Sunday, September 10, 2017

Phil Klotzbach's response to Citizenschallenge Examined - The Map vs. Territory Problem

Phil Klotzbach gave me his permission to share this email and I thank him.  I haven’t changed any of his words, I simply follow along and share my responses as I try fleshing out this Map vs. Territory Problem I'm trying to explain.  By that I mean the attitude that unless you can statistically prove it, it doesn't exist and should be dismissed, even though the physics dictates it must exist and had better be taken seriously.

There’s also the seepage issue, a sort of self-censorship where certain information is being withheld while other information is given inordinate weight - following the contrarian script rather than focusing on conveying the physical reality.

Dr. Klotzbach's words are in Georgia font, while mine are in Verdana.  

From: Phil Klotzbach
Date: Sat, Sep 9, 2017 at 6:51 AM
Subject: Re: fyi, just posted "Surely you’re joking Dr. Klotzbach, no hurricane global warming connection"
To:  citizenschallenge @ gmail 

           Dr. Klotzbach:  Apologies for a delay, but it's been a very hectic past few days.  

No apology needed, considering your lead author of the Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science’s seasonal hurricane forecast, I imagine you’re probably running on four hours of sleep these past few weeks.  I was surprised to receive any response, let alone such a thoughtful one.  I don’t mind admitting I’m honored and thank you for your time and effort.

Explaining your position will allow me to explain mine, which I believe is compatible with the need for vigorous science in all it’s maddening details minutia and uncertainties.

Dr. Klotzbach:  In answer to your questions, I have spent over 15 years working with historical hurricane data, primarily for the Atlantic but over the last several years with global data, so I do not make statements like I did on NPR and many other news outlets without having spent much time understanding the nuances of the technology going into the analyses.  

I acknowledge your expertise, in fact both Drs. Mann and Tobis made a point of telling me your professional reputation among experts is solid.  Me?  I’m a layperson and my hobby for the past 45 years has been learning about Earth sciences.  Evolution and our planet’s global heat and moisture distribution engine have been of particular fascination to me.  

My position is that while our actual living breathing climate engine is infinitely complex, it follows fundamental and well understood laws - which I believe are too often left behind in favor of obsessing over trying to explain uncertainties that in the end are more irrelevant than not, and only serve to sooth people into complacent disconnect from the changes happening underfoot.  This is what my Map vs. Territory Problem is all about, allow me to explain.

Dr. Klotzbach:  I assume you have no issues with what I said about future trends, since I stated something along the lines that models show small increases in intensity over the next 100 years.  Per the latest WMO paper report, I would argue that 2-11% by 2100 is a small increase.  Given that we currently only assess storm intensity to the nearest 5 knots assuming these models are correct, it would logically follow that we could not detect a trend in the observational time series as of yet.  

Yet when we look at the drum beat of recent fantastic cyclones and hurricanes worldwide, Noru, Harvey and now Irma but the most recent examples, they tell a way less reassuring story.

Unfortunately our news media has a tendency to ignore destructive weather events unless they affect the USA, this has also fed into general complacency towards our rapidly changing climate.

Dr. Klotzbach:  Unlike temperature, hurricane observational technology has changed dramatically over time.  Let's focus on the Atlantic first.  Prior to 1944, we had no aircraft flying into storms, and even then, there were only limited flights done through the 1950s.  For example, Hurricane Carol, a Category 5 hurricane in 1953, had one flight into it during its lifetime.  I'm not sure the exact number of flights into Irma at this point, but it is well over 50.  If you fly constantly into storms, you are more likely to measure intense winds, such as those that kept Irma's winds elevated at 185 mph for as long as they were.  1966 was the first year in the Atlantic that we had geostationary satellite observations.  Prior to that, the only way we knew storms existed east of the islands was if ships happened to encounter them, or the occasional missions flown out of St. Croix from the late 1940s through the mid 1960s that went out searching for disturbances happened to encounter them.  For example, here's the track map for 1933.  There were very few tropical cyclone east of the islands that year.  A storm like Irma would likely have gone undetected or significantly underestimated until it got close to the islands given its small size at the time.  For example, a storm passed 50 miles south of Irma when it was a major hurricane and only reported 40 mph winds.   

