Climate Change, Variability, Recurrent Frequencies, and Planning

Climate Change, Variability, Recurrent Frequencies, and Planning

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Guest Opinion: Dr. Tim Ball

One of my graduate courses comprised field trips to places that used weather and climate data in their everyday decision making. Apart from pushing my idea with the students that there are a few relevant things they can do in university, it gave them a very clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of weather and climate research. Here is a short list of places and the lessons learned. I present them here as a limited example of issues that people confront in the real world. These are issues that need the trillions wasted on the false threat of global warming.

  • A visit to the airport for a briefing as if they were pilots flying commercial flights from Winnipeg to Vancouver. They learned that all the flights, year-round, travelled 90% of the time above the Tropopause and in the lower stratosphere. This was important because we were studying the creation of weather in the Stratosphere, particularly the formation of noctilucent clouds. They also learned that the primary issue for commercial pilots is the flight levels at which they have the smoothest air. Weather at the destination is of far less consequence now because of the ability to land in almost zero visibility.
  • The Canadian Wheat Board was an agency set up by the Canadian government on behalf of grain farmers to sell their Wheat and Barley. It continues as the CWB, a new name created when it was sold to private companies. One of those was a Saudi Arabian owned company, and that is now at the center of the current dispute between the Canadian and Saudi governments.
  • When we took our visits, the Wheat Board had a group of people charged with monitoring weather and crop conditions for every major agricultural region of the world. Their job was to anticipate potential crop failures and then advise the salespeople to pursue opportunities. Remember, this was also at a time when the Soviet Union and China were major importers of grains.

Manitoba Hydro is a government established agency that controlled all energy production in the Province. Every Canadian Province has similar centralized energy controlling agencies. The one in the climate news currently is Ontario Hydro (now called Hydro One) that saw Maurice Strong become Chairman in 1992. He applied his ideas of a green agenda based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and almost bankrupted the Province.

Manitoba Hydro produces most of its electricity, the common denominator of all energy sources, from massive hydroelectric projects in the northern half of the Province. They were only able to do this because of Soviet technology. Many places including Russia have great hydroelectric potential, but most of it is beyond the distance you can economically transmit alternating current (AC) electricity. The Soviets pioneered a technique of converting the AC produced by water-driven turbines into direct current (DC) electricity. You can transmit the DC power at least twice as far as AC then you reconvert the DC back to AC and put it into the grid.

The climate issues of primary concern for Manitoba Hydro are precipitation to ensure lake levels used as their storage reservoirs are maintained, and temperatures as they affect

a) the demand for electricity (cold winters). Interestingly this is somewhat offset by less line loss when atmospheric temperatures are very low.

b) the date of ice forming on the lakes

c) the storm tracks across the Province because of wind damage and freezing rain bringing down their massive transmission lines.

They established their own network of weather stations because the official network is completely inadequate in the density of stations and type of data collected.

One interesting and unique measure was the date of ice formation on the lakes near their water intakes. They wanted to know within a couple of days when the ice would form so they could close the intake and allow the ice to form quickly and with a smooth underside. This prevented turbulent flow from under the ice into the intake that reduced the power potential. An important issue we discussed that requires investigation is the discharge of electricity from the high voltage lines to the ground under certain atmospheric conditions and the possibility they trigger forest fires.

  • Manitoba Crop Insurance Corporation was discussed in my last article relating to their coverage of hail damage. One of the hardest challenges was determining the extent and intensity of the damage. This is understandable for hail that comes from clouds that make streaky tracks across the countryside.

A more interesting problem developed when the Province of Saskatchewan decided to introduce frost insurance. It challenged and underscored the limitations of the IPCC claim that a weather station is representative of a 1200 km area. The issue came to my attention when the Provincial Ombudsman contacted me over a claim from many farmers that frost insurance did not pay even though they had severe frost damage. The plan allowed the farmer who bought the insurance to identify an Environment Canada weather station that would be used to determine if frost occurred on their farm. The first year the plan operated there was an unusually early frost before the end of August over most of the coverage area of the Province. The disparity between the farms affected and the official temperature records was remarkable, and that perplexed the ombudsman.

