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Professor Will Alexander

Professor Will Alexander

By Professor Will Alexander

Via email, October 2, 2008

photo not part of original article

photo not part of original article

For more than 30 years I have studied the South African hydrometeorological data. As time passed and more data were collected, the signal of multiyear periodicity in the data and its synchronous linkage with changes in solar activity became stronger. Last year five of us published a paper in which we demonstrated an incontestable linkage between periodic variations in the data and the acceleration and deceleration of the sun as it moves along its trajectory through galactic space.

It also became increasingly clear that drought periods were predictable, and that we are about to enter a period when national, and possibly global droughts can be expected. These predictions were published in the civil engineering literature.

In this and the previous memo I have included copies of reports written during severe droughts of the 1980s, well before the birth of climate alarmism.

Climate alarmists followed an altogether different path. They ignored the solid evidence in the recorded data. Instead, they developed global prediction models based on process theory. Unfortunately, since the establishment of the IPCC 20 years ago, they have yet to produce solid, regional scale evidence to support their theories.

Now their case is in disarray. In their 2005 report they predicted that global warming would result in higher temperatures and a decrease in rainfall and river flow in the Western Cape. As described in my recent memos, the globe stopped warming 10 years ago. During the past season the opposite occurred in the winter rainfall area. The temperatures were colder and the rainfall and river flows were the highest in many years.

Climate change theory is fundamentally in error. Those who practise it are deluding themselves and the public they serve.

The real tragedy is that the scientific research institutions active in this field continue to ignore the very real prospect of severe droughts in the years ahead, and the action that is required to minimise the consequences. South Africans, particularly the disadvantaged urban and rural communities, will soon start suffering as a result of this neglect. Social and political unrest will follow. Zimbabwe is an example. Are South African scientists prepared to ignore this risk and accept the consequences?

To simplify the situation, consider a group of people on a raft drifting helplessly down a river. There are rapids ahead. They have to make an immediate decision. What is the greatest risk – clinging to the raft and hoping for the best or abandoning the raft and swimming to the safety of the river bank?

William J.R. Alexander is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Civil and Biosystems Engineering of the University of Pretoria, and Honorary Fellow of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering. He was a member of the UN Scientific and Technical Committee on Natural Disasters from 1994 to the end of the international decade in 2000.
His interest in climate change commenced in 1993 when climatologists produced alarmist predictions that were contrary to studies by civil engineers extending back to the 1950s

Click on the “more” icon below for the second part of Professor Alexander’s memo


The world is heading for an economic recession

Doing nothing is not an option

I started writing this memo on Saturday. An extremely serious economic situation developed over the weekend. The comment that the party is over came from the leader of the US House of Representatives as the US authorities proposed unprecedented measures to protect the economy. On Monday morning the UK announced the nationalization of one of its major banks that was on the verge of collapse.

I am very conscious of my responsibility not to contribute to further alarmism. Please accept that the memo below reflects my serious view that we in South Africa and probably elsewhere, could soon face severe droughts that will almost certainly exacerbate the economic situation. My concern is that the South African climatological, environmental and water resource research institutions seem to be making no efforts to address this critically important national issue.

I have repeatedly, openly as well as behind the screens, requested that my solidly based assessment be evaluated by an independent body of experts. My recommendation has been ignored. Soon, any actions by the South African authorities to control the situation will be too late. It is the disadvantaged urban and rural communities who will suffer most. Social and political unrest will follow. I have a wealth of experience in this situation. It includes the scientific, social and economic aspects.

I am not prepared to argue the matter in the media or go cap in hand to the authorities. Sooner or later the truth will out.

Please consider the matter very seriously.

WJR Alexander,


1 October 2008

Memo 38/08

Drought operation

Will Alexander

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Global economic meltdown

Last Friday I distributed Memo 37/08 Drought prediction in the 1980s. I started writing this memo on Saturday. By the end of Sunday it was almost complete. By coincidence, Sunday’s sermon was about courage in the face of adversity. One of the hymns was the well-known American marching hymn My eyes have seen the coming of the Lord. I felt inspired to continue with my search for the truth and the need to free us from the shackles of environmental and climatological extremism.

Early on Monday morning my laptop’s fan started complaining. I had to have it replaced. This was a blessing in disguise as I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV as the global economic crisis imploded. George Bush addressed the nation. He urged acceptance by Congress of the $700bn rescue package. Gordon Brown also appeared on TV urging calm as yet another UK bank folded.

This economic crisis is the worst in history. Commentators described the situation as an economic Pearl Harbour. Then came the crunch. The US Congress had to vote on a motion that would make $700bn available to the banking sector. With the presidential elections due in five weeks, the politicians were under pressure from the electorate. The taxpayers were reluctant to support the bailout for the banks using taxpayers’ money.

