The Art of Climate Models — Sufficient?

Dr. Arnd Bernaerts
3 min readFeb 21, 2021


We live in a world of global climate change. Daily we hear how serious it will be. Predictions are made into the future, for month, years and many decades.

The sources are computer models. They are based on observed physical processes to simulate the transfer of energy and materials through the climate system. Climate models, also known as general circulation models or GCMs, use mathematical equations to characterize how energy and matter interact in different parts of the ocean, atmosphere, and land. But what are all the efforts worth, and how reliable are they.

The area of the US now being hit by one of the most vicious cold waves in the last 100 years was indeed forecast to be “way above normal” or “much above normal”. (see the first Fig.) So far the exact opposite has happened. The models never saw it coming.

Many climate policies are based on scenarios generated by models. Depending on what these models churn out, actions and costly regulations get enacted to mitigate the assumed consequences. So we hope that the modelers get it right. Unfortunately it seems that they are still shooting in the dark. Even short term models are failing miserably. Far too often models prove wrong when it comes to forecast quality. The shown Figures provide a picture how wrong the prediction had been during the first half of this February.

The concern should be clearly focused How much trust should be laid in climate change predictions if the art of modeling is failing so obviously. Science is working in the field for more than half a century. While the progress seems limited, the prognosis on the impact on climatic changes are increasingly presented with high confidence, demanding actions. These botched forecasts are the type of outlooks that policymakers eventually insist we need to heed and so take immediate action.

The forecasts for February 2021, and their thoroughly check for the reasons, why they failed miserably, should not be taken lightly.