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April 06, 2006

Out on a Limb with a Super El Niño Prediction

Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

I’m not really sure what to make of this, other than there is a dark line being drawn in the sand by NASA’s Jim Hansen and colleagues (PDF):

We suggest that an El Nino is likely to originate in 2006 and that there is a good chance it will be a "super El Nino", rivaling the 1983 and 1997-1998 El Ninos, which were successively labeled the "El Nino of the century" as they were of unprecedented strength in the previous 100 years.

Here is what NOAA/NCEP/CPC says:

Most of the statistical and coupled model forecasts indicate ENSO-neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through the end of 2006 (Fig. 6). The spread of the most recent statistical and coupled model forecasts (weak La Niña to weak El Niño) indicates uncertainty in the outlooks for the last half of the year. However, current conditions (stronger-than-average easterly winds over the central equatorial Pacific and below-average upper-ocean heat content) support those forecasts indicating that La Nina conditions will continue for the next 1-3 months.

It would of course be incorrect to evaluate the science underlying a single prediction based on a single forecast. Nonetheless, the reality is that Dr. Hansen has bet some of his public credibility in making such a forecast, for better or worse. If he is proven right with this forecast, contrary to all of the models and statistics, then his credibility will rise far beyond its already stratospheric levels. If he is wrong, he will be brought a bit back to Earth by his critics who will use this against him. In short, he is taking a big risk, with potential for a big payoff or a big cost. A final note worth thinking about – a strong El Niño event is typically inconsistent with a very active hurricane season, so if Dr. Hansen is proven right, then a bunch of other folks will likely be wrong (including Bill Gray, NOAA, and others who are anticipating another active hurricane season). Time, and not much of it, will tell.

Posted on April 6, 2006 04:50 PM


Could you provide some context for where this claim is being published/made beyond the obvious - that it's a draft of a paper sitting on a public FTP server?

Posted by: John Fleck at April 6, 2006 05:46 PM


It was sent by Jim Hansen to his email list with the following message:

Dear Colleague,

Here is a draft paper that I intend to submit for publication within a few days. The order of topics (Crichton, Super El Ninos and Danger) is inverse to their significance. The Crichton part is the response to an editors request. Any criticisms would be appreciated.

Regards, Jim Hansen

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 6, 2006 06:30 PM


(Not having read JH's paper yet) Isn't El Nino a winter-time phenom in the Northern Hemisphere? I seem to remember (not always a reliable source) those big ones in the past really taking hold in Dec-Jan-Feb. If an El Nino kicks in beginning in Nov or Dec of this year, that would meet his timeline and still allow for a nasty '06 hurricane season, would it not?

Posted by: Pete at April 6, 2006 07:25 PM


Yes, this is my understanding as well. My understanding is that the strongest El Nino effect on hurricanes is during the months of JASO. We used ASO in our 1999 paper which documented a relationship with US normalized damages. For more details best to go to the climate experts ;-)

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 6, 2006 07:50 PM

This is very very interesting.

Have you ever come across Theodor Landscheidt?

Here is a paper dating from December 2003 when he forecast an El Nino event from July 2006, placing a probability estimate of 80% to the event.

I know some people will find this link objectionable, I don't know where else the paper can be found. But the very existance of the paper's forecasts, being made more than 2 years before James Hansens deserve to be highlighted with equal treatment.

Posted by: Paul at April 7, 2006 06:03 AM

All the papers by late Dr. Theodor Landscheidt (1927-2004) you find online at

Timo Hämeranta

Moderator, Sceptical Climate Science - Climatesceptics - the global scientific discussion group for climate scientists interested in discussing pro and con 'mainstream', neutral, alternative, critical and sceptical views in climatology.

Posted by: Timo Hämeranta at April 7, 2006 10:52 AM

El Nino is a well-known weather phenomenon with a short return period. Simply looking at the history and noting when the last one occurred would allow a complete crackpot like Landscheidt to have a fairly good chance of guessing the right year for the next based on no climatological analysis whatsoever.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 7, 2006 12:14 PM

I find that arguing about forecasts is pointless until after the fact. In 2003 I was in a rather heated debate with Theodor Landscheidt about some changes in his methodology. Nothing constructive really came from that, but I do note that his 2003/2004 forecast barely verified (the forecast was Neutral, whereas the observed Nino 3.4 index was borderline El Nino), and the 2004/2005 forecast busted (forecast La Nina, observed El Nino), the 2005/2006 forecast did not verify (forecast Neutral, observed La Nina).

Posted by: Dean at April 7, 2006 01:20 PM

We have now reached the point that when scientists cry "wolf" again, the public isn't bothered.

Posted by: Hans Erren at April 7, 2006 05:09 PM

Hans, that's mighty bold talk for a guy who lives below sea level. :)

Dean, thanks for that info. It does put one in mind of the proverbial stopped clock that's right twice a day.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 7, 2006 09:26 PM

Very telling of prejudice, that it seems when Hansen predicts an El Niño a few months in advance it's news, but when somebody else does three years in advance (and did at least three times before) he's a "crackpot".

Steve B, I'll bet you didn't even know that sometimes the center of the solar system is completely outside of the sun. Does that mean one iota to you in terms of the surface shape of said sun?

But wait, here's a news flash:

Oh, wait - maybe I forgot to read the date...


Posted by: Steve Hemphill at April 7, 2006 09:57 PM

Steve Bloom,

Presently dikes in holland are five meters above mean sea level, should we worry now about the difference between 20 cm and 88 cm in hundred years time? We review our dikes every five years.

Now if somebody tweaks his computer model to get extreme results and press coverage. I say "cry wolf".

