Jet streams and things

Just back from my meeting and I notice that there is a mini-furore over a story about Scientists warn[ing] of ‘global climate emergency’ over shifting jet stream. The scientists are Paul Beckwith who is currently a PhD student but has – I think – never published a climate science paper, and Robert Scribbler, a blogger. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that the story is utter nonsense. There’s no reason why air shouldn’t flow across the equator and it doing so is almost certainly not unprecendented.

In my view, the Independent promoting a “climate energency” story that is being promoted by bloggers is no different to Christopher Booker in the Telegraph promoting nonsense from Paul Homewood. It’s also a massive own goal because it allows people like Anthony Watts, Roy Spencer, and Joe Bastardi – for once – to be right about a ridiculous claim about climate catastrophe. Admittedly, one major difference is that when Booker promotes Homewood’s nonsense, the GWPF decides to have temperature review, while in this case, everyone who knows anything about climate science immediately points out that it’s nonsense. That doesn’t, of course, mean that it won’t be used for years and years as an example of climate catastrophism.

The real issue is that there are plenty of things to be concerned about without promoting a “climate emergency” based on something that is almost certainly not true. Promoting catastrophic scenarios that are simply untrue just plays into the hands of those who would rather avoid addressing this issue.

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31 Responses to Jet streams and things

  1. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Amplifying your OP…

    I reached out to several atmospheric scientists, who have graduate degrees and are trusted sources in the profession, for their reaction to these claims. Without exception, they said air flow between the hemispheres is not at all uncommon.

    “This is total nonsense,” said Cliff Mass, a professor of meteorology at the University of Washington. “Flow often crosses the equator.”

    Mass added that the cross-equator flow identified by Scribbler and Beckwith is not between mid-latitude jet streams, as claimed. “The analysis is making mistakes that even one of my junior undergrads would not make,” Mass said.

    Claim that jet stream crossing equator is ‘climate emergency’ is utter nonsense by Jason Samenow, Capital Weather Gang, Washington Post, June 30, 2016

  2. Magma says:

    It’s more than a little strange that the four meteorologists contacted by the Washington Post weather editor Jason Samenow (“several atmospheric scientists, who have graduate degrees and are trusted sources in the profession”) included AGW contrarians Cliff Mass, Ryan Maue and Roy Spencer as well as mainstream scientist Jennifer Francis and graduate student Sam Lillo (who was contacted for other reasons).

    3 out of 4 (or 5)? Hardly what I would consider a random draw of “trusted sources”.

  3. izen says:

    While it may not be unprecedented this unusual behaviour of the jet-stream must be the result of the imminent mini ice-age caused by the blank Sun –

    ” The silent sun: Eerie image revealed as solar activity remains the quietest it has been in more than a century – and some claims it could even trigger a mini ice age
    We’ve had smallest number of sunspots in this cycle since Cycle 14
    This cycle reached its maximum solar activity in February of 1906
    Low solar activity can lead to extended periods of cooling, researchers say

    The infotainment business will always choose hyperbole over accuracy. It is surprising how well the healing of the ozone hole has been reported…

  4. Olof R says:

    A tropical cyclone crossing the equator would surely be something extra.. 🙂
    Or the arctic cyclones in “The day after tomorrow”, drawing down minus 200 C air (from where??) and instantly freezing every living creature except wolves…
    But such things will never happen for obvious reasons…

    If the exchange of air at higher levels between the hemispheres increases significantly, it could be a sign of a climate change. But has this happened, and in that case, how can it be catastrophic…?

  5. Greg Robie says:

    Robert is doing a Watts when he calls the winds perpendicularly crossing the equator at 250 hPa part of a pole to pole jet, but Paul does a good job with the why of the breach. The wind speed at the crossing is less than half the 60 knots which is the conventional baseline for jet speed winds. The tubular structure of jets are, I imagine, unlikely in winds perpendicularly crossing the equator. Wouldn’t the Coriolis effect want them to twist into jets differently if this was possible? And there is context to the climate emergency Paul is vocal about. His focus is the Arctic. What is going on in the cryosphere and with Arctic methane constitutes an emergency for those of us yet thinking CapitalismFail can be a tool, as framed by the Paris Agreement, to dial us back out of its abrupt climate change. The emergency is far more than whatever this tangential transfer of air at the equatorial tropopause constitutes. What the Norther Hemisphere polar jet is doing is defiantly an emergency in my book. In the mid sixties, when I was taught Earth Science here in the US, it was the Gulf Stream that explained why the polar jet kept the British Isles in the idyllic climate your accustom to. Less than a decade ago I learned that that theory was disproven and that it is the Rockies that shaped the average trajectory of Rossby waves. Perhaps both were right in their time, and the shift is data pointing to another aspect of abrupt climate change. Clearly neither force dominates the polar jet’s behavior now … or at least this seems so if you are playing the role of an academic non-siloed generalist, like Paul. A perpendicular crossing of the equator of the winds at the tropopause is eye-catchingly different.

