Stratospheric water vapor decline credited with slowing global warming

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:18 PM GMT on January 29, 2010

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After a steep rise in global average temperatures in the 1990s, the 2000s have seen relatively flat temperatures, despite increasing levels of CO2 emissions by humans. This reduced warming may be partially due to a sharp decrease in stratospheric water vapor that began after 2000, according to research published yesterday in Science by a team of researchers led by Dr. Susan Solomon of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder. Water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas capable of significantly warming the planet, and its potency is much higher when it is located in the lower stratosphere where temperatures are extremely cold. Greenhouse gases located in cold regions of the atmosphere are more effective at heating the planet because they absorb heat radiation from the Earth's relatively warm surface, but then re-emit energy at a much colder temperature, resulting in less heat energy lost to space. Even though stratospheric water vapor can exist at concentrations more than 100 times lower than at the surface, the 10% drop in stratospheric water vapor since 2000 noted by Solomon et al. acted to slow down global warming by 25% between 2000 - 2009, compared to that which would have occurred due only to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


Figure 1. Stratospheric water vapor in the tropics, between 5°S - 5°N, as measured by the HALOE instrument on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), between 1993 - 2005. The bottom portion of the plot shows the lower stratosphere, just above where tall thunderstorms are able to transport water vapor into the stratosphere. A strong yearly cycle is evident in the water vapor, due to the seasonal variation in heavy thunderstorms over the tropics. Once in the lower stratosphere, the waver vapor takes about 1.2 years to travel to the upper stratosphere, as seen in the bending of the contours to the right with height. Note that beginning in 2001, very low water vapor concentrations less than 2.2 parts per million by volume (ppmv) began appearing in the lower stratosphere, due to substantial cooling. Image credit: Rosenlof, K. H., and G. C. Reid (2008), Trends in the temperature and water vapor content of the tropical lower stratosphere: Sea surface connection, J. Geophys. Res., 113, D06107, doi:10.1029/2007JD009109.

The observations
We haven't been able to observe water vapor in the stratosphere very long--accurate global measurements only go back to 1991, when the HALOE instrument aboard the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) began taking data (Figure 1). Stratospheric water vapor showed an increase of about 0.5 parts per million by volume (ppmv) during the 1990s. But after 2000, a sudden drop of 0.4 ppmv was observed, and this decrease has persisted into 2009. To see how these changes impacted the amount of global warming, Solomon et al. fed the observations into a specialized high-resolution model that computed the change in heat from the fluctuating water vapor levels. They found that the increase in stratospheric water vapor in the 1990s led to about a 30% increase in the amount of global warming observed during that decade, and the decrease of 0.4 ppmv since 2000 led to a 25% reduction between 2000 - 2009.

How water vapor gets into the stratosphere
The stratosphere has two main sources of water vapor: transport from the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) via tall thunderstorms, and the chemical breakdown of methane gas into water vapor and carbon dioxide. With regard to greenhouse effect warming, transport of water vapor by thunderstorms is the most important source, since this mechanism delivers water vapor to the lowest part of the stratosphere, where temperatures are coldest and greenhouse gases are more effective at warming the climate. There is a limit as to how much water vapor that can enter the stratosphere via thunderstorms, though. Temperature decreases with altitude from the surface to the bottom of the stratosphere, where they begin to rise with height due to the solar energy-absorbing effect of the stratospheric ozone layer. As moisture-laden air rises in thunderstorms towards the lower stratosphere, it encounters the atmosphere's "cold point"--the coldest point in the lower atmosphere, at the base of the stratosphere. Since the amount of water vapor that can be present in the atmosphere decreases as the temperature gets colder, and moisture being transported to the stratosphere must traverse through the "cold point" of the atmosphere, the air gets "freeze dried" and loses most of its moisture.


Figure 2. The departure from average of tropopause temperature (dark line) and Sea Surface Temperature (light dashed line) for the tropical Pacific Ocean between 10°S - 10°N, from 1981 - 2007. The tropopause is the bottom boundary of the stratosphere. The SST data is for 139°W - 171°W longitude, and is from the NOAA Optimal Interpolation v2 data set. The tropopause data is from balloon soundings, for the region 171°W - 200°W. The SST is plotted so that the anomalies increase as one looks down. Note that prior to about 2000, tropopause temperatures and SSTs increased and decreased together, but that beginning in 2000 - 2001, a sharp climate shift occurred, and the two quantities became anti-correlated. The sudden drop in tropopause temperature in 2000 - 2001 caused a sharp drop in stratospheric water vapor. Image credit: Rosenlof, K. H., and G. C. Reid (2008), Trends in the temperature and water vapor content of the tropical lower stratosphere: Sea surface connection, J. Geophys. Res., 113, D06107, doi:10.1029/2007JD009109.

