Climate vs. Weather

by Russ Roberts on November 30, 2011

in Environment

Walter Russell Mead explains the difference as he notes that we are very close to breaking the record for longest period in recorded US weather history without a Category 3 hurricane hitting the mainland. An excerpt:

For those of you who are confused, let me remind you: the only meteorological phenomena that count are the ones that confirm the climate alarmist case.  It doesn’t matter what it is — drought, flood, blizzard, heat wave — if it can be made to support fear about the climate, it matters and it needs to be thoroughly analyzed and widely publicized.

Meteorological phenomena that, to the unsophisticated, might appear to undermine the case that WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE if we don’t immediately pass a stringent carbon treaty, are meaningless and should be ignored.

A spate of hurricanes is climate; an absence of big storms isweather.  The absence of any major hurricanes for six years is a meaningless phenomenon; should a couple of big ones hit in any given year, then every editorial page in the country will fill with hand wringing, dire warning and I told you so.

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Sam Grove November 30, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Progressive/left terms of the debate: we win, you lose, no further discussion.

Fred November 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I’ve noticed that the weather guy refers to temperatures as “above normal” and “below average”.

So if it’s warm it’s abnormal, while if it’s cold it’s only below average.

Invisible Backhand November 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm

We are very close to breaking the record longest period in recorded in Israeli postwar history without a category 3 suicide bomber hitting Ramallah, therefore Palestinians are a myth.

I propose the alternate theory that since academic economists have no work related economic interest in climate change, those employed by the Hoover Institute do it because the Hoover Institute pays them to.

SaulOhio November 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Are you just trolling, or do you really think that such “arguments” are convincing to any vaguely sane person?

Invisible Backhand November 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Jesus, SaulOhio, look at this ‘evidence’:

“we are very close to breaking the record for longest period in recorded US weather history without a Category 3 hurricane hitting the mainland”

It’s like saying since there hasn’t been a pizza delivered to my house for several years, pizza doesn’t exist.

The real point is Russ and Don are treating you like you are stupid. They have something of value to Exxon and Koch Industries that they exchange in the market to deliver the denialist message to a few eyeballs. Pity your eyeballs don’t attach to a more discerning brain.

SaulOhio November 30, 2011 at 2:19 pm

You are presuming that Russ is drawing a conclusion which he is not. He is not concluding from this that there is no global warming. Just that if there is, it is NOT causing an increase in hurricane activity.

Not having any category 3 storms hit the coast is a good thing, isn’t it? By the global warming scare predictions, we should be having more and more of them. but it looks like fewer.

Ever hear of something called a strawman argument?

Russ Roberts November 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Leave the troll alone. His specialty is ad hominem attacks. He lives for them. He finds them decisive, evidently unaware that they are a classic logical fallacy. Everything else he writes is just window-dressing.

Invisible Backhand November 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

As opposed to your ‘Ad Governmentum’ attacks? I listened to your radio interview. (KGW?). In Russ’s world, government is evil and coercive and brutal but “rich people just have friends”.

You may think those rich people fêting you at the Four Seasons are you ‘friends’ but you are just singing for your supper. At least I’m not “jostling at the trough” of

Jon Murphy December 1, 2011 at 1:42 am


I think that is true.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises December 1, 2011 at 1:45 am

what a great shot

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:00 am

Articulate fellow, I see.

Nikolai’s great. He can always be counted on to hit the nail squarely on the thumb.

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:45 am

Invisible Backhand’s posts are like a big gun — of small caliber and immense bore.

Jaye Bass December 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Denialist message funded by Exxon…now that is funny. Most all of the money including oil and gov is funding warmers. Besides they’ve been exposed AGAIN by CGII.

Chris Bowyer November 30, 2011 at 9:02 pm

The argument is not that this makes climate change a myth, the argument is that this makes climate change alarmists inconsistent and ideologically-driven. To not understand this is either extremely dense or extremely disingenuous.

Seriously, ease up on the straw men. Haven’t they suffered enough?

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises December 1, 2011 at 1:52 am

Chris Bowyer

you are a lying a!! ho!!

Having read and studied the subject a some length, including spending some time at the feet of good engineers and scientists from MIT, it is very plain that we are having an impact on things about which we ought to be more careful. “It is not nice to fool with mother nature.”

