The biggest misunderstanding

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The biggest misunderstanding

First published on the Rag Blog The biggest misunderstanding, August 8, Before I tell you that the latest average global warming projections are twice what we previously thought, and they will happen twice as fast, I need to say a few things about computer models.

Most people do not trust climate models as far as the can throw a supercomputer. Because it is the computer models that tell us how extraordinarily bad things will become, even if we can find the courage to address climate pollution.

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Climate models are one of the major reasons why we have this great perceived debate about climate science. The reason why is that the models have a very bad—and very undeserved reputation. The vast understanding that the public has about climate models is that they can somehow be compared with weather forecasting models.

The biggest misunderstanding

The resulting mental leap allows us to think that, like weather models, climate models cannot forecast their way out of a wet paper bag. The results generated by climate models cannot be compared to the results generated by weather models. Both are basically the same animal—the same programming in some cases.

Climate modeling however, function on an entirely different level from weather modeling. Meteorologists rely on a handful of different models to forecast the weather. Some work better than others at different times of the year or considering different things going on across the planet like the presence or absence of El Nino for instance.

To create a forecast, a meteorologist or weathercaster first loads up all of the current weather data from across the planet or a continental region a lot easier than it sounds because academic institutions supply this information in ready to consume packages and then they run them into the future for a week or two.

The results are, as you and I know, quite variable after 3 or 4 days to say the least!

The biggest misunderstanding

Weather models are much, much better than they once were and really, the forecasts are quite good out to 5 to 7 days, considering past performance. Climate modelers do something entirely different. The do not load the models up with the current weather conditions across the planet, or across a continental region.

They start with any old typical batch of weather data and run the model. Then they blindly change the weather data in the model to represent any other typical weather from that same time frame. Like on May 30th in Chicago it might be 88 degrees and sunny; another May 30th might be 67 degrees and rainy, another might be 79 degrees and partly cloudy.

They make up dozens and scores of these simulations and run them all off into the future on different platforms, similar to the different models that meteorologist use. They start their climate models hundreds and even thousands of years in the past and run them hundreds and thousands of years into the future.

Backing up the clock to some ancient time in the past helps confirm them as they recreate our past climate inside the computer. The time span of climate models is 25, times longer than the 14 day outlook. So what do the climate modelers do with all of these goofy forecasts based on imagined weather?

They average them all together of course. This is what climate is. Climate does not give a great-horned hoot about the weather on any individual day. That is called weather. The climate models have been remarkably accurate and remarkably consistent for thirty years.

The truth about climate models is they are very accurate for forecasting climate except when it comes to abrupt climate changes. Abrupt climate changes are not what the climate change discussion is about.

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