    And of course air moves across the equator. Paul responsibly echoes Robert’s assertion as a question. I do not think how you have characterized the coverage of this phenomenon so far is professional. Robert’s writing style is skillfully hyperbolic … and perhaps justifiable as socially necessitated because walking-the-talk is argued here to be optional for the professionally siloed research scientist.

    FWIW, both north and south of this equatorial transfer the speeds of the tropopause winds are, according to the data rastering at, greater than 60 knots. In the last 20 days blips of jets stream speed air show up in the subtropics here (, and appear to relate to the polar jets. What I also find interesting is that the data display options concerning jets at the San Francisco State University site sort of ignore the equator. The changes in the character of the Rossby waves of the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere may require a reprogramming of this modeling as off-screen happenings become matters of, at least interest, if not concern about unanticipated, and therefore unexpected, change.

    While crying wolf, when there isn’t one, is sociopathic … isn’t it similar to say the boy is a [pejorative] when one feels privileged enough to exercise the ‘right’ to be irresponsible and not practice what they preach? To put this observation in a different framing, do climate models include this behavior of winds at the tropopause at any statistically significant level? If not, should this breaching be studied to consider how to do so and at what frequency? Would the recent paper about the apparent agreement concerning a lower climate sensitivity need to be revisited if the frequency of the breaching turns out to be exponential in nature and not just noise?

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself


  6. Magma puts his finger on part of the problem. I was also startled by the wholesale attacks on RobertScribbler. In a world where the vast majority of hyperbole and exaggeration comes from those dismissive of nature and reality and almost all climate science, why is it unacceptable for a good writer to occasionally step over the line in the other direction. The demand for one-sided perfection, and the circular firing squad, are normal in our world. Like women and sex, or people of color and police brutality, there is a double standard here.

    While in an ideal world one-sided perfection would be attainable, the standard of proof is vastly different depending on which part of the spectrum is under scrutiny. RobertScribbler has worked hard to learn science and is getting help, but he blew it this time. That is not, in my opinion, a reason to discredit all of his work, which is what is being done here.

    These crossovers at the equator are interesting, if you remove the silly context. The jet stream is increasingly messed up, for what it’s worth. (Sloppy language “messed up” is intentional; it’s a sloppy thing, but worthy of note.)

  7. John Hartz says:

    Magma & Susan Anderson:

    I became aware of Samenow’s critique by a Facebook post by Stefan Rahmstorf who linked to the article with the following: “Hope this will help to debunk this internet myth that came up a few days ago.”

    He also posted the following comment on the thread to his link:

    “First of all, wrong stuff needs to be corrected. And I think it shows the dangers of able writers who are not scientists. Such writers can of course still cover science topics, but they have a responsibility to check that there is a reputable scientific source behind their story. In this case I don’t see that there was any.”

    To his credit, Robert Scribbler did correct his original post as a result of Samenow’s critique. Samenow acknowledges Scribbler’s action in an update to his article.

    Here’s the url for Rhamstorf’s Facebook page:

  8. Something I meant to say in the post, but forgot, is that the issue isn’t so much that a couple of essentially bloggers came up with a catastrophic scenario, it’s more that it was reported rather uncritically by a journalist in a major UK newspaper (one that’s climate reporting is normally pretty good). I think it is good that Robert Scribbler has issued a correction and that that has been acknowledged by Samenow. It looks like Paul Beckwith has simply doubled down.

  9. I’m not disputing the facts. I’m objecting to the wholesale buy in to blaming people with whom we largely agree for problems exacerbated by skilled, biased and extraordinarily well financed opposition that has no interest in scientific truth and no ethical concern at all. I have patience with Beckwith but sympathize with his worries: he’s going about it exactly wrong. RobertScribbler is being thrown under the bus by people who appear too timid to say liars lie and we face real dangers with climate change that are increasing as we surrender and remain heedless. By quoting Spencer and Weatherbell (Maue, Bastardi, d’Aleo), Euan Mearns, etc., knowledgeable people are allowing the goalposts to be moved again.

