Failure to Predict Blizzard Reveals Perils of Global Warming Predictions, by John K. Carlisle

In the wake of the blizzard that recently ambushed the East Coast, red-faced meteorologists are cursing the sophisticated computer models that assured them that the storm would pass well out to sea, sparing major cities significant snowfall. But the question that needs to be asked is this: If meteorologists can’t devise a computer model that can accurately predict the weather within 24 hours, why do proponents of the global warming theory claim they can use models to predict the earth’s climate in 100 years?

The answer is: They can’t.

In the case of the East Coast blizzard and our nation’s capital, National Weather Service meteorologists used the world’s best computer models, supported by a new IBM supercomputer, to predict 12 hours before the blizzard hit Washington that the storm’s impact would be minimal because it would be so far out to sea. At best, there would be a 40 percent chance of light snow with a total accumulation of less than an inch. Twenty-four hours later, a foot of snow had been dumped on the capital.1 Says Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Woodcock, “We’re really cursing those computer models.”2

Although not necessarily cursing, many scientists who relied on state-of-the-art Global Climate Models (GCM) to forecast major global temperature increases caused by man-made greenhouse gases are now admitting their forecasts aren’t panning out either. On January 12, the National Research Council, an eleven-member panel of climate experts, issued a report that concluded that the temperature increases the GCMs predicted should be happening due to global warming are not occurring. The panel convened in an attempt to resolve why surface-based measurements show a warming of between 0.13°C and 2.0°C warming per decade since 1979 while NASA’s Tiros satellites show no temperature change in the lower atmosphere, the area between 5,000 and 40,000 feet.3

The satellites, considered the most accurate barometer of the earth’s temperature, have been a source of embarrassment to the proponents of the global warming theory because their high-powered GCMs predicted that the lower atmosphere must show a significant warming of about 0.36°C.4

The panel, which included both proponents and critics of the global warming theory, concluded that the satellites are accurate but that it couldn’t reconcile the discrepancy between the satellite data and the surface record. Although Dr. John Wallace, the panel chairman, said that panel members agreed that the surface record does show a temperature increase, he added, “We are not saying that the rise is due to [man-made] greenhouse gases nor are we saying it is going to continue.”5 Concluded fellow panelist, Dr. John Christy, “You can’t use [the surface temperature] trend for prediction.” The panel recommended that scientists must do more research into the mysteries of climate change.6

Indeed, more research would be wise as scientists are discovering natural forces influencing the climate. Twenty years ago, scientists had no idea these forces existed. In early January, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California announced that the U.S. might be entering a “cool” phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a major climate event that occurs every 20-30 years in which the ocean temperatures off the North American coast cool or warm. This ocean temperature change has a significant impact on the U.S. climate, more significant in fact than the well-known El Nino phenomenon.

In the upcoming “cool” cycle, JPL scientists say that a cooler Pacific Ocean will probably cause a variety of changes in U.S. weather, including increased snowfall in the Rockies, colder winters in the Northeast, drought in the Southwest and more hurricanes in the Southeast.7

In light of accumulating evidence showing the significance of natural over human climatic influences, scientists who once subscribed to the global warming theory have lost faith in the climate models and are changing their opinions. George Taylor, president of the American Association of State Climatologists, says, “Ten years ago, I believed the modelers that global warming was a serious problem that needed attention and intervention. As I studied the issue year by year, I became less and less convinced that the ‘problem’ was truly serious… I believe that even if we controlled every molecule of human emissions we would still see substantial climate change, just as we always have.”8

The unexpected East Coast blizzard clearly reveals the technological limitations of weather forecasting. But the attempt to use climate models to predict alleged human-induced warming has proven to be even more difficult. Many scientists now believe their time can be better spent learning about natural climatic forces than pointing their finger at man.

John K. Carlisle is the director of the Environmental Policy Task Force at The National Center For Public Policy Research.


1 David Montgomery and D’Vera Cohn, “High-Tech Tools Fooled Forecasters,” The Washington Post, January 26, 2000.
2 Emery P. Dalesio, “Deadly Eastern U.S. Storm Surprised Forecasters,” Associated Press, January 26, 2000.
3 Dr. Patrick Michaels, “Satellite Targeted in the Hot Zone,” The Washington Times, March 26, 1998.
4 Michaels.
5 Robert Lee Hotz, “Global Warming Real, Panel Says,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2000.
6 Virtual Climate Alert, vol. 1, no. 3, January 12, 2000.
7 Curt Suplee, “U.S. Entering New Weather Era,” The Washington Post, January 20, 2000.
8 George Taylor, “Still Skeptical on Global Warming,” Electricity Daily, January 24, 2000.

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