I am neither alarmist, inconsistent, nor ideologically-driven. In fact I am very skeptical of people who look for market based solutions to the problem (like cap and trade)—they seem to to be the ones who are ideologically-driven.

The straw men argument is the original post—that we haven’t had a major hurricane land fall in three years, a point which is meaningless and is nothing but propaganda for the Kochs.

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:01 am

Nikolai has a difficulty for every solution.

Good work!

Chris Bowyer December 1, 2011 at 2:49 pm

You’re not getting it. The post is about the ideology of many people talking about climate change. Whether or not climate change is real, or whether or not YOU are ideologically-driven (though I should hardly accept your own account of your own flaws as gospel) is completely beside that point.

This post pretty much proves that some people here are arguing out of habit alone.

Invisible Backhand December 1, 2011 at 7:42 am

therefore Palestinians are a myth

Actually, the reason Palestinians are a myth is that there was never, in history, any sovereign nation-state called “Palestine.” So-called “Palestinians” called themselves simply “Arabs” or “South Syrians.” The closest Palestine came to being a sovereign nation-state was when it was ruled by the Brits after WWI and called British Mandate Palestine. Before that, it was simply a region within the Ottoman Empire. And before that, it certainly was a nation-state and it was called Judaea — Land of the Jews.

The idea of a nation-state called “Palestine”, populated by an indigenous Arab people calling themselves “Palestinians” — putatively occupied by Zionists as a sop for pretended sufferings during a non-existent historical event called The Holocaust — was a fabrication by a nice terrorist (a hero of yours) named Yasser Arafat — a very nice murderer who died of AIDS.

Arafat invented the fairy tale specifically for western consumption by the press and self-appointed intellectuals. He also counted on volunteer ass-hats like you to believe the myth and continue spreading it. Nice work, dipschultz!

Brian November 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm

And every winter when there’s a snowstorm we get a flurry of hand wringing and I told you so from the other half of the editorial pages in the country.

So the point here, presumably, is: everyone cherry-picks evidence to confirm his priors? Or is it: whenever you simplify something complex, left or right, you inevitably say idiotic things?

Sam Grove November 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

The point is that the AGW disaster mongers have two sets of rule for the AGW debate, one set favorable to them, and the other set unfavorable to the AGW disaster skeptics.

In other words, typical leftist debate tactics.

Jon Murphy November 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Have you noticed there is no serious debate being allowed on the subject? Correction: no serious debate has ever been allowed on the subject. As soon as someone dissents or asks for more information or provides a possible alternative explanation for data, the response is immediate and blunt: You are unserious. THE SCIENCE IS SETTLED! Only kooks dismiss this fact! Watch. I’ll bet any amount of money that one of the trolls or dissenters on this blog will call Russ & Don idiots/kooks for denying this obvious fact. It is mindless cronyism like this that prevents serious discussion from occurring. How can we expect to discover the true nature of the problem, any problem, is we silence dissent?

Fred November 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm

But there’s a consensus!
Never mind that consensus is a tool of politics, not science.
There’s a consensus!
Never mind that a prerequisite of joining the club that decides these things is agreeing with the forgone conclusion.
There’s a consensus!

I seem to recall there was a consensus back a hundred years ago or so that certain undesirables were polluting the gene pool, and scientists at the time agreed that they should be stopped. The Supreme Court gave the green light to the sterilization of tens of thousands of people in this country, but then some German dude took it a bit too far.

But there was a consensus!

Greg Webb November 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Hear, hear!

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises December 1, 2011 at 2:05 am


thank you for your keen lack of insight.

now, why didn’t you address the real problem

1) climate change is real

2) everyone in the debate is a spin doctor out to promote their own financial self interest. Whatever the solution turns out to be it will have some costs. Someone will have to pay and someone will profit. This gives powerful incentives to everyone in the game to lie. We cannot throw up our hands and go home, for the problem remains. We have left with only one path forward. We have to find a way to make government effective, defeating both those who should pay but are trying to use the political process from doing such and those who would opportunistically sell us solutions that won’t work, cost too much, etc.

To make the later point clear, I have seen some people advance very interesting and inexpensive science for dealing with the problem. How do be structure gov’t so that these voices get heard and their ideas appropriately considered?

In sum, how do be going about being adults about the matter? No more ideological drivel here. Gov’t has to be the solution. What do we do?

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:03 am

If Nikolai quit work today, he’d have enough to live on for the rest of his life if he died tomorrow.