Why did stratospheric water vapor drop in 2000?
Tall thunderstorms capable of delivering water vapor into the stratosphere occur primarily in the tropics, particularly over the Western Pacific, where a huge warm pool with very high Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) exists. In 2000, this region experienced a sharp increase in SST of 0.25°C, which has remained consistent though the 2000s (Figure 2). Coincident with this increase in SST came a sharp drop in the "cold point" temperature of the tropopause--the lower boundary of the stratosphere. This reduction in "cold point" temperature meant that less water vapor could make it into the stratosphere over the Tropical Pacific, since more thunderstorm water was getting "freeze dried" out. Did global warming trigger this increase in Pacific SST, resulting in cooling of the "cold point" and less water vapor in the stratosphere? Or was it random variation due to some decades-long natural cycle? This key question was left unanswered by the Solomon et al. study, and observations of stratospheric water vapor don't go back far enough to offer a reasonable guess. One factor arguing against global warming having triggered a negative feedback of this nature is that prior to 2000, increases in Western Pacific SST caused increases in "cold point" temperatures--behavior opposite of what has been seen since 2000.

If global warming has triggered the decrease in stratospheric water vapor seen since 2000, it could mean that the climate models have predicted too much global warming, since they don't predict that such a negative feedback exists. On the other hand, if this is a natural cycle, we can expect the recent flattening in global temperatures to average out in the long run, with a return to steeper increases in temperature in the coming decades. Climate models currently do a poor job modeling the complex dynamics of water vapor in the stratosphere, and are not much help figuring out what's going on. Complicating the issue is the fact that about 15% of all thunderstorms capable of delivering water vapor into the stratosphere are generated by tropical cyclones (Rosenlof and Reid, 2008), and tropical cyclones are not well-treated by climate models. We also have to factor in the impact of stratospheric ozone loss, which acts to cool the lower stratosphere. This effect should gradually decrease in future decades as CFC levels decline, though. The stratosphere is a devilishly complicated place that can have a significant impact on global climate change, and we are many years from understanding what is going on there.

References
Romps, D.M., and Z. Kuang, "Overshooting convection in tropical cyclones", Geophysical Research Letters, 2009; 36 (9): L09804 DOI: 10.1029/2009GL037396

Rosenlof, K. H., and G. C. Reid (2008), Trends in the temperature and water vapor content of the tropical lower stratosphere: Sea surface connection, J. Geophys. Res., 113, D06107, doi:10.1029/2007JD009109.

Portlight Haiti update
Paul Timmons, who directs the Portlight.org disaster-relief charity that has sprung up from the hard work and dedication of many members of the wunderground.com community, was interviewed by NBC yesterday. The reporter doing the story is planning to follow the Portlight-donated goods to Haiti and interview the people with disabilities that receive the donations. It is uncertain when the story will be aired, but I'll try to give everyone a heads-up.

Next post
My next post will probably be Tuesday (Groundhog's Day), when I plan to discuss Phil's forecast for the rest of winter. I'll throw in my two cents worth, too.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting P451:
How the hell I did not die in this thing is beyond comprehension.



Melbourne, FL, 1992


Nice car!!! Exactly what a Joisey Boy should be motorin in! LOL
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OMG WATER VAPOR IS A POTENT GREENHOUSE GAS!!! BAN THE OCEAN NOW!!!

And for your reading pleasure:
January 30, 2010
Climate chief was told of false glacier claims before Copenhagen

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7009081.ece
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Excerpt from STORM SUMMARY NUMBER 08 FOR SOUTHERN PLAINS TO MID ATLANTIC WINTER STORM

