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I read a blog post last week declaring “climate change is finally here” because 2012 was the warmest year on record for the U.S. News flash: Climate change has always been here.
That’s an important fact to know when formulating plans and policies regarding climate change, which every business, government agency and charitable organization out to have in place.
Weather is extremely fickle and when taken over a period of years it establishes a pattern we call “climate”. Climate can change for a variety of variety of reasons ranging from natural change to human influences such as farming, forestry, construction – the causes are seemingly endless. Some are major contributors to climate change (such as the plowing of the Great Plains grasslands) and others are more subtle (such as large expanses of concrete – parking lots and highways).
Pollution is also a contributor and one on which most people want to take action with the notable exception of the third world and second world countries that still have horrible smog and water pollution problems. Of course, you have to be at least 45 years old to have any memory of oil slicks on vast stretches of our nation’s waterways, thick smog, PCB and phosphate pollution.
But I digress. The real point of this post is the formulation of climate change planning and policy.
My assumption was that hurricane Katrina, like the tornado outbreak of April 1973 and hurricane hurricane Andrew before it, was a turning point in disaster planning. Katrina and the relief failures were still major talking points during the 2008 presidential election.
And then superstorm Sandy came along to show how poorly we are preparing for storms. There’s not much we can do to prepare for a drought except to make sure we have enough water and food in storage, and enough savings in the bank to get through it. But there is plenty we can do to prepare for hurricanes, tornadoes, cold waves, heat waves, blizzards and floods.
Preparing and formulating policies and procedures is not difficult. Implementation is easy but the cost of not preparing is very expensive – both in actual monetary loss and loss of reputation. Face it, the Federal Emergency Management Agency along with the power companies in the New York City have a huge credibility problem in the wake of Sandy. The only reason for the credibility crisis is because nothing was done implement plans and policy after hurricane Katrina.
Climate change is real and has been going on for thousands of years.
Not planning ahead – believing extreme weather will not happen – is utter foolishness.
(This is from a post in the local blog I write for the Rapid City Journal)
It will be great weather for pro-active construction companies to gain some ground before the weather pattern becomes more active later in the week. Having forecast weather for the construction of major highway projects and for the construction of some of the nation’s tallest buildings, I know all too well how difficult it can be to learn the fine art using the weather to an advantage when it comes to construction management. It is not easy to break the habit of allowing weather to rule a job site.
More than 20 years ago, the Federal Highway Administration hired the forecast company for whom I was the lead forecaster to forecast the start and stop times of rain and snow to within 45 minutes — for the first 24 to 36 hours of a forecast. That requirement was nearly unheard of at a time when we had very few computer models with which to work.
Precision weather forecasts are used for projects that are high risk with a potential to lose huge amounts of money, perhaps a million dollars in a day if the forecast is even slightly off. Talk about pressure: sealing off concrete pours literally just minutes before rain starts — and starting pours just after rain ends, or scheduling the most out of a 5 hour break in the weather that is forecast 3 days from now.
When we forecast rain for these elite clients, it means there is a 100% chance. “A 20% chance” does not have a place in precision, site-specific weather forecasting. When a new roof is going on a large public library, a light shower is a disaster.
Most people don’t know that there is this whole other realm of weather forecasting because there is a relatively small number of businesses and individuals who want to use the weather to their financial advantage.
I was looking at some forecast statistics the other day and the numbers just didn’t add up. But then again I might be looking at them wrong. Then again, the average person probably doesn’t sit down and ponder exactly what a 30% chance of rain means. They look at it as purely “not very likely”. That’s not the ideal interpretation but I seriously doubt many people — let alone many forecasters — work out the real math.
There have been many, many days since the probability of precipitation (PoP) was dreamed up when it was pouring rain and the PoP was some number other than 100%, even when it was pouring rain over a wide area which included a rain gauge. Perhaps the forecaster is thinking that somehow it is magically not raining and it is all a figment of the imagination.
On the other hand, I knew a forecaster who viewed the chance of rain as black and white, 0% or 100% and no in between. There’s actually some merit to this especially if the forecaster’s goal is to be “right” not just “close”.
One thing we do (at OrrWeather.com/ChrisOrr.org) is to include the forecaster’s confidence as part of the forecast. For example, we’ll forecast scattered showers producing 0.10″ to 0.25″ between 3pm and 8pm with a 90% confidence level. And, yes, it is possible for a forecaster’s confidence level to be down in the 20% range. At that point you’re basically on your own.
An alternative is to include which way the forecaster thinks an error would be – the skew. Thus a forecaster could say that he/she is 90% confident that there is a 30% chance of rain, but if he/she is wrong the odds are that it will be a lower probability of rain.
Personally, I would like to see meteorology get to the point where the forecast is always right. I’ll tell you why that may be a long way off in a future post.