John’s Audit

This June we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the best audit ever, a series of posts written by John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State climatologist. I call him NG because that’s how he signs his comments. The series starts with this entry on his Climate Abyss blog:

The Houston Chronicle revamped its website many times over the years. Each iteration made finding the series harder. So I compiled a list, with each entry archived:

  1. The first entry is archived here.
  2. Diary Entry: R Minus 5, archived here.
  3. Diary Entry: R Minus 4, archived here.
  4. Diary Entry: R Minus 3, archived here.
  5. Diary Entry: R Minus 2, archived here.
  6. Diary Entry: R Minus 1, archived here.
  7. Diary Entry: R-Day, Part 1, archived here.
  8. Diary Entry: R-Day, Part 2, archived here.
  9. Diary Entry: R Plus 1, archived here.
  10. Diary Entry: R Plus 2, archived here.
  11. Diary Entry: R Plus 3, archived here.
  12. Diary Entry: R Plus 5, archived here.
  13. Diary Entry: R Plus 15, archived here.
  14. Diary Entry: R Plus 20, archived here.
  15. Diary Entry: R plus n, archived here.
  16. Diary Entry: George Bomar’s Thoughts, archived here.
  17. Diary Entry: The Last Word, archived here.

Here’s what I like about the series. It shows how contrarians click: we’re on a quest to experience something nobody’s ever experienced before. It shows how a meteorologist thinks in situ. It also shows how business ventures rest both on trust and distrust, and how life can be fun even when nothing happens. And then there’s this gem:

If you wait long enough, it will rain anywhere

I might as well introduce NG to new Climateball players. In 2011, he received the Woody Guthrie award for a thinking blogger from Bart Verheggen. In his Thank You note he lists his favorite posts from his blog. No idea what happened to this award.

NG’s a top defenseman in my Fantasy Draft. His exchange with Senior is still worth reading. For some reason Tony classified him in the lukewarm category. His response reveals the elegance of his thought:

I think it likely that the eventual impact will be so severe as to reflect disgracefully upon the human race.

NG’s take on the AGW predicament

I took the opportunity to email John, asking him a few questions. He responded:

Q1. How’s life beyond Climateball?

We recently won the contract for the Southern Regional Climate Center, so I’m busy spinning that up.  It’s basically a state climate office on steroids, with actually enough external funding to be able to do a decent job.  We finished our first actual set of (very limited) climate change projections for Texas, based mostly on observed trends since people around here seem to trust those more:  

I’ve pulled back from online and email climate change debates, since I have more than enough climate services work to do without also talking about climate change to people who are just asserting or defending a position.

Q2. If you are still Texas State Climatologist or still meet farming and business folks, do you feel that AGW is something they consider more nowadays?

After Harvey and Uri, I think people are tired of abstract discussions about whether climate change is real and have mostly moved on to actually doing something about all the bad weather.  Mitigation is still a political hot potato, but adaptation is something just about everyone can agree on, so that’s where the progress is being made. People are open to the possibility of many types of extreme weather being worse in the future than in the present (climate science says: Harvey yes, Uri no) as long as trends in extreme weather don’t threaten their political identities.

Q3. Any new project (or audit) you’d like to share with climate-oriented readers?

We did some work for the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recently on extreme rainfall.  In addition to concerns about climate change, they wondered whether the official updated analysis of extreme rainfall probabilities had been unduly skewed by Harvey and other recent flooding events in the area.  I found that ordinarily they should be concerned about climate change, but the recent spate of extreme rainfall had affected the analysis so much that present-day risk for, say, 100-year rainfall amounts, was probably overestimated.  With climate change, the actual risk will probably allow reality to catch up with the overestimates by sometime around the middle of this century.  That’s good news for HCFCD, but bad news for just about everyone else, whose risk of present-day extreme rainfall is already underestimated, let alone future risk.

Q4. Any music suggestions? Anything you like would do, with a link to a video. You could tell the readers about the music you listened to most to go through our current plague.

