April:

3 thoughts on “Why Can’t American Forecasters Be This Frank?

  1. Kit–
    It’s a very good question. This reluctance is based on the fear of being attacked as unscientific. Since the natural variability of weather is much greater than that of the climate system, weather extremes often occur that can be used to argue for or against global warming. You can’t prove that one heat wave is a result of global warming, just as the California freezes last winter are not proof of a coming ice age. But 13 straight months of a heat wave is not an isolated occurrence any more, and we ought to be able to give a scientific opinion about that. Yes, clearly, ExxonMobil has been very effective.

    Brad

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  2. Kit –

    I’m actually not at all uncomfortable about this. Meteorology and and climatology are two different disciplines. It’s unusual for people to have expertise in both. I think you need to be careful asking people to speak only about their own discipline, and not about areas outside their expertise.

    There’s an important flip side to this question: the know-it-all TV forecasters who publicly poopoo anthropogenic climate change. It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that they’re speaking outside of their area of expertise. But you can’t make that argument if you’re also asking forecasters to hold forth on climate change in the way you describe above.

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  3. Well, you’ve got a good point there, John. I haven’t heard know-it-all TV forecasters scoffing at global warming, and wouldn’t be happy about it if I did. What I have heard in the news, both radio and TV, is a phenomenal amount of talk about what the weather will be tomorrow, and little to nothing about what it will for the rest of our lives.

    Somehow I think the balance is out of whack. Meterologists aren’t climatologists, but is it asking so much that they pay some attention to the long-term picture too?

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