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June 2012
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PRIMITIVE Winter storm no-show lesson on computer models

Last weekend's non-snowstorm is an object lesson in the fallibility of computer weather models.

It has been sport for generations to make fun of weather forecasts that go awry and in fairness, forecasters have gotten a lot better at the task over the years. But computers or no, forecasting remains a murky science.

If you are a weather junkie you probably know how last weekend's no-show storm progressed. Government forecasters use several different models to predict how the weather will unfold over the next few hours or days. Each model uses its own algorithms and statistical assumptions to make predictions. And when those varying models begin to converge on the same prediction, forecasters' confidence goes up.

That is precisely what led forecasters last weekend to predict Paducah would see a major winter storm with 4-to-8 inches of snow, then 2-to-4, then 1-to-2, and in the end never really getting it quite right. But people certainly reacted, emptying store shelves of bread, bottled water, salt and snow shovels, canceling church services and closing businesses for a calamity that never arrived.

The reason for the big miss? Temperatures, primarily. The computer models all repeatedly failed to accurately predict when and to what extent temperatures would fall as the storm reached our area.

Which brings us to the subject of global warming. Global warming theory - and more specifically the idea of "manmade" global warming - is built on computer models. Based on those models, which have to date consistently been wrong in their projections, the government of the United States is undertaking to shut down entire industries - most notably, the coal industry and the coal-fired power plants it supplies.

The theory is that such enterprises emit carbon dioxide, which theoretically raises the average temperature of the atmosphere a fraction of a degree or so over time, which then theoretically causes seas to rise, deserts to form, and all manner of bad things. Scientists and other people who rationally question this idea are branded "deniers" by the left, the Obama administration and some in Congress. In the poisonous rhetoric of today's national politics, no quarter is given to principled skepticism.

But is it so unreasonable to ask, when computer weather models cannot even accurately predict what temperatures will be days or hours in advance, why people or governments should accept as a matter of faith computer models that attempt to predict average temperatures over a half a century or more? Particularly when those models heretofore have all been wrong?

Skepticism is the very foundation of the scientific method. It is the basis of the approval process for modern drugs and medical procedures. Drug trials assume a new compound will not have a meaningful effect on patients, and to win approval, drug companies must prove otherwise.

In the context of global warming, this matters. It's not just the jobs that are lost in industries like coal through the government's actions. When government policy drives up the cost of basic energy it is the poorest who are hit hardest - people without enough income to both eat and heat their homes; people on fixed incomes; people with children they struggle to clothe and feed.

One can only wonder if 200 years from now historians will look back on the manmade global warming theory as just another example of the arrogance of man - not so unlike the Middle Ages, when it was dogma that the Sun orbits the Earth, and doubters were burned at the stake. The emerging reality that millions are made to suffer in the 21st Century based on a shaky theory relying on primitive, flawed computer science, while scientists who express doubts become pariahs, presents striking similarities.

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