Climate Shifts Seen As Natural,
Weather Experts Discount Human Effects On Warming

Copyright 1998 Richmond Times-Dispatch
April 11, 1998

Bucking the prevailing wisdom, two of America's best-known weather experts have sharply criticized the theory that people are causing harmful global climate change.

"I don't think human-induced effects had anything to do with it," Dr. William Gray, famous for his hurricane season predictions, told about 1,500 weather and emergency service officials at the National Hurricane Conference here yesterday.

The changes in climate that the world is experiencing are natural, Gray said.

U.S. officials, notably President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, are leading a worldwide effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus dampen atmospheric warming thought to come from what's termed the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Among other ways, humans produce carbon dioxide by burning fuels such as coal and oil. Computer models of the atmosphere indicate that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere could cause warmer global temperatures.

Scaling back U.S. carbon dioxide emissions will require a considerable reduction in energy use, authorities say.

However, Dr. Neil Frank told the officials that climate change "has nothing to do with carbon dioxide."

He said he saw "nothing in the data - not numerical models - that would force us into a rapid decision cutting back on emissions and impose an economic disaster on this nation."

Frank is former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami and now chief meteorologist with television station KHOU in Houston.

Concerns over global warming from the enhanced greenhouse effect are based on computer models of the atmosphere's processes. Those models' results should be treated with skepticism, Frank said.

"I can't put faith in a three-day forecast," he said, yet scientists are making predictions about what the climate will be in two centuries using more simplified models of the atmosphere than are used for the short-term, daily weather forecasts.

"The atmosphere," Frank said, "is too complex, and the computers are too slow," even supercomputers, to forecast the very long-term future with any skill.

Another expert studying world temperature change and its relationship with the El Nino phenomenon argued that there is a clear, though by no means obvious, connection between a warmer atmosphere and El Nino strength over about the last 30 years.

And "El Nino is clearly the most predictable signal we can exploit in making long-range forecasts," said Dr. Robert Livezey with the National Weather Service.

Strong El Ninos tend to undercut the intensity of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Noting that his prediction was "highly speculative," Livezey said he expected to see more and stronger El Ninos and, as a result, quieter hurricane seasons in the Gulf and Atlantic.

"El Nino is good news and bad news," he said. "This is probably good news."

Livezey is a senior research meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

Gray, on the other hand, predicted this summer's U.S. hurricane season will be about as active as an average year, with 10 named storms, six hurricanes, and two intense hurricanes.

And because of deep ocean changes, he said, America will see more hurricanes hitting land in the next several decades.

"There are going to be more hurricane damage than we've ever seen," Gray said. "This is the greatest threat facing the United States. It's not global warming."

Gray, who is a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., uses historical weather and climate factors to make his forecasts rather than models, "which is considered old fashioned."

His hurricane season predictions have generally been closely verified by reality, though he said his forecast for 1997 hurricanes was a bust because he underestimated the intensity of the El Nino.

Most of the global climate change can be explained by shifts in ocean currents and temperatures, Gray said, and it is most likely that that change will lead to cool temperatures. "So then we'll all be talking about ice ages," he said.

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