Monthly Archives: January 2013

Zero Emission Electric Vehicles in Hawaii

Every January I abandon Alaska for Hawaii.  My first day in Hawaii and what do I see….a Nissan Leaf all electric car.  I’d never seen one on a road before.  Alaska vehicles are more about ground clearance and all wheel drive; Hawaii has many small vehicles that are easy to park and frugal to operate.   Hawaii also has lots of luxury vehicles that are all about status.  Lexus SUVs, and Jaguars are popular here.

Ah well…back to the Leaf.   Nissan has placed the big lie of Electric vehicles in clear view on the tailgate….a sign saying Zero Emission.   I’m sorry, there is no such thing.   Any electric appliance has air emissions and pollution associated with it….the emissions and pollution produced at the power plant.

There is always some carbon emissions and air pollution at the power plant.  Even wind and solar installations have emissions associated with manufacture, transportation, installation, maintenance and retirement.   Oahu produces most of its power in OIL fired generators at big power plants.   Oahu does have some solar and wind, but the wind is a very small component and the solar is almost entirely residential. Virtually all power used when the sun is not shining is oil based.

Normally I would be OK with an electric auto, but not in Hawaii.  In most parts of the USA, power is generated using natural gas or coal or hydro or nuclear and all are domestic sources of energy.  In those cases electric cars aid our drive for energy independence.  When the source of electricity is coal or oil, an electric car actually pollutes more than a modern gasoline vehicle.

In Hawaii a person driving an electric vehicle is simply changing the location of the oil consumption.  Throw in the considerable disposal problems presented by the Leaf’s batteries and you have an expensive car with lousy range that  effectively burns oil and pollutes the environment.

And Hawaii has a subsidy to provide electric fueling stations…go figure.

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Temperature S.W.A.G.

I have lived most of my life in Hawaii and Alaska.  Talk about  extremes in temperature variation.  People in Hawaii watch the weather to get the surf report…and to get information on the occasional tropical storm.   Day to day, nobody cares.

When I lived there I once saw local TV newscaster Joe Moore fake the weather.  He searched his desk for the paperwork, admitted to not knowing where he had put it and then made up something like high of 87, low of 74 with light trade winds (an average day in summer).  Good call.

Right now, without even bothering to check for local conditions, I can get the high and the low for Honolulu to within 3 degrees F.  High of 80, low of 67.  And I’m 2600 miles away.  That forecast is good for today…and tomorrow…and the day after that.  The weather in the tropics changes very slowly.

Anchorage is another story.   Yesterday I drove from South Anchorage (at sea level) along Turnagain Arm toward Girdwood.  At about McHugh Creek State Park the temperature changed.  In about a minute it went from 23 degrees to 36 degrees.

In Fairbanks, temperatures within the city area regularly vary by 30 degrees F or more.   The hills around Fairbanks are warmer than the city.   Go up in altitude and warm up.  Fairbanks gets horrible temperature inversions every winter.   A drive from downtown up Farmers Loop Road (about 5 miles) nets the aforementioned 30 degree shift on just about any cold winter night.

Climate experts tell us the climate will change more in Polar regions than in more temperate zones.   The UN gives very specific predictions for climate.  They make predictions for 10 years from now, for 90 years from now and for 200 years from now.   How do they know?

As we venture from the equator toward the poles, two important statistical problems develop for temperature predictors.  1) The temperature variability increases and 2) the number of weather stations decreases.   Hmmm.

fluctuating data + few data points = wild ass guesses

 The University of Alaska recently conducted a climate study of Alaska showing cooling in the 2000 to 2010 period.  They used 20 reliable test sites for the whole state.   They need hundreds if they have any hope of being accurate.

Siberia and Northern Canada suffer similar problems….and the Arctic and Antarctic….well forget about it.   The Arctic Ocean averages about 10 working sites and those locations are not fixed, they drift with the ice.  Any ground based temperature data for either the Arctic or Antarctic must include more than a little wild ass guessing.