Another example of data issues is that the Atlantic hurricane database extends back to 1851.  The first Category 5 hurricane is not recorded until 1924.  Obviously, the Atlantic didn't go from 1851-1923 without a Category 5 hurricane, we just didn't have any way to observe them.  If a ship happened to encounter a Category 5, it didn't make it back into port to tell the Weather Bureau!

I’d classify all those issues as cartography challenges.  They do nothing to alter the underlying and very certain physics of the complex system being studied.
Of course getting that information as accurate as possible is important, but it should not override teaching people about the geophysical realities unfolding in front of us.


Dr. Klotzbach:  One index that I like to use for assessing storm intensity is Accumulated Cyclone Energy.  It takes the maximum sustained wind speed and squares it every six hours where there is a tropical cyclone. Consequently, strong hurricanes are weighed much stronger and approximate the kinetic energy generated by all tropical cyclones.  For example, Irma has generated ~60 ACE so far this year, while the median full season generates ~100 ACE.

If you plot values directly from the Atlantic hurricane dataset since 1878 (when the U.S. Signal Service Corps started taking observational measurements consistently), you get the following plot:

The increasing trend in observed Accumulated Cyclone Energy is statistically insignificant, but you could say from this that we've observed an increasing trend.  

Why should I be impressed with these graphs?  They are interesting, but little more than educated guess work, plus it makes the assumption that you’ve tagged the key important metric, when it’s actually missing a lot of important information.  

What you didn't share with me was that the “Accumulated Cyclone Energy” is a compromise between observation and computing abilities (and limitations) and a hurricane’s complex structure.  It is a pragmatic solution, not the key to understanding how the system is behaving or transforming.


Tropical Cyclone Destructive Potential by Integrated Kinetic Energy
By Mark D. Powell and Timothy A. Reinhold

“Most of these measures have limitations related to the lack of information on the spatial extent of damaging winds. For example ACE and power are computed from the square or cube of VMS without considering storm structure.”

“As an indicator of destructive potential, we propose integrated kinetic energy (IKE), which is computed from the surface wind field by integrating the 10-m-level kinetic energy per unit volume over portions of the storm domain volume (V) containing sustained surface wind speeds (U) within specific ranges, assuming an air density (ρ) of 1 kg m–3”

Measurement of IKE in a hurricane requires sufficient observations for an analysis of the wind field. Air-, space-, land-, and sea-based measurement systems now provide sufficient observations to depict the horizontal distribution of tropical cyclone winds in the western Atlantic and Caribbean basin. …

{My understanding is that IKE and the even more complete but complex TIKE haven’t replaced ACE because of their shear complexity and the massive resources needed for measuring and processing all the necessary information.  

ACE will remain with us and it is a useful metric, but it’s limitations need to be acknowledged and understood.}

Dr. Klotzbach:  However, we have to deal with the fact that we very likely missed tropical cyclones prior to the satellite era.  Two NOAA scientists published a paper several years ago documenting an appropriate way for estimating missed hurricanes using the observed ship track density that we had at the time.  I should note that Tom Knutson (the coauthor on this paper) was one of the lead authors on the Nature paper linked to above:

Using their adjustment factor, the trend in Atlantic hurricanes goes from a significant increase to an insignificant decrease.  

Here again this is the cartographer’s dilemma.  

When overwhelmed with uncertain details, we need to pull back and review what we know for certain, namely the fundamental unavoidable physics of the matter.  More energy into a closed system has cascading consequences!

Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years
Kerry Emanuel - Nature Letters - Vol 436 - 4 August 2005
Ocean temperatures and sea level

Dr. Klotzbach:  I used their adjustment factor to estimate how ACE would need to be adjusted.  I figured a conservative way to adjust ACE would be to assume that we observed the major hurricanes and assign each missed hurricane an ACE of 10, which is the approximate ACE generated by an observed Category 1-2 hurricane during the 1878-1965 period.  As you might expect, when you do that, the increasing trend becomes an insignificant decreasing trend:

You may see in the graphs presented above some multi-decadal variability to these plots.  This multi-decadal variability is a mostly naturally-observed cycle known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.  Studies published around 2005 made a big splash in the media.  They typically started their analysis in 1970 and showed large increases to that year.   As you might expect, if you start the trend at the low end of a natural cycle and end on the high end of a high cycle, you're going to get a large increasing trend.  Similarly, if someone had written a paper in 1995 and started their analysis in 1930, they would have shown a large decrease.  

What I see in the graphs are valiant efforts to increase our understanding of the system, but missing much, nothing within them cancels out the inevitable physics.
The Track Integrated Kinetic Energy of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones 
Article · July 2013  Vasu Misra, Stephen DiNapoli, Mark D Powell 
{for details see footnotes}

Dr. Klotzbach:  What I was stating in the interview about having recent quiet seasons is true.  You can see from these plots that ACE since 2005 has generally been lower.   This is the first time in the social media era that we've had a super active Atlantic season.  Can you imagine how active Twitter would have been in 2004/2005 with Hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Katrina, Wilma, etc. breathing down the United States' neck?

This gambit upsets me because it’s a transparent tactical misdirection away from the reality we should be learning about.  An example of seepage in action if ever there was one - namely following the contrarian handbook, rather than defining the physical reality we are facing.

Can we step back - we exist on a virtually closed planet, equator broiling 24/7/365, increasing atmospheric insulation retaining increasing quantities of heat.  More energy in the system than there has been for eons.  Facts, not speculation. 

Re Hurricane seasons - they have always unfolded in multiyear rhythms!  Big deal, so it may take years for the sloshing and jostling of global ocean currents and atmospheric conditions and prodigious heat to line up for that season when significant transport can occur. 

But, that heat will get transported and considering the energies involved, it will have consequences.  Just need to read the news.

Incidentally, another thing I don't understanding:  Why is knowing every nuance of our past climate considered such a holy grail?  We are now embedded in a 400 ppm and rising world, nothing in our past can prepare us for what's barreling down on us.  Sure it's of some value, but not at the expense of facing how radically we have altered our global biosphere and climate system.

That’s not opinion that’s physics supported by observations, the fuzzy historical details not withstanding.

Dr. Klotzbach:  When it comes to global studies, all we have is satellite data for all other basins other than the Atlantic.  The Dvorak technique is the technique that is used by all basins to estimate storm intensity from satellite imagery.  This technique was not invented until the mid 1970s, and was not universally applied consistently prior to 1985.  Also, we didn't have directly overlooking satellites in all basins until the mid to late 1980s (with the South Indian Ocean lagging that a bit).  If you are looking at a storm from an oblique angle, you are going to observe it to be weaker than looking at it from directly overhead.  That's why if you look at the plot from the paper shown in Webster et al. 2005 which made a big splash in the news media, there was a big spike in the number of Cat. 4-5s followed by a flattening.  Their results were surprising, since it was not expected that hurricane intensity would be as heavily dependent on SSTs as what they claimed to show:

In the paper that I published with Chris Landsea, we showed that the flattening has continued when including two more pentads, as would be expected if the observed increase was due to observational improvements instead of a real increase due to increased SSTs:

The fact that we now have observed no trend in Category 4-5 hurricanes over the past 25 years seems to corroborate the idea that earlier data was underestimating storm intensity considerably. 

 You can see the serious data issues when you dial down into individual basins.  For example, from 1970-1974, the South Pacific had 3% of Category 4-5 hurricanes, while in from 2010-2014 it was 48%:

I see serious cartography issues here.  Seems to me given this past year that these representative graphs/studies are missing something very important.  

Sort of like Trenberth’s “missing heat travesty” - 
Geophysics told us where that heat was hiding, our inability to detect it had no bearing on what happened to that "missing" surface heat - after all it did not disappear, it did not sneak off into space!  

