It’s sweltering in Europe. And of course it’s put down to climate not weather, unlike recent cold winters. But while the specific cause of the record-setting temperature measurement in France was likely the fact that the thermometer was beside an asphalt highway, the overall heat wave was due to the movement of a mass of hot air north out of Africa into western Europe, which in turn was due to the movement of a mass of cold air south further east. Can the cold air also be blamed on climate change? Oh yeah. Because everything can.
Attributing heat to cold might seem odd. But it’s a documented phenomenon in some places. For instance when San Francisco experienced a heat wave in late June, Jim Steele argued that the cause was in fact cold air. (Which seems like turn about being fair play since when we had a brutal polar vortex this winter we were told it was caused by warm air.) Steele says what happened was that cold air came through Washington State into northeastern California and Nevada unusually early in the year, in June, and created offshore “Diablo” winds that blew the fog away so the sun could heat the city. When the Diablos come in the fall, as they usually do, they give San Francisco balmy autumn weather. But in late June the result is uncomfortable heat. Because of weather, not climate.
Likewise, the European heat wave is not the result of “climate change” at least in any obvious sense. For one thing, the mercury spike is so huge (and temporary) whereas global warming is meant to be a slow but inexorable rise in average temperatures. But of course the vagueness of the hypothetical link between a rise in average temperatures and in “extreme” weather makes it possible to invoke anything odd as proof of the warming theory.
One NBC news story on the French heat wave and the US women’s soccer team avoided mentioning climate change except for a throwaway line about “extreme weather becoming more frequent”. But another NBC story said “The situation is reflective of a global trend in extreme weather. ‘Between 2000 and 2016 the number of people exposed worldwide to heatwaves increased by an estimated 126 million,’ the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement Friday”. Which makes no sense. The world’s population increased over that time by about 1.2 billion people (from an estimated 6.122 to 7.444b), and in principle everyone is exposed to heatwaves, so if only a tenth that number were actually exposed to heatwaves it means 90 percent of the world is living in places where heat waves no longer happen. Or maybe heatwaves are only increasing in uninhabited areas or ones with no population growth.
Like Europe, come to think of it. So back to that heat wave. The 2nd NBC story trumpeted that France had broken its all-time temperature record, “with temperatures reaching 114.4 degrees (Fahrenheit, obviously) in the southern town of Gallargues-le-Montueux.” But whereas journalists are famously skeptical, they aren’t on climate change.
As Anthony Watts observes, that “record” temperature appears to have been measured “next to a concrete drain, and a steel chain mesh fence close to a bitumen (asphalt) highway” which is absolutely contrary to the protocols “for only using correctly placed instruments in a Stevenson Screen in an open space away from an unnatural heat source.” (He noted a recent infamous Scottish record set thanks to an ice cream truck running its generators right next to a similarly poorly situated monitoring station.) Watts also unearthed old newspapers reporting a temperature of 122˚ in France in… 1930. But apart from that…
Well, apart from that, Roy Spencer observed that in the United States there is no sign of increasing heat waves. In New York, for instance, maximum June temperatures have simply fluctuated since 1900, and the hottest June temperature ever was recorded in Troy, NY in … 1926. And as we’ve observed, the same is true of both Ottawa and Churchill, MB.
If the European situation is different, someone needs to find the data. And explain why global warming isn’t a global phenomenon. We are also indebted to Spencer for the information that the hot air flowing north into western Europe was accompanied by, if not caused by, cold air flowing south into Africa further east. And the temperature disparities from the average during the heat wave were as large as 25C, whereas global warming is measured in tenths of a degree. (It’s the difference between weather and climate, oddly enough.)
Finally, Spencer warns again of measurement bias as cities grow; Miami International Airport just set a new May record, with a thermometer at the west end of a runway in a big city. In 1896, Miami had 300 people. It is very important to prefer rural to urban recording sites although, as always, one must check that the thermometer is not sitting next to an extraneous heat source.
So is it climate change? Well, the Guardian charged in where scientists fear to tread, saying “The record-breaking heatwave that struck France and other European nations in June was made at least five – and possibly 100 – times more likely by climate change, scientists have calculated.” Now already that factor-of-20 uncertainty should be setting off alarm bells. If someone told you some pesticide increased your risk of cancer by five times, or perhaps 100, or that some new engine was five times as efficient as an old one, or perhaps 100, you’d tell them to go do another study and narrow it down. And find some way of testing the models since they only ever make their predictions after the event has occurred.
