Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back Online

We just got our internet/phone/cable restored in New Paltz after a two-day disruption, so I am still catching up on all the devastation outside my own little slice of real estate. Just a brief glance at TV and online news makes it apparent that the destruction wrought by Sandy is far worse than most people could have imagined.

Thanks to everyone who has written to me with messages of concern. We fared much better during this storm than we did with Hurricane Irene last year, when floods literally washed away whole towns. The latest damage to the Hudson Valley, where I live, was mainly due to high winds. There was little rainfall, comparatively speaking.

This is going to be a long recovery for untold millions of people in a huge, huge chunk of this country.


John in Lafayette said...

Very sad to see the devastation. Many family and friends were affected. I'm glad to know that you, however, were able to escape relatively unscathed, especially after last year.

Pearl said...

I'm so glad to have you back safe and sound. I am still trying to connect with others I know whose phones may be out of service.
Among the many excellent responses about voting for a third party, one thing wasn't mentioned. Regardless of who "wins" the election, a healthy support for third party leaders will not only send a message all around, but will encourage these fine people to continue their battle to be heard. The inability of the average voter to get any information about these other choices and their messages is not acceptable in a democratic society.

Zee said...


Glad to learn that you are safe and relatively unharmed, as I hope other East Coast participants of Sardonicky find themselves.

Still, Mrs. Zee and I worry about friends on the East Coast with whom we have yet to be able to establish contact, in New Jersey and Williamsburg, VA.


If it matters at all, Mrs. Zee and I cast our early votes for Gary Johnson two days ago, as an expression of our contempt for the Duopolist Party.

Denis Neville said...

There are simply no words for the devastation.

“What makes mankind tragic is not that they are the victims of nature, it is that they are conscious of it.” – Joseph Conrad

Zee asked for “one detailed mathematical model associated with global warming - a real, tested, mathematical model—that had directly predicted Hurricane Sandy, or its like, as a consequence of global warming.”

Weather and climate are different. Climate modeling is fundamentally different from weather forecasting.

Computer models that deal with climate change are not been designed to forecast the weather or predict destructive hurricanes. Climate models simply do not predict day to day weather systems. They estimate trends rather than events. Trends are important because they eliminate single events that may be extreme, such as Hurricane Sandy, but quite rare. They only give a range of projections, the effects of carbon dioxide as well as other factors and variables, on the long term climate.

Health care is chaotic. Actuaries use statistical computer models to work out the average health costs of a range of population groups so that health insurance companies can set insurance premiums. But they cannot tell you precisely how many people will get sick in a month, or more specifically, if they are likely to need medical care.

So it is with climate and weather.

Today’s models are tested against what is known to have happened in the past. If they can correctly predict trends from somewhere in the past, we can expect them to predict with reasonable certainty what might happen in the future. There will always be questions that cannot be answered with absolute precision, even when using computer models. Many questions can only be answered within a range of certainty.

Skeptics like to infer that climate predictions, decades into the future, cannot be possibly right when weather forecasts for the next day have some uncertainty. Rants against climate models are usually a rant against science of any form.

Weather forecasts are much more accurate now with the use of satellites and computers. Some forecasters complain that climate change is affecting their forecasts as the changing climate is altering many of the assumptions based on the historical experience that is built into their computer models.

Climate models are far from perfect. But can we afford to wait for another 50 to 100 years to see if they are any good or not?

Janet Camp said...

So glad you are okay. Even Lake Michigan (Milwaukee) had big waves and the tide was way past “high”. Back in 1980, I lived in Washington State and it was Mt. St Helen’s. Then the huge suspension bridge blew down in 100 mph winds when I lived on the Olympic Peninsula--but probably none of that was as damaging as what I’ve seen in the NYT.

Stay safe and keep blogging! I do drop by now and then even though I don’t comment anymore.

Valerie said...

It is terrible for the poor people who have lost so much. While nothing can replace the sentimental things, I imagine the wealthy all had the money to insure their belongings. Those struggling to get by on the other hand, won't have had the money for insurance.

