Averaging together antarctic and arctic sea ice hides an important truth

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:37 PM GMT on January 15, 2009

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Since my last post designating arctic sea ice loss as the top climate story of 2008, I've heard a lot comments like this one: "Jeff, you just can't seem to understand the that man-made global warming is a fable and complete hoax. In all that blathering about the falsified IPCC reports and the study of the arctic ice sheet, you somehow neglected to mention that the ice recovered not only what it lost last year, but is now larger than the previous known record measured in 1978".

Well, I can understand this point of view, given complexity of the climate change issue, and the large amount of conflicting information one sees in the media. Let's look at the facts about global sea ice. You can look at the data yourself at the excellent University of Illinois Cryosphere Today web site. Reliable sea ice records go back to 1979, when satellite measurements began. Antarctic sea ice reached its greatest extent on record during the winter of 2007. Summertime ice coverage also increased in 2007-2008 compared to 2006 levels (Figure 1). However, as one can see from Figure 1, there is high variability in antarctic sea ice from winter to summer, and antarctic sea ice can best be described as having stayed constant since 1979 (as stated in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC did find that there had been a significant decline in arctic sea ice, in all seasons, between 1979-2006. Despite this decline, there have been three periods during the past two years when the sum of the arctic and antarctic sea ice was the same or even higher than it was at the start of the satellite era (1979). An article published January 1 on Daily Tech noted that "global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago". This was pretty close to the truth on December 31, 2008, despite the fact that arctic ice was 1 million km^2 below 1979 levels, since antarctic ice was 0.5 million km^2 above 1979 levels. Although arctic sea ice extent has steadily declined since 1979, especially in summer, this decline is not as great during the winter months. One can find periods in winter when summing together antarctic and arctic sea ice area makes it appear that arctic sea ice loss is no big deal.

However, this is the wrong way to look at the issue. We don't care much about global sea ice in winter. We care about arctic sea ice in the summer. Sharp declines in summertime arctic ice are likely to cause significant and damaging alterations to Earth's climate. Cleverly quoting irrelevant facts about global wintertime sea ice data to hide the summertime loss of arctic sea ice is a tremendous disservice. It's like hiding the potential impact of a major hurricane in a one-week forecast by saying, "the average peak wind speed for the next seven days will be 17 mph", and neglecting to mention that the wind will be calm six of those days, but 120 mph on the other day. The loss of arctic sea ice the past two summers, is, in my view, the most important human-caused climate change event yet--even more significant and dangerous than the opening of the antarctic ozone hole in the 1980s. It's great that we're not seeing loss of sea ice in Antarctica. But, both the Antarctic and the Arctic can be thought of as important internal organs in our living Earth. The fact that the Antarctic has not undergone significant warming and sea ice loss in no way diminishes the urgency with which climate scientists view the diseased state of our Arctic. Fully 88 presentations on arctic sea ice were made last month at the world's largest scientific climate change conference, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco. None of these scientists averaged together the arctic and antarctic sea ice together to show that the overall state of Earth's cryosphere was a healthy one. There was widespread concern for the health of the Arctic among all the scientists I spoke with, and none of the speakers at the talks I attended expressed the idea that the recent melting of arctic sea ice was predominantly natural, with human-caused climate change an insignificant factor. One view (Stroeve et al., 2007) is that human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for 47-57% of the arctic sea ice loss since 1979. Heat-absorbing black soot from fires and pollution settling on the white ice is thought to also be a significant contributor.


Figure 1. Antarctic sea ice area as observed via satellite since 1978. The maximum area in winter has ranged between 14-16 million square kilometers, about the same amount of ocean that the Arctic ice covers in winter. However, the antarctic sea ice almost entirely melts away in summer, something the Arctic sea ice does not do (yet). Antarctica is a huge continent that rises thousands of feet above the ocean. It holds about 90% of the world's fresh water, locked up in its massive ice cap. The presence of such a titanic block of ice at the bottom of the world completely dominates the weather and climate of the region, and the year-to-year fluctuations of sea ice don't have a lot of impact on temperatures there. Image credit: University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.