Instead with the Guardian we got “Such heatwaves are also about 4C hotter than a century ago, the researchers say. Furthermore, the heatwaves hitting Europe are more frequent and more severe than climate models have predicted.” In the first place, that 4C is a very big number since nobody claims the Earth has warmed even ¼ that much. It’s almost certainly down to the placement of thermometers near cities that have grown massively over the century, as well as poor placement of thermometers near or in those cities. And in the second, as we’ve frequently noted, if the models aren’t predicting events they aren’t much good.
The Guardian’s journalists don’t seem to be thinking very hard about what they’re writing. The story also said “Last month was the hottest June since 1880, both in Europe and around the world, according to separate data released on Tuesday by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. In Europe the temperature was 3C above the June average a century ago, and globally it was more than 1C higher.”
Now hang on. If Europe was 3C warmer and the whole world was 1C warmer on average that means most other places had to be less than 1C warmer and some even cooler. It can’t be the case that everyone is warming faster than average. And with that much warming, why weren’t the records since 1880 broken sooner?
Other outlets were coy about the link between European heat and climate. The CBC did the usual it’s-not-climate-but-it-is trick, writing “While it's too early to say for certain that this recent heat wave is connected directly to climate change, [World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare] Nullis said scientists are getting better at attribution studies that can do exactly that.” In other words, they are getting very good at predicting things after they happen. Next they should work on models to forecast last year’s Stanley Cup finals.
Now if we were seeing heat waves everywhere, one might dismiss such criticism as quibbling or even special pleading. But we aren’t. As Vijay Jayaraj notes: “A surprising late-June chill broke records for lowest temperatures and made life miserable for many across the world. From Denver, Colorado, in the United States, to Melbourne in Australia, the mercury dropped precipitously. Many people in Colorado woke up to what would be the state’s coldest first day of summer in 90 years. Up to two feet of snow fell in some places, making authorities issue a winter weather advisory on the first day of summer. Denver especially has been at the center of focus. Record cold caught city dwellers off guard. This year has been the ‘city’s coldest start to a calendar year since 1983.’”
Here in Canada, Montreal had nine straight months of cooler than normal weather. In Washington, D.C., temperatures were warm, unsurprisingly. But for instance on June 29 it was 96F, below the temperature in 1980 and 1945 and well below 1959’s 100 or 1871’s and 1943’s 101. Mind you it was 104 in 2012. But shouldn’t it be hotter today given the five hottest years and so forth?
Then there’s Alaska. Because cold is weather and heat is climate, right? NBC rushed to report that Alaska “could experience record high temperatures in the coming days”. Unless it didn’t. And predictably the record was going to be set at the Anchorage airport, that paragon of undisturbed natural asphalt and concrete.
So NBC did the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t thing. “The northernmost state's hot spell also comes on the heels of a heat wave that baked Western Europe and shattered records in France, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Like any weather event, heat waves form as a result of a complex mix of factors, but Rick Thoman, a climatologist based in Fairbanks, said climate change is likely also playing a role.” Unless it’s aviation; Anthony Watts notes that every record set in Alaska was at an airport and that while Anchorage was getting a reading of 90F, a station 5.6 miles away was only at 79F.
So how on earth to blame it all on climate change? Via the jet stream, apparently. NBC blamed the cold wet American spring on perturbations in the jet stream and said “Seasonal variations are normal, but since the early 2000s, as the planet has warmed, the jet stream has been behaving strangely”, which it also blamed for more hurricanes and a possible warming of more than 5˚F by 2050.
It is not at all clear that we know what the jet stream “normally” does. Meteorological records become very sparse as you move back in time: one looks in vain for charts of the jet stream from the 1400s. And even the records that were taken are suspicious. Iconic English and Welsh records of rainfall going back to 1766 have just been revisited by researchers who found, Nature says, that the whole notion that “winters have become wetter and summers dryer since 1766 appears to be an artefact.” So, sadly, is some recent warming that has been created by revising past temperatures downward, always downward.
As we’ve said before, it’s dirty pool to wait until something happens then tell us the theory predicted it, or was about to, or could have. Tell us whether Europe will have a sweltering June next year, or a hot August (or even a cold one) and let us test it against the facts, as we did in our latest video with a series of predictions about drought, crop failure, heat waves and sea level changes that the Canadian government made in 2001, every single one of which was a bust.