Perhaps a little perspective, here’s a graphic of the Arctic

Ten sites, all that space.  WOW.

That is why I like Satellite data.   That data includes guessing too, but it’s a different kind of guessing, making adjustments for Satellite drift and other indirect conversion problems.   The big problem with Satellite data, it is a very small data set.  Who knows what the data would have looked like 50 or 500 or 5000 years ago.    Let’s take a peek at the most recent Satellite data courtesy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville

Yep, the world’s a bit warmer than it was 34 years ago.  But it’s worth remembering that in 1974 Time Magazine ran a cover article predicting the next ice age based primarily on 30 years of cooling that began around 1940.  Sure it looks like the world has warmed about .3 degree C since 1979, but I wonder what the Satellite data would have shown had it existed in 1940.

Winter Temperature in Anchorage?

What is the temperature in Anchorage right now?  The official weather service reading in 28 degrees F as I write this Blog.  I live about 12 miles from the weather service office.  It’s 42 degrees F at my house.

A few minutes ago I drove from my house toward Service High School, a distance of about 4 miles.  The temperature varied  between 39 and 42 for the first 3.5 miles of the trip and then ….in the last half mile it dropped to 29 degrees F.

On the afternoon of December 26th I drove from my house to the sleepy ski town of Girdwood.  The 31 mile trip was witness to a similarly odd temperature swing.  I glanced at the thermometer as I left my house, it read 22 degrees F and it was cloudy.  By the time I got to Indian (about half way) it was 35 and raining.   Rain continued and the temperature slowly warmed to about 38 degrees F in Girdwood.   When I drove back to Anchorage 2 hours later… it was still 22 degrees at my house, and still cloudy.  The rain ended a bit north of Indian, and the temperature quickly dropped from 34 into the high 20’s.

Our official Anchorage temperature for December 26th…cloudy with a high of 28 and a low of 17.  No precipitation.

The next morning I drove friends to the Airport.  It was 35 and raining at my house and 22 and cloudy at the airport.   The weather had completely reversed at my house in only 14 hours.   The official weather service temperature is very near the airport.

Anchorage is a hard place to predict weather.   We have very few official weather sites nearby to use as a reference.  We have mountains to the east, ocean to the west and some variation in elevation.   When there is low pressure on one side of the mountains and relatively high pressure on the other side it gets windy and warm at higher elevations.  Shift the pressure gradient a bit and it gets windy at sea level.

When it’s calm, which is most of the time, it can be colder at altitude or warmer, depending on whether or not there is a temperature inversion.   Whenever it’s clear and cold….which happens a lot in winter, the temperature varies with location.    The NE corner of the city can get very cold…compared to where I live.

We in Alaska are used to the weather service being wrong.  We are used to wild temperature swings…and it doesn’t surprise us when the official temperature is nothing like our own experience.   So what’s the temperature in the middle of the Chugach Mountains 5 miles East of my house.   I don’t know.  Nobody knows.  Surface measurements are not available.  There’s nobody there.

Wild temperature variation and poor data sets help add perspective to the debate about climate.  I think  most Americans have too much trust in the statistics provided.  We in Alaska have a better appreciation of the difficult task at hand.   Yes the world is warmer than it was a while ago; but how much warmer?  Precise calculation is a difficult task, very difficult.

Alaska is not alone.  Canada and Siberia have relatively few data sets.  Many parts of the developing world are poorly represented.  The deep oceans that cover 70% of the earths surface are poorly represented too.  So……how warm is the world right now?

NOT an easy question to answer.

Alaska Cooler Since 2000

Yesterday, the Anchorage Daily News ran a feature story in the
Alaska section of the paper titled Study shows Alaska got colder from 2000 to 2010. The article confirmed something I already knew….it’s been cold in the 21st century in Alaska.

