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Roger A. Pielke Jr

Abstract

The role of cumulus clouds in local, regional, and global weather and climate that is understood today is based to a large extent on the pioneering work of Joanne Simpson. Her involvement in this work is illustrated through the experiences as my career developed. She also was, and is, an ideal model of mentorship. This paper illustrates this model using my interactions during the 1970s and early 1980s, and how they have influenced research articles up to the present.

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Roger A. Pielke Jr.

In recent years, those who conduct federally funded research in the United States have been asked by their patrons, the public and their elected representatives, to demonstrate more efficacy with respect to societal needs. Although there is a long record of efforts to improve connections of research with societal needs, a problem exists in that in recent decades the production of scientific knowledge seems to have outrun its effective use by society. Current debate asks questions such as the following: In what different ways has society understood the connections of research with societal needs? What are the implications of such understandings for the structure and conduct of atmospheric sciences research? How can society (and especially sponsors of science) accurately and meaningfully assess the contributions of the atmospheric sciences to societal needs? This paper seeks to shed light on dimensions of these questions through discussion of the relationship of atmospheric sciences research with societal problems. Because the atmospheric sciences have an extended record of experience in connecting research with practical problems, the lessons of that experience have significance for current efforts to improve the relation of the atmospheric sciences with society's needs. In addition, these lessons have broader relevance for more general understandings of the evolving relationship of science and society.

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BAD WEATHER? THEN SUE THE WEATHERMAN!

PART II: LEGAL LIABILITY FOR PRIVATE SECTOR FORECASTS

Roberta Klein and Roger A . Pielke Jr.

Weather forecasts have become demonstrably more accurate in recent decades due to increasingly sophisticated computer technology and models. Yet scientists cannot predict the future with 100% certainty. Relying on inaccurate or inadequate forecasts can result in great financial or even bodily harm. In such situations, what liability, if any, arises under the U.S. legal system?

This article is the first of a two-part review. Part I discusses several court decisions resolving law-suits against the federal or state government based on inaccurate or inadequate weather-related forecasts or failure to issue weather warnings that led to injury or loss. In general, most claims against the federal government based on weather forecasting or failure to warn about weather conditions have been (and likely will continue to be) resolved in favor of the government on the basis of immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). State government immunity will depend on the provisions of a state's immunity statute and how the state interprets its immunity statute. Part II of the review will address claims against private sector weather forecasters. These articles aim to familiarize the reader with some of the legal issues involved when forecasts are the subject of a lawsuit, rather than provide a comprehensive, law-review-style legal analysis. The authors conclude with some forecasts of their own about liability for weather forecasters.

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Jessica Weinkle, Ryan Maue, and Roger Pielke Jr

Abstract

In recent decades, economic damage from tropical cyclones (TCs) around the world has increased dramatically. Scientific literature published to date finds that the increase in losses can be explained entirely by societal changes (such as increasing wealth, structures, population, etc.) in locations prone to tropical cyclone landfalls, rather than by changes in annual storm frequency or intensity. However, no homogenized dataset of global tropical cyclone landfalls has been created that might serve as a consistency check for such economic normalization studies. Using currently available historical TC best-track records, a global database focused on hurricane-force strength landfalls was constructed. The analysis does not indicate significant long-period global or individual basin trends in the frequency or intensity of landfalling TCs of minor or major hurricane strength. The evidence in this study provides strong support for the conclusion that increasing damage around the world during the past several decades can be explained entirely by increasing wealth in locations prone to TC landfalls, which adds confidence to the fidelity of economic normalization analyses.

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WEATHER IMPACTS, FORECASTS, AND POLICY

An Integrated Perspective

Roger Pielke Jr. and R. E. Carbone

Society invests considerable resources into the science and technology of weather services. In order to effectively assess the market for weather services, and thus properly scale the level of resources that, for example, the U.S. Congress or a company ought to devote to serving this market, decision makers need information on the costs and benefits associated with alternative courses of action. To date such information has not been readily or systematically available, leaving unanswered questions about the effectiveness of investment in the science and technology of weather. We argue herein that the allocation of resources to weather in the public and private sectors is unlikely to become more effective or—of particular concern to the weather community—grow significantly unless the weather community takes an integrated perspective on weather impacts, forecasts, and policy that provides decision makers with reliable information on the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. This paper suggests one such integrated perspective that might guide the provision of such information to decision makers. Two recommendations follow straightforwardly from the perspective offered herein:

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Roger A. Pielke Jr. and Mary W. Downton

