Why SO hot?

You’re an olympic athlete in the javelin throw. You’ve trained hard most of your life, and kept careful records of your distances for some 2,000 practice throws during the last year. It turns out that your distances follow the normal distribution with a mean of 78.82 meters and standard deviation 3.07 meters.

Competition is tough and you’re desperate to win, so you give in to temptation. You start taking a new kind of steroid which improves performance and can’t be detected by the olympic committee’s drug tests. You continue to keep careful records of your practice throws, discovering that the steroids have increased your mean distance by 4 meters.

Come competition time, you’re at your best. You trained hard, got plenty of sleep, ate right, and you were just plain “in the groove.” You’re wearing a new kind of shoe with special cleats designed to give you perfect traction without slowing you down or interfering with your rhythm. Even the weather cooperates, reducing atmospheric friction to a minimum. Everything comes together, all the “natural variation” factors conspire to give you the best performance of your life. Oh happy day! Near day’s end you’re standing on the podium listening to the national anthem, because you won the gold medal with a throw of 89.60 meters — fully 4.2 meters ahead of the 2nd-place throw.

You didn’t just win the gold, you broke the world record (89.58 meters by Jan Železný in 1996; javelins with serrated tails were outlawed in 1991). You’re heralded as a national hero and approached by a well-known breakfast cereal enticing you to sign an endorsement deal for one helluva lot of money. After all, extremes which are that extreme are a big big deal.

That night a sports journalist asks “Why was is so long a throw?” You talk about hard work, proper technique, new training shoes, good weather, and how everything came together at just the right moment. All of which is true.

But the next day the drug tests arrive from the lab. It turns out that the olympic committee has kept pace with the latest in steroid innovations, and the new performance-enhacing drug is detected, no doubt about it. In subsequent investigation, statisticians analyze your careful records of practice throws and demonstrate the surprising increase in your numbers, inexplicable except by cheating. The olympic committee announces that your are stripped of your gold medal and world record, and that you are banned from competition for the next five years.

One of your biggest fans protests that the stats show your drug use only increased your mean distance by 4.00 meters but you beat the 2nd-place throw by 4.2. “He would have won anyway! Give him back his gold! His winning throw wasn’t because of steroids, it was because of a great performance!!!”

There are two things wrong with that claim. First, when we ask “Why was it so long?” we have to include steroids in the list of reasons. Second, it’s downright disingenuous to suggest that there’s some single cause. Yes it was a perfect day, yes those new shoes really did help, yes the weather cooperated, yes you gave a great performance. If you hadn’t worked so hard and so diligently, you wouldn’t even have made it to the olympics in the first place. But steroids increased your chances of throwing the javelin so far, far enough to break the world record, by a factor of more than 60. The fact is that without steroids your throw wouldn’t have been so far.

These days, it’s the weather that’s on steroids. Because of man-made climate change. Cliff Mass’s blog post asks “Why is the Northwest so warm?” Part of the reason — the part that Cliff Mass is desperate to dispute — is global warming.

18 responses to “Why SO hot?

  1. Anthropogenic climate change deniers are on performance-diminishing steroids

    • They do not deny climate change, they deny the possibility that climate change poses risks to individuals and society. Hence they are climate risk deniers.

      Didn’t know Cliff Mass was one, BTW. Or am I now making him one by implying he is one? Is it all my fault?

      • Susan Anderson

        Neven, Cliff Mass is one of those professionals who sits on the fence and discourages connections with heat-trapping greenhouse gas accumulation and increased energy in the system.

        In some ways, these clever professionals are the worst of the denial universe, because they are so plausible and have good credentials.

  2. Thank you Tamino. When this year turns out to be the warmest on record*, the deniers will form a chorus to tell us how much the massive ENSO is responsible.

    *It may not occur, but we’re on track to near the record or exceed the record.

  3. It’s a tad ironic, but lukewarm foolishness appears to know no Bonds–er, “bounds.”

  4. Further, if I understand his argument correctly, anthropogenic drugs only added 4 meters to the entire 80 meter “javelin effect” or only about 5%. The vast majority of the effect is “natural” athletic skills.and variation and the additional effect of the drug is “negligible”.

    • Don’t think that is his argument since he is dealing with anomalies rather than absolute values. So his natural contribution is excursion from the mean. That being said it is a weird argument he is making. Nonsense IMO.

  5. I’m writing to the weatherimpics comity as we speak.
    The weather should get a 5 year ban!

  6. Right up there with Bart’s Rooty Solution

  7. I would say that AGW changes the system – The sports metaphor would be that of the Olympic athlete being replaced with an unending series of progressively stronger and faster aliens, each fully trained in Earth sports.