  10. Susan,
    Who quoted Euan Mearns?

  11. Sorry, that was I have no patience with Beckwith …

  12. Getting into the thickets there, an approved commenter, one eric564, at CapitalWeatherGang WaPo. I waded in, boots and all, being the fool who goes where angels fear to tread. That was one of many points he made that made me angry, and I probably should have controlled myself. I’m avoiding returning because I’m not a regular part of that community, and as you know I have to rely on others for science expertise, but I don’t like to see denial lite being put through without response, let alone tacit approval.

  13. John Hartz says:

    Over the past few years, I have posted links to quite a few articles authored by Jason Samenow and his colleagues in the Capital Weather Gang on the Skeptical Science Facebook page. Samenow and his colleagues are straight shooters with respect to mainstream climate science. If they were not, I would not post links to their articles.

  14. John Hartz, yes, that’s what I thought. That’s why I was so surprised to see a definite wrong ‘un being supported by them.

    My real issue is the style of attack on RobertScribbler. He made a mistake, and he is now villain in chief? We are too prone to let climate science deniers dictate the terms of the conversation. Science includes making mistakes and correcting them, and one of the communication problems we have is that this is the way it should be: not a bug but a feature.

  15. John Hartz says:

    Susan Anderson:

    FWIW, I personally do not regard Robert Scribbler as “villan in chief”.

  16. Elli Rabett says:

    FWIW Samenow was a student of Pat Michaels and they remain linked

  17. MMM says:

    Judge people not by their PhD advisors but by the body of work they have done after graduating.

  18. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Will ‘Robert Scribbler’ be removed from your sidebar at long last, ATTP?

  19. Just spent a little while reading some interesting material from Chris Mooney at The Washington Post (WaPo), and his comment sections are deeply infested with deniers who don’t even bother to be polite or knowledgeable, just freely exhibit their hatred of climate science. I’ve been a Mooney fan since I got a hold of my father’s review copy of The Republican War on Science, which preceded Naomi Oreskes by some years and was very thorough and accurate (except for mispresenting Russell Seitz, lumping him in with his removed cousin Fred Seitz, not one of the good guys, which was a bad mistake). [fwiw, his Storm World is a fascinating book on the history of cyclones/hurricanes and their history.]

    This appears to be a targeted effort. On the whole, WaPo is a fine paper, but I am now more aware of the effort the denial industry and its dupes are making to discredit climate understanding. With our Congress in thrall, and Trump enabling people to give in to their basest instincts, it is distressing to be an American these days.

    It is my understanding that RobertScribbler is working hard to become more accurate on science, and I do hope the baby will not be thrown out with the bathwater.

    @Eli, that’s interesting. We also had an outbreak of Maue at DotEarth last week. These guys hang together, don’t they.

  20. Vinny,
    I wasn’t planning to.

  21. I wish I could recall the name of the climate scientist who said “Right now there’s no need to panic, but we might prepare to panic”

    As an amateur for years, I am still learning much – but I was startled to hear this in a video – namely that humans emitted 500 exajoules into the world in 2008 and that increased ocean heat 5000 exajoules over baseline in that year. . That’s 1 to 10 ratio.

    Is this saying that one unit of expressed heat from carbon combustion will generate 10 times the amount of heat in the ocean and atmosphere?

    Because, the science of that makes sense,,, please tell me that is not so,,, and climate science just forgot to describe it in that simple way.

  22. Marco says:

    I sure hope Robert Scribbler tries to get more accurate on the science (and facts, that would be nice, too). So far I have too often caught him in hyping things. For example, recently he happily told us millions of farmers in India have migrated to the cities in 2016 because of prolonged drought, providing a citation that does not provide any substantiation for Scribbler’s use of “millions”. Also, he claimed Vote Leave had a primary focus on Syrian refugees. If they did, they sure did well in hiding that ‘fact’.

