Half of the polar ice cap is missing: Arctic sea ice hits a new record low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:53 PM GMT on September 06, 2012

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Extraordinary melting of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has shattered the all-time low sea ice extent record set in September 2007, and sea ice continues to decline far below what has ever been observed. The new sea ice record was set on August 26, a full three weeks before the usual end of the melting season, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Every major scientific institution that tracks Arctic sea ice agrees that new records for low ice area, extent, and volume have been set. These organizations include the University of Washington Polar Science Center (a new record for low ice volume), the Nansen Environmental & Remote Sensing Center in Norway, and the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. A comprehensive collection of sea ice graphs shows the full story. Satellite records of sea ice extent date back to 1979, though a 2011 study by Kinnard et al. shows that the Arctic hasn't seen a melt like this for at least 1,450 years (see a more detailed article on this over at skepticalscience.com.) The latest September 5, 2012 extent of 3.5 million square kilometers is approximately a 50% reduction in the area of Arctic covered by sea ice, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. The ice continues to melt, and has not reached the low for this year yet.


Figure 1. A sunny, slushy day at the North Pole on September 1, 2012. Webcam image courtesy of the North Pole Environmental Observatory.


Figure 2. Sea ice extent on September 5, 2012, showed that half of the polar ice cap was missing, compared to the average from 1979 - 2000. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Why the Arctic sea ice is important
Arctic sea ice is an important component of the global climate system. The polar ice caps help to regulate global temperature by reflecting sunlight back into space. White snow and ice at the poles reflects sunlight, but dark ocean absorbs it. Replacing bright sea ice with dark ocean is a recipe for more and faster global warming. The Autumn air temperature over the Arctic has increased by 4 - 6°F in the past decade, and we could already be seeing the impacts of this warming in the mid-latitudes, by an increase in extreme weather events. Another non-trivial impact of the absence of sea ice is increased melting in Greenland. We already saw an unprecedented melting event in Greenland this year, and as warming continues, the likelihood of these events increase.


Figure 3. August set a new record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.



Figure 4. Arctic sea ice death spiral as plotted by Jim Pettit using data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Huge storm pummels Alaska
A massive low pressure system with a central pressure of 970 mb swept through Alaska on Tuesday, generating hurricane-force wind gusts near Anchorage, Alaska that knocked out power to 55,000 homes. Mighty Alaskan storms like this are common in winter, but rare in summer and early fall. The National Weather Service in Anchorage said in their Wednesday forecast discussion that the forecast wind speeds from this storm were incredibly strong for this time of year--four to six standard anomalies above normal. A four-standard anomaly event occurs once every 43 years, and a five-standard anomaly event is a 1-in-4800 year event. However, a meteorologist I heard from who lives in the Anchorage area characterized the wind damage that actually occurred as a 1-in-10 year event. A few maximum wind gusts recorded on Tuesday during the storm:

McHugh Creek (Turnagain Arm)... ... ..88 mph
Paradise Valley (Potter Marsh)... ... 75 mph
Upper Hillside (1400 ft)... ... ... ... 70 mph
Anchorage port... ... ... ... ... ... ... .63 mph

The storm has weakened to a central pressure of 988 mb today, and is located just north of Alaska. The storm is predicted to bring strong winds of 25 - 35 mph and large waves to the edge of the record-thin and record-small Arctic ice cap, and may add to the unprecedented decline in Arctic sea ice being observed this summer.


Figure 5. An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on August 5 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated over the next several days. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this natural-color mosaic image on Aug. 6, 2012. The center of the storm at that date was located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. Image credit: NASA.

Arctic storms may be increasing due to climate change
This week's Alaskan storm is the second unusually strong low pressure system to affect the Arctic in the past month. On August 4 - 8, a mighty storm with a central pressure of 963 mb raged through the Arctic, bringing strong winds that helped scatter and break up Arctic sea ice. According to a detailed post at NASA Earth Observatory, that storm was in the top 3 percent for strongest storms ever recorded north of 70 degrees latitude. A study of long-term Arctic cyclone trends authored by a team led by John Walsh and Xiangdong Zhang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that number and intensity of Arctic cyclones has increased during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly during the summer. Dr. Zhang explained that climate change has caused sea ice to retreat markedly in recent decades and has also warmed Arctic Ocean temperatures. Such changes may be providing more energy and moisture to support cyclone development and persistence. The strong storms of this week and a month ago would have had far less impact on the ice just a decade ago, when the sea ice was much thicker and more extensive.

A sea ice decline double-whammy
The monster Arctic storms like we've seen this year have sped up the rate of sea ice loss, but increased water temperatures and air temperatures due to human-caused global warming are the dominant reasons for the record melting of the Arctic sea ice. A July 2012 study by Day et al. found that the most influential of the possible natural influences on sea ice loss was the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO). The AMO has two phases, negative (cold) and positive (warm), which impact Arctic sea ice. The negative phase tends to create sea surface temperatures in the far north Atlantic that are colder than average. In this study, the AMO only accounted for 5% - 31% of the observed September sea ice decline since 1979. The scientists concluded that given the lack of evidence that natural forces were controlling sea ice fluctuations, the majority of sea ice decline we've seen during the 1953 - 2010 period was due to human causes.

Joe Romm has a more in-depth look at the new Arctic sea ice record and what it means for the future over at climateprogess.org.

Angela Fritz and Jeff Masters

Turbulence (katy99780)
Beautiful orographic formations over the mountains on a windy evening.
Turbulence

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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
It's safe to say the NHC underestimated Michael a little...