What is the current state of Antarctic climate?
At the December 2008 AGU meeting, scientists gave Antarctica a mixed bill of health. Isabella Velicogna of UC Irvine reported that satellite gravitational variation measurements of Antarctica's ice cap showed significant loss of ice between 2002-2008, but that the large natural variations in melting with the seasons made it difficult to be confident of the results. A somewhat different result was reported by J. Zwally of NASA. Using data from a higher-resolution satellite-borne laser altimeter, he found that there was no major loss of Antarctica's ice sheet between 2003-2007. Regardless of which data set is correct, Antarctica is in better shape than the Arctic because Antarctica has stayed relatively cool in recent decades (Figure 2). For example, the surface temperature at the South Pole cooled 0.05° C between 1980 and 1999 (Kwok and Comiso, 2002). The majority of Antarctica has shown no statistically significant warming over the past 50 years (Turner et al., 2005), and cooling has just been dominant between 1982-2004. In the period 2004-2007, much of the Antarctic warmed (Figure 3), but it is too early to say if this is the beginning of a warming trend. Check out the January 22 issue of Nature when new results about whether or not Antarctica is warming will be published.


Figure 2. Antarctic surface temperatures as observed via AHVRR satellite measurements between 1982 and 2004. Much of Antarctica cooled during this period. Image credit: IPCC The Physical Science Basis, Figure 3.32.


Figure 3. Antarctic surface temperatures as observed via AHVRR satellite measurements between 1981 and 2007. Note that the cooling trend observed from 1982-2004 reversed, thanks to warming from 2004-2007. Image credit: NASA

Why did Antarctica cool between 1982 and 2004 if there was global warming going on?
The weather of the Antarctic is dominated by a strong band of westerly winds that blow around the pole. This circumpolar vortex extends from the surface to the stratosphere, and can attain very high wind speeds, thanks to the absence of large land masses to slow it down. This vortex tends to isolate Antarctica from the rest of the globe, keeping global warming from influencing Antarctica's weather, and allowing the surface to cool. The Antarctic Peninsula, which sticks out from Antarctica towards South America, frequently lies outside the vortex. This has allowed the peninsula to warm significantly, compared to the rest of Antarctica (Figures 2 and 3). The antarctic circumpolar vortex has strengthened in the past 25-30 years, forming an even stronger barrier than usual. Tree ring records (Jones and Widman, 2004) suggest that the circumpolar vortex has shown similar strengthening in the past, so the current cooling trend in Antarctica may be natural.

Another possibility, favored by climate modelers, is that the strengthening of the circumpolar vortex and recent cooling in Antarctica are primarily due to a combination of the recent increase in greenhouse gases and the opening of the Antarctic ozone hole. The ozone hole opened up at about the same time as the recent cooling began. Ozone absorbs UV radiation which heats the atmosphere around it, so the absence of ozone has led to cooling in the stratosphere over Antarctica. This cooling has been about 10° C in October-November since 1985 (Thompson and Solomon, 2002). This has acted to intensify the circumpolar vortex, leading to surface cooling. If the climate modelers are right, the circumpolar vortex will weaken as the ozone hole diminishes in coming decades. This will allow the Antarctic to begin warming with the rest of the globe, in a decade or two.

References and resources
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007, The Physical Science Basis.

Jones, J.M., and M. Widman, "Atmospheric science: Early peak in Antarctic oscillation index," Nature 432, 290-291 (18 November 2004) | doi:10.1038/432290b; Published online 17 November 2004.

Kwok, R., and J.C. Comiso, "Spatial patterns of variability in Antarctic surface temperature: Connections to the Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode and the Southern Oscillation", GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 29, NO. 14, 10.1029/2002GL015415, 2002.

Thompson, D.W.J., and S. Solomon, "Interpretation of Recent Southern Hemisphere Climate Change", Science 3 May 2002: Vol. 296. no. 5569, pp. 895 - 899 DOI: 10.1126/science.1069270.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, Arctic sea ice decline:Faster than forecast", GRL 34 L09501, doi:1029/2007GL029703, 2007.

Turner, J. et al., 2005, "Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years", International Journal of Climatology, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 279-294.

Arctic sea ice

"Antarctic cooling, global warming?" RealClimate.org post, 3 December 2004.

Volunteers needed for disaster relief fund-raising
The portlight.org disaster relief charity is in the process of wrapping up its Hurricane Ike relief efforts, and is looking ahead to the future. According the new wunderground featured blog, Portlight Disaster Relief, "Our goals are to expand our network of supporters, continue to create a sense of ownership and community and create a financial reserve. Achieving these goals is critical to us being able to serve future hurricane victims in a strategic, pro-active and efficient manner." To this end, Portlight is sponsoring a fund-raising effort this March and April in 40 cities--a Spring Relief Walk. Volunteers in twenty cities have already committed to the effort, and more volunteers are needed! Check out the Portlight Disaster Relief blog for more information.