  23. Richard,
    I think some of what you’re asking is explained here. The key point is that energy doesn’t accumulate, but CO2 does. Imagine we just carried on as we are, generating 5 \times 10^{20} J per year while also emitting 10 GtC per year. 5 \times 10^{20} J is 0.03 W/m^2 which would, by itself, increase surface temperatures by around 0.02oC. This is clearly negligible and if we were not also emitting CO2 is how much our energy generation would increase surface temperatures.

    Atmospheric CO2, on the other hand, accumulates. Hence, every year when we emit more CO2, we increase atmospheric CO2, and increase the anthropogenic forcing. So, over the last 150 years or so, we’ve emitted enough CO2 to increase anthropogenic forcings by more than 2W/m^2 and, together with the other feedbacks, has produced – today – a planetary energy imbalance that is 10 times greater than the rate at which we’re generating energy ourselves.

  24. izen says:

    @-richard pauli
    “Is this saying that one unit of expressed heat from carbon combustion will generate 10 times the amount of heat in the ocean and atmosphere?”

    It is indicative of the tragic barbarity and technical inefficiency of human energy production that the main method produces something that adds 10x as much energy to our living space as we manage to obtain from burning it.
    Recently there are hydro-electric, wind, solar and nuclear sources. But humans have been using fire for at least 150,00 years. Depressingly most of our ‘modern’ energy production has advanced little beyond rubbing two sticks together despite the known problems.

  25. Steven Mosher says:

    “My real issue is the style of attack on RobertScribbler. He made a mistake, and he is now villain in chief? ”

    Welcome to the internet.

  26. Greg Robie says:

    The style issue thing has been ported to the Internet, not created here. Its roots lie in the sarcasm of late night TV as ‘humor’. In the US, the 11 o’clock news is followed by jokes about its content, and then we go to sleep. After a few generations of this as ‘normal’ behavior belittling behavior is all grown-up-to-be-TVs psyches can imagine as meaningful/consumable discourse. Self-broadcasting has supplanted dialogue within social intercourse. With the Web 2.0, digitally gated communities have been effected among the denizens of the Internet. It is quite an intractable dynamic.

    And those who consume Robert’s writing do so knowing his hyperbolic style. Whether he gets the science right or not is not as important as that he gets it mostly right. I read him because it is refreshingly different than conservative ‘good form’ science writing or reporting on the same. In my judgement Robert is really good at his craft and his chosen style. I’m pretty sure it ‘works’ for a significantly larger proportion of society than disciplined conservative science writing because of the brainwashing of late night sarcasm as entertainment.

    My impression of British sarcastic humor is that, as a nation that has had longer to have power by unconscionable means, sarcasm-as-humor pervades all comedy (actually does here too). When, as a culture, we do not practice what we preach, how else can we effect homeostasis, while claiming rationality but being hypocrites?

  27. Chris G says:

    I’m moderately familiar with Francis’ work. Based on what I know of it, I take her assessment seriously. From the WaPo piece: “To be clear, the hypothesis that global warming is destabilizing the polar jet stream is a legitimate idea that has been published in peer-reviewed journals, though it remains controversial. But even the scientist who developed the hypothesis, Jennifer Francis, a professor of meteorology at Rutgers University, suggested it had been misapplied by Scribbler and Beckwith. “I’d say cross-equator flow cannot be unprecedented, maybe not even all that unusual,” she said.”

  28. Greg Robie says:

    Jason Samenow is the interesting character relative to the “things” and this post. Last night, before bed, I watched Paul Beckwith’s two part reply to his wanted, but unwelcomed in how it happened, 15 minutes of fame (having his videos go viral). What turned into short night’s sleep has become a very interesting early morning.

    Looking into Jason and his writing I find he created a ‘gotcha story’ that supports his bias by, at best, misrepresenting Paul. The little I have read of Jason’s writing suggests he is as skilled at understating the threat of abrupt climate change as Robert Scribbler is of honing in on it. While misrepresenting Paul made Jason’s story, it is this misrepresentation that could and should be the story.

    It is also our conundrum.

    To the degree reasoned discourse is boring (doesn’t sell papers; advance journalistic careers) in our ADD/ADHD-Iike culture, getting an unwanted message across to otherly indisposed public is a Sisyphean task. Paul’s reply videos includes references to scientists he respects taking Jason Samenow’s framing as true when commenting on Jason’s, not Paul’s, story. I now see that the dismissive label “PhD student” included here is ported over from Jason’s propaganda piece. It seems clear that Paul’s affect is one professional scientists are not too comfortable with. Has that discomfort been skillfully leveraged for the sake of creating confusion under the guise of controversy?

