Life, Technology, and Meteorology

Category: Climate

Flooding Moby Dick

This weekend, a pretty heavy storm hit the California coast. One city hit particularly hard was Santa Barbara, where two restaurants at different beaches several miles apart were flooded by waves. Luckily, there were only minor injuries. The event caught me by surprise because of the coastal layout of that region.  You see, the Santa Barbara coast in general faces south.  So you don’t get a whole lot of big waves hitting the region.  That makes an event like this especially rare.  Even during the El Nino year of 1997-98, when strong storms battered the coast all winter, we never saw anything quite like this.

The most surprising incident of the two was the Moby Dick restaurant at Sterns Wharf. Here’s a frame from a YouTube video taken by someone in the restaurant as it hit.  Click the image to see the full video on YouTube.

And a news article talking about what happened at (

The interesting thing about this destruction is where it happened. Sterns Wharf is actually on a beach facing southeast, so for swells coming in from the Pacific along the west to be strong enough to wrap around the coast and strike a beach facing southeast this hard is quite astounding.

Let’s take a look at the swell map from that morning to see what was actually happening. CDIP has a nice view of the swell state that morning:

Swell Map from CDIP

I’ve marked Sterns Wharf on that map. As you can see, the swell was coming from directly west, which is just about the worse possible case. Any northwestern component to a swell would force it to not only wrap around the peninsula in Santa Barbara but also around Point Conception. Any southwestern component to the swell would result in the Channel Islands blocking Santa Barbara from getting hit. A swell coming from exactly west can slot right through to the Santa Barbara area, perhaps even resulting in a higher tide because of the channeling of the water between the coast and the islands off shore.

You may think a westerly swell direction would be normal, but usually the swell in this area of California comes from the northwest.  This is due to the strongest winds of storms like these typically being further north, off the coast of Oregon and Washington.

From the video, it sounds like this event happened at an abnormally high tide of 6 feet (high tides are usually between 3-5 feet), and a 12 foot swell was actually reaching the coast in downtown Santa Barbara. Whenever you have a combined effect of high tide and high swells like this, disaster is sure to follow.

Hopefully Moby Dick can get things cleaned up there before too long. There are definitely a few restaurant patrons who will have a story to tell for quite some time.

Traveling Nightmare

2008 shall now forever be known as the year of the shitty holiday travel episode. I’m writing this at 2:30am on December 24th while sitting at Chicago O’Hare airport, waiting for our flight to take off “tomorrow” morning at 8am. For some reason, our travel this year has been plagued by delays and abnormalities.

Most of this has been caused by the unseasonably snowy weather we’ve had this year. In Mount Pleasant, for instance, we’ve already had over 45 inches of snowfall this year. With our typical total seasonal average around 50-60 inches, we’re approaching that quickly with 2-3 winter months still to go. We’ve broken records for the most snow in December (around 35 inches so far). The previous record was 21 inches back in 1907…

This has made for a pretty miserable travel season. For us, it started late last week when we were driving to Rochester, NY. We were planning to leave Friday morning, but a storm was coming in, so we decided to get a head start on it Thursday night. We left at 5pm, and ended up near St. Catharines, Ontario around midnight, so we decided to stop for the night. Of course on Friday morning, we woke up to blizzard-like conditions and 4-6 inches of new snow already on the ground. We decided to tough it out, after all we only had 2 hours left to the drive, so how bad could it be? We have snow tires on the car, which make driving so much easier (usually). We spent 3 hours battling our way to Buffalo in near white-out conditions, where we decided to hold off at a family member’s house until the snow let up, passing who knows how many cars stuck in ditches along the way. Finally, after another 3 hours driving that evening, we made it to Rochester. A day and a half of traveling when it should have only taken us 8 hours.

Then, this past Sunday we were planning to get together with the family, but of course after the large storm passed, we were left with some pretty strong lake-effect snow. Some areas around Buffalo got another foot of snow that day, and it was bad enough to cancel our family party for that evening. Bummer…after spending all that time driving to NY, a good part of the reason we went didn’t end up happening at all…

Monday, we drove from Rochester back to Grand Rapids, MI. Driving this day was pretty good in general, though it was snowing pretty heavily by the time we got to Grand Rapids. We stayed the night in a hotel, with our flight to California leaving the next afternoon (Tuesday, the 23rd). Tuesday morning we woke up to another 6 inches of snow. We ran some errands that morning, and between the snow and a busy Christmas shopping day, it took us about an hour to drive 5 miles in town. We made it to the airport by around 3:30pm, without seeing any break in the snow at all during the day we were there.