The voting was electronic. The TV showed the voting activities in the House as well as the voting numbers at the bottom of the screen. Ten minutes before the end of the counting, the Yes votes outnumbered the No votes by 25 votes. The commentators on the other half of the split screen assumed that it was all over. Then I noticed that the total No votes was slowly increasing faster than the total Yes votes. Soon they were equal. Five minutes before the end of the counting the No votes overtook the Yes votes. The final count was 205/228. The motion failed.

Almost immediately the political parties started blaming each other for the global economic meltdown in the UK as well as in the USA. The possibility of an early agreement on drastic control measures receded. The world’s financial markets were in turmoil.

Yesterday (Tuesday) the political leaders in the USA and UK realised that unless they produced non-partisan solutions, an uncontrollable situation could develop. The general feeling of experienced commentators was that the situation would remain critical for the rest of this year and would only start improving towards the end of next year. This sent shudders down my spine. If my predictions are correct, the world could be in the first phase of a global drought by then. But nobody is listening.

Some good news

Yesterday’s TV news described the past winter in the Western Cape as one of the coldest and wettest on record. It included scenes of overflowing dams in the southern and western Cape. One of the dams was the Rooikrans Dam near Kingwilliamstown. In 1950 I started my career as assistant engineer during its construction. I am not superstitious (cross fingers) but is this an omen? Here goes.

In June 2005 no less than 15 authors from seven institutions produced a 156-page report A status quo, vulnerability and adaptation assessment of the physical and socio-economic effects of climate change in the western Cape [Midgley et al, CSIR Report No. ENV-S-C 2005-073, Stellenbosch.] The entire report rests on the premise that the Western Cape will become warmer and drier as a result of global warming. However, the globe has stopped warming and this past winter was one of the coldest and wettest on record! These are some short quotes from the report that are relevant to the present situation.

Projections for the Western Cape are for a drying trend from west to east, with a weakening of winter rainfall.

Reduced flow in rivers will have an impact on wetlands and estuaries.

Projections of winter drying are of sufficient concern, supported as they are by a variety of modelling approaches.

Impacts on hydrology and water supply are among the most direct results of global warming.

Climate variability has been linked to variations in solar activity, i.e. the sunspot cycle. However, recent analyses have called this hypothesis into question.

In February 2006 I produced a 17-page report Climate change in the southern and western Cape. A critical assessment in response to a request from a group who were concerned by the alarmist predictions, I demonstrated that the claims of decreasing rainfall and river flow, as well as the threats to the unique plant species in the region, were without foundation. I concluded:

It would be a tragedy if the 149-page report: A status quo, vulnerability and adaptation assessment of the physical and socio-economic effects of climate change in the Western Cape is accepted without question by the national and provincial authorities. There is a very real possibility of a backlash once it becomes obvious that the basis of the report and the proposed costly and intrusive recommendations have no foundation in science or reality, and are unsupported by large sections of the scientific community.

Attempts were made to prevent the distribution of my report.

I will not rub any more salt in their wounds. As in the case of the global economic situation, the parties will have to join hands if they wish to produce positive recommendations to reduce the impact of the imminent droughts.

Linkage with summer rainfall region

In a report attached to my last memo, I mentioned that in my early studies I could not find a linkage between river flows in the summer and winter rainfall regions. Although this possibility cannot be ignored, it would be unwise to assume that rainfall in the summer rainfall region will follow the same pattern.

Some questions are whether this wet winter is linked to the unusually quiet sun? Does it negate our warning of severe droughts in the summer rainfall region? The answer is that nobody knows. All that I can state with complete confidence is that droughts follow floods as night follows day. Doing nothing is not an option.

As a result of the economic situation, there is no way at all that a binding international agreement will be reached to implement costly greenhouse gas control measures. Climate alarmists are now out on a limb. There will be little sympathy for them, even from scientists in other disciplines.

Hydrological prediction model

Today, Wednesday 1 October 2008 is the start of a new hydrological year. We have now entered year 14 in our model. It is the commencement of an eight-year period in which we can expect damaging sequences of below average river flows over large parts of southern Africa and probably elsewhere.

The similarity with Joseph’s biblical prophecy of seven years of famine is not a coincidence. Both predictions were based on the interpretation of observed river flows. Also, in both cases the periodicity is driven by closely synchronous variations in solar activity.

Figure 1. Our river flow prediction model for the summer rainfall region.

Fig 1 was prepared by my co-author Alwyn van der Merwe, based on our prediction model. We are now entering year 14 of the model. All the years ahead of us have anticipated values appreciably less than the record mean annual runoffs (MAR). Note that it is the sequence of well below average years that is critical such as occurred during the droughts of the 1980s.

