Climate Reality Trumped By the Donald

by Bill Chameides | February 16th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 11 comments

Is a U.S. snowstorm the same as a global trend? No, but there’s a lot of rhetoric blowing around what the recent snowstorms say about global warming. Even Donald Trump appears to have been blown away by the subject.

Donald Trump to Al Gore: It’s snowing so give back your Nobel.

We Americans are a great people with a proud history. We do have some faults, however. One of them may be a tendency to view ourselves as the epicenter of all human events.

Case in point: the recent brouhaha over record-breaking snowstorms. Last week, for the first time in recent memory, virtually every state in the union had at least a dusting of snow somewhere. (Hawaii was the exception. Hmm, maybe Obama was involved.) And of course the poor folks in the DC area … well, enough said.

Many have pronounced that the wintry weather can only mean one thing: global warming is a myth. An editorial in the Washington Times proclaimed, “Record snowfall illustrates the obvious: The global warming fraud.” After Washington’s third snowstorm, Newt Gingrich somewhat incomprehensibly tweeted: “where is al gore to explain it snows this heavily as a sign global warming is imminent.”

The latest to join the chorus is none other than Donald Trump. That’s right, the man who parlayed his trademark invective “You’re fired!” into two Emmy nominations (but alas no Emmy award) has entered the climate-change fray. Speaking to some of the lesser-known climate-specialist denizens at the Trump National Golf Club, Trump reportedly received a standing ovation with these words:

“With the coldest winter ever recorded, with snow setting record levels up and down the coast, the Nobel committee should take the Nobel Prize back from Al Gore.”

Reality Check, Anyone?

There is a reason we call it global warming. The word global is used purposely to denote the fact that the phenomenon is global. And believe it or not, fellow Americans, global temperatures can be warming even if temperatures in the United States are not. Consider a few facts:

  • While we’ve been suffering with wintry extremes, other regions of the world have had to contend with extreme heat waves. These include Australia (see here and here), Brazil, and South Africa (see here, here and here). It would be just as silly for the folks in those regions to conclude that their sweltering weather is proof of global warming as it would be for us to conclude that lots of snow in the United States is proof that the globe is not warming.
  • So what is actually happening globally? Warm not cold temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center reports that January 2010 is the fourth warmest January on record. And by the way, if you happen to run into Mr. Trump you might let him know that this has not been “the coldest winter ever recorded” even for the United States. Average temperatures in the contiguous U.S. in January 2010 were about a half a degree Fahrenheit above the long-term average. (Here’s a discussion of global vs. U.S. temperatures.)
  • The fact is that this winter has been exceptional in the United States for its snow not its temperatures. Not that much of a surprise. Global warming will bring more extreme weather and specifically more severe storms with greater amounts of precipitation. Most of the time, greater amounts of precipitation means more rain, but in the winter, when temperatures are below freezing, that precipitation typically comes in the form of snow. (More on the science here.)

Et Tu, Trumpé?

That bunches of climate deniers have used the recent weather (along with some scientific missteps) to sow seeds of doubt about climate change is not very surprising, but Donald Trump? What happened?

Well, this is what I heard from an unidentified source: Trump got hit with a wicked wind during the last blizzard as he exited the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The wind blew over his comb-over, which then acted as a wind sail and lofted him up and westward several blocks (see photo) and then rudely dumped him into the frigid Hudson River. In short he was hoisted on his own pomade. Understandably, poor Mr. Trump hasn’t been himself ever since.

filed under: Australia, climate change, faculty, global warming, South Africa, temperatures, weather
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  1. Bill Chameides
    Mar 11, 2010

    Ken, Actually not. Rate of change is independent of the reference or baseline. If you are traveling at five mph, it doesn’t matter if your point of reference is your home or your work. A rate of increase of, say, one degree per decade leads to a one-degree increase in temperature over a decade regardless of what you define as a temperature of zero. Anomaly graphs generally do note the reference value. Unfortunately, there is no universal agreement as to what that reference is. Your objection is well taken.

