Arctic sea ice bottoms out near all-time low; August was Earth's 4th - 8th warmest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:11 PM GMT on September 17, 2011

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Arctic sea ice extent hit its minimum on September 9 this year, falling to its second lowest value since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center . More than one third (35%) of the Arctic sea ice was missing this summer, compared to the 1979 - 2000 average. This is an area about the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The 2011 sea ice minimum was very close to the all-time record low set in 2007; in fact, the University of Bremen rated the 2011 loss the greatest on record. For the fourth consecutive year, and fourth time in recorded history, ice-free navigation was possible in the Arctic along the coast of Canada (the Northwest Passage), and along the coast of Russia (the Northeast Passage.) Mariners have been attempting to sail these waters since 1497.

While the record low sea ice year of 2007 was marked by a very unusual 1-in-20 year combination of weather conditions that favored ice loss (including clearer skies, favorable wind patterns, and warm temperatures), 2011's weather patterns were much closer to average. The fact we pretty much tied the record for most sea ice loss this year despite this rather ordinary weather is a result of the fact that large amounts of thicker, multi-year ice has melted or been flushed out of the Arctic since 2007. As a result of the loss of this old, thick ice, both 2010 and now 2011 set new records for the lowest volume of sea ice in the Arctic, according the University of Washington PIOMAS model. Given the very thin ice now covering most of the Arctic, we can expect truly dramatic sea ice loss the next time 1-in-10 year or 1-in-20 year warmth and sunshine invades the Arctic. We are definitely on pace to see the Arctic virtually sea ice-free in summer by 2030, as predicted by several leading Arctic sea ice scientists. I expect we'll see more than half of the Arctic ice gone and the North Pole liquid instead of solid by the summer of 2020, and probably sooner.


Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent in 2011 (blue line) compared to the record low year of 2007 (dashed green line) and average (thick grey line.) Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center .

When was the last time the Arctic was this ice-free?
We can be sure the Northwest Passage was never open for ice-free navigation--particularly ice-free navigation for multiple years in a row--between 1900 and 2000, as we have detailed ice edge records from ships (Walsh and Chapman, 2001). It is very unlikely the Passage was open between 1497 and 1900, since this spanned a cold period in the northern latitudes known as "The Little Ice Age". Ships periodically attempted the Passage and were foiled during this period, and the native Inuit people have no historical tales of the Passage being navigable at any time in the past.

The Northwest passage may have been open multiple years in a row for ice-free navigation at some period during the Medieval Warm Period, between 1000 and 1300 AD. A better candidate was the period 6,000 - 8,500 years ago, when the Earth's orbital variations brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer than at present. Funder and Kjaer (2007) found extensive systems of wave generated beach ridges along the North Greenland coast that suggested the Arctic Ocean was ice-free in the summer for over 1,000 years during that period. Prior to that, the next likely time was during the last inter-glacial period, 120,000 years ago. Arctic temperatures then were 2 - 3°C higher than present-day temperatures, and sea levels were 4-6 meters higher.

However, it is possible that the recent summer low-ice conditions in the Arctic are unprecedented for the past 800,000 years, according to a 2011 press release by Project CLAMER, a European group dedicated to climate change and European marine ecosystem research. They found that a tiny species of plankton called Neodenticula seminae that went extinct in the North Atlantic 800,000 years ago has become a resident of the Atlantic again, having drifted from the Pacific through the Arctic Ocean thanks to dramatically reduced polar ice. The 1999 discovery represents "the first evidence of a trans-Arctic migration in modern times" related to plankton, according to the UK-based Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, whose researchers warn that "such a geographical shift could transform the biodiversity and functioning of the Arctic and North Atlantic marine ecosystems."

It is possible we'll have a better idea of historical ice-free conditions in the Arctic in the next few years. A new technique that examines organic compounds left behind in Arctic sediments by diatoms that live in sea ice give hope that a detailed record of sea ice extent extending back to the end of the Ice Age 12,000 years ago may be possible (Belt et al., 2007). The researchers are studying sediments along the Northwest Passage in hopes of being able to determine when the Passage was open during the past 12,000 years.

