Betting on the Weather Tells You Nothing About Climate Change

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thermometer

Baseball prognosticator and electoral pollster Nate Silver has issued a "challenge to climate change skeptics" in the form of a bet. He was evidently moved to do so by his irritation at conservative Powerline blogger John Hinderaker's grousing about the weather in Minneapolis as "a year without a summer." Being a southerner, Minneapolis is far from climatically optimum (average annual temperature 45 degrees) for me. Silver points out that for the last month temperatures in Minneapolis have been totally typical for the city. 

Silver is also annoyed that some conservative bloggers imply that climate change is overblown by citing recent low temperatures in their neighborhoods. Clearly, such bloggers are confusing weather with climate. In a quest for "accountability" in the climate change debate, Silver offers the following bet:

1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.

2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.

3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you'd have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

Of course, Silver's bet also confuses weather with climate. It's a bet on nothing other than the random fluctuations of local temperatures around seasonal averages. If Silver really wants to wager on climate change there are a number of open bets available over at the Long Now Foundation's Long Bets site. 

Just for the record, between June 21 and July 20, AccuWeather reports that the average temperature has fallen one degree or more below average in Charlottesville, Va., for 25 days and was above by one degree on just 5 days. 

If Silver and others want actual information on global temperature trends visit the University of Alabama at Huntsville's satellite data site here and here or to the Remote Sensing Systems' data site

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  1. I appreciate that two wrongs don’t make a right, but we all know that if this were an unseasonably hot summer, we would be seeing all kinds of global warming alarmism in the papers and lefty blogs.

  2. so according to the charts on weather underground, i would be looking at quite a bit of loot since the purty blue line (avg temp) seems to be quite a bit higher than that purty red line (actual temp)
    http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KPAE/2009/1/1/CustomHistory.html?dayend=1&monthend=7&yearend=2009&req_city=NA&req_state=NA&req_statename=NA

  3. This is one of the more stupid things I’ve ever read.

    And who has that kind of cash sitting around? Color me young and poor but I can’t even imagine wagering such amounts.

    Christ, I eat Ramen like 10-15 times a week, at least.

  4. Yeah, I’m not sure what he’s getting at. Not only does this fail to correct for the whole issue of climate vs. weather, but it also fails to account for regional variations. The year has indeed been unseasonably cool here in Chicago but that tells you very little about global trends. I find it amusing that Silver complains “I’m tired of people who don’t understand statistics” while I could counter that I’m tired of people who don’t understand atmospheric science. Stats can’t really tell you much if you don’t understand the subject you’re analyzing. Nate Silver knows his baseball, and that makes him an awesome sabermetrician. Unfortunately, his ability to run a regression here and there doesn’t qualify him to be an expert on everything. Any intelligent person wouldn’t take this bet for the same reason they wouldn’t take a bet on whether a coin turns up heads or tails.

  5. >Any intelligent person wouldn’t take this bet for the same reason they wouldn’t take a bet on whether a coin turns up heads or tails.

    Precisely, CubMedSux. I don’t think most hardcore global warming believers think there’s a clear annual trend at work such as would make Silver a winner here. Like most such challenges, this is essentially a bluff.

  6. If I was a blogger who qualified to take the bet, and I had enough dough – I would give him the option of doing it for $2500/day or shut the fuck up. He will lose if anyone accepts.

  7. What the f*ck is “Weather Underground”? Is that like Democratic Underground?

  8. “Silver points out that for the last month temperatures in Minneapolis have been totally typical for the city.”

    Bullshit. Coldest June since records were kept and July is even colder.

    July Data for the Twin Cities from the National Weather Service.

    * 3.2 degrees F. cooler than average so far.

    * 14 of 18 days: cooler than average, largest extremes came third week of July.

    * Only 5 days with more than a trace of rain reported. Only .26″ of rain so far in July (running a 2.11″ deficit just this month).

    * 6 mornings so far in July waking up to temperatures in the 50s.

  9. There should be some money to be made with the GW fanatics. I haven’t checked into the Long Bet odds, but you’d think you could fool plenty of Chads into a ten year two degree increase bet.

  10. Here in Houston, temps had been below average from last September (after Ike came through) until late May. I would have made from $500-$800 a month off that bet.

    Then the Central Texas High established itself a bit early and temps have been above average by almost the same amount. That high is also partly responsible for the cool weather since it blocks moisture and warmth from spreading too far north.

  11. Also, Nates bet is ridiculous for another reason. It basically counts the days more than 1 degree different than the average, but the payout is not more when the temp is significant above/below. for example, if the average is 85, and the temp is 80 – he owes you $25 (85-80>1) not $100 (85-80 = 5 which is 4 less than 1, so 4*25 = $100).

    The way he does it is a statistical gimmick designed to divorce the bet from any meaning and shield him from losses in the event he is wrong.

    Nate Silver is a pussy.

  12. What the f*ck is “Weather Underground”? Is that like Democratic Underground?

    If by “Democratic Underground” you mean a weather-forecasting website, then yes.

