Magazine article Insight on the News
Computer Models for Weather Forecasting Are Ridden with Errors; No Evidence for Global Warming
The busted forecast for the East Coast snowstorm during the third week of January points to a very troubling aspect of modern life: We now believe the output of computers more than we trust our own eyeballs.
At noon, Jan. 25, the most sophisticated weather-forecasting model in human history predicted a total snowfall accumulation for Washington of less than an inch during the succeeding 36 hours. All the human forecasters I know went along.
The computer model -- named for the Greek letter eta, whichdescribes its mathematical coordinate system -- forecast a storm far out to sea, sparing the Interstate-95 megalopolis that stretches from Richmond to Boston. Instead, Eta confined its significant snow to a sliver of southeastern Virginia before shoving everything north, east and offshore.
Fear in the forecasting community was palpable as minute-by-minute updates from our national radar network painted an army of green and yellow monsters marching north and west toward our nation's capital. By 9 p.m. they were closer than most of the Confederates ever got, and still the forecast was for a minor dusting. It wasn't until Eta -- whose major update cycle is 12 hours -- was run again that forecasters decided disaster was at hand.
Why didn't we believe our eyes when the model clearly was busting? The truth is as models become more sophisticated, forecasters increasingly are reluctant to abandon them even in the face of contrary evidence. "The computer `Eta' my forecast" is an insufficient excuse.
Unfortunately, it appears the same pathology has infected the 48-year projection. Just like weather forecast models, our climate simulations have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. And just like the situation with the recent snowstorm, there has been incontrovertible and advancing evidence, this time over the course of the last two decades, that they are making a disastrous error, and it has taken forever for forecasters to acknowledge it.
Each and every computer model predicts that the entire troposphere, or roughly the bottom 40,000 feet of the atmosphere, should be warming rapidly. …