THE SURFACE LOW PRESSURE CENTER LOCATED ALONG THE CENTRAL GULF
COAST WILL CONTINUE TO PROGRESS EASTWARD THROUGH SATURDAY MORNING
WHILE GENERALLY MAINTAINING ITS INTENSITY. IN ADDITION...A SECOND
LOW PRESSURE CENTER WILL FORM OFF THE SOUTHEAST COAST AND MOVE TO
THE NORTHEAST. THIS PAIR OF LOW CENTERS WILL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT
SNOWFALL SATURDAY MORNING FROM THE TENNESSEE RIVER VALLEY THROUGH
THE MID ATLANTIC STATES. SNOW TOTALS WILL VARY...BUT MUCH OF THIS
AREA COULD SEE TOTALS IN EXCESS OF FOUR INCHES. IN ADDITION TO THE
HEAVY SNOW THREAT...THERE WILL BE THE THREAT OF SIGNIFICANT ICING
SATURDAY MORNING THROUGH MUCH OF THE TENNESSEE RIVER VALLEY AND
THE CAROLINAS.
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Not a good day to be driving NE on I-95:
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Very heavy sleet falling now!!
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Quoting AstroHurricane001:
170: Yes, El Nino is weakening, but only because it's spreading out. I compared the SST maps from WeatherUnderground for December 29 and for today, and I found that in the month, all of northwestern Humboldt isotherms retreated south and east (except for a few of the equatorial ones, but the Humboldt doesn't even reach the equator anymore without dodging part of the ENSO warm pool), while all of the isotherms at the southwestern part of the current, the part that threatens to cut the Humboldt off, have advanced southeastward, in some cases dramatically, for example with the 23C line. An area of 26C+ water now stretches from the equator to coastal South America, down to central Peru and strengthening the warm anomaly in the Peru-Chile region that threatens to undermine the current from the northeast. Nearly all warm currents and anomalies in the Southern Hemisphere have expanded while cold currents retreated, although collision areas such as that off the coast of Northern Argentina in the South Atlantic has had small fingers of warm water colliding with each other continuously after previous collisions have spun into themselves. The warm pool in the Southwestern Atlantic has encroached into the bay that separates Argentina and Uruguay. In the Northern Hemisphere, most warm currents have retreated, especially the Gulf Stream from the coast of Norway while the diversion in the current, the one east of Newfoundland to west of Greenland, has strengthened. I'll also note that the Gulf Stream was broken on December 29, before diverting west of Greenland completely but temporarily on January 5. (I was going to write up a blog on this today, but ran out of time) El Nino should be mostly gone around July, and should reach a neutral phase around September.

I know the images you post from time to time to ilustrate your synopsis but can someone point me to a good view on the gulf stream, something like a closeup?
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
It is rough as it can get in Cary. I saw 64 It is ice coverd. It is now a mix of all Three of our winter friends!!
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Quoting weatherbro:
Starting on the second week of February, It's gonna get cold for much of the Eastern Conus!!!

The GFS(and to a lesser extent the Canadian Model) is have some convective feedback issues for the long range.

They forecast warm anomalies(while every other model consistently shows cold anomalies)which baffles me since we'll see...

-AO

-NAO

PNA.

But the Southern Branch will also get active(that's probably why those two models are acting up).

I know some of y'all will hate me for this but the Polar Vortex is forecast to anchor itself somewhere from the Lakes to the southern tip of Hudson Bay by Feb 5th!!!

So that extreme bitter air up in Siberia is poised once again to spill into the eastern 2/3 for awhile. But unlike the beginning of the year, they'll be more moisture to work with.

Bottom line: I'll lean more towards the reliable models.

This won't be wasted cold air by any stretch of the imagination!

Looking at the north asia region - the cold there seems to be much more profound, but i can not judge correctly as i do not know "typical" appearances(yes it used to be cold there - but if you look at the news - it is very much above average - very cold).
The cold seems to flip/flop north-east of poland and beyond a lot in the last weeks. Currently the influence to the europe region was several times(3-4) massive over the last 8 weeks or so. This is just my opinion from very poor observation.
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
191 KEEPEROFTHEGATE


198 Orcasystems "Hey.... your showing a perfectly innocent Orca in a bad light,"

Yeah, its those tricksy penguins ya gotta watch out for.
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Father in law worked at Huntsville (boosters) and on the LEM on Long Island in the late sixties. That was a talented bunch folks.
I would be all for Terraforming ... Biggest issue is the lack of technology, we would need to crack anti
grav propulsion to move the mass required for such a project. Check the nasa report:
www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/bpp/

Thanks for the nasa link and your post on Milankovitch cycles.

As you mention gravity, i just read something about gravity force the other day.

The force of gravity is not a renewable, but it is the renewable for excellence, is the only force this in the whole universe. It is never mentioned as renewable energy simply because no one knows how to use it, or perhaps someone will, but if it looks good from doing so. I exit in the diagrams, and I present you a simple machine that can do it and an ANIMATED GIF that the Show in function.
http://knol.google.com/k/renewable-energy-electric-energy-from-gravity-force
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
WOW nice mushroom Aussie
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But most models have been consistent in showing another long period of abnormally cold air. But yeah, we'll know why the GFS is having a conniption fit in a few.

