I am in Washington DC and today is a nice sunny day. This city was largely spared as Hurricane Sandy seems to have gone slightly north of here, hitting severely New Jersey and New York.
What impressed me was the accuracy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other scientists’ predictions of the hurricane’s path. It had a weird track, first heading out to the Atlantic, then taking a sharp turn westwards to hit land and then taking another sharp turn north through Pennsylvania and the northeast. As Nate Cohn says:
The models correctly anticipated an unprecedented storm with startling precision, nailing the storm’s unusual path, strength, and character well in advance. As predicted, Sandy transformed into a hybrid storm of unprecedented size and intensity, with tropical storm force winds stretching over 1,000 miles across, making it the largest tropical cyclone in the history of the Atlantic. While meteorologists often get a bad rap, they deserve credit for forecasting a historic storm well in advance.
Given the complex nature of a hurricane, the prediction of this path has to reflect a great deal of credit on the scientists who study weather and climate.
I don’t know if this hurricane is a sign of the effects of climate change or not. Individual events, however extreme and anomalous, tend not to be good indicators of long-term global trends and one has to depend on statistics. But what this predictive success should tell us is that we need to take climate scientists seriously. Those climate skeptics who sneer at the sophisticated computer models used as if they were infinitely malleable and capable of being manipulated by those with an agenda should take note.
These scientists know what they are doing.