Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

It’s a Warm January – What Gives?

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on January 21, 2010

It’s kind of humorous watching the blogosphere play “It’s cold / it’s hot” tennis when these things happen. When it gets cold, the AGW-proponents grumble to themselves in silence as the skeptics/deniers/ throw out anecdote after anecdote of cold weather. Then when it gets hot, Gore’s fan club, no doubt emboldened and perturbed at the previous volley, come out swinging to once again announce the science is settled and Watts and Cavuto and others are nitwits with their collective heads in the sand.

Of course, we all try to adhere by a few rules, and few of us really adhere to them as completely as we should. The first is that “weather is not climate.” The second is that “the earth is complex, and variation happens on a day to day or month to month basis.”

But what fun is that?

And so, we delve into the question that has the pro-AGW crowd giddy with all sorts of excitement: Why did we just recently have the warmest January day in history (history meaning, since 1999), according to UAH? You can link to the site that tells us that here. You may need to recreate the chart, which is easy enough. Just hit “draw” and then select all the years and hit “redraw.” Make sure you’re on the “near surface” option.

As an official member of the community of skeptics, should I hide from this? Should I explain it away?

Nope. And the reason is simple: it is what it is. More important than any agenda-driven concerns, I’d rather give puzzling news that’s true, rather than a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that isn’t.

The truth is, I don’t know why we saw that sudden jump in temperature, just after a period where many places in the globe were seemingly getting hammered by cold and severe winter weather. And the real truth is that nobody else can possibly know why one or two days is suddenly so high. And let’s be honest – it was an impressive temperature reading. It’s not like it just barely nipped the 11-year record. It left no doubt. Further, the entire month of January promises to show a warm reading. Don’t fret about it. Accept it as the truth it is.

As I’ve said many times, we skeptics are somewhat in a corner. Most of us actually prefer warming – I know I do. But we don’t accept the AGW premise, and we see other evidence suggesting that we’re not warming – at least not catastrophically – and we have a desire to see these alarmists get their come-uppance that we, in a way, want to see it cool. But as perverse as that may be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the AGW crowd. You see, they get themselves so worked up over warming that they start seeing nice, warm, weather as a threat to existence rather than a nice, warm day. Instead of enjoying it, they lose sleep over their children’s futures and wonder why we can’t go back to the “good old days” where we had freezing rain throughout the month of April.

So, given all that introspection, let’s at least take a look at some obvious contributors to the warm beginning of 2010.

Exhibit One: El Nino.

There’s an El Nino that is impacting temperatures right now. Whenever there’s cooling during a La Nina, the pro-AGW crowd trips over themselves to point it out, but when there’s an El Nino up and about, they somehow fail to mention it when talking about -for example – how warm this January is shaping up to be.

The last 7 readings have exceeded 0.500, the traditional benchmark for El Nino. 3 readings in a row makes it official, so were well into a good old El Nino, which we know affects temps in an upward manner. And this may well make 2010 a nice, cozy year, since the December reading is the largest of the seven.

We know there’s a 4-6 month lag effect of El Nino (if I remember my facts as related to me from Bob Tisdale), so the first half of the year should reflect that, and if the El Nino persists we could see warmer temps throughout the year. This is a good thing, because my garden has had major issues the last couple years. Cool, damp weather really sucks for raising a garden.

It’s probably a stretch to suggest, as some do, that 2010 will be the warmest year ever, though. While we’ve gone up over 1.0 on the El Nino reading, it is by no means an unusually high value, and it pales in comparison to the consistently super-high values from 1997-98, which almost hit 3 at the highest point. There is nothing to indicate that we can expect such high values from this El Nino. I suppose anything can happen, though.

Exhibit Two: The AMO cycle.

The AMO had taken a dip below zero preceding last year’s ridiculously unpleasant summer, but the values jumped back up to levels above 0.2 a couple months ago, which is likely contributing to the January temps. But the AMO cycle overall has peaked, and while it will probably remain around these current levels, it won’t continue to rise any more, at least not on a prolonged basis. But current levels will contribute to a warmer 2010 than last year, but the contribution is really no more than the couple years before that and is very unlikely to reach levels from 2005-06.

Exhibit Three: Even the PDO is joining in the fun.

The PDO has gone into its long-term cold cycle, but variations about that wave still occur for short-term periods. We can see that it was quite negative over the last couple years. Over the last five months it has increased, even above zero in four of the five months. No doubt the lack of a negative PDO influence has also contributed to our nice January, and will start off 2010 with more pleasant temps than the previous couple years. There is little likelihood, though, that this will soar to levels that push 2010 to record temps, though temps are certainly likely to be higher than the last couple years.