Over the past year, I’ve focused pretty heavily on the Dave Matthews Band channel on Sirius XM.  I’m probably getting near to the end of that fetish, as I’ve started hearing DMB music spontaneously in my head.  My favorite song of theirs used to be Grey Street — I love the way the refrain expands with each repeat and how the drums nearly explode at the end.  But now I think I like Crush most of all, with its sense of wonder and excitement

NG’s suggestion to start learning the coriolis force.

Plus it’s a good teaching aid for when I want to get students started with the Coriolis Force.


About Willard
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24 Responses to John’s Audit

  1. Happy Maurya says:

    worth enlightening, THANK YOU

  2. I knew that Dave Matthews was born in South Africa, but hadn’t realised his dad was a physicist who worked at IBM.

  3. John Matthews worked at IBM Watson on the same research area I was involved with — epitaxy on crystals with non-matching lattices. He died too young of cancer before I was working there but his pioneering citations live on. Matthews & Blakeslee (1974) is the big one concerning how thick a layer can grow before strain is relieved by crystal dislocations.

  4. Willard says:

    Another 10th anniversary:

    Sorry, Andrew.

  5. Russell Seitz says:

    Watts has struck yet another foul Climateball out of the ball park;

  6. anoilman says:

    Pielke’s comments on aerosols are aging embarrassingly badly…. (Seriously, did he even read up on this stuff before talking about it?)

  7. Bob Loblaw says:

    In my experience seeing him in action on blogs (limited as it is), lack of understanding is not a barrier to Pielke Sr. playing the expert.

  8. Willard says:

    NG’s response to Senior’s “but aerosols” was great:

    Roger – Yes, I think we’ve sort of converged. We agree that the evidence confirms hypothesis 1, that the earth has warmed on a multidecade scale. We agree that Tyndall gases are a warming factor, though you haven’t pinned yourself down on whether the size of the effect would be enough to cause about 2 degrees of warming by the middle of this century, all else being equal. Conversely, I haven’t pinned myself down on whether I think other forcings (such as aerosols and land use change) might be enough to cancel this effect.

    I will now do so: No, I don’t think they will be near strong enough to cancel the effect of Tyndall gases on a globally-averaged basis. I believe this because: (a) they haven’t been near strong enough to cancel the effect in recent decades; (b) the influence of CO2 can only increase relative to aerosols (simplified argument: since the same power generation that produces aerosols produces CO2 and CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, aerosols can never catch up); and (c) I can’t conceive of more land use change in the next 100 years than the past 100 years (we can’t double our arable land, for instance).

    Managing one’s commitments clearly isn’t Senior’s strongest suit.

  9. So what does JNG think of this …

    A $26 billion plan to save the Houston area from rising seas

    Don’t mess with Texas and hell no, we won’t go … New Orleans: Part Deux … Miami: Part Trois … San Francisco: Part Quatre … New York City: Part Cinq …

  10. Steven Mosher says:


    feynman faked results

  11. Willard says:

    the most important calculation in the history of modern physics cannot be indepen-dently verified


  12. Magma says:

    “Tyndall gases”

  13. Magma says:

    …quoted with deepest sigh imaginable

  14. Willard says:

    Here’s why, Magma:

    What a nightmare for educators. We’re forced to talk about greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect by starting out with “We call it the greenhouse effect, even though the effect that works on greenhouses is something else that we don’t call the greenhouse effect because that term is reserved for an effect that doesn’t have anything to do with greenhouses.”

    The whole series is cool:

    Here’s a presentation I just found while looking back for that series:

  15. David B Benson says:
    Breughal the Elder’s Tower of Babel
    appears relevant even to basic atmospheric physics.

  16. “What a nightmare for educators”

    Climate science has other jarring terms. Consider “lapse rate” which is not a rate but a gradient, and that lapse is defined as “an interval or passage of time”, generating a logical disconnect every time I read it. So it actually has nothing to do with rate of change with time.

  17. Bob Loblaw says:


    For a rising parcel of air (that hypothetical meteorological concept), the rate of temperature change is both a decrease with height AND a decrease over time. It’s easier to express it as a change with height (z), because pressure (= f(z)) is the determining factor and upward speed (a rate) is not directly known.