Jay December 1, 2011 at 3:37 pm

There is very little at which government is effective. Collecting taxes and conducting war (sometimes) pretty much exhaust the list.

And, it is efficient at almost nothing; whatever it does costs too much.

Everything government does and how it does it is affected by politics, which is the main reason it is ineffective and inefficient.

GiT December 1, 2011 at 3:06 am

Maybe the point is that if you want to evaluate increases in weather variability you shouldn’t pay attention to editorialists responding to anecdotes, but should rather pay attention to… climate scientists who study climate variability.

Will November 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I can’t wait until the record is broken and climate people will claim that it is the result of global warming interrupting the flow of ocean currents or something to that effect.

Also, I like how they base everything on recorded history … which is what 100 years? Wow, that is a huge snapshot of History…How long ago was the last ice-age?

Finally, I like how Katrina seems to serve as a natural disaster when in fact the disaster was the failure of man-made levies and inability of New Orleans to cope with the fact that they live below sea level. Mt. Saint Helen blowing was a much larger natural disaster, it just didn’t happen in the middle of a major city.

Chris Bowyer November 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Prepare yourself for the addition of “cleansing hurricane” to the lexicon.

ThomasL November 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm

There is a little more to this story.

Pielke Jr. authored a paper published in 2005 by BAMS that cast doubt that there was any, as yet observable link between climate change and hurricane incidence. The paper met all the normal standards, was peer reviewed, and has now been cited almost 200 times. It was however, also excluded from the IPCC survey of relevant literature published in 2007.

The paper concluded:

“[T]he state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.”

With the latest round of Climategate emails released, we find out that that conclusion was regarded as “shameful” and “political” by two important scientists with the IPCC, Phil Jones (University of East Anglia) and Kevin Trenberth (US Center for Atmospheric Research).

Together they worked behind the scenes to make sure the paper was not considered in the (at the time) forthcoming 2007 IPCC chapter on the relationship between hurricanes and climate change.

It goes a bit beyond exclusion, as in the emails there is even reference to trying to pierce the anonymity of the review process to find out who the initial reviewers of the Pielke paper were.

Jaye Bass December 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Numerous studies, even by the likes of Judith Curry, show that there is no correlation between frequency of hurricanes (well once you normalize for the difference in measurement methods/accuracy) and sea surface temps or any other temps. That’s old news. Been refuted for quite a while. In fact, frequency of occurrence is not a very good metric to begin with ACE or other metrics like it describe hurricane activity better.

ThomasL December 2, 2011 at 3:38 am

I used frequency as a shorthand. I believe the paper looked at a number of factors beyond simple frequency.

The important point is that certain studies with findings that did not fit the narrative of a demonstrable link were apparently deliberately excluded from the relevant IPCC summary reports.

(I’m not sure if everyone clicked through, but the way this all ties together is that the referenced article in the original post is itself referencing a graph by Pielke Jr about the hurricane record.)

Andy Wagner November 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I’m amused that global climate change has been attributed to causing earthquakes in the popular culture.
I still haven’t heard an explanation of the process by which plate tectonics is effected by atmospheric temperate, but I’m open to it.
I also enjoyed a conversation with an old neighbor who asserted that the 2002 Pakistani earthquake was due to US bombing in Afghanistan.
She was a bit dumbfounded when I asked why non-stop day and night bombing of Germany at a much larger scale between 1943 and 1945 didn’t “cause” any earthquakes.

muirge0 November 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm

From the Technical Summary of the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC Working Group I 2007

Recent studies with improved global models, ranging in resolution from about 100 to 20 km, suggest future changes in the number and intensity of future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes).

A synthesis of the model results to date indicates, for a warmer future climate, increased peak wind intensities and increased mean and peak precipitation intensities in future tropical cyclones, with the possibility of a decrease in the number of relatively weak hurricanes, and increased numbers of intense hurricanes. However, the total number of tropical cyclones globally is projected to decrease. The apparent observed increase in the proportion of very intense hurricanes since 1970 in some regions is in the same direction but much larger than predicted by theoretical models. {10.3, 8.5, 3.8}

tarran November 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm


The portion of the 2007 IPCC report dealing with storm intensities is utter trash: one of the authors quit because the conclusions were contrary to what the science was actually showing (see ThomasL’s comment above for part of the story).