References
Belt, S.T., G. Masse, S.J. Rowland, M. Poulin, C. Michel, and B. LeBlanc, "A novel chemical fossil of palaeo sea ice: IP25", Organic Geochemistry, Volume 38, Issue 1, January 2007, Pages 16-27.

Funder, S. and K.H. Kjaer, 2007, "A sea-ice free Arctic Ocean?", Geophys. Res. Abstr. 9 (2007), p. 07815.

Walsh, J.E and W.L.Chapman, 2001, "Twentieth-century sea ice variations from observational data", Annals of Glaciology, 33, Number 1, January 2001 , pp. 444-448.

August 2011: Earth's 4th - 8th warmest on record
August 2011 was the globe's 8th warmest August on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated August the 4th warmest on record. Land temperatures during August were the 2nd warmest on record, and ocean temperatures were the 12th warmest on record. Ocean temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean's Main Development Region (MDR) for hurricanes, from the coast of Africa to the coast of Central America between 10°N and 20°N latitude, were 0.8°C above average, the 4rd warmest August on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 6th or 3rd warmest in the 34-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). For more details on global extremes during August, see the details from weather historian Christopher C. Burt.


Figure 2. Departure of temperature from average for August 2011. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

Maria hits Newfoundland
Hurricane Maria hit Newfoundland, Canada yesterday afternoon near 3:30 pm local time as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. However, the hurricane's strongest winds were over water, and the storm brought very little in the way of strong winds or heavy rain to the island. Cape Race at the southeast tip of Newfoundland saw sustained winds of 41 mph, gusting to 54 mph at 3:30 pm Friday as the center of the storm passed. Winds in the capital of St. John's peaked at 37 mph, gusting to 46 mph, at 10:30 am local time. Maria's strike makes this Newfoundland's second consecutive year with a hurricane strike, something that has never occurred since hurricane record keeping began in 1851. Last year, Hurricane Igor killed one person on Newfoundland, and damage exceeded $100 million, making Igor the most damaging tropical cyclone in Newfoundland history.


Figure 3. Satellite image of Hurricane Maria taken at 12:15 pm EDT September 16, 2011. At the time, Maria was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab.

Invest 97L
For the first day since August 18, we don't have a named storm in the Atlantic. However, we have a new area to watch. A tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa Friday and is now 300 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands is moving west at 10 - 15 mph. The wave has developed a modest amount of heavy thunderstorm activity and spin, and has been designated Invest 97L by NHC. Wind shear as diagnosed by the SHIPS model is light, 5 - 10 knots, and is predicted to stay light to moderate through Tuesday morning. Ocean temperatures are 27.5°C, one degree above the threshold typically needed for a tropical storm to spin up. Water vapor satellite images show 97L is embedded in a moist environment.

Most of the models develop 97L into a tropical depression by Tuesday; NHC gave the disturbance a 20% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Monday in their 2 pm Tropical Weather Outlook. 97L should head west or west-northwest towards the Lesser Antilles over the next six days, and could arrive in the islands as early as Friday--though most of the models predict a later arrival. It is likely 97L will encounter the usual troubles storms this year have had with wind shear and dry air on the long trek across the Atlantic.

I'll have a new post on Monday, when I'll discuss the long-range hurricane outlook for the rest of September.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting JLPR2:


In no way that shows a Katia, similar track to Maria, yes, Katia, no.

Only time will tell.
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Quoting JLPR2:
2005's Hurricane Philippe formed today, six years ago.



Hard to imagine we are only one storm behind 2005 ATM.
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325. JLPR2
Quoting BDADUDE:
Another Katia.


In no way that shows a Katia, similar track to Maria, yes, Katia, no.

Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
324. JLPR2
2005's Hurricane Philippe formed today, six years ago.

Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I believe that Ophelia AND Philippe will form this week in the Central Atlantic.



Agreed. Looks like the final push to the end of the season is here.
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Quoting JLPR2:
A change of track with the system affecting the NE Lesser Antilles and recurving right there.



But it's the 18z and it's long range so take with a bucket load of salt. xD
Another Katia.
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ABOUT TIME! been waiting for that second circle for hours...seen that little spin this morning. wonder which will be Ophelia in the future...lol
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I believe that Ophelia AND Philippe will form this week in the Central Atlantic.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31451
Quoting JLPR2:


Well it is September. XD

Most models agree that in 48hrs we should have two lows very close or at TD status.


Enjoying the lull in activity :-). Indeed September, ATL is priming.

Big storms like Irene & Maria tend to take hold of things if you know what I mean, their circulations were massive.

Correct to add Irene.
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318. JLPR2
Quoting ProgressivePulse:


Bout time for Mom Nature to rear her ugly head again. Activity is picking up across the basin, including the Caribbean. Something is going to pop soon.


Well it is September. XD

Most models agree that in 48hrs we should have two lows very close or at TD status.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
Quoting seafarer459:
If I'm wrong...
Apologies.
Accepted. No problem.Now I understand.
why you lit into me earlier. He's my buddy.

The one I refer to will whine, call me a troll if he returns and tell you to put me on ignore.
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Quoting JLPR2:
Here we go.

A BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE CENTRAL TROPICAL
ATLANTIC ABOUT MIDWAY BETWEEN THE LESSER ANTILLES AND AFRICA.
THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY IS DISORGANIZED AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT...IF
ANY...OF THIS LARGE DISTURBANCE SHOULD BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT MOVES
WESTWARD AT 10 TO 15 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...10
PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.


Bout time for Mom Nature to rear her ugly head again. Activity is picking up across the basin, including the Caribbean. Something is going to pop soon.
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315. JLPR2
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Another yellow circle :)


Yellow all around.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
Quoting JLPR2:
Here we go.

A BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE CENTRAL TROPICAL
ATLANTIC ABOUT MIDWAY BETWEEN THE LESSER ANTILLES AND AFRICA.
THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY IS DISORGANIZED AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT...IF
ANY...OF THIS LARGE DISTURBANCE SHOULD BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT MOVES
WESTWARD AT 10 TO 15 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...10
PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.


Another yellow circle :)
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31451
313. JLPR2
Here we go.


A BROAD AREA OF LOW PRESSURE HAS DEVELOPED OVER THE CENTRAL TROPICAL
ATLANTIC ABOUT MIDWAY BETWEEN THE LESSER ANTILLES AND AFRICA.
THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY IS DISORGANIZED AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT...IF
ANY...OF THIS LARGE DISTURBANCE SHOULD BE SLOW TO OCCUR AS IT MOVES
WESTWARD AT 10 TO 15 MPH. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...10
PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
Dr. Jeff,

Can you explain the logic behind using the average ice temperature from 1979 - 2000 and not some other time? Like why are we not comparing this year's ice to the average temperatures from 1979 - 2009? This would at least give us more points of data to average. While I recognize it is unique to have the Northwest passage open, I am confused at the arbitrary selection of data points for statistical comparison. I am just trying to understand here.

Thanks

Theresa 8-)
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Quoting JUSTPLAINWRONG:
we get good rains here almost everyday for an hour or 2 love it


nice!
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I hope pre 98L wont be a repeat of Maria!
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Quoting FrankZapper:
Wrong! Not the one. Think smaller.
If I'm wrong...
Apologies.
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:


Rhymes with "spaz"....

Funny? Seriously? :
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Easy to be a comedian,this side of the fence.
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:


Rhymes with "spaz"....
Wrong! Not the one. Think smaller.
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305. jpsb
Quoting SubtropicalHi:


It's been hit and miss. Don't think anyone got 5 inches. Corpus/Alice received about 3/4 inch.

