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Monday, February 11, 2013

Washington Post Chief Meteorologist: Bill Nye Is a Weather Idiot

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Like all good Washington Post-ers, Jason Samenow the paper's Chief Meteorologist was watching MSNBC on Saturday and happened upon guest Bill Nye-The Science Guy explaining all about the recent east coast blizzard. Apparently Nye got almost everything wrong and Mr. Samenow's review was rather brutal, but Nye deserved it all!
To educate viewers on the science of the recent mega-blizzard that socked New England, MSNBC’s Craig Melvin brought onto his program noted “science guy” Bill Nye .
What followed was the one of the most flawed discussions of meteorology I’ve ever seen on a national network. In likening the blizzard and hurricane Sandy, Nye implies both storms originated off the coast from Africa, which is wrong.
Sandy formed in the Caribbean (not from an African wave) and the blizzard formed off the Mid-Atlantic coast (from the merger of two North American disturbances). Nye then draws an absurd comparison between East Coast storms and West Coast storms in an attempt to equate them. “If you live on the West Coast ... that same type of storm is called a Sou’wester,” Nye says. “If you go to the sailboat store you can get a Nor’easter hat in New England but it’s a Sou’wester hat in Seattle.”
Big problem: storms typically hit Seattle from the west not from the south. They don’t form off the Pacific coast of Los Angeles or San Francisco and charge northward. In my entire life, (until watching Nye’s comments) I had never heard the term “Sou’wester” used in reference to a West Coast storm (a google search reveals there is an apartment complex and a lodge with such a name in the region - but I couldn’t find a meteorological reference).
There is a good meteorological reason for the lack of “Sou’westers”: Whereas the warm Gulf Stream current creates a zone of temperature contrast that allows storms to form along the East Coast and move northward, there’s no equivalent current in the Pacific to steer storms up the West Coast. I challenge a reader to find a “Sou’wester hat” for sale... Nye then makes a convoluted comment about spin in different parts of the storm that serves as a non-sensical transition into a discussion of climate change.
The climate change discussion is somewhat more coherent than his earlier comments but overly simplistic. Why MSNBC turned to Nye for weather wisdom is headscratching, considering it has access to a stable of competent meteorologists at the Weather Channel.
This is the same Bill Nye who got destroyed by Climate Depot's Marc Morano during a discussion about global warming on the Piers Morgan show a few weeks back. Nye used to (and may still have) a great kids show introducing young children to the basic concepts of science.  Perhaps he should stick to the kids because his recent track record proves he is not ready to play with the adults.

Note Jason Samenow added an update:
An astute Facebook reader - Alan McEwan - found a reference to a so-called Seattle Sou’wester from 1940. Another reader - Brendan Richards - found Sou’wester hats sold online. So Sou’westers apparently occur (and there are hats, apparently), but they don’t typically cover the latitude of Nor’easters. They’re very different storms.
  I exchanged some emails with University of Washington atmospheric science professor Cliff Mass, author of a blog on Seattle weather, who said the term “Sou’wester” is “never really used along the West Coast” but noted some of Seattle’s strongest storms do in fact come in from the southwest (and have winds from that direction.) Bottom line: yes, Seattle has storms that come in from the southwest, but they’re not commonly called “Sou’westers” and they have important differences from Nor’easters.
In other words...Bill Nye STILL doesn't know what he is talking about.


F said...

I don't want him teaching my kids either. Time for retirement.

valjean said...

As a near-Seattle resident (to the north, near the border), I can confirm that storms do tend to slide up from the south (they often form from low pressure systems off the Oregon coast) -- but the term "Sou'wester" is absolutely unknown. They come from all over up here, given our crazy geography.

Nye is just a hack. Jeez, a Nor'easter is a Nor'easter -- yeah, this was a big one, but if you've living in New England or New York for more than a few years, you're perfectly used to this kind of thing -- esp. in February.

Sometimes I really hate the Age Of The Internet. Everything is brand new.

Sam L. said...

Big storms in coastal Oregon come in from the south.

Hartley said...

Bill Nye is definitely an idiot.

That said, the traditional name for a mariner's foul-weather hat is a "Sou'wester" - but it has nothing to do with the West coast of the US - but rather the propensity of storms to strike the British Isles from the Southwest.

fancylads said...

Apparently a Bachelors in mechanical engineering is enough to qualify one as a world class Scientician and meteorological guru.

dw said...

There used to be a spot on public broadcasting called "Dr. Science", which was a spoof of Mr. Wizard type shows to explain scientific phenomena. Maybe Bill was auditioning for his own version?

OregonJon said...

My wife and I live at the mouth of the Columbia River overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Nye may be a weather idiot but he knows his souwesters. Go to Amazon and search for that term. That will get you a hat. As a meteorological term see

Unknown said...

Does anyone know what Bill Nye's academic qualifications are? I mean, is the Science Guy just an acting role for a guy with no degree?

John from Pomeroy on the Palouse said...

Nye lived in Seattle and started his "Bill Nye the Science Guy" thing on the local PBS station. I'm sure he never saw a sou'wester for sale at the Bon or Nordstrom's.
Also, doesn't the term nor'easter come from their accent. Seattleites wouldn't say sou-wester, we'd say south-wester. If we even did say such a thing.

Soup For You said...

It took ten seconds to disprove your entire article.

Sigivald said...

Gotta read better, Soup.

He was not saying "there is no such thing as a sou'wester".

He was saying "that's not what a storm is called commonly anywhere on the West coast, nor is it common around Seattle specifically".

That link proves only that there's a thing called a sou'wester, to the west and south of ... a nor'easter.

Which is absolutely true ... and completely not related to the thesis of the article.

(Anecdata: I've lived in the northwest for almost 30 years and have never heard "sou'easter" applied to a local weather pattern, ever.)

(Now, he was wrong about the hat... though note that the company that makes it is Swedish, and it also appears to be named after the British storm pattern name.)