Posted by: Hans Erren at April 8, 2006 03:56 AM

Steve Hemphill,

I think that link is a perfect illustration of why we should tell scientists to keep their policy prescriptions to themselves and stick to the research.

It's lucky nobody followed some of the costly and misguided demands for policy that were being reported in the '70s.

I for one don't see any problem with James Hansen being told by his employer on what areas he should not be leveraging his position of authority for policy purposes. Sure, feel free to tell the world that he believes his research shows that the climate will do X, Y and Z, but don't be so presumptious to tell the world what we should do about it.

Posted by: Paul at April 8, 2006 06:46 AM

Well Hans, if the dikes in holland are five meters above mean sea level, and it takes a decade or more to plan for an increase of a meter or so, you might start to worry now about the difference between 20 cm and 88 cm in hundred years time depending on what the current high water is in a very large storm. Of course, the storms might get bigger too. Although not directly (yet) of concern, the storm surge from a cyclone can exceed 10 meters.

As to Landscheidt (de mortuis nil nisi bonem), to avoid a lot of unnecessary work, here are links to a couple of the more amusing, expert and long discussions of his publications on sci.environment. The reviews were similar to the short review of a Shakespearean play: Mr. Jones played Hamlet last night. Hamlet lost.

My candid advice is let's not go there.

Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 8, 2006 09:00 AM

"Now if somebody tweaks his computer model to get extreme results and press coverage..." Hans, that's accusing Hansen of professional fraud. That you lack the credibility to make such a charge stick (almost) goes without saying.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 8, 2006 01:56 PM

Eli, the present day design safety add on is already 50 cm. So I prefer to wait for the sea level observations in 2030. BTW: No cyclones in the North Sea, Thank you.

Steve Bloom, I am nobody accusing of fraud. He certainly did not tweak his computer program TO get extreme results, he simply discarded the findings that did not agree with his and your mindset. There are a lot of subjective parametrisation options in a climate model. That's not fraud that's cherry picking.

Enrico Fermi:
"I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, 'with four parameters I can fit an elephant and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.'" A meeting with Enrico Fermi, Nature 427, 297; 2004.

Posted by: Hans Erren at April 8, 2006 03:05 PM

Well, of course there was this one, not a hurricane, but just as destructive and this remnant of Hurricane Lili that hit England. It can't happen here is a good prelude to it happening.

Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 8, 2006 03:42 PM


Don't you think we learned our lesson already in 1953? That was a hurricane (but not a cyclone).

"It can't happen here is a good prelude to it happening."
It did happen and everybody in holland knows it did. That's why our dikes are 5 meters high now. That's sufficient for now, and as I mentioned earlier, we review our dikes every five years using actual observations.

Posted by: Hans Erren at April 8, 2006 04:26 PM

John Fleck at the Albuquerque Journal has a well-written story on this with a range of comments from scientists:

Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 8, 2006 06:45 PM

Do you suppose JF wrote that article before it became clear that your post erroneously assumed that "originating in 2006" referred to an El Nino occurring in 2006 rather than (largely) in 2007, and that as a result there is no conflict between Hansen's prediction and the cited 2006 predictions for either hurricanes or ENSO?

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 8, 2006 10:43 PM

Steve B. -

Alerted by Roger's post, I read the paper. I based my story on the paper, not Roger's post. I had no such misapprehension, nor do I think my story reflects any such misapprehension.

I didn't deal with the hurricane question (I don't do hurricanes, living a mile above sea level.), but my story reflects the fact that Hansen's forecast/prediction/whatever you want to call it is clearly outside the mainstream of what the rest of the ENSO forecast community is saying, or believes can be knowledgeably said at this point, about what might happen to ENSO in the winter of 2006-07. There clearly *is* a conflict between Hansen's prediction and the 2006 ENSO forecast Roger cites above and which I drew on for my story:

Posted by: John Fleck at April 9, 2006 12:11 AM

Let me say though, that I think that Landscheidt may have been on to something (in as far as geomagnetic disturbances potentially having influence on ENSO events) but his methodology left me with serious doubts. Certainly to the point that I had troubles coming up with my own forecasts based on his methodology. It's something that should be (and I belive, has been) investigated, and that there may be some influence there, but I'm not sure it's necessarily the way that Landscheidt did it. His PDO forecast certainly isn't verifying either.

Posted by: Dean at April 9, 2006 01:27 AM


Time and events have shown that Jim Hansen can now say pretty much anything he wishes and never “lose credibility.” Icons in which believers have invested nearly everything do not lose credibility -- the believers can not afford to allow it. This seems especially true the deeper Jim wades into the sociology and politics of alarmism. People like Hansen are not treated like you and me. Has he achieved recognition and support well beyond what would normally be warranted by talent and achievement?

Who will EVER question his credibility?

The New York Times? The Washington Post? Real Climate? The NRDC? The Sierra Club? Greenpeace? Senator McCain? Laurie David? Al Gore? Senator Clinton? FOX Cable News? TIME? The multi-billion dollar research and modeling industry? Michael Mann? Drs. Curry and Webster? Alternate energy advocates? The political left here and abroad? Steven Schneider? Tony Blair? Paul Epstein. John Kerry? Paul Ehrlich? The Heinz Foundation? CNN? CBS? NBC? ABC? 60 Minutes? Union of Concerned Scientists? David Suzuki? Nature? Science? The London tabloids? Fortune Magazine? The European Union? Kevin Trenberth? The IPCC? Chris Mooney? Steve Bloom or Eli?

Who, exactly?


