Climate Hysteria and the Buffalo Snowpocalypse

Once the snow started falling in Buffalo this past week, the sound of climate alarmists running to their keyboards in order to blame climate change became deafening.  And, as always, problems abound in their analyses.

At Slate, Eric Holthaus asked the question, and then answered it:

In the aftermath of a massive lake-effect snowfall event in western New York state on Tuesday, it's worth asking: Is climate change playing a role here? Because, I mean, come on. Seventy – seven zero-- inches, people. And another huge round is forecast for Thursday, by the way. Buffalo deserves answers. The short answer is: yes. Global warming is probably juicing lake-effect snows, and we've had the data to prove it for quite some time.

As proof, Holthaus shows a NOAA National Climatic Data Center plot of “Northeast Extremes in 1-Day Precipitation” during the “Cold Season (October-March)” from 1911-2014.  Well, the snowfall happened in November, so perhaps the more relevant dataset is “Northeast Extremes in 1-Day Precipitation” during “Fall (September-November)” over the same timeframe.  A more seasonally focused dataset is more valuable for examining these types of causal linkages.

Sure enough, there is no significant trend in “Northeast Extremes in 1-Day Precipitation” since records began in 1910.  And over the past two decades, there is nearly a significant trend toward fewer extreme 1-day precipitation events in the Northeast during the September-November period, not more.  So much for proof of climate change being to blame.

More generally, there has not been even the remotest hint of a significant trend in “Extremes in 1-Day Precipitation” throughout the contiguous U.S. during either the September-November or the “Cold Season (October-March)” periods since records began early in the 20th century.

Apparently, global warming-derived warmer temperatures in Lake Erie are to blame for such snow events.  As Holthaus writes:

Another massive early-season lake-effect event occurred in Buffalo back in October 2006, when Lake Erie water temperatures were even warmer than they were this week. Almost a million people lost power. Lake Erie is warming (along with the rest of the planet) by a steady but measurable amount. Since 1960 that trend has been about a half of a degree Fahrenheit per decade.

Here are the November average temperatures for Lake Erie from the National Weather Service at Buffalo since records began in 1927.

See an anthropogenic global climate change induced trend towards warmer temperatures in Lake Erie during November?  I thought not, because there isn't one.  End of story.

And if we look at the maximum daily temperature during November for Lake Erie each year, we find a negative (i.e., cooling) correlation – not warming – since records began almost a century ago.  Thus, this “pocket of warmer water” sitting in the eastern end of Lake Erie a few days ago wasn't warm at all by historical standards.  The hottest part of this week's warm water plume apparently reached only 54º F.  For context, the average maximum daily temperature of the entire lake during November between 1927 and 2013 was – wait for it – 54º F.

This past week, the temperature of Lake Erie has been below – not above – the historical average, and even that pocket of warmer water sitting off Buffalo was not unusually warm for November.  It was about average as well.  The climate change proof appears to be evaporating quickly.

As further support for the Buffalo snowpocalypse-climate change connection, the article at Slate went on to claim that “during our lifetimes, that means big lake-effect snowfall events like Tuesday's are becoming more common, at least as a fraction of total snowfall. A 2003 study that used oxygen isotopes to distinguish local lake-effect snow from snow formed outside the region showed a sharp increase in lake-effect events over the last few decades.”  The following graph was then shown, taken from this 2003 study in the Journal of Climate (direct link to original figure):

Looking closely at this figure tells me that it is very likely that the linear regression line shown is inappropriate, and that this dataset actually disproves increasing lake effect snow in the region from anthropogenic climate change.  All of the increase in lake effect snow appears to have taken place between 1930 and 1970, and since 1970 there appears to be no significant upward trend in the data (don't get tricked by the single high datapoint in 2001 – focus on the pattern since 1970).

Sure enough, when I digitized the graph and analyzed the data myself, I found absolutely no significant trend in lake effect snowfall from 1970 onward.  In fact, using non-parametric methods, the correlation is actually negative toward less lake effect snowfall after 1970, not more.  The original regression from this Journal of Climate article should likely not have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Paul Huttner at Minnesota Public Radio also published the same graphs and analyses as Holthaus did over at Slate.

It is hard for one to blame anthropogenic climate change for increasing lake effect snow when the following points appear to be true: (1) there has been no significant trend towards increasing lake effect snow since 1970 (actually, the correlation is likely towards a declining trend), during which time greenhouse gas emissions rose rapidly; and (2) all of the increase in lake effect snow appears to have taken place between 1930 and 1970, a period during which man-made greenhouse gas emissions were much, much lower compared to the post-1970 timeframe.  If anything, a more reasonable interpretation of the data suggests that increasing greenhouse gas emissions have halted the historical trend toward increasing lake effect snow.

To finish this debunking off, there has also been no trend in maximum 1-day precipitation within the Buffalo climate sub-region during November since 1970 – the correlation is negative toward less extreme events, not larger events.  The same finding is obtained with the annual maximum 1-day precipitation in the Buffalo area since 1970: a correlation toward less extreme events.

The climate scientists even admit that it is very difficult, if not effectively impossible, to assign isolated weather events to climate change.  But in the case of the epic Buffalo snowfall, the data doesn't appear to come close to supporting any causal relationships.