But we'll take it. Even cloudy is good at this point.
Sadly not 1 drop of rain yet for me in Galveston County. It is so dry even the oleanders are dying.
Member Since: June 30, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1174
Light rains falling over the Bastrop Fire, that should knock out the hots spots after 2 weeks. Great News. Went there today and shopped off Main Street to help their economy, what a great experience, nice shops too. The fire did not get near town fortunately.
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It will be interesting to see what unfolds over the eastern Atlantic over the next several days.

Right now we have two vorticity maximums imbedded in the monsoon trough/ITCZ off the African coast around 10 north. The first area is elongated between 30-40W, while the second area is slightly more consolidated around 20W (97L). Although 97L is slightly more consolidated, it is also smaller than the vort max around 30-40W and has less convection coverage and intensity. A third area of interest will be moving into the area in around three days as a tropical wave pushes off the African continent.

Exactly what the models do with each one of these areas of potential development varies greatly between all the models. Based off this spread its pretty hard to make any reasonable predictions on what exactly will happen. With the vort max around 30-40W, we could either see slight development into a tropical depression or weak tropical storm, or just a failure to organize and intensify all together causing the area of vorticity to gradually dissipate. In all cases, however, models remain pretty firm on keeping the storm weak. The only exception is the 12z GFS which tries to make it into a hurricane, but this is definitely an outlier solution. With regards to 97L, the most likely solution appears to either have 97L die out or join with the tropical wave coming off the African coast in the next 3 days. As far as the tropical wave, most models are in pretty good agreement on eventual development with this wave which has been looking good for the last few days now. Of course, that doesn't guarantee anything, we'll still have to wait and see.


The biggest issue for these areas of interest will be some dry air in the environment and lackluster SSTs. Consolidation will also be a significant issue for the elongated area of vorticity around 30-40W. Wind shear and upper divergence may become inhibitors later down the road, but at the moment they aren't significant issues.


In any case, what the models do agree on is that we could see 1-2 more storms out of this region of the world in the next week from our 3 areas of interest. They also agree that any development in the region will be pretty slow and whatever storm results from this, will not be particularly intense (at least for the next week, none of the models are showing any hurricanes).
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Quoting bohonkweatherman:
Rains today close to Austin were hit and miss, very scattered, amounts mainly light, decent rains south and east of San Antonio. I had several hours of thunder but nothing in the rain gauge. Radars look very impressive but you wind up getting no rain. Some areas that did get rain got a decent rain but those were few and far between in South Central Texas.


I suspect we got somewhere around half an inch of rain here this afternoon, there some more stuff coming in from Central Texas on I-10 but I'm not sure if it'll survive by the time it ends up getting here.
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Quoting seafarer459:

Sure..Why not.
Apropos to you too. :)
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Today is the first day in more months than I can remember that I looked at a surface analysis and there was a "L" over Texas.... guess the pattern shift finally happened... That new location for the high means early recurve likely for CV storms and TX for anything out of the CAR.... good thing there's nothing serious brewing. Though I suppose TX would be glad to see a storm bearing water come their way.... somewhat.


Early recurve for Cape Verde storms if they form early.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31451
Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
Right around the Alice Texas area they got a great rain, it is nice seeing someone in Texas with a downpour. Texas should be drying out very soon with High pressure settling North of Texas is what i am hearing?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

You know guys, its posts like these that make me think that he wouldn't really consider a system really destructive unless it was another Katrina.

Best just to ignore him..
If it's best for you to ignore him and you're talking out loud, that's fine. Perhaps it is best.
Personally, I agree with him.
I consider the true list of most historic cyclones to be in the link he gave in post 262. Cyclones that changed history, like the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston but caused the growth of Houston. These are the type of cyclones that are truly historic. It's #1 on his list but it doesn't even make your list. Measuring history by monetary damage, which in the case of Irene was mainly lots of damage by flood.... basements, or cars, or the damage that 6" of water in one's home or business can do(new flooring, furniture, paint job, etc.), that's not a good list. IRENE coulda' been a contender. But thankfully, she wasn't.
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Quoting StAugustineFL:


Might be for the eastern half of the state. Not a drought buster by any means but you've got to start somewhere.