    We do not know the long term performance of the aliens; just as we do not have any real data on how the Earth performs over a long period with the current (or future) levels of green house gases.

    The Earth is a non-linear feedback system. Performance at lower equivalent CO2 concentrations does not predict how the system will perform at higher CO2 equivalent concentrations.

    The IPCC models are no help, as they do not include carbon feedback.

  8. If a 3 sigma event is 17 times more likely in a warmer world and Mass and Tamino and everybody else agrees with that, then isn’t it true that if we now experience 17 extreme events 16 never would have happened without human-caused climate change? One of them would have happened anyway but then which one? My guess is that without human-caused climate change, the weather would have been completely different. None of the 17 would have happened and instead some entirely different extreme event would have happened which didn’t. The butterfly effect, no?

    [Response: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.]

    • Yes. The ‘this’ in “this changes everything” is probably much less exclusive that we are ordinarily disposed to think.

  9. My layman’s understanding is that the convection driven Hadley circulation, polar circulation, and coupled Walker and Ferrel circulation, when combined with Coriolis force, lead to earth’s patterns of atmospheric flows. Frontal systems, high(hot, dry) & low(cool, moist) pressure zones, the jet streams, and Rossby waves are all emergent properties in these atmospheric flows from the physics of lapse rates, evapotranspiration and condensation, momentum, and so on. Since the surface is observed to be warmer(consistent with AGW) especially at the poles(Arctic amplification), the absolute humidity is observed to be higher(duh; Clausius-Clapeyron), and the upper tropospheric hotspot has only recently emerged from the noise[1], this must have caused an increase in Convective Available Potential Energy.
    The consequent wider Hadley circulation[2], wigglier jetstream and slower moving Rossby waves[3] must be necessary factors without which these extreme temperatures wouldn’t have occurred at this time in these locations.
    There aren’t any natural factors which haven’t been altered by the effects of AGW in such a way that the end result was a killer heat wave in July 2015 in the Pacific Northwest.

    “We have a very perturbed long wave pattern. There is no reason to expect that is caused by global warming. In fact, the causality of the pattern has been explained by the North Pacific Mode and its connecting with a SST anomaly in subtropics.”
    The “long wave pattern”(Rossby waves?), North Pacific Mode, and tropical Sea Surface Temperatures aren’t sources of heatwaves, but links in the chain from solar irradiance => less OLR => global warming => increasing CAPE => changing wind patterns => changing ocean surface wind stress => stronger North Pacific Mode => Northwest heat wave.
    How can greater warming in winter (predicted from first principles by Arrhenius in 1896) not have had an effect on the North Pacific Mode.[4]
    How can the ~10e23 joules going into the ocean in the last 10 years vanish without altering SST anomalies in the tropics?

    [1] Atmospheric changes through 2012 as shown by iteratively homogenized radiosonde temperature and wind data (IUKv2); Steven C Sherwood and Nidhi Nishant 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 054007 http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/10/5/054007/
    “… tropical warming is equally strong over both the 1959–2012 and 1979–2012 periods, increasing smoothly and almost moist-adiabatically from the surface (where it is roughly 0.14 K/decade) to 300 hPa (where it is about 0.25 K/decade over both periods)…”
    However, “…tropospheric warming does not reach quite as high in the tropics and subtropics as predicted in typical models.”
    This means that the models which underestimate this warming at altitude are overestimating lapse rate feedback(which is negative), and therefore underestimating climate sensitivity – not something that Professor Christy would point out in his address to Congress.

    [2]Hadley Cell Widening: Model Simulations versus Observations – Johanson & Fu (2009) “Observations show that the Hadley cell has widened by about 2°–5° since 1979.

    [3] Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming; Jennifer A Francis and Stephen J Vavrus; 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 014005; doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/1/014005 http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/10/1/014005/article
    “New metrics and evidence are presented that support a linkage between rapid Arctic warming, relative to Northern hemisphere mid-latitudes, and more frequent high-amplitude (wavy) jet-stream configurations that favor persistent weather patterns”
    “… we conclude that further strengthening and expansion of AA in all seasons, as a result of unabated increases in greenhouse gas emissions, will contribute to an increasingly wavy character in the upper-level winds, and consequently, an increase in extreme weather events that arise from prolonged atmospheric conditions.” Don’t claim she didn’t warn us.

    “Nick Bond, a climate scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, was part of the team that explored the origins of the strange body of water. He also coined the term ‘blob’. His findings suggest the blob can be tracked down to a high-pressure ridge that caused a calmer ocean during the past two winters, so what we’re seeing in fact today is the result of less cooling during winter and not more warming during spring, despite there’s a net warming effect.”