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Storm warner

Science | Hurricane expert takes the American Meteorological Society to task on climate change

Issue: "Focus on Mitt Romney," July 16, 2011

He's been called "the world's most famous hurricane expert." Bill Gray, an emeritus professor at Colorado State University, has studied hurricanes for more than 50 years. The university's Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecasts, which Gray and his colleagues have issued since 1984, are widely respected, and in recent years his summer predictions for the hurricane season have proven nearly 80 percent accurate. (Look out, Gulf Coast residents-his June outlook predicts nine Atlantic hurricanes this year.)

Gray is known for something else: his tenacious and sometimes boisterous criticism of the theory of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming-AGW for short. "It's a big scam," he told The Denver Post in 2006. This June, he wrote an essay scolding the 14,000-member American Meteorological Society-Gray is an AMS fellow-for allowing itself to be "hijacked."

Gray's essay circulated on climate blogs and read in part: "We AMS members have allowed a small group of AMS administrators, climate modelers, and CO2 warming sympathizers to maneuver the internal workings of our society to support AGW policies irrespective of what our rank-and-file members might think." Gray claimed that over the past decade AMS leaders have given the society's top two annual awards to several AGW advocates-but never to a known AGW skeptic. (Gray did receive the society's second-highest award in 1994.)

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The hurricane forecaster wrote that many AMS members, like him, believe global warming is a natural phenomenon driven by cyclical changes in deep ocean currents. "I anticipate that we are going to experience a modest, naturally driven global cooling over the next 15 to 20 years," he predicted.

The AMS adopted a position statement in 2007 affirming that global warming is real and that "humans have significantly contributed to this change," although it admitted that "a few" AMS members had "offered alternative views on climate change."

AMS policy director William H. Hooke told me in an email that the society's position on climate change was supported by scientific literature, and "no formal response to Dr. Gray's opinion piece is necessary."

A 2009 survey seems to back up Gray's opinion about the views of AMS members, though. In the survey, the AMS probed the views of TV weathercasters within its membership: Only 19 percent of respondents agreed that "global climate models are reliable in their projections for a warming of the planet." A full 50 percent disagreed with the statement, "Most of the warming since 1950 is very likely human-induced."

One-third of weathercasters even shared Gray's opinion that "global warming is a scam."

Costly rules

In June, American Electric Power announced it would close five power plants in 2014 in order to comply with industry pollution rules the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed. The regulations, slated to take effect in November, would reduce toxic emissions like mercury but be among the most expensive ever imposed on coal-fired plants. National Economic Research Associates added up their potential cost. The rules would:

• Increase natural gas prices by $8 billion a year.

• Cost the U.S. electric sector $184 billion by 2030.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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