It has been well reported that CSU’s Tropical Meteorology Project principal meteorologist Bill Gray does not believe in global warming, and as warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures push the hurricane season to near-record intensity, he maintains that the climate change is purely cyclical.
And whether or not he’s right about global warming, no one disputes his national prominence in predicting storms.
Wednesday marked the halfway point of the 2008 hurricane season, and as CSU’s tropical storm research team had predicted, the number of hurricanes seen so far have already surpassed the average number seen in a full season.
CSU’s Tropical Meteorology Project released its monthly forecast Sept. 2 and predicted that the Atlantic will see five named storms and four hurricanes this month.
September is typically the most active month. Three of the forecasted hurricanes look to be major, Gray said.
“It’s going to be an active year,” he said.
Gray said Atlantic sea-surface temperatures have been higher than normal lately, and in the coming years, the tropics will be in an era of major storms.
But he said the hurricane process is cyclical and these active periods come and go every 20 years or so.
Tropical storms Ike and Josephine, which both formed early last week, will be counted as part of September’s forecast; so will Tropical Storm Hanna, which reached hurricane strength last week.
CSU meteorologist Phillip Klotzbach, who works with Gray on the Tropical Meteorology Project, said that in Texas, football games have been rescheduled as a result of worsening weather caused by Ike.
“If Texas moves their football games, then you know it’s serious,” he said.
And if there’s anyone capable of predicting how serious those hurricanes will be, it’s Gray.
“All the storms you read about in history, he’s probably lived through,” Klotzbach said.
“He remembers everything, and he’s so humble about it all . he’s a cool guy to hang out with,” Klotzbach said.
Working with a legend
At 78, Gray has worked for the Department of Atmospheric Sciences for as long it’s been around — 47 years.
He’s been studying hurricanes since the 1950s, when he used to fly planes directly into them.
“Flying into hurricanes isn’t as bad as you might think,” he said. “It’s not nearly as bumpy as flying around some of the Great Plains’ tornadoes and thunderstorms — that’s really dangerous.”
Gray received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Department of Geophysical Sciences in 1964.
When he got his Master’s he wrote a thesis on the inner-core characteristics of hurricanes.
Since then he has dedicated his life to the study of the devastating storms.
He was the first to recognize the precursor signals to the storms and has been at the forefront of tropical storm research for years.
“Working with Dr. Gray is basically like working with a legend — it’s a phenomenal treat,” Klotzbach said.
Gray on global warming
Over the years, Gray has drawn a lot of press for his vocal and controversial stance on global warming.
“I believe Al Gore should be indicted and forced to defend himself for his gross alarming of the public,” he said in an interview Monday.
Gray is one of few prominent members of the scientific community who continue to argue that the idea of global warming has been grossly exaggerated by politicians.
He said the rise in hurricane activity and ocean surface temperature is merely a result of normal change in Atlantic Ocean currents and that he expects a cooling trend within the next 10 years.
Greg Holland, the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Department, was a student of Gray’s in the early 1980s, “back sometime before the birth of Christ,” he said.
Holland said that of Gray’s many students, none agree with him completely with everything he says.
“I’m sorry to say that he’s plain wrong on this one,” he said. “It’s pretty well impossible to come to any other conclusion.”
Holland said there is zero evidence to show there is no global warming trend, and mounting evidence exists that shows warming temperatures.
He also pointed to the fact that there is an overwhelming consensus among the scientific community that global warming is a serious problem.
John Knaff, another former student of Gray’s, is now an associate with CSU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere.
“I don’t want to say he’s wrong,” he said. “It’s really an unsolvable problem; it’s like discovering life on another planet: Until you find it there is no proof that it is or is not there.”
Knaff said he thinks Gray is taking such a vocal stance against the theory because he is at a point in his career where he can really speak his mind.
“When you’re just starting you don’t question the consensus,” he said. “Back in the 50s, a lot of people thought there was a warming trend, and then in the 70s everyone thought the next ice age was coming.”
“Bill’s been burned along the way, and he’s been taught that the consensus is often wrong.”
Knaff said many people Gray’s age agree. He said back in Gray’s heyday, a lot of the numerical modeling of data was not as good as it is today.
“Maybe it’s a little wisdom, maybe its mistrust . he really thinks he’s fighting the good fight,” he said.
Regardless of the disagreements on global warming, students and colleagues of his agree that Gray is a living legend.
“It’s a pity that there tends to be so much focus on such a small part of his long and distinguished career,” Holland said. “He is one of the giants of 20th century meteorology.
“He’s a great guy and a superb teacher. He’d give you the shirt of his back if you were his student.” Knaff said.
Senior Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.