    As I’ve mentioned, Jason is as skilled as Robert in hyperbole. I’d be interested if what seems obvious to me is clear to others: that the scientific community has been brilliantly duped into attacking itself.

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself >

  29. I’d be interested if what seems obvious to me is clear to others: that the scientific community has been brilliantly duped into attacking itself.

    I think there is an alternative interpretation. Those who are familiar with the tone of the public debate about climate science should be careful to not make strong claims that lack compelling evidence, and that appear alarmist. Doing so can then lead to those dismissive of action on climate appearing to have a valid criticism and can lead to many active climate scientists refuting the claim. It’s can end up being an unnecessary own goal.

  30. Greg Robie says:

    ATTP, in the case of light, is it a wave or a particle? One is not the alternative of the other. It is a matter of both/and, and how one observes things. If we were a rational species (i.e. didn’t do motivated reasoning–& do it differently), and if we were all being passionately political about the same issue, such a PC kingdom with reasoned discourse and rational action would, of course, be the norm. As your bio on Twitter indicates, one or both of those “ifs”, in your experience, isn’t. Is this correct?

    To the degree it is so, an alternative I have suggested in my comments here is that because of the not practicing what one preaches thing, at least two issues are in ‘discussion’: keeping it in the ground (then getting another it out of the atmosphere); fighting for national soverignity. If you do not understand the latter you will see Trump the same way the Brexit campaign was seen: with an observer’s bias. Two generations ago conventional wisdom said Thatcher wouldn’t win the prime ministership, but she did. Ronald Reagan was elected President. Motivated reasoning works that way. To quote my wife quoting Anais Nin, we see things as we are, not as they are.

    Moral psychology has done a pretty good job framing why the polar ends of our moral continuum have the communication challenges they have. Throw in the variable of not talking about the same thing, and, well, the discussion moves from being a reasoned scientific-like pursuit of truth to a political dynamic where the ends justify the means. Neuropeptides and their common receptors in our neurological, endocrine, and immune systems suggest that thinking, feeling, and homeostasis are not quite as distinct from one another as our language defines them. Throw motivated reasoning into the mix, and another alternative I’ve included in my comments here makes the first ‘if’ an ‘isn’t’ when feelings are elevated around the topic being discussed. Remember Chamberlain.

    FWIW, Kevin Anderson is arguing post-Paris that a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions is required annually, starting this year, of the Annex I countries, with a zero carbon economy being in place by the early ’30s for a 33% chance of not blowing the 2°C boundary. When saying so he includes the big ‘IF’ of the feedbacks regarding abrupt climate change not continuing to grow exponentially. Is his framing reasoned and rational? With twice the carbon footprint of Europe/UK per capita, the occurrence of this reduction is twice as improbable here in the US, this year … or ever.

    My nation is not rational … unless greed-as-go[o]d and infinite growth on a finite planet is sane. We are rationalized. IMHO, rational civil discourse is now about economic sanctions against the US. That is the kind of “tone” we are not deaf to. It is the only language both blue and red memes will hear and understand … and we’ll probably thank you up for your bothering to be reasonable with us as any Empire does … until it isn’t.

    Or, if one can, #ThnkDif! #Occupy #CapitalismFail./? 😉

  31. Greg Robie, Thank You! Also thanks to Marco for the warning. My takehome is to read material carefully; the temptation to skim, summarize, or adopt others’ opinions (particularly those whom I respect) is great. Also the reverse; authors who turn to the likes of Maue and Cliff Mass when the subject shades from meteorology to climate change arouse my suspicions. Like many of you, I suspect, I entered this discussion innocently years ago, and was surprised by the vituperation. It took a while to find a balance, trusting my instincts and integrity, locating reliable sources for material I couldn’t evaluate for myself. I like RS’s writing, but he does grab extremes sometimes, or oversimplify.

    The shock for me was the nastiness in eric564’s responses to Samenow’s commenters being supported by authority. My “verified” status at the NYT informs me they go to some lengths to qualify opposition voices, more false balance, so that might be it.

    And the false balance, from the prejudicial work of Judith Curry and her colleagues in league with our Congress, to more delicate items like this, is always there. I object to the idea of one-sided perfection. Needs must when the devil drives, but I do wish the public was more fair-minded about the inherent bias.

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