Posted by: bob ferguson at April 9, 2006 06:23 AM

Steve B.-

On ENSO effects on hurricanes, see my exchange with Pete Spotts above. At the same time do note the realtively inactive hurricane seasons immediately preceding the peak of the 82/83 and 97/98 super El Ninos:

A "super El Nino" starting in December would require, at some point, antecedent El Nino conditions, nost likely during the peak effect of ENSO on Atlantic hurricane activity.

If there is indeed a very active hurricane season and the development of a "super El Nino" immediately thereafter, then I am sure there will be surprise in the physical science community.

The above is of course my understanding of the science, take it for what it is worth, and do your own research.

None of this of course changes the fact that Jim Hansen has put himself out on a limb, regardless of how the hurricane season plays out (which is a separate point).


Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 9, 2006 07:40 AM

Bob F.-

Thanks for your comment. From where I sit Jim Hansen's credibility is well deserved and earned over almost 30 years of being in the public eye on climate change.

That being said, it is clear that he is cashing in on that credibility at the present time on a number of fronts, this El Nino prediction included.

Contrary to the suggestion of your post, I think that credibility is hard to gain and easy to lose, especially on a highly visible and politicized issue like climate change.


Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 9, 2006 07:44 AM

I'm not exactly sure that Hansen is cashing in his credibility in the prediction of a super El Nino, a better simile would be has accumulated a lot of chips and he is going all in. At that point, you either win big or lose it all. Since you can only bluff for 6-9 months in this game, that is not an option.

Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 9, 2006 10:11 AM

Roger and Eli:

Gentlemen, perhaps I am overly skeptical.
Still, neither of you addressed the question, who?


Posted by: bob ferguson at April 9, 2006 11:18 AM

Bob, we at least know that *you* question Hansen. Probably we can add the usual skeptical crowd (e.g., Pat Michaels) to the list. The difficulty is that such folks don't have much credibility of their own, so expecting non-expert politicians or journalists to question Hansen based on assertions by such skeptics is perhaps asking too much. The problem you're faced with is that he has been proved right too many times in the past.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 9, 2006 04:44 PM

Steve B.

My first introduction to the dangers of AGW was at a conference back in the 80s inwhich an then 'unknown' Jim Hansen made presentation. Another speaker, who I do not remember, gave a different opinion. For several years, I followed the debate and generally believed that AGW was a serious threat.

As the years went by, the evidence persuaded me to become more and more skeptical. The predictions made by Jim Hansen were not coming to pass. I believe he has changed his predictions much more than there have been adjustments to the UAH satellite temperature data. (I mention that simply because Spencer and Christie have been ridiculed for having to make their corrections, while Hansen remains a darling of the AGW crowd.)

So exactly what has Hansen been 'proved right too many times' about? From my perspective, he has done some good work, but keeps making dramatic predictions that don't ever pan out.

Posted by: Jim Clarke at April 9, 2006 06:23 PM

To Jim Clarke: such as? (links please)

Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 9, 2006 06:46 PM

Jim, I too am curious as to what public or significant predictions he has made that did not pan out. I am not very familiar with the history but two predictions come to mind: the 1988 senate testimony and the record breaking 2005 global mean. Both successful.

There, I put up, will you?

Posted by: coby at April 9, 2006 07:13 PM

Not my idea of a 'crackpot:'

Since 1974 Theodore Landscheidt has made long-range forecasts of precisely defined classes of energetic X-ray flares and strong geomagnetic storms. A forecast experiment covering the period 1979 - 1985 was checked by the Space Environment Center, Boulder, Colorado, and the astronomers Gleissberg, Wöhl, and Pfleiderer. The forecasts reached a hit rate of 90 % even though solar eruptions occur at very irregular intervals. A forecast in 1984 that the sunspot activity would get weaker past 1990 also turned out to be correct. The current sunspot cycle (23) reached only mean level - although a panel of experts had predicted a sunspot maximum as high as in the preceding cycles.Dependable forecasts of the Sun's activity, based on solar cycles, made it possible for Landscheidt to correctly predict climatic phenomena years ahead of these events.

His forecasts include the end of the great Sahelian drought; as well as a period of drought in the U.S.A. around 1999 , confirmed by a maximum in the Palmer Drought Index; the last five extrema in global temperature anomalies; the last three El Niños; and the course of the last La Niña. Extreme River Po discharges, beginning in October 2000, were predicted 7 months before the event.

Theodore Landscheidt, (born in1927 in Bremen, Germany, died on May 20, 2004) Studied philosophy, languages (English, French, Italian, and Spanish), law, astronomy, and natural sciences, and after graduation from Göttingen University in 1955, has done independent interdisciplinary work covering solar activity, solar-terrestrial relations, geophysics, climatology, and cycle research.

In 1983 he founded the Schroeter Institute for Research in Cycles of Solar Activity in Lilienthal, near Bremen where Schroeter had erected the greatest astronomical observatory on the continent and assisted by Olbers and Bessel, organized the search for the missing planet between Mars and Jupiter.

Elected member of the American Geophysical Union, the New York Academy of Sciences, the European Science and Environment Forum, the European Academy of Environmental Affairs, and the Wittheit zu Bremen. Director of the International Committee for Research in Environmental Factors of Brussels University. In 1992 recipient of the. Award of the Edward R. Dewey Institute of Cycle Research, California, in recognition of "outstanding accomplishments in the field of Solar Cycle Research", and for "many contributions to the study of solar-terrestrial cycles."

His last paper before he died in May 2004:

New Little Ice Age Instead of Global Warming?
Landscheidt T.