Coming Monday: Inauguration Weather. Wednesday: is the globe cooling? A report on temperatures for 2008, merely the 9th warmest year on record.

Jeff Masters

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Why doesn't the PDO cycle explain both Arctic "warming" and Antartic Pennisula warming?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Oil company, not the case. I simply observe what the minority does to the majority in this country and how hungry we are for bad news. It is unfortunate that many decisions are pushed into peoples heads by unknowing celebrities and distributers of propaganda and no truth attached.

Room for improvbement, certainly. Facts and forethought are the factors that must come into play. Not the wealthy pushing their platform nor the green community waiting for the end to come. We live here together and should form our future together without dispute. How can that be done? Communication and sharing facts not fiction. No one can say they know the truth about sea ice, climate change or anything this big blue ball does. Only time will provide that which we seek. THe question is, do we have enough time to figure it out or is the big asteroid coming to take us away. Be well all and thanks for the challenging bloggin today. I always tune in, but rarely participate. Adios
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new blog
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Awesome...you guys are still talking about this!

357. Don't forget plastic containers for just about everything. At least glass sinks.

Some may think I am a "tree hugging weirdo" but I always ask for paper. Renewable - easier to recycle and it decomposes.

Ossgss- Do you work for an oil company or what?

Of course there are natural cycles involved. Unfortunately, we will never have the ability to prove the outcome would be any different if we change now, later, or never.(see my last post several pages back) That doesn't mean we can't do better. Burn less coal and petroleum - it will last longer for other uses and future generations. I'm all for solar panels and we may need tons of petroleum to produce them. We will need it to lubricate certain things as well until something better is discovered.

Just like I teach my wolf cubs.....Do your best!
That basically means there is always room for improvement.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting sullivanweather:
It really annoys me when people are thick-headed and stereotypical.

It's also the same reason why I made the reply I did in comment #246.



Gee, I hope you don't think of me that way.

As a science guy, I hope you recognize the difference between the above and my usual poke-at-whatever-holes-I-see methods.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Record high temperature for today shatters previous record...

The official temperature in Anchorage reached 50 degrees earlier
this morning... shattering the previous record high of 44 degrees set
in the years 1992 and 1926. This also ties for the second highest
official January temperature reading for the municipality of
Anchorage. The January record high temperature is 56 degrees set
January 7, 1934. Temperatures could possibly rise above 50 degrees
later today.

In addition to today's record high, a record high minimum
temperature was set yesterday when the official temperature dropped
only to a low of 36 degrees. This surpassed the previous record high
minimum temperature of 33 degrees set in 1981.

Official temperatures for the municipality of Anchorage are taken at
the NWS forecast office on Sand Lake Road. Records have been kept
in Anchorage since 1917
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record event report
National Weather Service Anchorage AK
1208 am akst Fri Jan 16 2009

... Record high minimum temperature set in Anchorage Thursday...

A record high minimum temperature of 36 degrees was set in Anchorage
yesterday. This breaks the old record of 33 degrees previously set in
1981.

Records have been kept in Anchorage since 1917.

Nrh Jan 09
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
It really annoys me when people are thick-headed and stereotypical.

It's also the same reason why I made the reply I did in comment #246.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Cause and cure--- look at what ehe subsidies for ethanol have done for us? High food costs, starvation in those areas who used to get our corn. In Florida, where it is mandated to use that crappy fuel, many gnerators that will fail from the water the ethanol absorbs and the gaskets it destroys. The 33% less efficient nature of it in general is a waste of time. If you got 30 mpg with real gas, you will now get 20mpg with the big mistake fuel. OK, i am getting off point.
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I am quite surprised you answered that, sully.

But good points.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
I resemble that remark, the short bus part. Well done
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There are no experts in climate change, only those who think they are.


just like there is no crying in baseball?

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting Ossqss:
Sometimes the proposed solutions are worse than the percieved problem.

Plastic bags instead of (renewable) paper to save the trees.

Didn't do a thing for the rainforest and has been an environmental disaster of incredible proportions, IMHO.

Cure did not fit the cause, and created a much worse situation.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
Quoting wial:
I'm curious, all you anthropogenic climate change deniers, on what do you base your assertions? Why is it so easy to believe the likes of Rush and a few misinformed aging cold war physicists and corrupt corporate shills, and not the vast majority of all climate scientists and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence verifiably explained by simple-to-understand, well-grounded theory?

