Evslin: Average weather is not normal

by Tom Evslin

In the US each woman averages 1.64 children during her childbearing years. Does that mean that a “normal” woman has 1.64 kids? Of course not. One kid, maybe two, maybe three, maybe more. A fractional kid, however, would be very abnormal.

Every night our local tv weather people say tomorrow’s high temperature is going to be so many degrees above or below normal. But they don’t really mean normal even though that’s what it says on the graphic; they mean “average”. And average and normal aren’t the same thing. Here in New England ten degrees above or below average is still “normal”. It is highly unlikely that the high on any particular day will be exactly the average; not as unlikely as 1.64 children but not likely either.

Tom Evslin

In a New York Times article on whether the recent rain and snow will cure California’s drought, Peter Gleick, co-founder of and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, a research organization specializing in water issues, complains “We don’t seem to get average years anymore.” In fact there is scarcely ever a weather year which is average anywhere. This is especially true in California where drought and deluge have alternated since long before humans have had any effect on climate.

Gleick is credited with inventing the terms “weather whiplash” and “megadrought.” He acknowledges further down in the article that the weather typically changes year over year in California; but he apparently likes to describe weather in apocalyptic terms, perhaps in order to justify “extreme climate action”. The reason I’m ranting about the difference between “normal” and “average” is that I think the distinction is intentionally blurred when talking about weather in order to promote climate hysteria.

According to the New York Times meteorologists are also concerned. From an article with the wonderful headline: Bomb Cyclone? Or Just Windy with a Chance of Hyperbole?:

The widespread use of colorful terms like ‘bomb cyclone’ and ‘atmospheric river,’ along with the proliferating categories, colors and names of storms and weather patterns, has struck meteorologists as a mixed blessing: good for public safety and climate-change awareness but potentially so amplified that it leaves the public numb to or unsure of the actual risk. The new vocabulary, devised in many cases by the weather-science community, threatens to spin out of control.”

I’m the first to insist that climate changes; it always has and it will as long as earth has an atmosphere. Nor do I deny that we are capable of accelerating climate change and have already. Hysteria is a terrible way to deal with anything, however – especially things as important as climate and energy policy. Drought is normal for California. Floods are normal for California. An “average” year would be abnormal (although not alarming).  A long-term change in the average may signal an actual change in climate. A day or year which differs from the average signifies nothing – although may still be something we have to deal with.

Average is not normal. End of rant.

The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. All true. But if your goal is to traumatize the young, convincing them they’re all gonna die if they/their parents don’t immediately jettison the gas car, furnace and stove, promoting the idea that our weather is terribly abnormal seems to be working quite nicely. As always, cui bono?

  2. Besides the hysteria created by the know-nothings like Gore and Kerry, California, unlike Israel and many other drought-flood regions, neither developed storage or utilized modern conservation of water during the periods of drought.
    This should be a learning example of poor policy and planning for us all. The insanity of Vermont’s current energy policies
    come to mind.

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