  13. Randy… Silver’s stats benefit from conveniently looking at stats since the beginning of the astronomical summer (June 21). The week of the 21st saw a heat wave, with high temps exceeding the average by 16, 18, 6, 12 and 10?F from the 22nd through the 26th. This shows Silver’s own statistical shortcomings, as it both suffers from selection bias (why start with the 21st?) and a questionable means of defining temperature variation (the day’s high temp doesn’t tell the complete picture of heating for the day). The average temperature departure from the mean is definitely a more robust statistic.

  14. Weather Underground is named after a lefty terrorist group from the 60s. One of the more tasteless names out there.

    No surprise that a GW fanatic would enlist them in his cause.

  15. Tulpa, I don’t think they are leftist. The site was around way back when we worried about pollution instead of CO2. I recall reading the name was kind of a joke.

  16. On an unrelated note, “Weather Underground” was also the name of my college bowl team, comprised entirely of meteorology majors. And yes, we were very tasteless.

  17. …and Bill Ayers is not in any way affiliated with wunderground.com. In the years I’ve been using the site, rarely has their forecast read “Partly cloudy, good day to build a bomb”.

  18. I remember in 1998 when we were supposed to have 11 more years of record temperatures.

    The GCM predictions are extremely unreliable. Anyone who says they are settled science doesn’t understand them.

  19. I suggest a more meaningful bet. Let’s create a fund with shares that would be bought by global-warming-skeptics, which will offer to buy coastal real estate for cash delivered today, but with the transfer-of-ownership date toward the beginning of the 22nd century.

    Those who live on the coasts and believe that their land will be submerged by the rising seas will be happy to get pennies on the dollar for land they think will be worthless. AGW skeptics will be happy to get (future) title to land they think will be valuable.

    As decades wear on and one side or the other becomes discredited by the increasing understanding of climate, the real estate shares will either go up or down in value rewarding whoever is right.

  20. Actually the guy is a genius, its an El Nino year. High probability of a mild winter for most of the country.

  21. we all know that if this were an unseasonably hot summer, we would be seeing all kinds of global warming alarmism in the papers and lefty blogs

    Anyone sufficiently educated to be “alarmed” about global warming knows that any given local temperature at any given time is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

  22. It is quite obvious. When temperatures help the global warming cause, what is happening is called climate change. When temperatures don’t help the cause, it is dismissed as ‘weather’ and nothing to be concerned about.

  23. The National Weather Service is predicting below-average temps in the mid West (including Minneapolis) for the next three months.

    Inspired by that, I tried to take Silver’s gold, but he stuck to the hometown rule, which he explained had been included for his own defense – he had seen the same long range forecast.

  24. “As decades wear on and one side or the other becomes discredited by the increasing understanding of climate, the real estate shares will either go up or down in value rewarding whoever is right.”

    This is an important point- and it begs the question of why Al Gore isn’t investing in farmland in Alberta and ocean front property in Sacramento. Actions speak louder than words, and the AGW alarmists never seem to be ACTING alarmed.

  25. Shut the fuck up, Tony.

    NLNT, NLNT.

  26. NYC : first summer since 1916 where the temperature did not go above 85 degrees for the whole of June. FWIW.

    Also temperature reports tend to be inaccurate since many of the sensors are located at airports and are picking up heat from asphalt, jet exhaust. And it’s always hotter in the a city than in the country; how many sensors are located in what are still rural areas?

  27. I wouldn’t take that bet for a while. Aren’t we beginning an El Nino cycle?

    As for anecdotes, I’d have loved to have (retrospectively) taken that bet last year here in the Northwest. Coldest winter I ever spent was the summer of ’08. Coldest winter I ever spent was the winter of ’08. 08 was just frickin’ cold.

    We had hikers getting lost in the mountains in mid summer because there was so much snow on the ground, they couldn’t find the trails.

  28. “I wouldn’t take that bet for a while. Aren’t we beginning an El Nino cycle?”

    Average world wide temperature has been declining for the last 11 years because of the last El Nino.

  29. “Also temperature reports tend to be inaccurate since many of the sensors are located at airports and are picking up heat from asphalt, jet exhaust. And it’s always hotter in the a city than in the country; how many sensors are located in what are still rural areas?”

    Satelites have shown lower average temperatures because they don’t measure the urban heat island effect.

  30. Tony:

    Alarmists and deniers are both guilty of using local temps when it suits them. See, for example, the planning that went into James Hansen’s global warming testimony back in June of 1988. DC record temp of 101 degrees.

  31. Mr. Bailey,

    Likely true, though 1988 is a long way back to go. At any rate, while I would condemn such dishonesty from either side, there is, I think, a distinction between using local temperature as a propaganda tool in getting people to think about a disaster that actually is happening (but that might not capture people’s attention enough), and using local temperature as a reason to out-and-out dismiss reality altogether.

  32. Shorter Tony: Lying is OK if my side does it.

  33. Here are the 2 pieces of information that I think Mr. Silver was betting on (and I think they’re pretty good bets)

    1> He used the term average temperature. That means average since records have been kept. In most cities in the US there are 150 years or more of data available. Early in the 20th century (right into the 70’s) and a spell in the mid 19th was very cold indeed. The overall average includes these times. Since global warming alarmists say the earth is heating quickly a more logical bet would have been to limit the bet to days that the temp falls below it’s 20 year average. Instead he used the overall average to try to take an advantage that makes little sense to the context of the discussion.

