Climatology has been falling on its face lately. In addition to the failure of global warming predictions to come true in the last 16 years of "pause," this year's severe winter for most of the country came as a surprise to the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That august taxpayer-funded climatology center "predicted that temperatures would be above normal from November through January across much of the Lower 48 states," according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
The chart below tells the story:
The big red blotch in the top map represents parts of the country in which the Climate Prediction Center forecast above-average temperatures. The frigid-looking blue blotch in the bottom "verification" map shows areas where temperatures turned out to be below average.
"Not one of our better forecasts," admits Mike Halpert, the Climate Prediction Center's acting director. The center grades itself on what it calls the Heidke skill score, which ranges from 100 (perfection) to -50 (monkeys throwing darts would have done better). October's forecast for the three-month period of November through January came in at -22. Truth be told, the September prediction for October-December was slightly worse, at -23.
NOAA's climatologists aren't the only ones in trouble. The UK Met Office has seen its chief climatologist "out to dry" according to Andrew Montford of the UK Spectator:
Last week the Met Office and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology issued an admirable joint report on the floods and their possible connection to climate change, concluding that it is not possible to make such a link. 'As yet', it said, 'there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding'. In many ways this was not much of a surprise, since only the wild activist fringe among the climate science community have tended to try to make the link in the past.
Taking such a level-headed view, the Met Office report represented a valuable opportunity to bring some calm to an increasingly frenzied debate over the flooding. However, unfortunately for everyone, the good work was all undone by the Met Office's own chief scientist, Professor Dame Julia Slingo. Newly ennobled in the New Year's honours list, Slingo seems to have found the temptation to put a global warming spin on everything that crosses her desk too much, and she blurted out to journalists the extraordinary claim that 'all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change'.
Her position was undoubtedly a big problem for the Met Office, directly contradicting her own organisation's report and the views of the scientific mainstream. (snip)
On the grapevine I hear that climate scientists are privately furious with Slingo; their profession has had a rough ride in recent years and efforts to restore its battered reputation are not to be cheaply squandered. The signs are that climatologists have hung Slingo out to dry. Last night, Collins and the Met Office issued a much-anticipated response to the Mail on Sunday article. This made a great deal of global warming having increased the water content of the atmosphere, leading to increased rainfall, a surprising point given that as recently as 2012 Slingo had told Parliament that global warming was 'loading the dice' in favour of cold, dry winters.
The predictive models in use seem to have some major flaws. Climatology is a relatively young discipline, yet has received major funding for its research based on the apocalyptic claims made about global warming. The field is almost entirely based on complex mathematical models. Models are fine, but they need to rigorously be refined, and for that to be effective, assumptions must be challenged. With a phenomenon as complex as climate, the assumptions must be incredibly numerous, so correcting and refining may take a long, long time.
This process is cut short when political and bureaucratic pressure exists to find a catastrophe that strengthens the power of regulators in the name of saving the planet.
The analogy may be very loose, but phrenology was once regarded as a science. It posited a relationship based on a faulty model, between skull configuration and mental function.
Today, phrenology is an embarrassment in the history of science. I am not suggesting that the entire field of climatology is as mistaken as phrenology was, but rather that its foundations are also shaky, since the underlying relationships hypothesized (in AGW at least) are speculative, and may lack or insufficiently weight many important processes.
Climatology has a long way to go before it merits the clout to reshape our energy production and use.