Now, as for the spiking temperatures of a single day, you’re just going to have ask God about that when you see Him next. Even these shorter-term variations in these indices don’t explain day-to-day variations, but they can certainly help explain our elevated temperatures in January on a general basis. I’m sure there are numerous other contributors to climate and temperature that play a part, and sometimes these things happen to align themselves in such a way that a spike or dip occurs.

Quite honestly, it’s really a silly proposition to constantly be arguing about how climate change is about long-term trends, and then trumpet a daily temperature reading, but we’re all probably guilty as charged to one extent or another.

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14 Responses to “It’s a Warm January – What Gives?”

  1. Mike Haseler said

    I was thinking about your comments that “weather is different from climate”, and I would like to take you to task on this because this largely reflects 19th century ideas of climate as unvarying and weather as the changes we see (because changes must be weather).

    So, each time anyone says: “weather isn’t climate”, they are in effect saying that climate doesn’t (naturally) change because it is the unchanging aspect of the environment.

    Modern analysis of climate/weather shows variation in e.g. temperature that has a continuous spectrum right from year-to-year up to century-to-century. Perversely, given the excuses from the UK Met office that short term variation is difficult to predict, the real climate variation is GREATER over longer periods, so the real situation is that it is more difficult to predict long-term than short term…. but I digress. The point I would like to make is that there really is no clear difference between the short-term which many refer to as weather and the long-term which some refer to as climate. In reality, the natural variation shows a continuous spectrum with no reason to differentiate (at least >year).

    This article is about natural climatic variations – some occur over months, some years. We in the UK experienced a climatic/weather variation that occurred from Copenhagen through Xmas to last week. This is a change of the Hadley cell structure with the jet stream moving south. This weather/cell structure is merely a larger scale version the frontal systems, these are larger versions on individual clouds – then we get down to variation as gusts of wind, rain clouds right down to sub-second variation and smaller.

    Again, there’s no obvious place to divide the “short-term” from the “long-term”, it’s all part of the same spectrum of fluid dynamics in the atmosphere

    Having said that, there is obviously the clear seasonal patterns, but any subdivision beyond this is purely arbitrary.

  2. Jeff, the PDO is an aftereffect of ENSO.

  3. The Diatribe Guy said

    Thanks, Bob. It’s clear that they are correlated, but i still thought they were distinct in the area of the ocean measured. Perhaps I could be better educated on the connection and/or the differences.

    I’ll listen to you, even if you are mixing up your bloggers.

  4. Sorry, Diatribe Guy. The page format threw me. I’ll double check from now on — OR — I’ll continue to make a fool of myself.

    For more on the PDO, refer to:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/04/misunderstandings-about-pdo-revised.html
    And:
    http://bobtisdale.blogspot.com/2009/05/revisiting-misunderstandings-about-pdo.html

    Sorry again.

    Regards

  5. The Diatribe Guy said

    No worries. Believe me, it’s more insulting to Jeff than to me…

    For the record, I had this format before Jeff did! I think, anyway…

    Thanks for the links, I’ll be sure to look them over.

  6. Bob H. said

    And let’s not forget the one player that makes all this happen: Al Gore? Nah. The Sun. The Solar Flux is up; the Ap-Index is up, Sunspots are up, probably over 15 this month, finally. Oh, I forgot, the sun doesn’t have anything to do with climate…right.

  7. Paul Brand said

    Bob, I think Diatribe’s analysis suggests a two year lag between sunspots and temperature (i.e. 1.5 year lag after taking a 12 month average of sunspots), and because current levels are below normal, they would have a negative impact on temperatures two years down the road.

    Personally, I think 2010 will be cooler than 2009, if the sun was the only variable. With the sun picking up, I think 2011 will start to warm up because of the sun as the solar cycle picks up steam. As of right now, I think things are still cooling off because there is a real lag, and it takes a bit of time for the sun’s influence to catch up to equillibrium.

    As Jeff suggests, there is a relatively strong el nino in the works. Bob has an interesting post on WUWT regarding the 2000s being the warmest decade. I haven’t read it carefully yet, but I think he is attriubting it to the 1997-98 el nino (which I presume he is connecting with the PDO index). It’s a long post, so I have to come back to it later. (Does Bob have a prediction for the 2010s based on these sorts of trends?)

    (I should probably confess I’m on the other side of the discussion, but I hope I’m representing Jeff and others correctly. He sometimes “clarifies” my misunderstandings.)

    Jeff, I heartily agree that only so much can be said about a warm January anomaly. I sometimes bring it up, mostly to counter-balance the cold weather people have been experiencing in mid-latitudes, and are questioning where global warming has gone to (even though a low Arctic Oscillation index should be explanation enough). The tropospheric satellite readings (i.e. RSS/UAH) tend to be more sensitive to nino/nina events, and so I don’t expect GISS to have the same response as UAH to the Nino effect. It will be interesting to see whether 2010 will be the hottest year on record. As you know, I suspect it will be.