Next week, the keys(southern tip of Florida) are gonna get a soaking. But Central Florida won't get anything til Friday(severe thunderstorms). As the boundary will stay well south of them. Plus the embedded low pressure wave will be positively tilted. But according to the HPC, even they won't have much.

By week two, the jet stream is forecast to phase!
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have a look at this video, clouds or UFO
Link
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
we will know in a few more days if they agree with each other or not.. right now sum say it could and sum arent picking it up.. if it does.. probably near the 5th or 6th of February.. but its not showing that cold like we saw it in the end of december in the start january.. but its showing for a chance of a mix.. we will c tho in couple of days if more models or the same ones stay on board ..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Starting on the second week of February, It's gonna get cold for much of the Eastern Conus!!!

The GFS(and to a lesser extent the Canadian Model) is have some convective feedback issues for the long range.

They forecast warm anomalies(while every other model consistently shows cold anomalies)which baffles me since we'll see...

-AO

-NAO

PNA.

But the Southern Branch will also get active(that's probably why those two models are acting up).

I know some of y'all will hate me for this but the Polar Vortex is forecast to anchor itself somewhere from the Lakes to the southern tip of Hudson Bay by Feb 5th!!!

So that extreme bitter air up in Siberia is poised once again to spill into the eastern 2/3 for awhile. But unlike the beginning of the year, they'll be more moisture to work with.

Bottom line: I'll lean more towards the reliable models.

This won't be wasted cold air by any stretch of the imagination!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
storms r getting strong near the panhandle of FL..

radar
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Climate sceptic warmly received during debate
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
I have been in Cary,NC all day. I can not understand why no one talks about this winter storm.
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Quoting drg0dOwnCountry:

Did you saw the video i linked, which mentiones the drop in funding, since the initial apollo missions?

If you ask me, we need to hurry up seeking terra forming solutions(which take some time) and bases on moon/mars. This could be also a future solution for over population. There are many concepts on how todo such, like civil transport, international space exploration missions etc ;)
But as long we keep destroying our base planet ...


Father in law worked at Huntsville (boosters) and on the LEM on Long Island in the late sixties. That was a talented bunch folks.
I would be all for Terraforming but the lawsuits
the Greenies and Sierra Club would launch would
kill it before it started. Biggest issue is the
lack of technology, we would need to crack anti
grav propulsion to move the mass required for such a project. Check the nasa report:
www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/bpp/
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
http://www.amnh.org/education/resources/rfl/web/essaybooks/earth/p_milankovitch.html

In 1911 a young Serbian mathematician, Milutin Milankovitch, decided to chart the ice ages of the Pleistocene. (The Pleistocene is the epoch that began 1.8 million years ago and ended about 11,500 years ago. It was characterized by lengthy ice ages, when glaciers covered large regions of the continents, interrupted by short interglacial periods, when the climate was temperate.) All Milankovitch’s calculations were done by hand, and he worked at them obsessively for the next thirty years. He incorporated new information about small variations in the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and factored in small orbital changes caused by the gravitational tug of other planets. Each of these orbital variations has its own time scale, and consequently they interact in different ways over time, but each one is regular. Going back 600,000 years in his computations, he carefully calculated the effect of these factors on incoming solar radiation across the Northern Hemisphere. The charts and tabulations Milankovitch created are still used today. He also measured summer solar radiation curves in high northern latitudes, where the ice age glaciers originated, linking certain low points with four previous European Pleistocene ice ages. Ultimately, the mathematician arrived at a complete astronomical theory of glaciation.


On the basis of his analysis, Milankovitch concluded that Earth’s orbit changes in three cycles of different lengths. The shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun changes from less to more and back to less elliptical in about 96,000 years. The Earth is tilted on its axis of rotation relative to the solar plane, currently at an angle of 23.5°. This tilt changes, however, from 21.5° to 24.5° and back again in about 41,000 years. Finally, the Earth’s axis of spin wobbles with a period of 23,000 years. The challenges for Milankovitch were to understand when the three cycles were coincident with each other and how they worked together to influence insolation (the amount of solar radiation received by the Earth). Based on his computations, Milankovitch theorized variations of more than twenty percent in the amount of sunshine reaching the northern latitudes. In his 1941 account, Canon of Insolation and the Ice Age Problem, he suggested that this caused the waxing and waning of the great continental ice sheets.