  2. Ken Towe
    Mar 1, 2010

    By the way… Charles Darwin measured the air temperature almost every day during his global voyage from 1831 to 1836. The average air temperature of his over 2000 individual measurements? 59.9°F ±11. Interesting… and these were direct measurements, no boxes, no grids, no interpolating, homogenizing, weighting, or winsorizing…just plain good old fashioned thermometer measurements.

  3. Ken Towe
    Mar 1, 2010

    Bill, you are quite correct that Jones spoke about RATES and this has been overlooked and misconstrued by the media. It is true about the rates, but the frame of reference is also important. In 1975 the “normal” was 15°C for the northern hemisphere and the late 30s were plus 0.6 = 15.6°C. But today? The Jones et al. NH “normal” is 14.6°C and the late 30s are now shown as only ~15.1? What happened? According to Jones et al. the entire period from 1850 to 1940 was BELOW normal? But in 1975 this same period was essentially “normal”. Please explain. NOAA says that the entire globe was 15°C. But NASA-GISS and Jones say it was 14°C? Anomalies are extremely confusing. According to NOAA the state of North Carolina is “normal” at 15°C and has been so for 115 years.. is Durham at 15°C plus or minus the globe or plus and minus the NH? Frame of reference! It is not just the fact that the globe has been warming since ±1975. Anomaly charts need to put the temperature reference value (degrees C or F) and the base period used on every chart, not just the plus or minus. They do not do so and that is confusing. As I’ve said in earlier posts, the charts used in the 70s do not agree at all with those used today. Why not?

  4. Bill Chameides
    Feb 25, 2010

    Ken: Absolutely — was going for a little levity and guess it fell flat. Don’t confuse warming rates with warmer temperatures. Jones said the warming RATES are not statistically different, not that the temperatures were not statistically different. The fact that different groups use different baselines is a drag.

  5. Ken Towe
    Feb 24, 2010

    You have me confused with someone else. Of course it is true that the globe has gotten warmer recently, some glaciers have melted, permafrost etc. But, this has also happened in the recent past. See, for example, Looking at anomalies only, the temperature of the northern hemisphere has increased since 1975 by about 0.5°C (0.9°F). But, from 1910 to 1940 it also increased by the same amount. Phil Jones said…”As for the two periods 1910-40 and 1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly different.” Usual scientific standard of 95% confidence. The problem concerns the frame of reference for the anomalies. The reference temperatures keep changing and are not consistent from one database to another. Read my comment to the Feb. 4th post “Water, water”. Today the recent NH increase is shown from a base normal 14.6°C to ~15.1°C (Phil Jones) while he shows the 30’s increase from ~14.2°C to ~14.7°C. However, in 1976 the 30s increase was from base 15°C to ~15.5°C. Which is correct? It is not about whether warming has taken place, it’s about whether the warming is unique. Many of the direct measurements say that it is not unique. PS. Can we agree to discuss the “messages” and leave out the “messengers”?

  6. Ken Towe
    Feb 20, 2010

    RE. point 1. As the NCDC README for the TIME BIAS CORRECTED database explains, all of the temperature data have already been laboriously processed through the statistical “mill”. We don’t live under statistically corrected temperatures nor under plus-and-minus anomaly numbers using 30 year means that are rarely numerically identified. We live under direct measurements. Examples: The average January temperature in Albany, NY in the decade of the 1930s (’31-’40) was 25.8°F but it was 25°F in the last decade (’00-’09); slightly colder in Albany in the last 10 years than in the 30s. At Hatteras-Kitty Hawk it averaged 48.5*F in the 1930s but only 41°F in the last decade. it was warmer back then. At Key West, FL it was 70.5°F in the 30s but only 67°F in the last decade. Our home thermometers don’t need to be gridded, homogenized. weighted or otherwise corrected. Download the NOAA database. You will see the “National (48 contiguous states)” mean is 31.0 ±3.1. Use the entire database, all 48 states, all 5520 numbers, all “variety of factors” included. The January mean is 29.9 ± 12.9. Don’t know why the difference but that’s a fact. Try it yourself. The coldest winter (Dec,Jan,Feb)? 1979. Point 3. It is not surprising that the contiguous U.S. is colder annually than the rest of the hemisphere but it is surprising that it is SEVEN degrees colder. One doesn’t see that in anomaly graphs. We have been wringing our collective hands over a one degree warming globally. Using the same NOAA database, a plot of the U.S. annual temperatures from 1920 to 1995 is absolutely flat…no trend… r-squared = 0.00033.