I have friends who lost everything in a house fire. Insuring their belongings didn't even occur to them because their incomes were just enough to pay the rent, their bills, their medical co-pays and thier groceries. Any extra money was put away for a rainy day (not of this magnitude) and small extras like school excursions for their only child. When I knew them, it had been twelve years since the fire and they were still not back on their feet financially - still replacing the things they lost.

My concern for the people who have lost everything in this storm is that those desiring to help are going to be stretched too thin to do much good. In my friends' case, their friends donated furniture, kitchen appliances, pots and pans and myriad other household items. Someone took my friends' daughter shopping for clothes. But that was one family in need. Think if there were ten families or more. This is the real challenge and I fear there simply won't be enough non-profit and neighborly aid to go around if our government doesn't act on behalf of all of us who were not affected.

My concern also is that despite what climate change denyers are saying, that these kinds of tragedies will become regular events. What then? Will we regularly see family after family displaced? Wiped out? Will we harden our collective hearts as so many have done in their belief that the poor have done something to deserve being poor?

Zee said...


I don't think that I was ranting against climate models for their failure to predict day-to-day weather occurrences, any more than I was “rant[ing] against science of any form.”

You can choose to believe it or not, but I have been a practitioner of science since I started graduate school in 1972. Though no longer active in my field—it requires a rather special, expensive laboratory, and I am now retired—I still consider myself a scientist first, last and always.

I know that the universe is about 15 billion years old, the Earth is about 4.5-5 billion years old, that life began on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago, and I accept that the theory of evolution explains how we got here, today. And yes, I know the difference between climate and weather.

What I was “ranting” against is the current fad of linking every extreme weather occurrence that is outside one's prior lifetime experience to global warming.

My most recent observation of this was, of course, @Anonymous 12:57PM's connection of Hurricane Sandy to global warming. I couldn't resist challenging @Anonymous 12:57PM to “prove” cause and effect, and I perhaps didn't choose my words as well as I could have by demanding a detailed model.

But a few threads ago @Michael Fish and @Valerie also linked the current drought in Texas to global warming because said “extreme” drought was outside the experience of people who had been ranching there for 80 years or so.

Well, it was only about 76 years ago that the U.S. experienced what was—previous to 2012—its hottest year ever, 1936. An estimated 5,000 people died that year, and economic losses owing to the accompanying drought were enormous:

Were people forced to kill their “seed cattle” during that drought? I don't know, but the 1936 heat wave and drought sounds about as devastating as today's drought in Texas and, indeed, the nation.

There is, indeed, precedent for what's going on in Texas, today, but how fleeting are peoples' memories, and how poor their knowledge of history.

Oh, and the 1936 heat wave was preceded by one of the coldest winters on record.

And yes, Hurricane Sandy has been devastating. But it is hardly without precedent in the New England area:

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 killed between 682 and 800 people, destroyed 57,000 homes, and caused $4.7B in damages in today's dollars. (Another estimate in the same article puts damage at about $6B in 2004 dollars.) That's about ten times the estimated loss of life compared with Sandy, though far less than the cost of damage caused by Sandy. Perhaps there was less infrastructure to be destroyed in that area in 1938?

Again, how fleeting are peoples' memories.

I am not an Anthropogenically-caused Global Warming (AGW) “denier” or “hoaxer.” But as I have said before, I am a global-warming “lukewarmist” insofar as (1) attempting to link short-term weather phenomena to long-term projections of global warming just because I haven't seen such weather before in my lifetime, and (2) acting hastily and without deliberate thought based on predictions that might come true in 50-100 years, or might not.

The dire predictions that many AGW “true believers” make seem to be intended to stampede the public in a particular direction for a particular sociopolitical reason.

This conservative scientist—and that's NOT an oxymoron, @spreadoption—does not like to be stampeded.

More later, perhaps, on long-term considerations.