Good Jeff, Bad Jeff

verage Yearly Temperatures in Greenland over the past 100,000 Years as inferred from Oxygen isotope analysis of the GISP2 Greenland ice core. Source: Cuffey, K.M., and G.D. Clow, "Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland throughout the last deglacial transition", Journal of Geophysical Research, 102, 383-396, 1997.

Jeff Masters, who owns and runs the radically named Wunderground, one of the most heavily trafficked weather websites, makes part of his living scaring people with tales of extreme weather. Interestingly, though, a more sedate version of the man occasionally tells the truth about natural climatic variability.

For instance, here is Masters looking at temperature fluctuations of the last 110,000 years:

Ocean and lake sediment data from places such as California, Venezuela, and Antarctica have confirmed that these sudden climate changes affected not just Greenland, but the entire world. During the past 110,000 years, there have been at least 20 such abrupt climate changes. Only one period of stable climate has existed during the past 110,000 years–the 11,000 years of modern climate (the “Holocene” era). “Normal” climate for Earth is the climate of sudden extreme jumps–like a light switch flicking on and off.

And then we have the sky-is-falling version of Masters looking at U.S. temperatures for a single month, namely March 2012:

Yesterday (Tuesday), the analysis showed that Michigan experienced temperatures that were 4-5 climatological anomalies warmer than average (4-sigma to 5-sigma), the type of extreme that occurs between once every 43 years and once every 4,779 years.

Of course, using 30 years of data to estimate extreme events with a return period of centuries is a sketchy proposition. However, keep in mind that had we used a century-long climatology instead of using the past 30 years, yesterday’s warmth would have been classified as much more extreme, since the climate has warmed considerably in the past 30 years.

It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current “Summer in March” heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming.

Again, it’s as though the man doesn’t realize that his accurate, truthful words about natural climatic change will live on the internet forever. Simply put, I don’t know how he sleeps at night.

I’ll say again:

Get it out of your head: weather didn’t used to be friendly. It didn’t used to rain just enough, snow just enough, with the wind blowing just enough, and the Sun shining just enough. Things didn’t recently go to Hell in a hand basket. That is just a story. And it’s not a particularly hard story to prove false.

This quote, from my sweet little book on climate change, is anathema to the merchants of terror, of whom Masters is merely one. People have been saying the sky is falling for a long time. As for those who consider this to be the pinnacle of scientific thought today, when will they ever learn?

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About Harold Ambler

Harold Ambler has been writing about weather and climate for more than 20 years. He started his journalism career at The New Yorker and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The AtlanticWire, and, among other places. He lives in Rhode Island.
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