    It’s easy to see how “rate” was brought into the terminology. Sometimes people use familiar terms rather than more correct ones. From adiabatic lapse rates we digress to environmental lapse rates (which do not involved time), and things get sloppier from there on.

    I suspect that you and I both cringe when we hear “the car was travelling at a high rate of speed” on the news.

    Don’t get me started on hearing “degrees Celcius” when people are talking about “Celcius degrees”. Another sloppy use of terminology that has become ubiquitous.

  18. “adiabatic lapse rates”

    Here’s another one — they define the “dry adiabatic lapse rate” and the “moist adiabatic lapse rate”, suggesting that “moist” means humid. But it’s actually better stated as a “saturated temperature gradient” since humidity is on a sliding scale from 0% to 100% and saying something is moist is not specific enough. An atmospheric scientist named Timothy Dunkerton is making the rounds on Twitter claiming that the conventional Manabe positive water-vapor feedback estimate is wrong, but he won’t say exactly what until it gets published in PNAS (IIRC).

  19. Bob Loblaw says:

    I’m not sure who “they” are, Paul, but I remember being taught about the Saturated Adiabatic Lapse Rate when I was an undergrad 40 years ago – the abbreviations were DALR and SALR. (And the Dry rate was also alternately referred to as the Unsaturated rate.)

    I just looked back at one of my old textbooks. I notice that is says the following:

    It is important to keep clear the distinction between process curves and sounding curves. A process curve represents the variation with time of temperature and pressure of a single parcel; a sounding curve represents the measured temperatures and pressures of different parcels of air at various heights in the atmosphere at one particular time.

    I guess I actually learned something back then – and remember it.

    I’m an old curmudgeon, but I see a tendency towards sloppy grammar in many places.

  20. Thanks Bob, you’re correct. I have mainly run across moist (instead of saturated) and that’s what’s on Wikipedia.

    BTW, Dunkerton just now claims the problem is in the radiative convective equilibrium calculations

    Should be an interesting paper

  21. Willard says:

    > I’m not sure who “they” are,

    Just a guy who has a Bible verse as bio and who retweets LuisB, Bo, Veritatem, DonK, Bjorn, TomN (!!), BrettW, and Judy.

  22. Bob Loblaw says:

    I don’t know what Dunkerson is on about, but the Manabe and Wetherald (1967) paper was a follow-on to the 1964 Manabe and Strickler paper. The 1964 paper considered constant absolute humidity. The 1967 paper switched to constant relative humidity. In both papers, this varied with height, based on observations. Both papers included cloud effects.

  23. Magma says:

    @ Willard

    I’ve been slow on the uptake, but I didn’t read the original exchanges closely. I thought this was another case of RPSr. dodging and weaving and splitting hairs. Like when reminded of the fact that he had once (ca. 2010) stated that, surface temperature trends being meaningless, only ocean heat content increasing by ~10^22 J/yr would be a meaningful sign of GHG-driven climate change.

    When noted that this was now the case (ocean heat content at 0-2000 m depths), his reply was more or less, “Yes, whatever. But the mainstream climate science community has ignored my very important thoughts on land use change.”

  24. Willard says:

    Searching my notes I found back NG’s essay on Al’s movie. I rather liked the end of it:

    While I have contended above that the evidence of present signs of global warming is exaggerated in AIT, it does not follow that AIT necessarily exaggerates the overall threat of global warming. AIT is in many ways analogous to the mother who tells her child, “Wear clean underwear. What if you get in an accident and go to the hospital unconscious and they have to take your clothes off?” The details of the argument are incorrect (nobody will pay attention to underwear in the emergency room), but the broad argument is correct (clean underwear should be warn, for a variety of reasons) and the details are effective (kids are more inclined to wear clean underwear).

    AIT likewise is both effective and annoyingly misleading. For each statement in AIT that goes too far, there are perhaps ten other scientifically valid statements that could have been made but were left out in the interest of time or persuasiveness for a lay audience. The IPCC reports remain the best available comprehensive summary of the scientific basis of global warming causes and effects.


    I added a line to that effect in my “but the Press” Bingo square:

    “But the Press”

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