Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

Perspectives and Observations From a Skiing Actuary

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on April 6, 2010

The following “guest post” is from Tony Crocker, an actuary and avid skier who has documented snowfall as a result of his hobby.   The post below is actually somewhat dated – he had sent it last October, so keep that in mind with regard to his references to sunspot activity.

I asked for his permission to pass on some of the results of his study as a guest post.  He granted it and then I subsequently dropped the ball on passing it along.   I am first sharing his initial e-mail to me as a guest post, as he has some general thoughts and ideas based on his observations, and his own study.   The post below is not to be taken as advocacy on my part with regard to the strategy on taxation of carbon versus payroll tax, but it’s another viewpoint in the debate.

Perspectives and Observations from a Skiing Actuary

Guest Post by Tony Crocker

We have a few things in common.  I’m an actuary in Los Angeles, only a BA in statistics, no formal training in climatology. But I’m also an addicted skier and began collecting snowfall data in 1991, going back as far as 1967 in a few cases.  This was published in Powder Magazine in 1995, and I’ve continued to collect and expand it, now covering 101 locations in North America, summarized on my website

Because of my collection of snow statistics I do get asked the global warming questions from time to time.  Putting cause and effect aside, there is little question that temperatures increased from ~1975-2000 or so.  My snow data covers that period, and there is no trend in snowfall.  The reason for this is that precipitation does not necessarily decrease with rising temps, and in some snowy locations you could make the argument that it might increase.  At any rate, from a skier’s perspective the danger is from a rise in the average rain/snow line.  Fortunately in western North America virtually all ski areas are well above the typical rain/snow line of even the past decade. There are other places in the world (Australia, small areas near the villages in the Alps) where a rising rain/snow line is becoming a problem. 

You might wonder about the Northeast, where altitudes are low and rain is the key issue in degrading snow conditions. The problem there is temperature volatility and varied sources of weather. If storms come from the Gulf of Mexico they will be rain, just as they were 30 years ago, and if from Canada or the Great Lakes it will be all snow.  Nor’easters (Atlantic-based storms) are more complex, depends on whether they run into a cold mass of air onshore.  Hurricane Wilma in late October 2005 ended up running into such an airmass and dumped 4 feet of snow in the NH and VT mountains.

As a statistician I am not impressed at all with the accuracy of IPCC models and suspect there is no more than a 20% chance that they are correct.  However, as an insurance actuary I would advocate precautions against low probability disaster scenarios. So I’m willing to tax carbon, providing the revenue is exactly offset by payroll and income tax cuts.  Some of the tax should be on OPEC oil imports, since downside of US dependence on OPEC is clear while the downside of too much CO2 might be a big problem but more likely is a less pressing issue.  I would take the position that even if taxing carbon is irrelevant environmentally it’s still better for the economy than the payroll/income taxes it would replace.

At any rate the flat temperatures of the past decade and possible decline over the last couple of years should be giving the IPCC etc. pause, and they should be trying to figure out what needs to be added to their climate models.  After all, CO2 output has been rising rapidly, and a decade ago they said temperatures would if anything increase faster than over the previous 25 years.

Presumably you’ve read the David Archibald paper predicting a replay of the early 19th century Dalton minimum and an ensuing sharp drop in temperatures. The key soft spot in these predictions is the feedback effect of water vapor from increased CO2.  The IPCC etc. says the water vapor feedback will at least triple the greenhouse effect of the CO2.  Archibald says the water vapor feedback is negative.  Neither of these assertions can be proven as far as I know. 

You say that significant temperature declines are likely if the next solar max is <100.  Archibald predicts it will be 40.  His climate assumptions are questionable, but he made the sunspot predictions nearly 2 years ago, estimating that the solar minimum might not occur until July 2009.  While August 2009 was the first spotless month in 95 years, the 2010 increase in sunspot activity confirms that the smoothed minimum between Cycles 23 and 24 bottomed in December 2008.

As a skier I will be pleased if temperatures continue to stay flat or decline over the next 20 years.

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