    • Bill Chameides
      Feb 22, 2010

      My friend, I have the feeling that you would find fault with any analysis that found warming. I suspect that if the temperature trend was based on a straight average of all data without any processing through the “statistical mill” you would cry foul because of the impact of urban heat islands — as did so many climate skeptics until the effects of urban heat islands were accounted for. So never mind the temperature record. Explain the melting of permafrost, the retreat of glaciers, etc. But on second thought, don’t bother because I am pretty sure you would claim the melting that is being observed is a fabrication.

  7. MattN
    Feb 18, 2010

    So to sum up: Less snow = warming More snow = warming Just out of curiosity, if we have the exact same amount of snow, would that also indicate warming…?

  8. Ken Towe
    Feb 17, 2010

    In thinking about climate the Donald has apparently joined those who have succumbed to the misleading short-term weather syndrome. On the other hand NOAA is not helping and has been a bit misleading itself. NOAA reports that the U.S. mean temperature for January 2010 was 31.1 °F, up 0.3 degrees from the 1895-2010 long-term average… = 30.8?. If one downloads their U.S. database [drd964x.tmpst.txt] the NOAA long-term January mean from 1895-2009 (5520 values) is 29.9 °F, with a standard deviation of ±12.3 °F. Over these 115 years the warmest U.S. temperature for January was reported in Florida in 1937 and the coldest was in North Dakota in 1950. NOAA also reports that globally January 2010 was the fourth warmest on record. But in the contiguous U.S. the January 2010 value ranks as the 58th warmest, out of 115 years…about in the middle. Most surprising is that the overall contiguous U.S. mainland mean temperature over the same 115 year period is only 52 °F. This is a full 7 °F BELOW the NOAA global 1961-1990 base period mean of 59 °F. I don’t think most people are aware of this. It gives one some idea why temperature anomaly charts are difficult to understand, much less compare.

    • Bill Chameides
      Feb 19, 2010

      Ken: I am impressed by all the number-crunching, but it seems that you are confused on a number of fronts. 1. The average temperature between 1895 and 2010 was NOT 29.9 F. You cannot calculate a contiguous U.S. average temperature by simply averaging the temperature measurements at all measurement sites. Instead, you need to take into account a variety of factors including the spatial distribution and land-use characteristics. For example, giving equal weight to five sites that are close to each other would produce a spatial bias. NCDC provides a detailed excerpt:encoded of how they do this at and more here: 2. Yes, January 2010 was about in the middle of January temperatures in the U.S. I believe that is what I said in the post — it was slightly warmer that the long-term average. The bottom line is that January 2010 was NOT a record cold month as some have incorrectly stated. 3. Why is it surprising that the average temperature over the U.S. is different from the average global temperature? During January 2010, the average U.S. temperature was 31.1 F while the global temperature was 54.7 F. Would you expect otherwise?

  9. Southern Fried Scientist
    Feb 17, 2010

    Next you’re going to tell us that the sea level is rising, when the data clearly show otherwise. At 9:42 AM this morning the water level at DUML was 2.8 feet above mean tide. Now it’s barely 1 foot. At this rate the entire ocean will be completely empty by 2026! What are we going to do about global draining?

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