    2> Heat Island effect. Most cities heat up in the summer and are far warmer than the surrounding ‘burbs. The effect increases each year as we pour more concrete. Therefore the temperature reported at a downtown station would be greater as time goes by, but has little impact on the overall discussion.

    So my advice to anybody considering the challenge — pick a spot in the country with only a few decades of history. Maybe Denver International airport (only around 15 years or so, not near downtown Denver). Such a choice would eliminate the built in advantages the Mr Silver is counting on.

  34. …there is, I think, a distinction between using local temperature as a propaganda tool in getting people to think about a disaster that actually is happening (but that might not capture people’s attention enough), and using local temperature as a reason to out-and-out dismiss reality altogether.

    Perhaps, but the former certainly encourages the latter.

  35. SugarFree basically beat me to it, but that post by Tony is actually kind of scary. It really shows him to be the kind of person who would feel right at home as a party apparatchik in a totalitarian state. Lying and propaganda as long as its in the service of the right people and ideas is ok. It’s not a big stretch to imagine it going from propaganda to re-education camps to the gulag if the idea is deemed important enough for people like him.

  36. Silver is wrong about the example he gave. Each person who agrees to the bet is betting on weather. The person who offers the bet to all those strangers is betting on climate. His gain or losse will be the sum of the gains and losses from each weather bet.

    It’s like life insurance. When you buy one policy, you bet on your health. When the insurance company sells 10,000 policies, it bets on epidemiological trends.

  37. dfd,

    I definitely do not condone Hansen’s actions, I was simply recognizing moral nuance. My apologies; this is clearly not the place for that sort of thing.

  38. Anyone sufficiently educated to be “alarmed” about global warming knows that any given local temperature at any given time is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    I guess that excludes St. Albert the Nobelist, who cited the unusually warm winter Washington had in 2006-07 as evidence for warming in testimony before Congress…

  39. http://www.megaupload.com/?d=DSGS19C9

    Ah, and if a “disaster” isn’t actually happening, does the moral nuance run the other way?

  40. Oops, that should have said:

    I was simply recognizing moral nuance.

    The link was something someone posted on another thread. . . not that I was trying to watch it or anyting . . . and don’t ask what it’s to. 🙂

  41. Let me clarify. Local weather phenomena may very well be causally related to global warming. There is evidence of lots of local changes occurring now. Major shifts in both seasonal patterns and species distribution are happening and are being observed. It’s just curious how that evidence, when combined with all of the rest of the evidence, doesn’t convince skeptics about global warming’s reality, but the fact that it was cold yesterday in Omaha is sufficient to convince them that it’s all a massive worldwide conspiracy of scientists and governments to enrich Al Gore.

  42. …I was simply recognizing moral nuance. My apologies; this is clearly not the place for that sort of thing.

    You’re free to point out any perceived moral nuance here. And likewise we’re free to dismiss it as an insufficient justification for intentionally deceiving the public.

  43. Tony, you’re confusing an objective analysis of the entire data set with a collection of cherry picked examples. “Weather this year is normal,” never makes the headlines. Hurricanes and tornadoes do. You can’t just list the changes. You have to also list the stable regions. You also have to establish your standard of proof (in other words state your null hypothesis) before you look at the data instead of looking at the data first to dredge it.

  44. Being a southerner, Minneapolis is far from climatically optimum (average annual temperature 45 degrees) for me.

    From The Elements of Style, Third Edition, pp. 13-14:

    11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

    * * *

    “Sentences violating Rule 11 are often ludicrous:

    Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.

  45. Let me clarify. Local weather phenomena may very well be causally related to global warming.

    It has to be, otherwise NPR would have nothing to report, and that fucking year-long series “Climate Connections” would have to be scrapped in toto.

  46. Tony,
    Please point out “local weather phenomena” that are due to climate change.

  47. It may have been an agent provocateur, but I have seen a headline to the effect that this year’s low temperatures proved global warming.
    Sorry, no link.

  48. Silver is another evironMental moron.

  49. I will enjoy seeing this idiot getting his clock cleaned and his wallet emptied. You should never bet on politics or religion. In this case, he is betting on both.
    I agree that one month or year does not a trend make, but now we have 10 years of no increase and recently a decrease in temperatures while all the time CO2 levels have been increasing. Trying to reconcile these data with global warming is like eating a steak to prove you are a vegetarian.

  50. Being a southerner, Minneapolis is far from climatically optimum (average annual temperature 45 degrees) for me.

    Minneapolis is not a southerner, despite what your misplaced modifier would suggest.

  51. Anyone sufficiently educated to be “alarmed” about global warming knows that any given local temperature at any given time is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    One need not be educated to be “alarmed” about it, since people are constantly being told they Should Be Alarmed By It.

    I find that people are often most alarmed by things they have insufficient knowledge of. “Knowing just enough to be dangerous.”

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