Energy & Environment, Volume 14, Numbers 2-3, 1 May 2003, pp. 327-350(24)

Posted by: Paul Biggs at April 10, 2006 06:17 AM

You either miss the point, or can not answer.
Of those who view Hansen as St. James, and
"the greatest climate scientist," who will question his credibility if he again falls flat? Will you?
And your dismissive tone about "skeptics" perhaps is an answer.

Posted by: bob ferguson at April 10, 2006 09:50 AM

Bob, you said "again." Coby mentioned (*very*)major examples of Hansen being proved right. You or Jim can answer with contrary examples. My suspicion is that all both of you were going on is your memory of Pat Michaels' FUD, discredited for many years now, but continually repeated on skeptic sites as some sort of revelation. Prove me wrong.

BTW, can you blame any of us non-skeptics for getting a little tired of the constant repetition by skeptics/denialists of claims like those above that have been proved wrong years ago? Ultimately it leads to some shortness of temper.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 10, 2006 11:55 AM

Paul B -

As far as Landscheidt being a crackpot, anyone outside the modelers paradigm of "It's CO2, ________ said it, I believe it, and that settles it" is a crackpot. That fact that Mars is undergoing "global warming" makes no difference to them. The fact the sun is stretched by the orbits of the planets makes no difference to them. China's massive increase in black carbon to the warming arctic and that the antarctic is not warming makes no difference to them. The box is small, but some of them (and their bandwagon accompaniment) can't seem to find their way out of it. The blinders are too tight and they have too much invested. Thus, they confuse statistical analyses as "astrology".

Sometimes that's what happens when one learns more and more about less and less...

Posted by: Steve Hemphill at April 10, 2006 12:01 PM

"As far as Landscheidt being a crackpot..." See the extensive sci.env material linked above.

"Mars is undergoing 'global warming'..." This is irrelevant because on Mars, as here, glaciations are driven by Milankovitch cycles. These are different for each planet.

"The fact the sun is stretched by the orbits of the planets makes no difference to them." Correct. Wasn't this another one of Landscheidt's baseless hypotheses? But please do give us some links to what must have been the obvious effects of the recent, closely observed planetary alignment.

"China's massive increase in black carbon to the warming arctic..." Er, who doesn't think this is important? I know Hansen does. China is far from the entire problem, BTW. People who live in sooty houses shouldn't throw lumps of coal, IMHO.

"(T)hat the antarctic is not warming makes no difference to them." Time for you to catch up with the latest research, Steve.

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 10, 2006 02:27 PM

sci.env? Mr Stoat from 2000? Not worth reading.

Posted by: Paul Biggs at April 10, 2006 03:55 PM

Steve Hemphill,

The mars is warming bit has been debunked many times, here is my version:

If you guys are thinking Hansen was wrong, Crichton said so, you can get straightened out here:

If that is not what you are thinking of, it is getting really conspicuous that there are no examples offered of the "many times" Hansen has been wrong before.

Antarctica not warming yet is not a surprise or a contradiction of CO2 forced warming. Antarctica is climatically isolated by the ring current in the Southern Ocean and the thermal inertia of oceans is delaying any significant warming so far. My understanding is that this is also consistent with the climate models.

Posted by: coby at April 10, 2006 03:58 PM


We will ignore the fact that in 1988 Hansen started his temperature graph with the year 1958, OMITTING the warm period that proceeded. (Perhaps Michael's learned the trick of omitting data for maximum impact from Hansen!)

I am also curious as to what a 'moderate' increase in CO2 means (his scenario B). CO2 has been increasing about as fast as anyone could expect. What was scenario A? (The large increase in CO2) Was it even reasonable to put that on the graph?

It is my guess that Hansen's 'moderate' increase in CO2 (his predicted CO2 concentration for scenario B) is the same as or less than what has actually happened. I can't help but think that if he overestimated the CO2 concentration for scenario B, he would have pointed that out, strengthening his argument, instead of just saying that it is "close to" what has actually happened.

His graph indicates a warming of .23 degrees per decade from 1979 to 2006, and a whopping .42 degrees in the single decade of 2000-2010.

The first figure is too high by about a third, based on the latest, generally accepted warming of .14 to .16 degrees per decade over the last 27 years. Since the warming from 1998 to the present has been practically nil, it is difficult to believe we will jump 4 tenths of a degree in the next 4 years.

In 1988, Hansen could not have known about the cyclical warming influence of the PDO on high latitude, northern hemispheric temperatures, so he could not have included that in his prediction. Certainly some of the warming in the northern hemisphere since 1979 is a result of the PDO, and not CO2 forcing.

If you ignore even this well-known natural climate forcer (along with several others that have been in their 'warmer' phase during this time), you still have an overestimation by a third. If you include the known natural forcers, the effect of CO2 twindles to at least a half of what Hansen predicted and may go as low as 'negligable'. In the next few years, Hansen's 1988 prediction will likely become worse, even if temperatures start to increase again.

Perhaps the only thing that can save him is another super El Nino and maybe that is why he is predicting it. Then the problem becomes connecting El Ninos to increasing CO2. Mann will have to erase the accepted past history of ENSO events and creat an ENSO hockey stick!

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."

Okay, I asked for Hansen's great achievements. Two suggestions were offered. One was his 1988 Senate testimony which seems pretty weak and appears to be getting worse with each passing year. I am not sure what is being refered to with 'the record breaking mean of 2005', so I can't respond to that.

All I am saying is that Hansen seems to change his take on things fairly regularly and his track record for being 'right' is not all that great, yet everthing he says seems to be taken as if it were gospel! Since we are at the very beginning of climate change science, it is reasonable to expect scientists to make new discoveries and refashion the paradigm fairly regularly. What is not reasonable is to buy into any of these paradigms (especially if they are very expensive) until they stand the test of time and scientific rigor.

