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Government, Politics & Issues

Commentary: Gloom, doom and October snow

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 22, 2009 - I predicted the Rams would beat the Jaguars last Sunday. The bookies disagreed with me, installing the Jags as a 9 point favorite to win the contest. The Rams proved us all wrong by going down to defeat 23-20 in overtime; thus losing the game but covering the point spread.

Though my prediction was precisely wrong, it was nonetheless reasonable because it could be -- and, in fact, was -- tested. I made my call on Thursday morning and by late Sunday afternoon it had been demonstrated that I was full of beans.

If I were to predict that the Rams would triumph 100 years from now, my prognostication would be meaningless because there is no feasible way of testing it. It could turn out to be true, but none of us figure to live long enough to find out. (Any reader still around a century hence will be forgiven if they've forgotten this column.)

Statements that admit no possibility of being disproved cannot be considered scientific propositions and are better understood as articles of faith. To the layman, the term "science" evokes images of white lab coats and esoteric realms of academia, but in reality, science is fundamentally the process of subjugating belief to empirical observation.

Understood thusly, Las Vegas emerges as a mecca of predictive science because there every assertion (bet) is subjected to a thorough and conclusive test before any money changes hands.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), last summer featured the coldest July ever recorded for the nine-state Midwestern region. Ironically, it was in that month that the Union of Concerned Scientists chose to release a forecast of dire warming in Missouri by century's end if man-made CO2 emissions are not curbed.

Specifically, the group foresees "more than 100 days per summer with highs over 90 degrees (F) and almost a month and a half of days over 100 degrees (F)" by the years 2070 - 2099. Curious as to why an outfit from Massachusetts took such a grim view of Missouri's future, I consulted NWS temperature records for St. Louis to see if I could discern trends that might lend credence to their fears.

[The NWS posts temperature data from local reporting stations online. Certain records span 1893-present; others extend back to 1870. All temperatures are measured on the Fahrenheit scale.]

According to the NWS, St. Louis has experienced 22 days when the mercury reached 100 degrees or above in this century (2000-09). Fourteen of those (63.6 percent) occurred in 2005-07, which correlates with a major El Nino event in the South Pacific -- a phenomenon thought to cause warmer weather in North America but not associated with anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming, or AGW.

By contrast, the single year of 1936 saw 37 days of 100+ degree days in the city. In all, the decade of the thirties (1930-39) exhibited 120 days of 100 degrees or above weather for an average of 12 such days annually. After 70 years of uncapped and steadily increasing carbon emissions, that average has fallen to 2.2 days a year.

Of course, the '30s was an unusually warm decade that featured the Dust Bowl years. It's possible that such an anomaly was caused by factors other than AGW, so I ranked the last 10 decades in terms of incidence of 100 or plus degree days in St. Louis:

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# of 100 degree-or higher-days

#1    |   1930-39   |  120

#2    |   1980-89   |   55

#3    |   1950-59   |   50

#4    |   1940-49   |   34

#5    |   2000-09   |   22

#6    |   1910-19   |   20

#7    |   1990-99   |   16

#8    |   1960-69   |   14

#9    |   1920-29   |    7

#10   |   1970-79   |    4

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The 100-year mean computes to 3.4 extreme heat days annually -- making the 21st Century 1.2 days cooler than the norm. Excluding the outlier decades (the abnormally warm '30s and abnormally cold '70s) the 80-year remaining average is reduced to 2.7 days -- still .5 days warmer than the current mean. There have been no days of 100-degree or above heat in 2008-09. If anything, it would appear that 100-degree days are becoming rarer locally.

But the weather can be hot without reaching 100 degrees. Looking at the entire 115-year sample for years with the most days of 90 degree or above temperatures, we find 1936, 1953 and 1954 tied for first with 79 each. 2002 came in 20th with 58; 2003 was close behind with 57. On the other hand, 2004 had the 7th fewest 90+ days (19). 2008 ranked 21st coolest in this regard with 30 days. Thus far, 2009 has had 25 such days.

Since reliable records have been kept (1870-present) the average annual temperature for St. Louis is 56.2 degrees. Four 21st century years have exceeded that norm -- with 2000 registering the highest average at 57.2-degrees, the 34th warmest year on record. Three years of the current decade were below the average; two hit 56.2 on the nose. The mean temperature for 2008 was 55.5 degrees. Though we obviously can't yet know the 2009 average, it's on track to be the coldest year of the young century. None of the top 25 hottest days occurred within the last 10 years.

To these layman's eyes, none of the above evinces evidence of runaway warming. Recent temperatures appear to have fluctuated within normal parameters with a discernible downward trend noted in the last couple of years. What has these "concerned scientists" so concerned?

It is perhaps not merely coincidental that the alarmist report of Missouri's climatic future just happened to coincide with the House consideration of the cap & trade bill. This legislation - pending in the Senate -- is highly controversial in the Midwest; a region largely dependent on coal-powered utility plants and thus most vulnerable to the exponential utility tax increases it would entail.

Then again, maybe I'm too cynical about the forecasters' motives. After my Rams' prediction threw craps, I tuned in to watch the New England Patriots host the Tennessee Titans, a contest waged not far from the headquarters of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The game was played in a blinding snowstorm.

Maybe the "Union" shifted its focus to the Midwest because the local weather just wouldn't cooperate. What are the odds of successfully pitching global warming in the midst of an October snowfall? You'd have to consult Vegas to find those.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.

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