JUST CUBANS


In 1900, Cuban meteorologists knew a big hurricane was going to strike the US.  We had our own US Weather Bureau (as it was called at the time), and since we were Americans, and Cubans were–well, Cubans–we did not believe them, even though Cubans had a great deal of real world experience with hurricanes.

The 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston is to date the single biggest weather disaster to strike the US.  The destruction of the city was not preventable; the massive loss of life was.  Unfortunately, arrogance trumped science and listening to people who might know what they were talking about.  It is a recurrent theme.  Congress passed a resolution stating that man-made climate change is not occurring.  I wonder when they can tell me when Tucson’s average temperature for a year will again be normal.  It has been above normal every year since 1984, and the normals have been raised 3 times.

While they are at it, perhaps these same people can tell me when Tucson will again have normal rainfall.  It isn’t just warming, it is ocean acidification, changes in rainfall patterns with floods and droughts longer lasting, and earlier springs, affecting animal life.  Two-thirds of the birds in the Christmas bird count have moved significantly northward.  Dust from Chinese pollution is falling on snow in the Rockies, leading to earlier snow melts and changes in water level.

A while back, a person challenged me to “prove” global climate change without using models.  As a scientist, and especially as a statistician, I use models as a way to depict the world.  A model is a map, and I would no sooner work without models than I would go into the wilderness without a map.

Perhaps this particular individual, who sold real estate in Phoenix, had no use for models.  After all, the mathematicians who created models for the housing market assumed that housing prices would never fall, which is a remarkably dumb assumption.  Worse, purportedly smart people believed these mathematicians.

I work with models in statistics; I use and am familiar with at least nine different weather models for predictions.  Would we do away with models for predicting a hurricane’s path?  Maybe we will, in the new America.  After all, models are an attempt to use science, and many presidential candidates are already anti-science, even as they use aircraft, electronic devices, and the media, all of which were developed by science.  Many are alive today, like me, because of science.  To deny science is to turn back the clock, and  that deeply disturbs me.

I hope everybody noted the science used with Hurricane Irene.  The models originally had Irene hitting Florida, then progressively changed as new data came in.  This is science at its best, changing predictions in the face of new data, not being afraid to admit that the Hurricane might miss the East Coast altogether, but that it would be unlikely to do so.  Should we just hope?  Is that the new America?

Why should I have my hands tied when I am asked to prove something?  We do guess what natural phenomena will occur.  But why should we do uneducated guessing?  Are the models right?  No, they aren’t.  If anything, they are under predicting the severity of climate change.  And they might be wrong, although they have confidence intervals, which is a measure of uncertainty.  If you don’t understand confidence intervals, that is fine.  You just shouldn’t be arguing against climate change.  True scientists admit where there is uncertainty, try to define it, and draw conclusions, just as clearly as physicians tell their patients what they can expect, knowing that there is a certain degree of uncertainty.  Unfortunately, many physicians, being human, are often shocked when they learn how their brain can play tricks upon them in dealing with uncertainty.  (How many people do you need in a room before it is more likely than not that 2 have the same birthday?  Answer:  23)

If I lived on the east coast, I certainly would not be using my spiritual beliefs to predict whether a given hurricane would strike near my house.  I would be tuned into the National Weather Service and looking at what the models show–the cone of uncertainty and the probability of a hurricane’s striking me.  To do anything else would be stupid.

Since I live in this world, I am using what scientific models I can find to determine what the world will be like in the next 30 years, hopefully my lifetime.  I know these models aren’t accurate, but I believe in facts such as ice core analysis, oceanic warming, oceanic acidification, and what appear to me to be major changes in rainfall patterns, with three 500 year floods in North Dakota in the last 15 years, a prolonged drought here, and in Africa.  Perhaps I am just over worried and not scientific, but again, maybe this is all normal.  If it is, perhaps somebody could tell me when we will return to the temperatures and the rainfall that we used to have.

I just want an answer with a number, the word “years,” and a confidence interval. I don’t need any reading material.  How long?

 

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