Of course, with our flight going through O’Hare, I kind of expected that we might be setting ourselves up for a long travel day. Our 4:45 flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago didn’t end up leaving until 7:45pm. Our connecting flight to San Francisco was delayed until 9:15pm, and with the time change we thought we had a good chance to make it. Sure enough, we landed in Chicago at 8:10, plenty of time to make our connection, until American Airlines pulled some stupid shit…

First, we couldn’t park at our gate because there was already another plane there. Then we proceeded to taxi for 45 minutes before getting to our new gate. To top it all off, the walkway on the new gate wasn’t working, so we had to wait until they figured out WTF was going wrong. Finally off the plane, I ran over to the next departure gate (it was only 3 gates away) to find our connecting plane sitting there being de-iced. Except nobody was at the gate, and the doors were locked. I ran over to the next gate to see if they would re-open the doors (there were 10 of us making this same connection). Seems simple…finish de-icing the plane, open the door, let 10 of us on the flight, close the door back up and let’s go. Nope…they wouldn’t do it.

Now rebooking a flight shouldn’t be a problem, but with all the cancellations today, everyone is trying to rebook. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours, but finally got a connection on United for tomorrow morning at 8am. Walking to the other terminal took us around a half hour, and then we had to wait for another hour in line at a United counter to get our new tickets issued, only to find out that American booked the tickets without actually reissuing them to United, so while our seats were reserved, United couldn’t actually give us tickets for them. A call to American and another hour waiting in line finally resulted in some tickets on the next flight out tomorrow morning.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky…I can’t count how many people we’ve run into that have been delayed until the 26th; had to call off their trip completely; or even worse, made it halfway to their destination only to have to turn around a fly back home. Now as long as that flight at 8am doesn’t get cancelled…

Global Warming Questioned by British Documentary

A week or two ago, a new documentary called “The Great Global Warming Swindle” was brought to my attention on a friend’s blog. While I haven’t seen the documentary, an article written about the documentary by Thomas Sowell contains enough inaccurate statements to make me question the validity of the documentary it references. I have taken a number of meteorology classes. Much of meteorology focuses on radiation, which also happens to be the root of the entire global warming issue. (Global warming is just the earth and it’s atmosphere absorbing more radiative energy than it emits.) I’ve picked out a few choice quotes from the article, and debunk them below.

There is no question that the globe is warming but it has warmed and cooled before, and is not as warm today as it was some centuries ago, before there were any automobiles and before there was as much burning of fossil fuels as today.

This statement is simply incorrect. While it is true that the globe’s temperature varies over the course of thousands of years as a result of Milankovitch cycles and other causes, there has not been any time in the past 650,000 years when the global average temperature has been higher than it is today. What the author is most likely referring to is the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300 AD). During this time, the average temperature was higher than normal in the European region and perhaps part of northern Asia. However, when you compare the average global temperature of both the Medieval times and current day, the average temperature today is much higher than it was back in Medieval times.

According to these climate scientists, human activities have very little effect on the climate, compared to many other factors, from volcanoes to clouds.

According to the IPCC report released earlier this year (page 4), human activities have a higher effect on global climate than natural sources. Furthermore, natural sources such as volcanoes and clouds actually cool the earth rather than warm it.

Clouds both cool and warm the atmosphere. Low clouds like a thunderstorm or thick layer of uniform stratus clouds cool the earth quite a bit, and reflect radiation from the sun back into space. High clouds, like the thin haze-like cirrus will trap some of the radiation the earth is emitting and warm the atmosphere slightly. The prevalence of low and mid level clouds wins out here with a cooling effect.

As for volcanoes, eruptions do release ash and greenhouse gasses up into the stratosphere and this has been measurable after relatively recent eruptions like Mount St. Helens. Since volcanic eruptions are relatively rare, their contribution to global climate is minimal to the extent that I’m not sure why the article or the documentary even brought up the issue. Usually, the ash dominates by blocking solar radiation for a net cooling effect, and after an eruption locations nearby would notice solar dimming.


While the effects of clouds and volcanoes combined will cool the earth’s climate significantly, CO2 and methane from anthropogenic sources have an even larger warming effect. Furthermore, the article brings up these two sources as if they are causing global warming instead of humans, when in fact they are acting as a negative feedback to the damage humans are causing.

These climate scientists likewise debunk the mathematical models that have been used to hype global warming hysteria, even though hard evidence stretching back over centuries contradicts these models.

I’m not sure what “hard evidence” the author is referring to, but there are several climate models developed at various universities and scientific institutions worldwide. Most of these models are tested from 1960 on forward, because we have solid temperature measurements worldwide during this time period. All of the best models match the warming that actually occurred during this time frame, and this reinforces the validity of these models. Again, I refer to the IPCC report (page 11) that shows output from up to 14 different climate models matching temperatures over the past 100 years only when they include anthropogenic forcing as opposed to just including natural climate forcing.