Rains today close to Austin were hit and miss, very scattered, amounts mainly light, decent rains south and east of San Antonio. I had several hours of thunder but nothing in the rain gauge. Radars look very impressive but you wind up getting no rain. Some areas that did get rain got a decent rain but those were few and far between in South Central Texas.
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Today is the first day in more months than I can remember that I looked at a surface analysis and there was a "L" over Texas.... guess the pattern shift finally happened... That new location for the high means early recurve likely for CV storms and TX for anything out of the CAR.... good thing there's nothing serious brewing. Though I suppose TX would be glad to see a storm bearing water come their way.... somewhat.
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Quoting WeatherNerdPR:
Not sure if this has been posted earlier today but:
WWII-era plane crashes, burns at W.Va. air show


HOW AWFUL!!! We had a friend who flew a P-51 Mustang and he said they were very hard to maneuver. As I recall they are pretty heavy and cumbersome. But in the hands of a professional, you have to wonder if he had an engine/equipment malfunction. Just so tragic.
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Quoting FrankZapper:
I have my distinct point of view and am tolerant of all. Never use the ignore thing.
Quoting FrankZapper:
I have my distinct point of view and am tolerant of all. Never use the ignore thing.

Sure..Why not.
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Quoting hurricanejunky:


Stick with Chrome. Doesn't have the memory leaks that Firefox does, is more stable and less vulnerable to spyware and viruses than IE and is HTML 5 compliant.


I love Chrome. At first I thought it was my older computer and I upgraded my RAM, then I was on the phone w/ Comcast, blaming the for my miserable download speed and they checked my line, said it was fine and told me to check my browser. I was using IE and changed to Chrome. Wow, super fast, what a difference........ and saved me from buying a new computer.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Over 5" of Rain in some areas.



It's been hit and miss. Don't think anyone got 5 inches. Corpus/Alice received about 3/4 inch.

But we'll take it. Even cloudy is good at this point.
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Not sure if this has been posted earlier today but:
WWII-era plane crashes, burns at W.Va. air show
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97L looks unimpressive to say the least.

Latest satellite image (97L is around 12N, 22W)

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Quoting JLPR2:


It isnt'? It's the last frame before we loose resolution.


Well, I guess it could be considered long range at 192 hours :P

At first, I thought it said 150 something.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31451
286. JLPR2
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Eh...I wouldn't consider it long LONG range.


It isnt'? It's the last frame before we loose resolution.
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Hooray !! for parts of Texas....

Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
Quoting JLPR2:
A change of track with the system affecting the NE Lesser Antilles and recurving right there.



But it's the 18z and it's long range so take with a bucket load of salt. xD


Eh...I wouldn't consider it long LONG range.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 31451
Quoting seafarer459:

Same question...Why?
I've been using Google Chrome for about half a year now. Faster uploads, less buggy. I have a Mac
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281. JLPR2
A change of track with the system affecting the NE Lesser Antilles and recurving right there.



But it's the 18z and it's long range so take with a bucket load of salt. xD
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 7 Comments: 8499
Quoting Tazmanian:
like where my home page buttin on this thing lol



nevere mine i got it now lol
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Quoting seafarer459:

You may be right. If it's who I am thinking. I'm thinking "savant" may be apropos. Should I be wrong...Apropos to you. Should I be right. Shame! Tolerance is not your strong suite. Understanding,even less so.
I have my distinct point of view and am tolerant of all. Never use the ignore thing.
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Quoting JLPR2:


raleighwx still has it disabled.


I can get it.

img src="">
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Seems a bit cloudy.
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.