The data does not support the current paradigm and we should not buy into it! Hence, I remain a skeptic of the 'AGW as disaster' scenario.

Posted by: Jim Clarke at April 10, 2006 06:11 PM

Paul, don't take that bio too seriously. It's fairly easy to join the AGU, and dead easy (leave your $95 at the door) to join the NY Academy of Sciences. I strongly recommend that people join the AGU. The membership is $20 and they have some unique journal publications that put together papers on a particular subject from all of their published journals. The NY Academy is only interesting if you live in NYC.

The the European Science and Environment Forum, the European Academy of Environmental Affairs are Euro SEPPs.

The Wissheit zu Bremen is real, and I rather suspect that Landscheidt joined when his main business was the law.

Edward R. Dewey was an odd duck who believed everything was cyclical. He left his money to the institute. You can find more in the wikipedia

CIFA (International Committee for Research in Environmental Factors of Brussels University) is also odd duck, much like the Dewey Institute. It is not clear to me whether Landscheidt was ever a Director (they have a President, not a Director, but also a board of directors)


Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 10, 2006 08:07 PM

WRT what Hansen did or did not say, and since I do not have a URL for his testimony, he DID publish a paper with his results for the three scenerios

abstract: .... Scenario A assumes continued exponential trace gas growth, scenario B assumes a reduced linear linear growth of trace gases, and scenario C assumes a rapid curtailment of trace gas emissions such that the net climate forcing ceases to increase after the year 2000. Pricipal results from the experiments are as follows: (1) Global warming to the level attained at the peak of the current interglacial and the previous interglacial occurs in all three scenarios; however, there are dramatic differences in the levels of future warming, depending on trace gas growth. (2) The greenhouse warming should be clearly identifiable in the 1990s; the global warming within the next several years is predicted to reach and maintain a level at least three standard deviations above the climatology of the 1950s. (3) Regions where an unambiguous warming appears earliest are low-latitude oceans, China and interior areas in Asia, and ocean areas near Antarctica and the north pole; aspects of the spatial and temporal distribution of predicted warming are clearly model-dependent, implying the possibility of model discrimination by the 1990s and thus improved predictions, if appropriate observations are acquired. (4) The temperature changes are sufficiently large to have major impacts on people and other parts of the biosphere, as shown by computed changes in the frequency of extreme events and comparison with previous climate trends. (5) The model results suggest that some near-term regional climate variations, despite the fixed ocean heat transport which suppresses many possible regional climate fluctuation; for example, during the late 1980s and the 1990s there is a tendency for greater than average warming in the southeastern United States and much of Europe. Principal uncertainties in the predictions involve the equilibrium sensitivity of the model to climate forcing, the assumptions regarding heat uptake and transport by the ocean, and the omission of other less-certain climate forcings."

Posted by: Eli Rabett at April 10, 2006 08:13 PM

Er, Jim, if you somehow missed Hansen's prediction of last year's high temp, you weren't paying attention. I believe there was an RC post on it, but in any case it's a quick google.
Remember also that there was a third one, that being the Pinatubo temp excursion.

BTW, I think if you read the current papers you'll find that the PDO is going the way of the AMO (i.e., turning out to be a manifestation of the global trend).

Posted by: Steve Bloom at April 10, 2006 09:17 PM

Some additional url's

The 1988 graph with more up to date observations from Tim Lambert:

A paper by Hansen specifically rebutting Crichton's repetition of Michaels' nonsense (the graph in there is much bigger and clearer)
Another discussion by Hansen of Michaels' perjury:

It is beyond me how anyone can look at that graph and not agree that Scenario B is a very good match for observations, it would be even better if Pinatubo had erupted in 1995, as the imaginary volcano in the scenario did, rather than 1991.

So discarding the departures from reality in Jim's post, we are left with "he was right but for the wrong reasons" and "he is right so far but boy is he about to be wrong". Let's not forget that this was almost 20 years ago, I think he has a right to reasses things in light of new data and new theory.

That aside, the claims up thread have definitely been about "many" failed predictions. So far we only have one that is "about to be wrong". Surely it should be a simple matter to list a few more examples.

There are some other model successes discussed here, though I don't know off hand how many of them are Hansen's.

Posted by: coby at April 10, 2006 10:00 PM

Eli - Thanks. My interest in Landscheidt is related to solar inertial motion and the jupiter-sun-barrycenter. Charvatova and Hong have also published papers on this subject. A reply to the Hong paper in The Holocene 2000/2001 mentions 'Super El Ninos.'

I don't think the Landscheidt ENSO paper from 2003 was peer reviewed, but it made a prediction 3 or 4 years in advance that will either stand or fall.

Landscheidt wasn't a 'crackpot' but he has advanced the theory of a link between eruptive solar cycles and climate change.

Posted by: Paul Biggs at April 11, 2006 12:49 AM


Let us remember how this started. Steve Bloom was making comments to the affect that we skeptics do not have the 'credentials' to wash James Hansen's feet, much less question his prognostications of climate change. I was having problems remembering all of Mr. Hansen's great accomplishments, so I asked for a few examples. Coby offered two possible examples. Steve Bloom did not offer any, but insisted that I proof Hansen was wrong.

Even though it is really the responsibility of Steve Bloom to provide the evidence to support his claim, I decided to take the bait and provide examples of Hansen not being very accurate.

