Global Temperature falls 0.15C in October

The global average temperature anomaly for October was 0.706C, which is a fall of 0.15C from September. This reduces the annual average so far to 0.9C  leaving 2020 still slightly higher than 2016. However the uncorrected data (without pair-wise homogenisation) leave 2020 just below 2016. My calculation of the global temperature anomaly is based on GHCN V4 and HadSST3 using a 3D spherical triangulation method and a baseline of 1961-1990.

Global average temperatures (anomalies) where 2020 is averaged over 10 months. The green points are the uncorrected temperature data

The monthly data below shows a large drop in temperatures  for October

Monthly average temperatures V4U is the uncorrected GHCN V4 data and V4C the corrected version using pair-wise homogenisation.

The spatial distribution below shows lower than average temperatures across North America., Central Asia and Western Europe. Blue colours show temperatures below the 1961-1990 average for October.

Spatial temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere

There were also cooler ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.

I have noticed an interesting effect of the pair-wise homogenisation process. Recent months seems to show a large divergence between the corrected and uncorrected GHCN V4 results. However this difference slowly decays with time so that past differences reduce. This is because the corrected data from previous months and years also slowly change as the homogenisation algorithm is rerun each month. This seems to produce a self correcting process tending to reduce strong discrepancies. over time.

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The SAGE Reasonable Worst Case Scenario (RWCS)

The news this morning is that the government is due to announce a nationwide lockdown on Monday because  deaths are even worse that foreseen in SAGE’s worst case scenario which was leaked 2 days ago. The Spectator on Thursday published the SAGE modelling group’s Reasonable Worst Case Scenario (RCWS). This also explains why Boris Johnson had been so cautious about opening up the economy. France, Germany and Italy have all announced new lockdown measures. Is all this actually justified?

Firstly the UK is actually doing better than the rest of Europe and cases are growing more slowly. They appear also to be levelling off under the current  regional “tier” system.

7-day infections per 100,000 population in different European Countries.

Just as the current measures seem to be working, Boris is under new pressure from SAGE for a new national lockdown because deaths currently exceed that foreseen by their modellers in their RWCS at the end of October.  Their scenario shows the second wave of Covid-19 starting this autumn with a long slow peak lasting until March causing up to 85,000 deaths and a surge in ICU beds . The first version of the RWCS report was published in July. No wonder Boris had been looking so glum and despondent. However, there is something very strange about their model.  I show below a comparison between their modelled cases with those that have actually been recorded so far (October 28). This shows that it is simply their timing that was wrong.

SAGE RWCS modelling of cases (red) compared to recorded cases. The blue curve shows recoded  weekly cases

There is an artificial flat phase in their model lasting for about 6 weeks from October to early November. This implies that the modellers had assumed there would have to be a new lockdown period on 1 Oct followed by a relaxation and then a slow surge in cases. Epidemiological models are fairly straightforward unlike these curves . These models are concerned more about social interactions so the scientists are really trying to be more like social engineers testing measures to restrict contact rates.

Note how if we remove the 6 week flat period then the agreement is fairly good. Deaths and cases are ahead of the RWCS because there was no October lockdown. They also appear to be near the peak and the latest ONS infection survey implies that R is slowly reducing. The turnover point would be when the national value of R reaches 1.0. The fall matched to values of R < 1.

Therefore the current tier system is actually working quite well while maintaining economic activity. A full lockdown may well hasten this process but then at the price of causing irrevocable damage both to the economy and to non-covid health care. It may well be that the final death toll from delayed cancer and heart treatment exceeds that due to Covid-19 itself. Boris should therefore wait another week because the current measures may well be enough. New cases are levelling off. Covid deaths today reflect the situation as it was ~3 weeks ago.

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Following the Science

The few SAGE minutes that are available show little evidence of any disagreements or heated discussions. Their proposals after infections rose this Autumn are just ever more stringent lockdowns on the  social and economic life of the country until case rates start to fall. Current infection levels are simply due to the failure of the over-centralised Track and Trace which  was supposed to stop localised outbreaks spreading (“Whack A Mole”).

People are tired of continuous emergency measures when nothing else is changing. The basic numbers (14 day isolation, 14 day quarantine) have not changed since March despite the availability of rapid testing. This is destroying the travel industry, aviation and airports.  Why can’t we pay for  20 minute tests which PHE refuses to authorise? How is it that  China managed to test 9 million people in 5 days in Qingdao thereby eliminating the entire outbreak, whereas in the UK  you can wait up to 5 days for one individual result!

Scientists outside of SAGE who disagree with their conclusions risk being castigated and  ostracised. Has SAGE perhaps though become an echo chamber of group think, or do they critically assess and evaluate past positions? How do they balance the downsides of lockdown measures such as increases in  cancer and heart disease deaths, effects on jobs, domestic violence, mental health and suicides ? If so then how do they balance these against  the benefits of their recommendations ?

The latest infection rates per 100,000 population show that the UK is actually doing rather better than most other European Countries.

Notice the kink in the UK data due to the Excel reporting bug. In general though UK cases are now growing far slower than France and more recently Italy. This is even more evident if we include The Czech Republic and Belgium. Note also how cases are now rising too in Germany.

Belgium updates cases with a delay of 1-2 days hence the downtick is an artefact.

Italy had one of the worst outbreaks in Europe early in March and its hospitals in Lombardia were overwhelmed.  Italy too is experiencing a delayed second wave and rates are approaching those in the UK. However I discovered this interesting article in Corriere della Sera about the views of one of their leading Virologists Prof. Palù .  His views contrast starkly with the more pessimistic views of SAGE.

Here is my translation of his key points:

“There is far too much alarmism. Of course there is a second wave, because the virus never stopped circulating even though in July cases were falling thanks to the summer weather, outside living, and high UV that kills the virus. Now the return from holidays, change of season, reopening of the economy and above all the return to schools has reversed that trend.”

“I am against any new lockdown as a citizen because it would be economic suicide, as a scientist because it penalises the education of the young who are our future, and as a doctor because it would mean that the sick especially those with cancer would not have access to be cured”. And all of this to confront an illness Covid-19, which has anyway a low lethality. We have to put a stop to this hysteria”.

“Forget the PCR cases data. Point 1: Up to 95% of cases are asymptomatic so cannot be defined as sick. Point 2: Certainly these people have been infected but that doesn’t mean they are contagious i.e. can infect others. They can only be contagious if they have a high viral load, but currently available tests can’t distinguish this in time to avoid these infections”.

“Only the numbers in intensive care really matter.”

Giorgio Palu, Prof of Virology & Microbiology, Padova,

It is clear that there is a balance between curbing Covid protections through lockdowns and the damage done to other health threats, the economy, mental health, children’s education and jobs. NPIs only make sense if there is a vaccine available say within 3 months. Otherwise lockdowns  just delay the inevitable.

Posted in Covid-19, Public Health | 6 Comments