Yet, rather than keeping that critical physics based truth in the public mind, everyone focused on obsessing over accounting and our inability to measure every kilojoule.  When scientists finally puzzled out precisely where this warming was hiding - the oceans, it should not have surprised anyone, yet it was.  Something is very wrong with that.

The global warming hiatus: Slowdown or redistribution?
November 22, 2016

People were lulled into a grand mass delusion that somehow global warming had stopped and we need not worry about getting prepared.  Now seems like everyone including authorities in Houston and along Irma’s path are simply shocked at how strong and hideous and destructive it was.  Why?  We knew it was coming and we were given decades to prepare.  Why didn't we???

Scientists can tell me all about their need for accuracy and searching out every crevice and uncertainty - but in explaining the science to nonscientists you have a moral duty to strive for clarity and that is not served by making the fuzzy details the center of the discussion.  

Particularly since there is such a beautiful and complete story of our living planet and climate system to convey, but instead we settle for Willful Ignorance and take comfort in trivial debates and perpetuating misunderstanding.


Dr. Klotzbach:  This raises an obvious red flag in the data.  There is no physical theory or model that would explain why storms would be so sensitive to a small increase in SSTs.  Also, you would then need to explain why globally storms were so sensitive to small increases in SST and then had no increases with additional warming.

I’d suggest the red flag is focusing on the uncertainty rather than highlighting the geophysical certainties. 

Noru, Harvey and Irma have happened, each shocked experts.  Can their incredible sizes and behavior be explained in detail by the small increase in SSTs observed so far?   I don’t know.  

But I do know increasing SST will enable nontrivially stronger hurricanes, while some make it all sound so casual: Another interesting computation problem, stay tuned eventually we’ll figure it out.  


Dr. Klotzbach:  So, I stand by original statements made on NPR.  There is no increasing trend as best we can tell with the observational datasets when they are reasonably reliable.  Models predict small increases in intensity in the future.  

Storms will certainly be more damaging in the future due to a wide variety of factors including sea level rise, increased coastal development, potential slight increases in precipitation rate in the eyewall, etc.  But that was not the question that I was asked.  

Again you are taking refuge in the uncertainty of the Map while avoiding an honest assessment of the frightening fundamental physics involved, the Territory if you will.

Earth’s global heat and moisture distribution engine will transport the increased heat and moisture and that will have increasingly nontrivial destructive consequences.  Our inability to map it out perfectly should not overshadow that fundamental truth.  

But that’s exactly what your selective dismissive NPR responses did, they were an invitation for further complacency.

Ultimately, the story will no longer be about human's desperate efforts to isolate, quantify and minimize every detail.  It will be about humans being blindsided, because they were lulled by soothing distractions and trivia.

Time to talk about climate change' says Miami's Republican mayor’

Miami's mayor,  Mayor Tomás Regalado, has called on Donald Trump - who once dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese - to think again.

“If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is," he said after declaring an emergency in his city.

“This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”

“I don’t want to be political, but the fact of the matter is that this is a lesson that we need protection from nature,” he added. “So, I think this is a lesson for the people to say you know what? We have to be prepared.”


Tropical cyclones and climate change
Nature Geoscience 3, 157 - 163 (2010) 
Published online: 21 February 2010 | doi:10.1038/ngeo779

Thomas R. Knutson John L. McBride, Johnny Chan, Kerry Emanuel, Greg Holland, Chris Landsea, Isaac Held, James P. Kossin, A. K. Srivastava & Masato Sugi

“… Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100 km of the storm centre. For all cyclone parameters, projected changes for individual basins show large variations between different modelling studies.”


The Track Integrated Kinetic Energy of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones
American Meteorological Society Journal · July 2013

In this paper the concept of track integrated kinetic energy (TIKE) is introduced as a measure of seasonal Atlantic tropical cyclone activity and applied to seasonal variability in the Atlantic. It is similar in concept to the more commonly used accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) with an important difference that in TIKE the integrated kinetic energy (IKE) is accumulated for the life span of the Atlantic tropical cyclone. 