I liked the article because it had lots of interesting information about my local region. Unlike so many articles in the local press, no effort was made to draw conclusions about global warming  from what clearly was  a regional study.

Each year I see many articles about the summer ice melt in the Arctic….and each article invariably draws conclusions about climate from what must be short term regional activity.  This article noted something that is easy to forget when thinking climate….regional variation is not unusual and not particularly helpful when evaluating long range worldwide climate trends.

Most of us draw too many conclusions about global climate from our local experience.  The contiguous 48 states of the USA was warm in 2012….regional data…and a short time period.  That experience really doesn’t mean much, when the global view is taken.   A warm USA, a cold Alaska….neither tell us much about global climate.

The article quoted a study that said it was 3.04 degrees F warmer in Barrow and 2.34 degrees  F cooler in for all of Alaska in the first 10 years of the 21st century.  The study used 20 first order meteorological stations.  20 Sites….all of Alaska…. I see a problem.   Alaska is just too big.  20 sites won’t do.   I suspect wild extrapolation of data between test sites (SWAG).

Last month (during a long stretch of cold clear weather) I drove by brother and mother from Providence Hospital to my house in South Anchorage.  The 9 mile trip took about 20 minutes.  My brother (who lives in Hawaii) was fascinated by the changing data displayed by the external thermometer in the car.   The temperature was -1 degree F as we left the Hospital, and quickly got down to -6 F and just as quickly got up to +6F before settling at -2 at my house.  Such swings are normal in Anchorage on clear cold winter nights.

Alaska is 663,267 square miles.   20 sites?  That’s one site for every 33,000 square miles.  South Carolina is a bit over 32,000 square miles.  On a cold winter day it is frequently 40 degrees F cooler in Fairbanks than in Anchorage. They and about 300 miles apart.  Southeast Alaska has weather similar to coastal British Columbia or Washington and the area along the Arctic north of the Brooks Range is similar to the Arctic parts of Siberia.

20 sites…2.34 degrees F…I don’t think so.   Sure it’s been cold…but not 2.34 degrees.  The data cannot possibly be that precise.   The .34 implies a precision that is not supportable by the data.   California is approximately one quarter the size of Alaska.  Imagine predicting temperature for the entire state of California by using data from just 5 sites.

Yep, it’s been cold in Alaska, but not 2.34 degrees F colder.   Alaska has every climate imaginable from a rain forest in Southeast to the frozen tundra of the Arctic.   Any study using only 20 sites must be doing a lot of guessing.   Yes it’s been cold and it’s probably somewhere near 2.4 degrees colder, plus or minus a half a degree or so.

Perhaps I’m overreacting a bit…after all the article did explain that the study used 20 sites, and guessing was clearly in order.   But that is the purpose of this blog….to point out the guessing that is here…there….everywhere in climate science.

California Dreaming — Don Quixote would be proud

Earlier today I was browsing at the Forbes web site when I tripped across their list of the 20 dirtiest cities in America.  Cleveland made the list, just barely.  Six cities in California made the top ten.

So I thought… a perfect time and place to complain about global climate science.  It doesn’t sound like they are related but they are.  We are spending billions, perhaps trillions worldwide to try to control climate and we are failing.  Perhaps that is not the best use of funds.

California is spending a huge amount of money to try to get the state to use renewable energy for 20% of its needs.  Everybody in the state gets to pay for it in higher utility rates.   Businesses relocate. Energy use goes down and unemployment goes up.  Utility rates go up even more to make up for the lost marginal profit no longer generated by the businesses that have moved to other states.

Every week China opens a new coal fired power plant that more than makes up for any carbon dioxide saved in California…and then they use that dirty cheap power to manufacture stuff that gets imported into California.

If I lived in

  • Fresno (#1 on the forbes list)
  • Bakersfield (#2)
  • Modesto (#5)
  • Riverside (#6)

I would hope for a different set of priorities in Sacramento (#12 on the Forbes list).