    Bob’s comment that PDO is linked to ENSO makes sense to me. Whenever I try inserting PDO into my climate model, it seems to solve for a negative weighting. When I take ENSO out, it positive. But, I wonder if a ENSO is sufficient explanation. I think I calculate a roughly 3.6 month lag on the Nino 3.4 index (which I apply with an exponential distribution, whereas the most recent readings always receive the most weight, but arithmetically it averages to 3.6 months). I guess the question I would have is whether PDO in itself contributes to climate fluctuations.

    AMO is a different story. I’m going to try at it again sometime, but I don’t like the linear detrending technique used in the index. But, the question I have is still similar to PDO. How much of the AMO is a response to greenhouse or solar forcing, and how much is it due to a true oceanic oscillation, where the oceans are releasing more heat energy than releasing (or vice versa)?

  8. The Diatribe Guy said

    Hey, Paul… you’re on the wrong blog 😉

    It’s kind of funny, the same thing happened yesterday. The Air Vent and I just happen to have the same template and color selected from the WordPress selections, so as people bounce around the blogs, it appears they occasionally get mixed up.

    Anyway, with regard to your comment:
    1) Yes, I would not attribute a warmer January to the sun at this point. Even if sunspots pick up (proxying geomegnetism) they need to reach a much higher level for the obfuscation of cosmic rays to occur. Then, it takes a while for differences in cloud cover to occur due to those rays, or lack thereof. So, as it currently stands, any contribution of the sun right now is in the lower than average variety, which would imply lower temperatures, absent all other variables.

    I’ve noticed in the past when I look at the Oceanic Oscillations that the long-term cycle that best fits ENSO matches the long-term cycle that matches PDO. So, a correlation of sorts certainly is apparent and makes sense, since both are dealing with the Pacific. However, I will need to study more on what Bob T. is saying, because I thought they were still distinct measures from different locations in the Pacific. However, I admit it’s been long enough since I read up on them that I’m pretty fuzzy on that.

    At some point, I plan on running a correlation maximization analysis on the ENSO, the PDO, and AMO – both from a temperature lag analysis and from an ocean oscillation lag point of view. I would think that determining which influences which shouldn’t be too difficult. Determining the best lag measure once that is determined may be a different story, but the general determination shouldn’t be. But I haven’t done it, so I may be surprised.

  9. Bob H. said

    Hi Joe,

    Wow. It looks like I really opened up a can of worms with that one little comment. Actually, I wasn’t suggesting an immediate response as a result of increased solar activity, but it would make an interesting thought process to look at the timelines for different possible solar causes. Your analysis seems reasonable with respect to the different ocean currents. The only point I was trying to make is that a more active sun is a good thing and I was poking a little fun at the people who deny the sun affects the climate.

    For a simple thought exercise, visualize an incandescent light bulb as the sun, or alternately, visualize the sun as a light bulb. Now turn off the light bulb and wait for it to get…colder, a lot colder. If I have a pot and dial down the sun it gets…cooler along with its surroundings. Now turn the darn thing up and it gets…warmer. Over the long term, well beyond the AMO, the PDO, the ENSO, the AO, the ASO, and the rest of the alphabet soup oscillations the sun is what ultimately determines the climate. We fry or freeze depending on the sun, and that’s the way it should be. Our atmosphere and oceans moderate the temperature swings which makes this big, blue marble inhabitable.

    Bummer that Green Bay lost. The Broncos did their usual late season collapse.

  10. Paul Brand said

    I think I know where I am. 🙂

    Sorry about calling you Jeff. Bob threw me off (surely Bob would know your real name, or so I thought he knew where he was). Not sure if your real name is public here, but I think I remember what it is now!

    Oh, I see Bob H. called you by what I think is your real name. Sorry again!

  11. The Diatribe Guy said

    Paul, my name is not a secret here. This is evidenced by the “Contact Joe” tab…

    Like I siad to Bob Tisdale, calling me Jeff is more insulting to Jeff than it is to me!

  12. Paul Brand said

    Joe, I suspected ch 05 of UAH data is what was used for TLT, and I found a comment by Roy Spencer confirming so.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/07/03/uah-global-temperature-anomaly-for-june-09-zero/

    Ch 05 has 1998-present data, plus the prior 20 year average, prior 20 year high, and prior 20 year low. For January, 2007 is the record high, so if you were interested in tracking, I would use ch 05. I suspect the sea surface record (no channel label) for UAH would more closely approximate the surface temperature record. I think you mentioned ch 04 in your blog post, which is what a few other bloggers have captured. But I don’t think this is the most relevant one with regard to published anomalies. Ch 05 is 4.4 km above surface, but still around the middle of the LT.