Abstract

The poor relationship between what climatologists, hydrologists, and other physical scientists call floods, and those floods that actually cause damage to life or property, has limited what can be reliably said about the causes of observed trends in damaging floods. It further limits what can be said about future impacts of floods on society based on predicted changes in the global hydrological cycle. This paper presents a conceptual framework for the systematic assessment of the factors that condition observed trends in flood damage. Using the framework, it assesses the role that variability in precipitation has in damaging flooding in the United States at national and regional levels. Three different measures of flood damage—absolute, per capita, and per unit wealth—each lead to different conclusions about the nature of the flood problem. At a national level, of the 10 precipitation measures examined in this study, the ones most closely related to flood damage are the number of 2-day heavy rainfall events and the number of wet days. Heavy rainfall events are defined relative to a measure of average rainfall in each area, not as absolute thresholds. The study indicates that the growth in recent decades in total damage is related to both climate factors and societal factors: increased damage is associated with increased precipitation and with increasing population and wealth. At the regional level, this study reports a stronger relationship between precipitation measures and flood damage, and indicates that different measures of precipitation are most closely related to damage in different regions. This study suggests that climate plays an important, but by no means determining, role in the growth in damaging floods in the United States in recent decades.

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BAD WEATHER? THEN SUE THE WEATHERMAN!

PART I: LEGAL LIABILITY FOR PUBLIC SECTOR FORECASTS

Roberta Klein and Roger A. Pielke Jr.

Weather forecasts have become demonstrably more accurate in recent decades due to increasingly sophisticated computer technology and models. Yet scientists cannot predict the future with 100% certainty. Relying on inaccurate or inadequate forecasts can result in great financial or even bodily harm. In such situations, what liability, if any, arises under the U.S. legal system?

This article is the first of a two-part review. Part I discusses several court decisions resolving law-suits against the federal or state government based on inaccurate or inadequate weather-related forecasts or failure to issue weather warnings that led to injury or loss. In general, most claims against the federal government based on weather forecasting or failure to warn about weather conditions have been (and likely will continue to be) resolved in favor of the government on the basis of immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). State government immunity will depend on the provisions of a state's immunity statute and how the state interprets its immunity statute. Part II of the review will address claims against private sector weather forecasters. These articles aim to familiarize the reader with some of the legal issues involved when forecasts are the subject of a lawsuit, rather than provide a comprehensive, law-review-style legal analysis. The authors conclude with some forecasts of their own about liability for weather forecasters.

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Roger A. Pielke Jr. and Christopher W. Landsea

Abstract

Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters in the United States. Understanding how both hurricane frequencies and intensities vary from year to year as well as how this is manifested in changes in damages that occur is a topic of great interest to meteorologists, public and private decision makers, and the general public alike. Previous research into long-term trends in hurricane-caused damage along the U.S. coast has suggested that damage has been quickly increasing within the last two decades, even after considering inflation. However, to best capture the year-to-year variability in tropical cyclone damage, consideration must also be given toward two additional factors: coastal population changes and changes in wealth. Both population and wealth have increased dramatically over the last several decades and act to enhance the recent hurricane damages preferentially over those occurring previously. More appropriate trends in the United States hurricane damages can be calculated when a normalization of the damages are done to take into account inflation and changes in coastal population and wealth.

With this normalization, the trend of increasing damage amounts in recent decades disappears. Instead, substantial multidecadal variations in normalized damages are observed: the 1970s and 1980s actually incurred less damages than in the preceding few decades. Only during the early 1990s does damage approach the high level of impact seen back in the 1940s through the 1960s, showing that what has been observed recently is not unprecedented. Over the long term, the average annual impact of damages in the continental United States is about $4.8 billion (1995 $), substantially more than previous estimates. Of these damages, over 83% are accounted for by the intense hurricanes (Saffir–Simpson categories 3, 4, and 5), yet these make up only 21% of the U.S.-landfalling tropical cyclones.

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Roger A. Pielke Jr. and Christopher N. Landsea

Hurricanes result in considerable damage in the United States. Previous work has shown that Atlantic hurricane landfalls in the United States have a strong relationship with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomena. This paper compares the historical record of La Niña and El Niño events defined by eastern Pacific sea surface temperature with a dataset of hurricane losses normalized to 1997 values. A significant relationship is found between the ENSO cycle and U.S. hurricane losses, with La Niña years exhibiting much more damage. Used appropriately, this relationship is of potential value to decision makers who are able to manage risk based on probabilistic information.

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Thomas R. Stewart, Roger Pielke Jr., and Radhika Nath

A case study of the impact of improved precipitation forecasts on the snow-fighting operations of the New York State Thruway is reported. The goal was to use currently available data and literature on forecast process, communication, and use in conjunction with observations and interviews with key decision makers to derive a model that yields estimates of value to users based on a model of their decision processes rather than an optimal decision-making model. That goal proved too ambitious due to limitations in available data. A major lesson learned from this research is the importance of improved, ongoing data collection to support studies of use and value of weather information. A more holistic approach to understanding and realizing forecast value is needed, that is, one in which information (both of forecast skill and usage) centered on the decision process is collected in a much more intensive manner than is presently the case.

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