The present unusually quiet sun is the joker in the pack.

Ever since the beginning of civilisation, there have been believers and non-believers on many major issues. Our prediction model is an example. The IPCC scientists and their South African counterparts strongly dispute both the multiyear predictable periodicity in the hydrological data, as well as the solar linkage. This is a very serious problem. There is nobody around to resolve it. In my view the South African authorities should ignore the climate alarmist theories for which there is no believable evidence, and immediately start planning for very likely widespread, damaging droughts for which there is abundant evidence. The least that they should do is to follow the procedures described in the attachments to this and the previous memo.

Restriction criteria

I have attached a scanned PDF file of my report Restriction criteria for the Mgeni River system <click here to download report> that I distributed to decision-makers in January 1984. They included members of the Umgeni Water Board and the Durban and Pietermaritzburg municipalities. (My apologies for the scanning hiccups.)

This is an historical report for several reasons. It was the first time that a drought of this severity occurred in a large region of South Africa. It included the Vaal River system described in my previous memo. It was also the first time that computer simulation models were used on this scale. (I carried out the analyses on my BBC microcomputer, using a dot matrix printer and animated visual graphic outputs in colour. Unfortunately there were no colour printers in those days, so I could not reproduce them in my report.)

The report was addressed to decision-makers, so it had to be written in non-technical language but in enough detail for them to make reasoned decisions. The sources of the information used in the report were identified.

As you will have noted in my last memo the drought was anticipated, so we were not caught unawares. Nevertheless, we did not foresee its severity. I have an apple box full of documents relevant to the drought including my reports to the authorities and symposium contributions.

Progress reports

It was essential that the end product should be a simple but accurate presentation that could be used with confidence by the decision-makers. I prepared a graph early in the discussions. It showed the volume in storage in the system vs the restriction criteria limits. Every month I plotted the current total storage in the system, together with the restriction limits. I distributed it at the monthly meetings of the Umgeni Water Board. Its members included representatives of the municipalities and other bodies. It was very interesting to note that the storage followed the predicted values until the drought was suddenly broken and the restrictions could be lifted.

Complicated procedures

The purpose of this memo together with my last memo 37/08 is to demonstrate the complicated procedures required ahead of and during severe droughts. The situation today is far more complex than it was then, yet I see no signs that this is appreciated by those who are going to plan for and take action during droughts. There have been no short courses, conferences or symposia that could bring participants up to date on the latest developments.

Please read the attached report with all this in mind. Although there have been major changes in the 24 years since the report was written, the principles remain valid.

Points of interest

1. The South African Weather Service (SAWS) and the academic climatologists are ominously quiet on this important issue. They have been bullied into submission by the environmentalist movement. They have no excuses as they have been pressed to develop a multiyear prediction method ever since the publication of the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters in 1970, nearly 40 years ago. They will be directly in the firing line if the drought occurs without any prior warning from the climatological community.

2. I published my first report on the multiyear properties of river flow in 1978 and on many occasions since then. South African climatologists have still not developed a multiyear rainfall prediction model nor, more specifically, a drought prediction model. They are not entitled to criticise prediction models developed by others when they are incapable of developing these models themselves.

3. I have maintained friendly, if somewhat increasingly strained relationships with the climatological community. During the past 12 months I have repeatedly requested (implored!) that we get together to resolve our differences on these critical, national issues but to no avail. All that has happened is increasing personal abuse and vilification by a few, unrepresentative extremists, plus uncooperative and nonsensical views such as those expressed at public gatherings and anonymous contributions to Noseweek.

4. In these memos I have discussed the water resource-related drought issues. Even more important are the consequences to rural communities and dryland agriculture. Nobody seems to be brave enough to take up the cudgels on their behalf. I sincerely trust that the SAWS are aware of the consequences of their silence.

5. The media will not be forgiving if the drought occurs and it is realised that the climatological community (with a few exceptions) either deliberately ignored this possibility or chose to remain silent, or even worse, vilified all those who issued the warnings.

6. An interesting point to note in the accompanying report is the influence of afforestation on river flow. Do those who are presently encouraging the planting of trees to combat climate change, appreciate the consequences on river flow?

7. Note also that releases required for environmental purposes did not feature in the analyses in those times. How will these be accommodated in future drought analyses?

8. More food for thought. What changes in this procedure should be made to accommodate the effects of climate change if no international agreements are reached on the control of future greenhouse gas emissions, and the end of the world approaches?

Please pass this memo and the attached file on to those who may be involved in future action either as analysts or as decision-makers.


Will Alexander


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