Trending wetter with time: weather never moves in a straight line, but data from NOAA NCDC shows a steady increase in the percentage of the USA experiencing extreme 1-day rainfall amounts since the first half of the 20th century. Photograph: NOAA NCDC

My Apology to Paul Douglas

I admit that I do a lot of Republican bashing. I’m a Democrat, and more than that, I’m a partisan. I understand that a political party is a tool for grass roots influence on policy, if you care to use it. The Democratic party platform, at the state and national level, reflects my policy-related values reasonably well, and the Republican approach is largely defined as supporting the opposite of whatever the Democrats say, even when Democrats come up with a policy that is closely based on a previously developed Republican policy. So, my hope is to see the Democratic caucus in the majority, in both houses of my state legislature, and both houses of the US Congress. And a Democratic President. This is the only way that the policies I see as appropriate and important are advanced, and the anti-policies put forth by the reactionary party, the Republicans, are not.

So, with respect to elected officials, I will always oppose Republicans and always support Democrats. That includes opposing “Reasonable Republicans” (an endangered species) and, not happily, supporting Red Dog Democrats. This is necessary because of the necessity of a majority caucus in each legislative branch. (You probably know this, but the majority party gets to call the shots, run committees, etc.) At some future date, when Democratic majorities are not as tenuous, I may change that approach, but not now.

If key policy orientations for key issues tended to find cross-party support, I would not be so much of a partisan. But that is not what happens these days in government. My partisanship is not a choice, but a necessity required by Republican reactionary philosophy among elected officials.

So, that is my explanation — not excuse, but explanation — for my Republican bashing, a behavior that is one side of a coin. The obverse is, obviously, Democratic cheerleading.

And, with that as background, I sincerely apologize to my friend Paul Douglas.

Minnesota Nice Weather

Paul is one of the country’s top meteorologists.

When I was about to move to Minnesota, I flew out to find an apartment for my family, and get the feel of the landscape. I stayed in a hotel in the near western suburbs, and spent each day looking at apartments, and checking out driving times between various neighborhoods and the University of Minnesota. Every evening I pick up the local papers to peruse them while watching the local news, because that is a good way to get to know a place.

One day I was out driving around, lost, somewhere near downtown on this mess of highway that made no sense to me. The sky had been filled since early morning with enormous thunderheads, the kind I had seen previously in the Congo, but rare in Boston, where I was living at the time. Suddenly, a huge thunderstorm passed overhead, with hail, and the road filled with water, forcing me to pull off for a few minutes to avoid hydroplaning. After the storm had passed, I drove back out onto the highway, and witnessed an amazing sight.

First, I should note that in Minnesota, you can see the sky for great distances because it is relatively flat here. Minnesotans don’t think of Minnesota as flat, and compared to Kansas, it isn’t. But it is compared to my previous homes in Boston or upstate New York. I remember thinking that day that Minnesota counted as “Big Sky Country” in its own way. Minus the Rocky Mountains.

Anyway, the sky was being big, and the view was filled with more thunderheads. But off to the northeast was a huge horizontally elongated cloud. It was at about the same elevation as the lower parts of the nearby thunder clouds, longer in its longest dimension than a good size thunder storm, but shaped more like a giant cigar. And it was rotating, rapidly, like a log rolling down hill. (Except it wasn’t really going anywhere.)

I thought to myself, “This is amazing. I wonder if the people of Minnesota appreciate how spectacular and beautiful is their sky and weather, which they observed every day!”

Later that evening, I got back to my motel and switched on the news. The top news story that day, it turns out, happened to be the day’s thunderstorms, so the anchor handed off the mic to the meteorologist.

I had made an error in thinking that the people of Minnesota might be inured to spectacular thunder storms and giant rotating cigar shaped clouds. The weather reporter was showing news footing of the sky, including the rotating cigar shaped cloud I had witnessed. He told the viewers that the storms today were especially spectacular, and that this giant rotating cigar thing was a special, highly unusual weather event. He named it, calling it an arcus cloud, and noted that it was effectively similar to a tornado, in terms of wind speed and destructive potential, but that this sort of cloud rarely touched down anywhere.