One of Coby's examples was Hansen's 1988 testimony before congress. I pointed out that, even denying all natural climate forcings (an almost impossible scenario) Hansen is at least a third too high. The year Pinatubo erupted is irrelevant to the long term trend, since it did not occur at the beginning or end of the period in question. And I don't care that he made the predictions in 1988.

The question is about his accuracy. The same people who are painting Landscheidt as a wacko with his 90% accuracy, are painting Hansen as a visionary with his 65% or less accuracy. So far, the Earth has not even kept up with the low end of Hansen's (or the IPCC) predictions, which greatly reduces the potential threat and the need for immediate action.

As for the other example, I put Hansen's prediction of 2005 warmth right up there with predicting afternoon thunderstorms in South Florida in August. He kept making a big point of how 2005 would be nearly as warm as 1998, only without the benefit of a super El Nino, proving that AGW was a real threat. What he failed to mention was that 2005 was at the tail end of a 2 and a half year, moderate El Nino, which certainly played a role in making 2005 ALMOST as warm as 1998. That is an important bit of information that should not have been ignored or glossed over in the presentation.

I would also like to point out that you will not find a 7 year period of 'flat' temperatures in any of Hansen's forecasts with increasing CO2. Even with ENSO cycles, his graphs show a net warming over any seven year period. It seems that the 1998 super El Nino is being used as the verification of human induced warming ("see look at the trend") and as the excuse for no warming over the last 7 years ("well, we had a super El Nino don't you know. It's gonna take a while for GHGs to catch up with that). Still, we are cooler than what Hansen and the IPCC have predicted for 2006, and that is what really matters.

The bottom line is that Hansen and all AGW supporters believe that CO2 and other trace gases are the major drivers of global climate temperature. Skeptics recognize (and always have) that these gases have a warming effect, but believe the effect is not significant enough to produce the dire consequences predicted by the former group.

The evidence indicates that the planet has warmed, but it has not warmed as much as the AGW supporters have predicted. It is unknown how much of the warming is natural and how much is man-made, so the debate continues. Nonetheless, since it is the AGW supporters that are asking humanity to sacrifice, it is up to them to prove they are right. It is not the skeptic’s responsibility to prove that they are wrong, yet that is what is constantly being demanded of the skeptics! Fortunately, it is not all that difficult to show the weaknesses in the AGW argument.

I am still amazed that every bit of data that doesn't prove AGW supporters wrong is touted as proving that they are right!

Posted by: Jim Clarke at April 11, 2006 07:34 AM

I have read Hansen's repost to Crichon and I can't say I'm impressed.

His argument is that
a) scenario B was originally (1988) declared the "most plausible" scenario and

b) later measured temperatures to (from 1988) 2004 most closely track scenario B.

My concerns would be that the abstract to the 1988 paper (as linked above) does not describe B as the most "plausible scenario", rather it "assumes a reduced linear linear growth of trace gases". By comparison scenario A is described as "assumes continued exponential trace gas growth". I reckon you read into that whatever you want regarding which was considered more plausible in 1988.

My second concern however is more substantive. The REAL issue is whether trace gases tracked the assumptions under A, B or C, NOT which of the three scenarios ended up most closely correlated with later measurments. On that critical point Hansen is silent in this (the "Crichton") paper. For someone with James Hansens clear mental capacities that seems like a strange ommission of critical informatin.

So the chart I need to see is not just 1988 forecast temps for A, B and C compared with later measurement, but ALSO a chart of the 1988 trace gas assumptions/forecasts under A, B and C compared with later measurement.

Posted by: paul at April 11, 2006 07:45 AM

Hansen seems to be an exceptional scientist. However, the IPCC TAR of the level of scientific understanding of climate forcings:

suggests we don't understand enough to put all our eggs in the CO2 basket. Can anyone tell me how long Anthropogenic CO2 would stay in the atmosphere if we suddenly reduced emissions to zero? Also, I have been unable to find a reference that establishes the physics behind the assertion that doubling the concentration of CO2 results in a linear addition to the radiative forcing, in IPCC TAR 2001.

Posted by: Paul Biggs at April 11, 2006 10:17 AM

You guys miss the point of the 1988 scenarios. They are three different predictions of temperature depending on how volcanic and CO2 forcings play out. It turns out, by chance, that the history of emissions and volcanism mathced closely that laid out in scenario B. Now the other scenarios are moot points, emissions and volcanism did not play out as surmised in A and C. The only question is now was the prediction for the scenario that came to pass realized.

It is beyond me how anyone can look at the picture and not say yes. Well, I guess it is a requirement that one realize that inter annual variability is not relevant.

As for the history of the thread laid out above, my recollection is the disagreement started with the assertion that Hansen has been wrong many times on his predictions.

Still waiting for substance on that one.

Posted by: coby at April 11, 2006 09:54 PM


I didn't miss the point at all.

As I clearly point out in my post, Hansen fails to make any satisfactory appraisal of the forcast assumption set versus outcome beyond saying there was a volcano eruption assumed under B (for 1997) and in reality (in 1991).

Both you and I clearly still need to see a comparison plot of trace gas growth 1988 - 2004 (assumptions for all three scenarios versus actual).

Posted by: paul at April 12, 2006 02:25 AM


The chart you are looking for, the evolution of trace gas forcing vs. Hansen's three 1988 scenarios can be found in his 1998 PNAS paper (Figure 5) (and an update in his 2004 PNAS paper). Basically, the history of observed forcing has fallen beneath his scenario B. For a summary of what Hansen actually testified to in 1988, see my comments (#21, #65, and #90) over on RealClimate in response to a recent RC post (Heat Rising at the Washington Post).

Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at April 12, 2006 10:23 AM

Roger, this from Hansen.
Looks like the limb just disappeared.
2. Super El Nino: lots of criticisms, especially implication (via
question "Super El Nino in 2006-2007?") that I am predicting a super
El Nino in 2006-2007.

Present version should make clear that what we are saying is: Global
warming has increased the east-west equatorial temperature gradient
and that should increase the probability of a super El Nino. It is
still a crap shoot, so it requires many rolls of the dice for
empirical verification. Even in the last 30 years there have been
only two super El Ninos.

Posted by: bob ferguson at April 12, 2006 02:53 PM


The original assertion is that he is always right and I asked for some evidence of this. The asserter, Steve Bloom, did not respond. You gave me two examples. I showed were the first was off by at least a third (to date) and trending worse with each passing year. The second was a no-brainer, like predicting afternoon thunderstorms in Florida in the summer. So far, the original assertion, that Hansen is right, has not been demonstrated to be accurate.

I am not bashing Hansen! He is doing what scientists do, which is observe, build a theory and make predictions. For the first 10 years, his 1988 prediction looked impressive, but since then, not so good. He has changed his numbers a few times, no doubt based on additional data and understanding, which is what good scientists should do. My contention is that Hansen's thoughts are given more weight than equally or even more compelling arguments, simply because he is James Hansen, 'the Father of Global Warming'. His actual track record is not that impressive.

In order for Hansen to be even 2/3 correct, we must rule out that nature has had anything to do with the warming over the last 30 years. In order to do that, we must eliminate all evidence of natural cycles, a trend that started with Mann's hockey stick and continues today with the recent assertions that cyclical ocean patterns are really just manifestations of AGW! Of course, paleoclimate evidence indicates that these cycles have existed since the end of the last ice age, and there is no physical evidence that AGW has created them. It is quite the fancy theory, right up there with epicycles explaining the retrograde motion of the planets!

I guess anything is okay to keep the paradigm up and running!

Posted by: Jim Clarke at April 13, 2006 08:00 AM

I haven't looked at this site before, but have read the draft paper by James Hansen. The El Nino forecast looks to me like a long-term seasonal weather forecast, saying that the SST pattern in the Pacific favours strong El Nino formation. It speaks of the chaotic nature of those weather events and of 'nature rolling the dice' every spring. Why do you claim that this puts Hansen's credibility on the line? Do you think that the Australian Bureau of Metereology lost all their credibility last spring by predicting an El Nino by June 2005? Or that the NOAA lost their credibility by underestimating the activity of last year's hurricane season by a big margin? By those standards, none of the agencies that study both seasonal weather forecasts and climate science would have any credibility left! Which is surely not what you are trying to say. Perhaps you just think that nobody of Hansen's statement should ever discuss seasonal forecasts because one cannot be 100% sure about them? Which sounds a strange criticism to me.

If El Nino doesn't return until, say, 2008 does that mean Hansen is wrong about the looming mass extinction event or sea level rises? I don't think so.

Posted by: Almuth Ernsting at April 13, 2006 06:02 PM

Almuth- Welcome, thanks for visiting and commenting!

I actually think that the issuance of seasonal climate forecasts should be left to operational forecast agencies. If scientists want to test theories models and so on, they should label them experiemental predictions to distinguish them from the offical products of met services, e.g.:

If you'd like to learn more about my views on the role of predictions in decision making have a look here:


Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at April 13, 2006 08:59 PM

Last week's news:

Synopsis: El Niño conditions have developed and are likely to continue into early 2007.

Roger, have you read Peter Lipton's review article in Science 307, 14 Jan. 2005 at 219-221?
Title is: Testing Hypotheses: Prediction and Prejudice

"Observations that fit a hypothesis can be made before or after the hypothesis is formulated. Can that be relevant to the amount of support that the observations provide for the hypothesis? Philosophers and statisticians are both divided on this question, but there is an argument that predictions ought to account more ...."

Trying this with the TypePad account, several previous days' attempts to post a followup haven't appeared and may be in your spam filter trap. Hope you want to pursue this thread.
-- Hank Roberts

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 09:31 AM

Hank- Thanks for your persistence! Sorry about that, we do not look for comments in posts more than a few days old. they are buried in spam and difficult to track down. Those who successfully log in will have their comments appear automatically.

As far as your comment, I'm not sure I understand? What is it that you'd like us to pursue?


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 09:57 AM

Lipton seems to be addressing how to think about the issue you raised last April -- the distinction between a scientist who goes out on a limb, making a prediction based on a hypothesis, as Hansen seems to have done last spring, compared to the scientist who starts by making observations, and from them comes up with a hypothesis, which would be a more traditional long range weather forecast.

Now that the weather forecast includes observations of a weak El Nino, the next observation will be how strong and how long-lived.

You'd be privy to any further email from Hansen on this, I haven't seen mention of it again, and I wanted to revisit the thread, I'd bookmarked it to look in once we got this far into the year.

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 09:08 PM


"... we suggest that the increased West-East temperature gradient may have increased the likelihood of strong El Niños, such as those of 1983 and 1998...."

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 10:32 PM


Thanks. The issue of scientists issuing public predictions is an important one. There is a lot of experience to draw on from the earthquke community. The issue of ENSO has its unique attributes because scientific predictions often set off action in places that are closely teleconnected. Perhaps I will invite Mickey Glantz to comment a guest post on this. As far as Hansen, thanks for the link, but I've seen no further discussions from him on ENSO.

As far as ENSO predictions, see this page:


Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 08:10 AM

I've read the PNAS article now, and it does appear to be an updated version of the draft you published back when you started this thread. I assume it incorporates some feedback from those of you on his mailing list.