The IKE is, however, computed by volume integrating the 10-m level sustained winds of tropical strength or higher quadrant by quadrant, while ACE uses the maximum sustained winds only without accounting for the structure of the storm. In effect TIKE accounts for the intensity, duration, and size of the tropical cyclones. In this research, the authors have examined the seasonality and the interannual variations of the seasonal Atlantic TIKE over a period of 22 yr from 1990 to 2011.

The Track Integrated Kinetic Energy of Atlantic Tropical Cyclones (PDF Download Available). Available from:


Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years
Kerry Emanuel - Nature Letters - Vol 436 - 4 August 2005

 Theory and modelling predict that hurricane intensity should increase with increasing global mean temperatures, but work on the detection of trends in hurricane activity has focused mostly on their frequency and shows no trend. Here I define an index of the potential destructiveness of hurricanes based on the total dissipation of power, integrated over the lifetime of the cyclone, and show that this index has increased markedly since the mid-1970s. 

This trend is due to both longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities. I find that the record of net hurricane power dissipation is highly correlated with tropical sea surface temperature, reflecting well-documented climate signals, including multi-decadal oscillations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, and global warming. My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and —taking into account an increasing coastal population — a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty- first century.
Phil Plait @BadAstronomer - September 8, 2017

But just because we don’t know everything about this hurricane doesn’t mean we know nothing. And one thing we know for sure: Climate change has had a hand in making it the behemoth that it is. …

{Phil, please not Climate Change.  Climate change is a result, not a cause!  
Global warming is the cause, a driver of the climate change we are witnessing.  
Why don't we give credit where credit is due?}


Scientists Develop New Way of Classifying Hurricanes

By Andrew Freedman - May 8th, 2013


Not coincidentally,
Please consider this snapshot of our Territory.  This is our new normal.
When will we stop minimizing it?

Irma has broken a mind-boggling number of records.

Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach is a weather savant. In the midst of a storm that’s put many experts at a loss for words, Klotzbach compiled a short document that serves as a testament to Hurricane Irma’s improbable existence.
Here are some of the more notable records Irma has already set, as of Friday afternoon:
  • 185 mph lifetime max winds — the strongest storm to exist in the Atlantic Ocean
  • 185 mph max winds for 37 hours — the longest any cyclone around the globe has maintained that intensity on record
  • Three consecutive days as a Category 5 hurricane — the longest in the satellite era (since 1966)
  • Generated the most Accumulated Cyclone Energy — a measure that combines a hurricane’s wind speed and size — on record in the tropical Atlantic
  • Generated more Accumulated Cyclone Energy than 14 entire Atlantic hurricane seasons in the satellite era
These statistics are even more impressive taken in context with Jose and Katia, two other powerful hurricanes currently spinning in the Atlantic. Collectively, these three hurricanes produced more total energy on Friday than any group of hurricanes ever has in the Atlantic on a single day, in history. And they’re all headed toward land.


Same Ordinary Fool said...

Is wind shear, which can knock the top off a developing hurricane, also increasing with global warming?
We can be grateful if it is. But historical comparisons of frequency or intensity would be compromised. The reality of observation could no longer explain the changed meteorology (or its physics).

citizenschallenge said...

Sure but please answer, or at least think about this: Does wind shear make the pent up energy disappear?

I think not. So why is the wind shear component so often brought up as some moderating or reassuring thing?

We need to get back to geophysics 101,
As water will find a way to move down hill, that accumulating heat and moisture will find a way to move towards the polar regions. Having to wait slightly longer only allows more (destructive) energy to accumulate. Making their windows of opportunity that much more destructive.

We have seen what this global climate engine is capable of during the very early stages of this Grand Geophysical Experiment that is transforming Earth's Climate Regime. We need to stop taking so much refuge in numbers and projects made on simplistic (nostalgic even) assumptions.

Time to refocus on the Territory