(This sort of arcus cloud is a roll cloud, very rare in continental interiors, though somewhat more common in coastal areas.)

That year there were many thunderstorms in the Twin Cities. The following year as well. There were also a lot of tornadoes. All of the tornadoes I’ve ever seen with my own eyes (small ones only) were during that two year period, including one that passed directly overhead and eventually damaged a tree on the property of a house we had just made an offer on, subsequently moving along a bit father and menacing my daughter’s daycare.

An Albino Unicorn Observes Weather Whiplash

I’m pretty sure, if memory serves, that some time between my observation of the arcus cloud and the Saint Peter tornado, Paul Douglas moved from Chicago back to the Twin Cities, where he had perviously been reporting the weather.

Paul Douglas will tell you that during this period he, as a meteorologist covering the midwest and plains, started to notice severe weather coming on more frequently than before. When such a thing happens a few years in a row, one can write that off as a combination of long term oscillations in weather patterns and random chance. But when the fundamental nature of the weather in a region shifts and such normally rare events become typical, then one might seek other explanations. Climate change, caused by the human release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, is ultimately the explanation one is forced to land on when considering widespread, global (and Minnesotan), changes in weather patterns.

Paul describes himself as an “albino unicorn.” This is not a reference to a horn sticking out of his nose, or atypical pigmentation. Rather, he recognizes that as a Republican who fully accepts science, and in particular, the science of climate change, he is an odd beast. It is worth noting that Paul is also an Evangelical Christian. There are not many Evangelical Christian Republicans who understand and accept science. There are probably more than the average liberal or progressive Democrat thinks there are, because such rare beasts need to keep their heads down in many contexts. But Paul is the rarer subspecies of albino unicorn that simply refuses to do that. He speaks openly and often about climate change, giving talks, frequent interviews (like this one with me), and regular appearances on various news and commentary shows.

Paul currently runs this company, and writes an excellent weather blog here. His weather blog focuses on Minnesota weather, but it should be of interest to everyone in the US and beyond, because he also catalogues current extreme weather events globally, and summarizes current scientific research on climate change.

You are probably familiar with The Guardian’s blog on climate change, “Climate Consensus – the 97%” written by my fellow Minnesotan John Abraham, and Dana Nuccitelli, author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics. The current post on that blog is a guest post by Paul Douglas: Meteorologists are seeing global warming’s effect on the weather.

The graph at the top of this post is featured in Paul’s writeup, so go there and read the background. If you happen to know Donald Trump, suggest to him that there is an interesting write-up on climate change by an Evangelical Christian Republican, which he should read in order to get the Evangelical Christian Republican view on the topic!

Paul writes:

In a day and age of scammers, hackers, hucksters and special interests it’s good to be skeptical. You should be skeptical about everything. Some of the biggest skeptics on the planet are scientists. In fact, science is organized skepticism. Climate and weather are flip-sides of the same coin; everything is interconnected. Climate scientists tell us the climate is warming and meteorologists are tracking the symptoms: freakish weather showing up with unsettling regularity. Even if you don’t believe the climate scientists or your local meteorologist do yourself and your kids a favor. Believe your own eyes.

Paul saw the signature of anthropogenic climate change in the weather he was analyzing and reporting on long before climate scientists began to connect the dots with their research. Many of the dots remain unconnected, but the association between observable changes in the climate system and changes in the weather is now understood well enough to say that it is real. I believe that the recent uptick in acceptance of climate science by Americans is partly a result of the impossible to ignore increase in severe weather events, especially flooding and major storms. The most severe heat waves have, so far, occurred in other countries, but we do get the news and we do know about them.

Check out Pauls’ Guardian writeup where he connects the dots for you, and makes a strong case that we need to put aside denialism of the science.