    Having said that, I can’t exactly replicate UAH’s January 2007 anomaly. I calculate +0.54C, while they published +0.59C. Holding the current temps constant, I get a ~+0.68C anomaly, which might translate to ~+0.73C (depending on how they adjust the raw data).

  13. Paul Brand said

    I was glancing at WWUT this morning. Just had to laugh. Here are some of the claims:

    “Since 1998, temperatures in the US have been dropping at a rate of 10F per decade”

    Of course globally, the trend is +0.108C per decade over the same time period, which means somewhere outside the US is warming more than that. And while they blame others for not adjusting for El Nino, they focus on the 12 year trendline without adjusting for the fact that they deliberately began the period with the strongest El Nino of the 20th century.

    “A few fond memories from 2009 :

    Americans suffer record cold as temperatures plunge to -40 16th January 2009

    Jul 28, 2009 Chicago Sees Coldest July In 67 Years

    Aug 31, 2009 August Ends With Near-Record Cold

    Oct 14, 2009 October Cold Snap Sets 82-Year Record”

    Two of these are local weather extremes, the other is also a single month anomaly, which they tend to discount when it does show a record high anomaly.

    “So while it may be fun to watch the global temperature – a meaningless game that many people began to play in recent years because of the AGW fad (and yes, your humble correspondent only plays these games because others do, not because it is scientifically important) – it is very important to realize that the changes of the global mean temperature are irrelevant for every single place on the globe. They only emerge when things are averaged over the globe – but no one is directly affected by such an average.”

    So it’s okay to talk about local cold snaps, but not global records? I understand these are different authors, but WUWT makes a big deal of colder than normal temperatures.

    “According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, Arctic temperatures are currently below 238K (-35.15 degrees Celsius or -31.27 degrees Fahrenheit)

    That is more than five degrees below normal (the green line) and the lowest reading since 2004. The slope of decline has also recently been quite sharp, dropping from 252K on January 1, a drop of 14 degrees in 22 days.”

    Even within the logic, you can tell that it was 9 degrees above normal just a few days ago. And this is just the Arctic. Meanwhile, my local weather has been averaging more than 10C above average for a couple weeks already.

    “NWS Met on Florida Cold: “This is the longest stretch ever in 100 years of record keeping.”

    “We’ve been covering a lot of the recent cold outbreaks under the “weather is not climate department” heading. This story however is about both weather and climate and what one IPCC scientist thinks is headed our way.

    From NASA Earth Observatory: December temperatures compared to average December temps recorded between 2000 and 2008. Blue indicates colder than average land surface temperatures, while red indicates warmer temperatures. Click for source.

    The cold this December and January has been noteworthy and newsworthy. We just posted that December 2009 was the Second Snowiest on Record in the Northern Hemisphere. Beijing was hit by its heaviest snowfall in 60 years, and Korea had the largest snowfall ever recorded since record keeping began in 1937. Plus all of Britain was recently covered by snow.

    The cold is setting records too.

    Oranges are freezing and millions of tropical fish are dying in Florida, there are Record low temperatures in Cuba and thousands of new low temperature records being set in the USA as well as Europe.

    There are signs everywhere, according to an article in the Daily Mail, which produced this graphic below:

    According to IPCC scientist Mojib Latif in an article for the Daily Mail, it could be just the beginning of a decades-long deep freeze. Latif is known as one of the world’s leading climate modelers.”

    The cold is just the beginning of a decades-long deep freeze? This from the weather is not climate department? (And of course, Latif never said we were heading into a deep freeze. Quite the opposite!

    Or how about this from the article called: “Statistics expert Briggs: Actually, Weather Is Climate”

    “It is statistically appropriate to point to this year’s frigidity as evidence that the theory of man-made global warming is suspect.

    From NASA Earth Observatory: December temperatures compared to average December temps recorded between 2000 and 2008. Blue indicates colder than average land surface temperatures, while red indicates warmer temperatures. Click for source.

    Sure is cold out there, unusually so. By “unusual,” I mean the temperature is on the low end of the observed temperatures from previous winters.”

    Alright, now that this winter may be the hottest on record, what happens to this statistician’s credibility? Weather is climate? Does this mean there will no longer be a weather is not climate department?

    These are probably some of the reasons I don’t take WUTW too seriously. Too much talk about the weather, and even though record local highs outnumber record local lows by a 2:1 ratio, the anecdotes (and there would be lots of them) are used as evidence against global warming.

    There’s also this recently published article in Geophysical Research Letters that recognized the work of Anthony Watts and volunteers at surfacestations.org.

    See here: http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ushcn/v2/monthly/menne-etal2010.pdf.

    They say there is a net (but slight) cooling bias with the poor quality surface stations.

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