So what do you think now, about his going out on the limb? Here's another related prediction (from the excerpt below):

"The WEP should respond relatively rapidly
to increasing GHGs."

HTML now available:

so I won't copy the footnotes or observations, just this bit to encourage you to bump this discussion back into public view as the rest of the year elapses and we see how the El Nino progresses.

"... Observed SST anomalies are consistent with this expectation, because the cooling in the EEP relative to WEP decreases at latitudes away from the narrower region strongly affected by upwelling off the coast of Peru (Fig. 3A). Averaged over 10°N to 15°S, observed warming is as great in the EEP as in the WEP (see also Fig. 7).

"We make no suggestion about changes of El Niño frequency, and we note that an abnormally warm WEP does not assure a strong El Niño. The origin and nature of El Niños is affected by chaotic ocean and atmosphere variations, the season of the driving anomaly, the state of the thermocline, and other factors, assuring that there will always be great variability of strength among El Niños.

"Will increased contrast between near-equatorial WEP and EEP SSTs be maintained or even increase with more global warming? The WEP should respond relatively rapidly to increasing GHGs. In the EEP, to the extent that upwelling water has not been exposed to the surface in recent decades, little warming is expected, and the contrast between WEP and EEP may remain large or increase in coming decades.

"Thus, we suggest that the global warming effect on El Niños is analogous to an inferred global warming effect on tropical storms (27). The effect on frequency of either phenomenon is unclear, depending on many factors, but the intensity of the most powerful events is likely to increase as GHGs increase. "

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 03:03 PM

El Niño Makes a Comeback

Sept. 13, 2006 — Scientists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center reported today that El Niño conditions have developed in the tropical Pacific and are likely to continue into early 2007. Ocean temperatures increased remarkably in the equatorial Pacific during the last two weeks. "Currently, weak El Niño conditions exist, but there is a potential for this event to strengthen into a moderate event by winter," said Vernon Kousky, NOAA's lead El Niño forecaster.

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 1, 2006 10:37 AM

Hank- I've started a fresh thread for discussions of predictions and decisions. Please feel free to address the issues that you'd like to raise there, as I doubt many folks are still reading this old post. Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 2, 2006 04:31 AM

I'll follow the new topic for the general issues. Hope you don't mind my keeping track of the developments featuring this specific set of predictions and forecasts here, where it won't bother anyone not interested in the detail.

Nice article/interview here with charts:
----- excerpt -----

[This first bit particularly for you, Roger]

"Many of the supposed consequences of El Nino -- houses sliding down hillsides, flooded mansions in Malibu, drownings in flood control channels, etc. -- are not El Nino's fault, but rather stupid behavior, ignoring the expected (inevitable) consequences of heavy rainfall. These oft-reported events are not El Nino's fault, but poor zoning and reckless behavior. This is what I call El Nincompoop! "

[More directly on Hansen's prediction/forecast as it develops]"

"WP: OK, this compares the present SST [sea surface temperature] anomalies in the Central Pacific with Nino episodes since 1950 ... weak to super-duper.

You asked: "This suggests to me that as you say this El Nino looks on the mild side, but could possibly (not likely, but possibly) could develop into a medium-sized phenomenon. Am I reading this correctly?"

Correct! You get an A-. It also shows it started late and has slow growth (slope of the line). It looks like '51-'52 and '68-'69, which had 26.21" and 27.47" of LA rain, respectively. Hmmm, so weak Ninos can give us pretty good rain. Only 10 Ninos since 1878 with greater than 25" of LA rain. Both '51-'52 and '68-'69 were followed by more than 3 years of La Nina. Interesting! '82-'83 started late too and was big.

But I still think we are in an El Nino repellent negative PDO pattern that damps Ninos."
----- end excerpt -----

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 10:54 AM

Also of interest, this from the inimitable Dr. Peiser's CCNet email, discussing the economic impact of hurricane forecasting this year:

Bloomberg, 6 October 2006

The weatherman got it wrong again, and this time he disrupted more than a picnic.... Perhaps the biggest loser was Amaranth, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based hedge fund manager that had $9.5 billion in assets as recently in August. After gambling that gas prices would rise, Amaranth lost $6.5 billion as they tumbled. The fund is closing.
[much discussion of the wide consensus early last spring, by almost everyone, of another big hurricane season -- no mention of Hansen's prediction here, conspicuous by its absence]

"Klotzbach says he and Gray still aren't sure why their forecast was so wrong. Gray didn't respond to a phone message and an e-mail seeking comment.

"The main factor may have been an unexpected El Nino, a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that suppresses the formation of Atlantic hurricanes, Klotzbach says. The warming had never occurred so suddenly and so late in the hurricane season -- typically June through November -- he says. The phenomenon led to dry air in the Atlantic and fewer thunderstorms, Klotzbach says."

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 9, 2006 11:03 AM

NASA's New Sea Surface Temperature Page

The most recent 10 day average of SST anomalies derived from Aqua/AMSR-E SST measurements. The annotated date indicates the last (most recent) day of the 10 day moving average. This data is used by scientists for studying El Niño and La Niña.

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2006 06:39 PM

>... a strengthening El Niño event continues to develop in the
> equatorial Pacific and is likely to continue into spring 2007. ...
> "this current event is not expected to reach the magnitude of the
> very strong 1997-1998 El Niño episode"

NOAA FINAL FORECAST FOR 2006-2007 --Nov. 16, 2006

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 3, 2006 02:42 PM

Now the question is down to -- will there be a fifth Kelvin wave, extending the warm period, or not?

Watch and see.

Posted by: hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 11, 2007 07:42 PM

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