Weather porn about Texas, a lesson for Earth Day 2019

A lesson for Earth Day – A people can be molded into a new form by years of skillful propaganda. This is happening in America today, as journalists systematically lie to us about the weather. They have abandoned the careful work of the IPCC, delivering instead a daily diet of weather porn. Climate scientists as a profession are complicit by their silence. Reporting about the recent Texas drought tells the tale, a lesson for Earth Day 2019.

Fear the weather!

Skull on a sea, sad and bad weather background.
ID 76204718 © Panya Kuanun | Dreamstime.

News from four years ago: “Fear in a Handful Of Dust

By Ted Genoways in The New Republic, 22 April 2015.

Genoways painted a terrifying picture about the most recent Texas drought.

“Climate change is making the Texas Panhandle, birthplace of the state’s iconic Longhorn, too hot and dry to raise beef. What happens to the range when the water runs out? …{E}nvironmental activists and reporters began to ask whether ‘drought’ – a temporary weather pattern – was really the right term for what was happening in the state, or whether ‘desertification’ was more appropriate.”

Other journalists also played the drought is the new normal for Texas story. As in this from the Dallas Observer on 14 October 2013.

Texas Climate News sought out the state’s finest climatologists, oceanographers and public-policy experts. If nothing else, their responses make clear that the Lone Star State is headed for a new normal. Pretending it isn’t happening is not a viable option.”

These exciting stories are, like so many journalists feed us about climate change, quite bogus. Texas is slowly warming – at 0.02ºF per decade since 1950. But its precipitation is also slowly increasing – a quarter-inch per decade. (Both trends are roughly unchanged from the longer 1895 – 2019 trends.) As this graph from NOAA’s interactive tool shows, rainfall in Texas is always volatile, and droughts are common.

Texas Precipitation

The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) measures the combined impact of changing temperature and precipitation. It shows no statistically significant trend for Texas. The NOAA tool shows other, more sophisticated, drought indicators. They paint the same picture.

Texas - Palmer Drought Severity Index

Weather varies. That is the old normal and the new normal. See this NOAA interactive graphic map showing the comings and goings of dry and wet periods in the continental US since 1900.

The old adage says that “droughts end with floods.” But, like droughts, floods are just raw material for journalists to create weather porn to terrify Americans. It’s not weather, but something extraordinary! As explains in “Visualized: How the insane amount of rain in Texas could turn Rhode Island into a lake” by the WonkBlog of the Washington Post, 27 May 2015 — Excerpt …

“It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the flooding that’s hit Texas recently. The Memorial Day weekend of heavy rain has capped off a month where some areas of the state have seen more than 20 inches of rain fall. More rain is in the forecast. It’s difficult to comprehend the ridiculous amounts of water that have fallen in such a short time in a state that, until recently, had been in the grip of a historic drought. But one place to start would be to look at reservoir levels in the state. In the past 30 days, Texas reservoirs have gone from being 73% full to 82% full, according to data maintained by the Texas Water Development board.”

Contrast the reporting about weather and financial markets

Stories about market movements occur in a world in which statistics was invented. Especially standard deviation, by Francis Galton in the 1860s. Stories about weather and climate exist in world in which numbers are just small, big, or huuge. Their frequency is described by the almost meaningless when it last happened, or the even less meaningful “record-breaking” (most meteorological records in the US are too brief for significance, given weather’s volatility and multi-decade cycles).

Learning from experts

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earthbio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

NOAA’s Drought in the United States page explains that although precipitation increased during the 20th century, droughts are endemic to much of the US. Get used to it.

“The incidence of drought in the United States has varied greatly over the past century. From the dust bowl years of the 1930’s to the major droughts of 1988 and 2000, much of the U.S. has suffered from the effects of drought during the past century. While annual and seasonal precipitation totals have generally increased in the United States since 1900, severe drought episodes continue to occur.”

Looking ahead, climate scientists give us a clear warning. Will we listen? For example, see “Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains“ by Benjamin I. Cook et al. in Science Advances, 12 February 2015. No matter what happens with the climate, we have to prepare for droughts worse than anything we have yet experienced.

“In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks.”

We cannot afford to continue the Hydro-Illogical Cycle (from the SPEI website).

The Hydro-illogical cycle

The price we pay for propaganda instead of news

In his eagerness to produce propaganda about climate change, Genoways buried the lede. Much of the agriculture and ranching in America’s Midwest relies on water from the Ogallala Aquifer. It is a finite resource, being withdrawn from at an unsustainable rate. Its exhaustion will change American farming forever. But instead of focusing on this, journalists incite terror about the extinction of humanity due to climate change – despite the near-total lack of scientific support for this nightmare.

This week’s climate doomster article in the NYT: “Want to Escape Global Warming? These Cities Promise Cool Relief” by Kendra Pierre-Louis – “If extreme weather made your city unlivable, where would you move?.” They no longer need any science to justify their doomsterism. Their story has become true by repetition.

Update: a warning from long ago that was ignored.