Like that of several predecessors, Milankovitch’s work was greeted with considerable excitement, but was then largely dismissed. Ice ages are difficult to date, partly because each erases much of the traces of its predecessor. However, the tables were turned by the late 1960s. Technical advances made it possible for geologists to study deep-sea sediment cores that contain a climate record going back millions of years. This climate record shows remarkably regular variations, which correlate with the mathematician’s figures and which are now known as Milankovitch cycles. However, it is also clear that astronomical factors alone cannot cause the large changes that the Earth experienced. Other factors must also influence climate but scientists still do not know how.

Interesting stuff this climate science.
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Quoting iceagecoming:
Nasa was once a remarkable organization.
Lost a bit of luster over the years.

Did you saw the video i linked, which mentiones the drop in funding, since the initial apollo missions?

If you ask me, we need to hurry up seeking terra forming solutions(which take some time) and bases on moon/mars. This could be also a future solution for over population. There are many concepts on how todo such, like civil transport, international space exploration missions etc ;)
But as long we keep destroying our base planet ...
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
Quoting PcolaDan:


LOL Interesting stuff. Actually didn't expect a response to this. The knowledge base here on Wunderground is deep. I like that.

Deep and wide. Nice mix of youngsters and old pharts, new stuff vs experience, theory vs real world. Likable enough to handle the sometimes poor S/N ratios ;-)
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
Great ilustration here! Thanks or sharing KOFTG!
Member Since: September 22, 2005 Posts: 11 Comments: 2032
241. seastep 4:01 AM GMT on January 30, 2010
As mentioned, climate science is in its infancy. Why you get "coming ice age" and "coming global warming."

Which is fine, in perspective of a relatively new science. It works out over time as it evolves as more is learned.



Why you get "coming ice age:

We know from geological records like ocean sediments and ice cores from permanent glaciers that for at least the last 750,000 years interglacial periods happen at 100,000 year intervals, lasting about 15,000 to 20,000 years before returning to an icehouse climate. We are currently about 18,000 years into Earth's present interglacial cycle. These cycles have been occurring for at least the last 2-4 million years, although the Earth has been cooling gradually for the last 30 million years.

It might be another 2,000 yrs. But alas, there
will be another glaciation. How's that for long term forecasting. I hope not too soon, my house
would get buried.
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6 min 55 sec ago
1.3 °F
Clear
Windchill: -7 °F
Humidity: 45%
Dew Point: -15 °F
Wind: 4.0 mph from the WNW
Pressure: 30.15 in (Falling)
Visibility: 10.0 miles
UV: 0 out of 16
Clouds: Clear -
(Above Ground Level)
Elevation: 779 ft

Heat wave in NH.

Seastep, you buy a snow blower or a plow,
you don't shovel it, thank god for those
polluting labor saving machines.
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And, yours show one as F and one as C.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Is there a parameter? It read F when I viewed the station.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
I embedded a wu station and it read C iso F, which given a US location should read F, no?
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Yes. Lived in MN -80 windchill. Stay indoors!
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Quoting Seastep:
KOTG - why did I get C and not F in my embed?

TIA
what
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Quoting Seastep:


That's good. LOL.


No, when it's -3F, it is just plain, old freezing cold!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PcolaDan:


It's not really cold, it's the humidity. :)


That's good. LOL.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


It's not really cold, it's the humidity. :)
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
NC - We are stuck in a sleet machine over this way. It's better than freezing rain.....
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KOTG - why did I get C and not F in my embed?

TIA
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Quoting Seastep:
I botched that didn't I? 70F. :)


This year it was 76F in both Dec 09 and Jan 10. Of course, we got down to 22F in Dec and 13F in Jan!
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
OUCH!!!!
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
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Quoting AussieStorm:
TC Olga is no more, she is now a rain maker.



Olga was a wild ride wasn't she!
Member Since: August 22, 2008 Posts: 12 Comments: 6010
11:10 and the sleet machine is fired up....all of it when we were supposed to stay almost 100% rain.
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And it ALWAYS snowed on my birthday. LOL.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Had a 125ft driveway, in a tiered mountainous (relatively speaking) N NJ neighborhood.

House on one side. Wall up to the next house on the other. 20 ft slope up on front of driveway.

Imagine shoveling that.

As perspective, neighbor to the S was 20ft lower and neighbor to the N 25ft higher.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414

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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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