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Fwd: Hurricane Debate Shatters Civility Of Weather Science (WSJ)

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  • Pat Neuman
    ... Hurricane Debate Shatters Civility Of Weather Science Worsened by Global Warming? Spats Are So Tempestuous, Sides Are Barely Talking Charge of Brain
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2006
      --- In fuelcell-energy@yahoogroups.com,

      Hurricane Debate Shatters Civility Of Weather Science

      Worsened by Global Warming?
      Spats Are So Tempestuous,
      Sides Are Barely Talking
      Charge of 'Brain Fossilization'
      Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
      February 2, 2006; Page A1

      The 2,000-plus scientists at this week's annual meeting of the
      American Meteorological Society had plenty to talk about, from last
      year's droughts to flash floods and wildfires. But the biggest
      question at the meeting in Atlanta -- why last hurricane season was
      the worst since recordkeeping began 151 years ago -- was almost too
      hot to handle.

      William Gray, America's most prominent hurricane scientist and an
      ardent foe of the belief that global warming has worsened
      was supposed to join a panel discussing the storms. So was Greg
      Holland of the National Center on Atmospheric Research -- who
      disagrees with Dr. Gray. But the organizers withdrew the invitations
      after deciding the dispute had grown so nasty it was too risky to
      the two in the same room.

      "It was looking like it would totally dominate everything else,"
      Joe Schaefer, a planner and the director of the National Weather
      Service's Storm Prediction Center.

      "To hell with it, I'm not going" to Atlanta, said Dr. Gray, a
      Colorado State University professor of atmospheric science, after
      learning of the cancellation before the conference. He didn't attend.

      His adversary Dr. Holland is among a group of prominent scientists
      who argue that the recent burst of powerful storms isn't part of a
      normal pattern. In a recent article, he and co-authors said that
      global warming caused by human activity, while not affecting the
      number of hurricanes, appears to be causing more of them to be very
      intense. Dr. Holland went to the meeting despite the cancellation of
      his joint appearance with Dr. Gray and presented his paper's
      conclusions during a session on a wide variety of weather issues.

      What is going on with hurricanes like Katrina and the subsequent
      Wilma, which was the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic,
      urgently to millions of people wondering whether coastal areas are
      safe. Insurers and other companies are trying to calculate future
      risks of operating in the vulnerable regions. And policy makers are
      wrestling with whether to rebuild some shattered communities.

      Dr. Gray, who is 76 years old, has been studying storms for nearly a
      half-century. He is the author of seminal early models for
      the atmospheric conditions that lead to storms and was a mentor to
      doctoral and master's students -- including Dr. Holland.

      Dr. Gray hasn't been shy about firing back at his critics. After
      Judith Curry, a climatologist at Georgia Institute of Technology in
      Atlanta, co-wrote a paper linking global warming and hurricane
      intensity, he said: "Judy Curry just doesn't know what she's talking

      Dr. Curry, in an interview at her Georgia Tech office, said Dr. Gray
      has "brain fossilization." She added: "Nobody except a few groupies
      wants to hear what he has to say."

      Dr. Gray has said on his Web site and has testified to Congress that
      recent storms' intensity wasn't fueled by human-induced global
      warming. Natural factors, he says, such as the presence of upper-air
      currents that can bat storms from side to side, helped steer them
      ashore and thus made them more destructive. Dr. Gray believes the
      current era of high activity will eventually end as a result of
      changes in salinity and currents in the Atlantic. Sometime in the
      next decade or two, he predicts, the earth will enter a cooling
      period, as it did in the 1950s.

      In October 2004, Dr. Gray's views faced a head-on challenge from
      Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for
      Atmospheric Research, a prominent institute in Boulder, Colo., where
      Dr. Holland also works. At a news conference convened by Harvard
      Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, Dr.
      Trenberth outlined his position that the spate of hurricanes that
      slammed the U.S. in 2004 might be linked to global warming caused by
      humans. He said rising temperatures weren't necessarily triggering
      more hurricanes but might be causing stronger ones, because as
      warm they create more water vapor, the fuel for hurricanes.

      That news conference roiled the world of weather scientists, several
      of whom thought Dr. Trenberth hadn't done sufficient research to
      up the provocative claims. Some started new studies aimed at testing
      his claims.

      In the July 31, 2005, online edition of the scientific journal
      Nature, Kerry Emanuel, a tropical meteorologist at Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology, published results of a complicated re-
      examination of historic data on wind speed and duration for North
      Atlantic and Western North Pacific storms. Hurricane damage
      exponentially as wind speeds rise, meaning that a hurricane with
      winds of 148 miles per hour may produce as much as 250 times the
      damage of a hurricane with 74 mph winds, according to the National
      Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

      To calculate the total power generated over a storm's lifetime, Dr.
      Emanuel multiplied each hurricane's maximum sustained wind speed by
      itself and then multiplied that result by the wind speed again, a
      calculation known as cubing. Then he factored in how many hours the
      storm lasted.

      Dr. Emanuel says he used scientifically accepted formulas to adjust
      for years when wind-speed data are most likely to contain errors,
      particularly in Atlantic storms from 1949 to 1969, when it is
      speed was overestimated. The calculation showed that the intensity
      storms had essentially doubled in the past 30 years. He attributed
      growing hurricane intensity and destructive power to rising water
      temperatures that he said were "at least partially" the result of
      human activity.

      At the same time, Dr. Curry and Peter Webster, who is also at
      Tech, set out specifically to investigate Dr. Trenberth's
      Dr. Webster had co-written a paper in 1998 with Dr. Gray and nine
      other scientists in which they didn't find the connections Dr.
      Trenberth claimed.