Also, why do you come to Dr. Masters' site at all? Aren't there creationist sites that attempt to predict the weather? Wouldn't you be happier there? There are short buses leaving for those parts all the time. Maybe the waving of the necks of the living dinosaurs in Africa is what is causing this climate mess? Go find them! Prove us wrong!

I'm all for lively scientific debate you see. Come back with some extraordinary evidence and we'll consider your extraordinary claims.



Wow...

You sound like you have an open mind...


Corporate shills and Rush, huh?

Believe it or not there's TONS of other competing theories from credible scientist, by the way, that try to explain why our climate is changing. Greenhouse gasses is simply one facet in a multifaceted chaotic system.


OH, and as many people you believe are 'paid off' by the oil companies are the same amount of people that are being paid off by 'green' groups and lobbys. It's the same on both sides. That's why once a day there's a fanatical story about the supposed doom global warming/climate change will bestow upon us. Like methane exploding out of the oceans and spontaneously igniting to burn every living thing on the planet...


I find it hilarious that you actually believe that someone that doesn't believe in the catastrophic form of runaway global warming is somehow a religious fanatic that belongs on a 'creationist site'. Great stereotyping there

/snark
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OK, the questions get harder from here on out.

Think about it. No wind in the summer for the turbines ate it all up. But we can use that energy to make big fans blow on NYC to cool it off since there is no natural wind left to feel.

There is no right or wrong with speculation. My piont is not to accept without challeng that which is being forced down your throat by teh media and self proclaimed experts. There are no experts in climate change, only those who think they are.
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Sometimes the proposed solutions are worse than the percieved problem.
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NEW OUTLOOK POSTED:
South Florida StormWatch
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350. Ossqss 10:58 AM PST on January 16, 2009
WHat if we place millions of wind power turbines on the earth and in the currents off of our coast and covered the deserts with solar panels. What happens to the climate when we alter the natural flow of our weather and extract the energy that is required by nature in those areas.


or tunnels?

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Does the sea ice come back like it will anyhow?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
WHat if we place millions of wind power turbines on the earth and in the currents off of our coast and covered the deserts with solar panels. What happens to the climate when we alter the natural flow of our weather and extract the energy that is required by nature in those areas.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NEwxguy:
And I thought this was tropical blog,how misinformed I was!!


I hear ya.

(In our defense, Dr M started it! At least we have been sticking mostly to the Arctic sea ice discussion.)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
There will never be consensus on climate change in America in our lifetime because a certain unnamed party decided to turn it into a political football. First they denied its existence, then when the evidence became overwhelming they just denied the man-made aspect. Once that evidence becomes overwhelming the debate will be shifted again, and again. Injecting superfluous doubt is a time-tested delay tactic. Consider that we still don't know the actual root cause of gravity but we clearly see its effect in measurements. Should we assume it's a myth until every last detail is proven, or should we proceed as if gravity does exist because the consequences of acting otherwise could be harsh?
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An opened mind leavesall options available. When you make up your mind prior to earning the right to understand that which you consider truth , you lose perspective as have many who have rushed to the side of GW before having real facts to back them up. If you notice, many of those who have earned the right to discuss our climate item, have now come out against the popular vision of our issue. Short bus dictates a short temper. Ha! I have never been so insulated in my life. Cold weather pun if you will.
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And I thought this was tropical blog,how misinformed I was!!
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 877 Comments: 15702
345. Skyepony (Mod)
They've been doing the soot research. They see the contibubters as they pop up. They have the % worked out even. I can't remember exactly but both are problems. & both in many ways are related in energy making...Probibly help both if we quit burning coal for energy. Many ways~ same root problem.
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Quoting CycloneOz:
Well, I hope you agree it was worth the wait!

It's up! Click here to watch my video "Experience Hurricane Dolly - in HD!" on YouTube.

You'll find the "watch in HD" clickable text on the bottom, right-hand portion of the video screen.

As always, enjoy.

CycloneOz---





Good video but, the not the most smartest thing i have ever seen.......i hope others don't follow....wow....not smart!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting NRAamy:
There are short buses leaving for those parts all the time.

was that really necessary? That one sentence took away any credibility you might have had.


Very true. No reason at all for that.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
*sigh* Was hoping to see some discussion/information about the possible snow event early next week but all I find is GW bickering.
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There are short buses leaving for those parts all the time.

was that really necessary? That one sentence took away any credibility you might have had.
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting wial:
Come back with some extraordinary evidence and we'll consider your extraordinary claims.


Backatcha!