The fact that muirgeo is falling for it is so risibly consistent with his gullible character,

brotio November 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm


I am Cardinal Yasafi Toruemuirduck: Grand Inquisitor for The Church of Anthropogenic Climate Chaos (formerly known as The Church of Anthropogenic Climate Change [formerly known as The Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming]) which is led by His Holiness: The Divine Prophet Algore I!

If you do not decease you’re attaks on the One True Church, I will bee forsed to call for a tidull wave of crood to sweep you away, and if you live or die will bee up too Mother Gaia. Your all a bunch of SSOB ignerunt denyers and will join that eeeeevil Dr Roy Spencer in drowning in you’re beeluvid crood if you donn’t immediutely repent! Bye a coal powerred Chevy Volt and save Mother Gaia and you’re soles!

Do not trifull with The One True Church any more! You hav bin warnned!

muirge0 November 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm

In the interest of that horrible concept — fairness — I’ve decided to post this as well:

So what to make of the U.N.’s latest supposedly authoritative report on extreme weather events, which is tinged with admissions of doubt and uncertainty? Oddly, the report has left climate activists stuttering with rage at what they call its “watered down” predictions. If nothing else, they understand that any belief system, particularly ones as young as global warming, cannot easily survive more than a few ounces of self-doubt.

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:54 am

Poor muirge0. If a mosquito ever bit him, it would die of alcohol poisoning.

brotio December 3, 2011 at 12:39 am

That’s why there are no mosquitoes in Ireland.

khodge November 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm

M does his physical science the same way he does his Keynesian economics…wait for something to happen and then state that the results prove the validity of heretofore non-existent models.

Mark Bahner November 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm

“A synthesis of the model results to date indicates, for a warmer future climate, increased peak wind intensities…”

By how much?

“…and increased mean and peak precipitation intensities in future tropical cyclones…”

By how much?

“…and increased numbers of intense hurricanes.”

By how many?

And for all three…*over what time frame*? In 2020? 2050? 2080? The year 3000?

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:47 am

Muirge0′s egotism is a plain case of mistaken nonentity.

Tenney Naumer November 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Latest research predicts fewer of the weaker storms and the larger storms will be more intense. This is already occurring in the Pacific.

More upper level wind shear is predicted — wind shear prevents the tops of the hurricanes from forming up or it tears them up.

No one should imagine that the really big hurricanes or typhoons are going to go away, but the conditions under which they form have already changed.

Jon Murphy November 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get.

muirge0 November 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Climate change is what we are expecting… more extreme weather events is what we will get.

Hal November 30, 2011 at 9:00 pm

How much did you bet Don?

Greg Webb November 30, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Yep. Because extreme weather has never happened before.

muirge0 December 1, 2011 at 1:25 am

No Greg. No one is saying extreme weather never happens. We ARE saying it will happen more frequently and the evidence suggest this is already the case.

When I here people like you say things like that I simply ask them to describe what they think real climate change would look like. They usually can’t even describe what would be evidence that would convince them because they already have it in their mind that no degree of evidence short of Noah’s flood would convince them… and if that occurred it would have been an act of god.

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:51 am

Muirge0′s swelled head is just nature’s frenzied effort to fill a vacuum.

Greg Webb December 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

“We ARE saying it will happen more frequently and the evidence suggest this is already the case.” AND “Noah’s flood”

Your own evidence is that it is not happening more frequently. Climate changes due to changes in the Sun. Extreme weather has always happened. The following is a list of hurricanes with 100 or more deaths in Florida:

Name Year Number of deaths
“Okeechobee” 1928 2,500+
Unnamed 1781 2,000
Unnamed 1622 1,090
Unnamed Around 1553 700
Unnamed 1553 <700
Unnamed 1559 500
Unnamed 1559 ~500
Unnamed 1683 496
"Labor Day" 1935 409
"Miami" 1926 372
Unnamed 1563 284
"Florida Keys" 1906 141

None of these storms were after 1935. Subsidized Federal flood insurance programs have encouraged people to build expensive homes and buildings much closer to the shore than prior to the 1970s, thus property damage is much higher than in previous times, which renders property damage statistics irrelevant to evaluating the impact of these storms.

Fred December 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

And the climate has never changed before. Before the Industrial Revolution (the root of all evil) the climate was unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

Then along came fossil fuels and all Hell broke loose.