      Much of past research on hurricanes had been limited to storms in
      Atlantic, which spawns those that hit the U.S. The Georgia Tech
      researchers, along with Dr. Holland, broadened their scrutiny to all
      hurricanes -- known as tropical cyclones and typhoons in the Pacific
      and Indian oceans -- anywhere in the world since 1970.

      "It's not rocket science," says Dr. Curry, 52, who says the
      researchers counted the number of Category 4 or 5 storms, or those
      with sustained wind speeds of at least 131 mph. They found that the
      total number of storms world-wide stayed fairly constant, but the
      number of intense ones had doubled since 1970. About two weeks after
      Katrina barreled into the Gulf Coast as a Category 3 storm, an
      article by Drs. Curry, Webster and Holland laid out their conclusion
      in the journal Science. They say the rise in ocean temperatures
      related to natural causes and appears to be associated with global
      warming, most likely related to a rise in greenhouse gases.

      Dr. Gray's views on the natural cycle of storms in the Atlantic are
      strongly supported by the weather establishment. The National
      and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Hurricane
      Center, took the unusual step in November of saying it is the
      consensus view among NOAA scientists that global warming related to
      human activity isn't causing either more storms or greater storm
      intensity. "Increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result
      of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system," the
      statement said.

      Most serious weather and climate researchers, including Dr. Gray,
      agree the planet has gradually warmed in recent decades. Last year
      was the warmest year since 1880, climatologists at National
      Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space
      Studies said recently. All sides also agree 2004 and 2005 were
      unusually active years for big storms.

      The sides disagree about how much global warming is attributable to
      natural cycles and how much to human activity such as the release of
      greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Among meteorologists who
      say humans are behind global warming, many contend there isn't
      evidence to link it to increased hurricane intensity.

      Further complicating things: Climate change can be studied based on
      tree-ring and ice-core samples dating back thousands of years, but
      specific data on hurricanes has been gathered for only about 150
      years. Even that is primarily in the Atlantic. Modern hurricane
      science began about 60 years ago, when daredevil pilots first flew
      into the storms. Until then, hurricanes' strength had to be
      extrapolated from damage and from data collected by ships and on
      land. Some storms in remote places may not have been recorded at
      Satellites improved the quality of information starting in the
      and meteorologists wrote and rewrote formulas for calculating wind
      speed in an effort to smooth out the historical record.

      Dr. Gray responded sharply to the new research tying hurricane
      intensity to human-caused climate change, and the once-intimate
      circle of hurricane researchers erupted in turmoil. In Senate
      testimony in late September and in papers on his Web site, Dr. Gray
      said the new conclusions were irreparably flawed by the inferior
      of earlier years. He says he had seen weather information being
      gathered haphazardly when he visited remote Pacific outposts in the
      1970s. "The satellites were down or the people weren't trained," he

      Dr. Gray attacked the Science article on his Web site, agreeing that
      ocean temperatures were climbing but maintaining that the rise was
      largely attributable to long-term heating and cooling trends. The
      rise in water temperature has negligible connection to the
      hurricanes, he argued. He complained that "the near universal
      reference to this paper over the last few weeks by most major media
      outlets is helping to establish a false belief among the general
      public...that global warming may be a contributing factor" to
      devastation such as that from Katrina.

      Worse, he said in a separate paper on his Web site, flaws in wind-
      speed calculation are magnified when the numbers are cubed, as in
      Emanuel's study. In an email widely circulated among climate
      researchers in November, Dr. Gray wrote: "How were Emanuel and
      Webster et al. able to see trends in the global data that the rest
      us long-time (tropical-cyclone) researchers presently working on
      these same data sets do not find?"

      Dr. Curry says her study used only data collected since 1970, after
      satellites were in global use, minimizing the possibility of errors.
      She says Dr. Gray's prominence in the field has overshadowed
      new research. Meteorologists trained by him had looked at the data
      for so long and in such a prescribed manner, she argues, that they
      missed red flags about increasing intensity.

      Dr. Holland, the scientist who was supposed to appear with Dr. Gray
      Tuesday night, once was a student under Dr. Gray. At the Atlanta
      meteorological conference, he said seasonal forecasts, especially
      Gray's, are rarely correct. An ally of Dr. Gray, Chris Landsea, of
      the National Hurricane Center, presented a critique of the global-
      warming hurricane theories, but the two scientists weren't in a
      that allowed debate.

      Dr. Gray says his forecasts are accurate and improving each year. As
      for his resistance to the new challenges, it is based on experience
      and solid science, not his age, he said. "I don't feel I'm
      fossilized. If half my ex-Ph.D. students say I'm senile, then I'll
      quit. They have not."

      Scientists on both sides say they expect follow-up studies proving
      they are right to be published before the next hurricane season
      starts in June. Drs. Trenberth and Emanuel are submitting separate
      studies to major journals arguing that the influence of natural
      cycles has been greatly overestimated, a mutinous theory in
      established hurricane science. Dr. Landsea says he has submitted his
      own analysis to a major journal confirming the natural ebb and flow
      of storms argued by Dr. Gray. Both sides are waiting to see which
      papers will be accepted.

      Meanwhile, a new panel discussion featuring the highest-profile
      hurricane scientists is being planned for an April conference in
      Monterey, Calif. Drs. Emanuel and Webster already have said they
      won't participate if Dr. Gray is there.

      Write to Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@...




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