As to the rest of your questions, you need to read back a lot.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Climate change is real and has been around since the beinning of time. What is the correct temperature for our poor planet, then prove it.
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Also, why do you come to Dr. Masters' site at all?

I thought that was obvious.
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Theory is the correct term to use. Empirical data is the missing factor.
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336. wial
I'm curious, all you anthropogenic climate change deniers, on what do you base your assertions? Why is it so easy to believe the likes of Rush and a few misinformed aging cold war physicists and corrupt corporate shills, and not the vast majority of all climate scientists and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence verifiably explained by simple-to-understand, well-grounded theory?

Also, why do you come to Dr. Masters' site at all? Aren't there creationist sites that attempt to predict the weather? Wouldn't you be happier there? There are short buses leaving for those parts all the time. Maybe the waving of the necks of the living dinosaurs in Africa is what is causing this climate mess? Go find them! Prove us wrong!

I'm all for lively scientific debate you see. Come back with some extraordinary evidence and we'll consider your extraordinary claims.
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Lifting above the mundane details to view the senario at a high level removes the soot in the situation and clears the air. Its the solar flares and asteroids that are the problem here.
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ahhhh...I am enjoying this nice sunny day in the 50s, this is my fav weather. Sure beats summer here, ugh. Doesn't look like the true arctic air is making it past north Fl. Where in north Fl is snow a possibility over the next couple days?
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Quoting Ossqss:
Live long and prosper
Live long and PROSPER??!??!

Yikes, I thought it was live long and PROPER.
No wonder it feels like I have lived a long time, and my bank account is pathetic!
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
Quoting GulfPoet:



Dr. Masters actually commented in his blog following my long winded attempt at this line.

Volcanos also eject more particulate matter that actually blocks sunlight and thus creates COOLING.

net net it's a temperature reducing event.


And deposit a lot of non-white aerosols into the upper troposphere and stratosphere that come out...where? 30N, 30S, and at the poles. How many volcanoes in the NH and/or SH and relative numbers to each other? More in the NH.



I very much agree with one component of Skye's latest...soot, it's transport, it's deposition over historical time, and it's mitigation needs to be investigated very well before we dive on into carbon taxes.

Could be that the Arctic sea ice is being diminished. And could be that we waste a lot of time and effort for naught if we are looking at the wrong anthropogenic byproduct and ignore one that would be far easier to control.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
It must be the spock comments, my ego is shot now.
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329. Skyepony (Mod)
One should not debate on something they are confused about...
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Correct, but the particulate matter is short lived and eventually falls back to the earth. The CO2 does not operate the same way.

So what we should do is explode some bombs in some dorment volcanos to counteract the GW in the short term? But wait, the global temp has been dropping for the last 10 years/ Now I am really confused.
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my long winded attempt


long winded? You?!

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Thanks, I just saw Al's private jet coming in for a landing in Sarasota. He has escort planes you know.
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Did you know that one volcanic eruption puts more CO2 in the atmosphere than the entire human race has for decades ?
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320. Ossqss 10:19 AM PST on January 16, 2009
BTW, what was the blog supposed to be about anyhow?


How Al Gore made up GW to rake in the cha-ching!
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
322. Skyepony (Mod)
I live were we launch these things from. Family pretty deeply involed in space program. These satalites with all these enviromental gadjets & sensor launched by NASA are not spy satalites. We don't monitor the sun with spy satalites either. AF launches security things...

Perhaps I'm not in my top debating mind frame today but lets not pretend ice core samples haven't been studied, the planet started warming around 1980 & because ya read a few articles funded by an oil company you have a clue. Why does Exxon say that CO2 in the air is warming the world? What can they gain from this hoax? Where does the mail I recieved yesterday from the oil institue begging me to contact my rep on their behalf have to play into this? Why is everything melting & warming way faster than the IPCC predicted if they are so full of it. Why has every science teacher I have had lied to me & that greenhouse gas experiement at Clemson University I did in lab..what type of magic made that show CO2 traps heat to the earth?

I'm not saying & I haven't really seen anyone saying CO2 is the end all blame all. There is natural variations & cycles. But lay a layer of black soot on ice & it melts faster. & our CO2 spewwing, tree killing lifestyle may be the end of our species or atleast many of us if we trigger a quick shift. Why are some ya'll so negative about cleaning up & insist on doing nothing while we gather more, better data, while driving off anyone from here that disagrees or has any sort a science background?
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you owe me another Dr. Pepper now, Gulf.....
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
BTW, what was the blog supposed to be about anyhow?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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