The only way to save the planet from humanity is to revert back to a pre- Industrial Revolution lifestyle.
Well, not quite. Only for the peasants. The rulers and priesthood will be able to keep their toys because they are held to a different standard.

brotio December 1, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Before the Industrial Revolution (the root of all evil) the climate was unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

You’ve got that right, pal. Yasafi’s got evidence of plants being revealed by receding glaciers as proof!

Economic Freedom December 1, 2011 at 7:48 am

One could make a fortune renting out muirge0′s head as a hot-air balloon.

Aiken_Bob November 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm

It is pretty clear that the whole AGW story is going down fast. What I find interesting is how the scientific community has not any soul searching on how they got lead down this path. I doubt the media will pay any attention to it, but it should be a big story. The whole peer review process, the consolidation of grants, follow the money, and who determine who gets the grants have all been turn upside down by this AGW crap.

Unfortunately it will go away not with a bang but a wimper……

Chucklehead December 1, 2011 at 12:06 am

I hope this leads to more Walter Russell Mead article discussions. Although I do not often agree, his points are always worth pondering.

GiT December 1, 2011 at 12:07 am

What a farce.

A lack of cat 3 hurricanes doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about the relative increase or decrease in the variability of weather events.

This is a simple enough fact to gather about the world (in theory, if not in practice). Take some measure, like daily rainfall. Is the standard deviation or variance or some other measure of variability changing, given some unit of time (like, say, a year)? I don’t know, I don’t study this. Presumably some people do.

Telling me one trend about hurricanes doesn’t do anything to cast doubt on whether or not the variability of weather is changing. In fact, increased infrequency of large hurricanes is completely compatible with an increase in the variability of having large hurricanes. It’s only possible to tell if the infrequency is meaningful if you define a unit of time for analysis and then amass enough data to be able to pick up on a change in the variability of the distribution of hurricanes over time. This will be harder to do than with something like rainfall since cat 3 hurricanes are already relatively rare, while rainfall is not. The unit of time will have to be rather long to give you a meaningful measure how variable they are. I’m not sure category 3 hurricanes are useful at all for attempting to come up with some account of changes in weather variability.

Irving2Smokes December 1, 2011 at 10:09 am

I recall reading an article a couple of years ago in which scientists who were proponents of the global warming theory admitted that the drop in the number of hurricanes did not fit with earlier climate models, but this only proves that global warming is occurring at a more rapid rate than previously thought. You see, the increase in atmospheric temperature results in more equilibrium with ocean temperatures, which results in fewer hurricanes. The explanation went something like that, anyway. I don’t know how that squares with satellite data showing no global average temperature increases over the past eight years, but anyway, the upshot was that fewer hurricanes is more proof of global warming.

Jon Murphy December 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

A few years ago, I took a class on meteorology. One of the lectures in the class (towards the end of the semester) was the argument for and against global warming (or climate change, whatever y’all call it). One of the more compelling arguments against global warming was in regards to global temps. The data point examined said that global temps have been rising at an increasing rate since 1989. Well, what also happened in 89? The Soviet Union fell. Most of the climate observation areas in the former USSR (many in Siberia) were shut down. So, the loss of these cold-weather stations would obviously raise the average temp of the globe.

muirge0 December 1, 2011 at 10:28 am

LOL… yeah that settles it then. Those stupid NASA people must have overlooked that. Did you inform the press?

Greg Webb December 1, 2011 at 11:42 am

Yep. But they have a bias as the facts reduce government funding.

Jay December 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Have you checked the trends in temperatures measured by satellites as opposed to ground stations? You might find them interesting, especially over the last 10-12 years.

Dan J December 3, 2011 at 12:57 am

If there is any weather at all….. It is due to man caused climate change…. Sunny day? No rain for two days? Global climate change!! A snow storm in December? Global climate change!!! Man caused global climate change brings about snow, rain, sunshine, hurricanes, tornados, warm weather, cold weather, mild temperatures, mudslides, no weather, lowering of seas, rising of seas, polar ice melts, opposite pole ice gains………… Drought, floods………. One degree above norm, one degree below norm….. Global climate change……. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh………. Build windmills…… Windmill farms that MIT has found to cause surface temperature variations that can alter life of plants and animals that live below them…… Windmills that alter the course of winds….. Stupid liberals… Myths, legend, and fairy tales are for kids…. Now go wait for the tooth fairy.

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