I strongly recommend this op-ed in the BBC: “Science must end climate confusion” by climate scientist Richard Betts, 11 January 2010. He cautions about scientists exaggerating or misrepresenting climate science “if it helps make the news or generate support for their political or business agenda.” Too bad they did not heed his warning.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and these posts about droughts …

  1. Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?
  2. Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change.
  3. Droughts are coming. Are we ready for the past to repeat?
  4. Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping California.
  5. Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping Texas.
  6. The Texas drought ends; climate alarmists wrong again!
  7. Lessons learned from the end of California’s “permanent drought.”

Books about our past, also describing our future

See the 1993 classic book forecasting our present problems, which will grow worse over time: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. For a down to earth look at extreme weather, see The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton (1973). It is a novel describing the 1905s drought that re-shaped Texas as crops shriveled and livestock died.

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Available at Amazon.
The Time It Never Rained
Available at Amazon.


21 thoughts on “Weather porn about Texas, a lesson for Earth Day 2019”

  1. While climate scientists as a group or profession are complicit by their silence in the terrorizing of America about climate change, that does not justify the falsehoods by far right activists. Such as this post by Steve Goddard about Katharine Hayhoe (climate scientist, professor of political science, and director of the climate science center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock). Here is the quote that Goddard didn’t like.

    “We’re on our fourth year of drought. In order to replenish depleted reservoirs and soil moisture, we don’t need just a normal year (of precipitation) or just a single rainfall. We need an unusually wet year to get back to normal conditions.”

    — From “Round ’em up” by Tom Johnson at MeatingPlace, undated. The quote was cited in “Fear in a Handful Of Dust“ by Ted Genoways in The New Republic, 22 April 2015

    Her statement was, of course, quite accurate.

    Goddard’s post also showed the current members of the AGU’s Prize Selection Committee. He appears to imply that she was on the Committee when it gave her the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication, announced in May 2018.  I’m told AGU adds the previous winner to the Committee that selects the next year’s winner.

    See Hayhoe’s website!

  2. Would it be possible to give a more complete email address in the contact us section ? I have attempted to email your website and have been unable to do so.
    Thank you

  3. During the recently ended drought in Texas, an enterprising journalist sought comment from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Perry, who grew up in west Texas and served as governor for 12 years, is reasonably likely to be able to speak rationally about Texas weather. Regarding the serious and widespread drought, he said ‘It’ll rain. It always does.”

    1. Jerome,

      Perry was paid as governor of Texas for 12 years to produce that kind of snack bar wisdom? They could have elected a dog and got similar results, cheaper. More useful would be awareness that Texas is subject to frequent (as history rolls) severe droughts – and the occasional mega-drought – and did a few things to prepare Texas.

      1. In Perry’s defense, there’s only so much you can do to prepare for a drought. Every stream of any size is dammed, more for water storage than flood control. Every community has drought-rationing schedules. It’s drilled into all of us to conserve conserve conserve.

        Serious proposals for more permanent solutions have traditionally met with determined resistance, either of the NIMBY kind, or from a financial perspective.

        There’s some kind of drought here every four or five years, a notable one every twenty, and doozy a couple-three times in every century. You know this going in if you live here.

      2. Scott,

        “Serious proposals for more permanent solutions have traditionally met with determined resistance”

        Doesn’t look like Perry did much to overcome that.

        “You know this going in if you live here.”

        These are the good old days. Wait until the groundwater is exhausted. Then much of Texas ag will be gone.

      3. “These are the good old days. Wait until the groundwater is exhausted. Then much of Texas ag will be gone.”

        Exactly. And all those lovely green circles you see now when you fly over will wither away until they once again match the background. Despite decades of warnings, prepare for an orgy of finger-pointing.

        It ought to be a rule that you only use surface water for large-scale irrigation. And if there isn’t any, you just don’t do large-scale irrigation.

        Not a fan of Perry, but Governor is constitutionally a weak office in this state. it was made that way on purpose after Reconstruction. He had more on the ball than people commonly realize.

      4. Scott,

        “Governor is constitutionally a weak office in this state.”

        True, in a short-term sense. But one of the large powers of an executive is the “bully pulpit. He can speak out about long-term dangers. In a sense, that is one of a leader’s core responsibilities. When we think about Ike, Churchill, JKF – those are among their big speeches we remember.

    1. John,

      Thanks for pointing to that article! Groundwater depletion is a pervasive problem in the US. The Ogallala aquifer is by far the largest (by area) and most used of those in the US and in the world. The Wikipedia entry has some important information about this. Slowly, state by state, it will either run dry or below economic extraction.

      1. The depletion of the Ogallala is a when, not an if. Recharge rate is a couple inches per year or less, while extraction is many times that. My grandfather, a water expert, was pointing this out fifty years ago, but nothing has changed.

        It won’t happen all at once, of course. As you get down toward the bottom the quality of the water progressively degrades as the mineral content increases, eventually to the point of uselessness.

        But for our purposes, when it’s gone, it’s gone.

  4. Decades ago, a wit said of of Texas that it was ” a state of perpetual drought, broken by the occasional flood,” which makes those of us who live here nod and chuckle knowingly.

    In my part of Texas it has indeed gotten a little warmer since about 1900 as the last vestiges of the Little Ice Age faded. But it has also gotten wetter; yearly rainfall has increased from a little over thirty inches on average to just under 34. This reflects the larger truth that a warmer world is also a wetter one, on average, because warm air hold more moisture than cool.

    With climate, as with everything natural, change is normal; static is not.

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