After the frost event, half the farmers received no coverage because their chosen station showed the overnight low was 0.5°C. The problem was the crops showed evidence of a “black frost.” It is called this because the black reflects the cellular damage done in the leaves. In the other region, the farmers got paid even though there were no signs of frost, yet their chosen station recorded -0.5°C. As I explained to the Ombudsman, the major problem is the air temperature at the stations is taken in a Stevenson Screen located at least 1.25 m above ground. The difference between there and the ground, where the crops are located can be significantly different. In this case, the difference in the amount of soil moisture was probably what modify the temperature reading to affect the crop. It confirms that the ‘official’ global temperature is actually only the temperature at 1 meter above the surface at very few stations around the world.

  • We also visited the Provincial Water Resources Branch to learn about flooding and flood control. Most of the southern half of the Province is the lake bed of the former glacial Lake Agassiz. While this provides good flat agricultural land, it is a recipe for flooding. The soils in many regions have a very high, 60% clay content, which makes them fertile but with a high-water content capacity. In addition, Professor Bill Carlyle showed that the Red River Basin is the largest most densely drained agricultural region in the world. It doesn’t take much during snowmelt in the spring, accompanied by rain, for rivers to flood and Lake Agassiz to try and reappear.

Winnipeg is located at the confluence of the Red River of the North, flowing from North Dakota heading ultimately to Hudson Bay, and the Assiniboine River entering from the west. Almost every spring there is flooding to various levels, and in some years, it flooded major parts of the city. The 1950 flood was devastating and forced action. The City was assisted by large donations from all over the world and constructed a floodway that diverted the river around the city. It worked by raising a dam across the river, backing up the water and pushing it over a spillway into the floodway. This put the water back into the river north of the city. The floodway effectively doubled the river capacity over the length of the diversion channel. When the diversion was built, it was based on the modern record of flooding, particularly the 1950 event. This event was considered a one-in-100-year flood, which is what hydrologists call the recurrence frequency. People assumed that they were now protected for 100 years. The problem is, it is based on a statistical probability, but in climate, because of the wet and dry cycles, two floods of this magnitude could occur within two years. The precipitation pattern changes much more frequently and widely than any 100-year record could accommodate.

They ignored the historical evidence of the 1826 flood that was three times larger and reports of an even bigger flood in 1776, which coincides with cold events of that time. The 1826 flood was approximately a one-in-400-year event. Another flood of this magnitude occurred in 1996, and the floodway alleviated it to some extent, but it forced expansion of the floodway. The topic of discussion for the students was around this problem of cost against protection and the false security it creates.

One of the topics was the flooding after the 1900 hurricane in Galveston Texas. Drowning was the major tragedy with a variety of estimates ranging from 6,000 to 12,000. The problem was the protective sea wall was breached. The classroom discussion involved better strategies, for example, not allowing people to live in flood-prone regions. We then examined why flooding insurance is mostly provided by the Federal Government in the US. Part of the answer is on the FEMA website where they say, “Floods are the nation’s most common natural disaster. Flood damage is rarely covered under your homeowners or renters policy.” I wonder why?

Among the first example of climate forecasts and management decision conflicts I experienced was at a 1989 conference in Edmonton Alberta. The topic was planning for the future based on climate predictions for the Canadian Prairies. It underscored all the problems academia faces when it takes its theory to the real world. Naturally, it became an entire seminar for the graduate field trip class.

The conference was dominated by the keynote speaker, a climate modeler, Michael Schlesinger. His showed his work that compared five major global models and their results. He said they were valid because they all showed warming. Of course, because they were programmed to that general result. The problem is they varied enormously over vast regions. For example, one showed North America cooling, another showed it warming. The audience was looking for information adequate for planning and became agitated, especially in the question period. It peaked when someone asked about the accuracy of his warmer and drier prediction for Alberta. The answer was 50%. The person replied that is useless, my Minister needs 95% because he is planning extensive forestation and reforestation and there is no point if you say it will be a desert in 50 years. The shouting intensified.

Every academic contract for employment at a university should require a specific detailed clause on community service. Many of them do, but they don’t specify the function, and it is almost never given credit for promotion, tenure, or any other job performance reward. The trouble is this idea introduces the word that sends shock waves through academia, ‘relevance.’ At one meeting a philosopher challenged my idea saying he was too busy researching and publishing on death and dying, besides, how could that directly help the community? I pointed out there were groups at the local hospitals dealing with the real impact of death and dying every day, who might benefit greatly from his work. More important, he might learn how good or bad his work was in reality; and maybe that is the real fear.

Superforest,Climate Change

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