Flash Cards, CFD, and Jujus

14 12 2010

I just finished plowing out after probably a foot of snow fell over about 18 hours Saturday afternoon into the wee hours of Sunday morning.  My wife suggested I go blow out the neighbor’s driveway.  He’s had heart problems but he does have a blower so I said give them a call to see if it’s ok because if somebody blew my driveway out I’d be pissed.  It would be like watching somebody else reel in my trophy fish for me – especially with the virtually unstoppable John Deere at my fingertips.  A few years ago, I first added a couple suitcase weights.  Last year I added two more and finally broke down and got chains.  With the wheel weights, it probably has close to 400 lbs for added traction but there’s room for one more suitcase weight and I could fill the tires with fluid – probably not necessary!

Anyway, I was thinking once again that as of Thursday, the forecast for this weather system that dumped a foot on us was for “snow showers”.  I don’t know what a snow shower is but it doesn’t bring to mind belly-deep snow for our Labrador Retrievers.  Two days before we got hit with an awesome storm and a foot of snow, the forecast was “snow showers”.  Other times the forecast is for six to eight inches and we get flurries instead.  (Flurries incidentally are snowflakes that only exist in the air or in your mind in which case you would be a Parmenidean airhead)  Anyone living in the Midwest away from areas susceptible to lake-effect snow has experienced this grossly erroneous forecasting at least a dozen times a year.

We have what, 70, maybe 80 years of practice forecasting weather?  It’s essentially a two-dimensional turbulence problem over this short two-day term.  Thousands of people, including the almighty federal government, have spent their entire lives “learning” to predict weather, now with the most powerful computers known to the human race.  Yet they still hit this forecast so poorly that if it were a golf shot, it wouldn’t even be a worm killer.  The ball wouldn’t make it off the tee box.  The forced draft of the club head would be just enough to knock the ball off the tee.  Foink.

So I ask, isn’t a little bit or completely naïve, ignorant, pompous or something to think computer models can predict the earth’s temperature over the long term?  Beyond the relatively simple two-dimensional weather model, the global temperature model would have only about 8,000 additional variables, some huge ones like turbulence in the oceans which are giant heat sinks, (and I mean giant and they spin tangentially and vertically relative to the earth’s surface) the heat source’s (sun’s) output variance, volcanoes spewing grit and CO2 shutting down continental air traffic for weeks, and I could list at least 500 additional ones but don’t want to bore you further.

Or take the relatively simple subject of economics.  Projecting what will happen next in the economy may be easier than predicting the weather.  Still, nobody has come close.   One guy says we can never forecast the economy with any accuracy.  I think he should try modeling the planet.

It isn’t a question of whether CO2 affects global temperatures.  It does, (as do cucumbers) all else equal, but does it match a single eruption?  I would say anyone who emphatically says it does should try their graces at forecasting the weather a while.  Even if we could predict with 99% accuracy (whatever that means) what the weather will be one week from today, it would be the equivalent of first grade flash cards compared to Ph.D. level computational fluid dynamics that would be the global model.  But even that would be oversimplification because sooner or later the first grader can learn CFD.

Further comparing weather forecasting to climate modeling, with weather forecasting we have instant and absolutely positive feedback in a very short period of time – an instant comparatively.  Modelers examine what may have went wrong with their model such that it predicted snow showers and the next thing you know, the Vikings with their new coach and geriatric quarterback are playing in Detroit – as their home field against the NY Giants.  The parameters are few.  The outcome variance is huge and the feedback is instant.  The lessons learned should fill the library of congress, yet in 80 years (whatever) we still can’t even predict the weather a couple days out.

I don’t pretend to know the answer.  I know enough via academic background and experience, and the obvious, that I, nor can anyone else project future climate patterns with any sort of certainty.  Or, as Rummy once eloquently said, “Reports that say something hasn’t happened are interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Tidbits

This guy is bringing a class action lawsuit against the USGBC because he isn’t participating in LEED and he thinks LEED is a farce giving others an unfair advantage.  I didn’t see anyone else in the class.  It must be him and the mouse in his pocket.

This is entirely unproductive and as I suggested just a couple weeks ago in Feral Cat, What Say You, if he goes after USGBC, why not go after ASHRAE and all the state reviewers of code compliance.  Rather than getting on board and getting involved tear it down.  This scorched earth does no good for anyone, the plaintiff in this case as well.  It is the opposite of the way we choose to do business.

Secondly, PC Magazine published an article reporting that Pike Research completed a study indicating cloud computing would reduce worldwide data center energy expenditures by 38% in the next few years.  Back in April in my rant about Greenpeace, I confessed to being ignorant with respect to IT but I put my credibility on the line essentially betting cloud computing would save energy.  Touché.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP

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