What is even scarier than seeing how easily the public, the media, and the politicians have been manipulated and stampeded, is discovering how much effort has been put into silencing scientists who dare to say that the emperor has no clothes.

Hmm…I’ve actually read several news articles reporting the contrary: the government often censors scientific reports written that support the global warming problem.

Academics who jump on the global warming bandwagon are far more likely to get big research grants than those who express doubts — and research is the lifeblood of an academic career at leading universities.

Actually, these grants can be used as leverage by the government to silence scientists. Release your findings, we pull your funding. Most researchers choose a topic they are interested in exploring, rather than focus on topics that have grant money available. Grant money is available through the NSF for a multitude of scientific topics.

Furthermore, this assumption of researchers “going after all the money” for selfish reasons is only valid if the researchers themselves got to keep most of the money. This is far from the case, and oftentimes researchers will only receive money directly from the grant if they buy their salary out from teaching classes at a university. Researchers still don’t get any increase in salary, they just won’t have to teach as many courses.

In politics, even conservative Republicans seem to have taken the view that, if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. So have big corporations, which have joined the stampede.

While there is nothing I can say to completely disprove this statement, I can say that global CO2 emissions from businesses in the U.S. increase every year… If big corporations were jumping on the global warming bandwagon, wouldn’t emissions decrease?

Furthermore, why is global warming a political issue? It’s known that the earth is getting warmer, and it is also known that if there are lower CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, the earth wouldn’t be as warm (this has been scientifically proven, by simply looking at the chemical makeup of CO2 and how it reacts to different wavelengths of radiation)… Wouldn’t the logical next step be to try and reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to return temperatures to around normal? I don’t see this as a liberal vs. conservative issue.

The difference is that we have the hardest and most painful evidence that there was a Holocaust. But, for the global warming scenario that is causing such hysteria, we have only a movie made by a politician and mathematical models whose results change drastically when you change a few of the arbitrarily selected variables.

Actually, I think we have much more information about global warming than just models and a movie. Google Scholar shows about 152,000 articles on global warming

As for the “arbitrarily” selected variables, I would hardly call them arbitrary. I haven’t researched any one climate model so deeply that I would know how it works, but if the variables are anything like the hundreds of specified conditions used in meteorological forecast models, I would imagine they are comprehensive. Modeling is difficult, and at this point we just aren’t sure how some variables will change as the temperature increases. However, this only brings the models’ accuracy into question 100 years from now, and does not discredit the fact that the earth is warming because of anthropogenic forcing right now. From page 11 of the IPCC report, you can see that the model output matched the actual temperature much more closely when anthropogenic variables were taken into account. This alone is pretty significant evidence that the human race is effecting the earth’s climate beyond the natural environmental variations.

If you want to run a climate model on your own computer and learn more about what is involved, check out EdGCM.

If you would like to read more about the issues brought up in this documentary, here is a very lengthy discussion over on (529 comments on the posting at this time). Large universal topics like this deserve to be debated. Fortunately, scientists have already discussed the issue extensively over the past couple of decades. Governments, corporations, and to some extent the media don’t like what has been discovered and are deciding to take issue with it. Unfortunately, this just delays actually doing anything to help the environment and return things to the way they were.

2007 Warmest Winter on Record

The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released their official report on the worldwide climate for February, and for this past winter in general which includes December – February. 2006-2007 has been found to be the record warmest winter in the past 100 years. The report has a lot of information relating to various aspects of climate such as precipitation and snow pack data, but I found one image to be particularly striking: the temperature anomalies for December – February…

So what does this image show exactly? Well, a whole lot of red… Seriously though, to generate this graph the NCDC took worldwide weather observations for December – February for a 30 year period from 1961 to 1990. Then, they took the combined worldwide weather observations for December – February of this year and compared the two. Temperature deviations are shown by different sized/colored dots for a given area.

What’s surprising is not only the large areas over land in the Northern Hemisphere that were 5°C (9°F) or warmer than normal, but also the expanse of warm temperatures worldwide. It’s fairly common for one section of the globe to be warmer or cooler than normal for a few months at a time, but this image is showing warmer than normal temperatures almost universally around the globe.

Some of this can be credited to the recent El Nino event we had this winter. El Nino does play a role, but it most certainly is not responsible for all the warming taking place. CO2 emissions are at an all-time high, and increasing at a faster rate than ever before. If we don’t do something to keep CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in check, the earth will be a much different place to live 100 years from now.

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