INIT 03/2100Z 25.6N 42.2W 30 KT 35 MPH
12H 04/0600Z 25.8N 42.9W 35 KT 40 MPH
24H 04/1800Z 26.4N 43.7W 35 KT 40 MPH
36H 05/0600Z 27.3N 44.3W 35 KT 40 MPH
48H 05/1800Z 28.0N 44.5W 30 KT 35 MPH
72H 06/1800Z 28.5N 44.5W 25 KT 30 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
96H 07/1800Z 29.5N 44.5W 20 KT 25 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
120H 08/1800Z 30.5N 44.5W 20 KT 25 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW

Just by a little bit, no one expected Michael to RI.
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Quoting GluedtotheRadar:
Can all you Climate Change idiots go find a blog about Climate Change. You can whine about it there! And can the moderator please remove all the non professional tropical weather bloggers. PLEASE! This blog still has a lot of valuable information but this moronic blabber is wasting useable space.
And don't you Climate change people understand by using electricity you are contributing to the destruction of the world. Go plant a tree or something.
Ignorance at it's best.I was going to give you a + until you said get rid of all the non professionals which is very offensive because some people are here to learn and enjoy the weather.If the blog went by your rules it'll be very boring....
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16439
Quoting guygee:
With that upper high to the SW and the ULL to the E, 90L is in a wind tunnel of shear between the two features.

we need to watch what that ULL and ULH/ULAC does
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275, that was very unnecessary and uncalled for.
When using Dr. Masters' blog, please refrain from posting material not relevant to the discussion of tropical weather, or the topic of the blog entry itself. Please do not engage in personal attacks or bickering. Material not conforming to these standards should be flagged with the button and ignored.

Climate change is allowed to be spoken on here.
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280. angelafritz (Admin)
Quoting flibinite:
Good blog article, Jeff and Angela, but you lost me right at the very end. First, you say this...

"Satellite records of sea ice extent date back to 1979, though a 2011 study by Kinnard et al. shows that the Arctic hasn't seen a melt like this for at least 1,450 years."

Then you end the article with this...

"The scientists concluded that given the lack of evidence that natural forces were controlling sea ice fluctuations, the majority of sea ice decline we've seen during the 1953 - 2010 period was due to human causes."

So, were "humans" somehow responsible for what happened 1,450 years ago, too?

Maybe humans are responsible for most of the currently apparent global warming... I'm not dogmatic that we're not. But I think, considering how much we don't know about climate fluctuations, that the jury is still out, and I hate to see any scientist definitively state that such things as recent Arctic icemelts are a direct result of human activities on this planet.

Jo


These are two different studies. The item in the first paragraph is about a study that was done to try and reconstruct observations. The last paragraph is a note about an entirely different study which studied attribution.

I thought I was clear in the last paragraph when I said that "the majority of sea ice decline we've seen during the 1953 - 2010 period was due to human causes." It's possible this wasn't clear, though. For sure, the Day et al. study is only looking at the recent past through 1953. Of course, we all know that fossil fuel-induced warming didn't start until the industrial revolution, so before this, it would be silly to suggest otherwise.
It's safe to say the NHC underestimated Michael a little...

INIT 03/2100Z 25.6N 42.2W 30 KT 35 MPH
12H 04/0600Z 25.8N 42.9W 35 KT 40 MPH
24H 04/1800Z 26.4N 43.7W 35 KT 40 MPH
36H 05/0600Z 27.3N 44.3W 35 KT 40 MPH
48H 05/1800Z 28.0N 44.5W 30 KT 35 MPH
72H 06/1800Z 28.5N 44.5W 25 KT 30 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
96H 07/1800Z 29.5N 44.5W 20 KT 25 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
120H 08/1800Z 30.5N 44.5W 20 KT 25 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
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Quoting LurkyMcLurkerson:


I have no idea. I will say that, while I am a Democrat, this president -- I will vote for him for a lot of other reasons -- has not exactly been a leader on the climate front. In this, I'm not going to sing anybody's praises on the political front terribly much.

And the truth is that there are a lot of hard economic realities that come with figuring out how to really change this stuff quickly. It's a tough sell in a time when most of us are tightening our belts -- in my case, that's actually literal at the moment. To be fair, I suppose I could afford more food if I quit smoking. :P

But we really don't have a lot of time to not only make the case, and not only provide the means, but to really change stuff. I'd really like to see the politicos everywhere (except the little island countries -- they're already pissed and fighting, because they will cease to exist) really get on it. So far, most have really dropped the ball.


A question for everyone.

If President Obama or Mitt Romney is voted in to presidency. What would all your reactions be if after started the new term, they decide to introduce a Carbon Tax. Would you be in favor or against such a tax?
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
Looks like Micheal(and I do quote this from the Doc) has "risen to fame" on the blog.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16439
Quoting TheHurricaneDundee:
Ha. we had it backwards. remember when we thought leslie would be the big major and michael would be the puny TS?

I remember that, now its Michael was the big one and Leslie a minimal hurricane.
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Hey guys just popping in and about to pop back out. just letting you know that the "week of sept 10 peak of hurricane season" is an average date, and is not the date for any particular season. one season may have it on that time frame and another season may have it later in september, or even one month early or, one month late. looking at some of the long range forecast, seem like peak may come near end of Sept, and early Oct.

just keep that in mind.


oh and very importaint question for you guys what do you think is the cheapest price for a brand new (not second hand) Ipad 2 16gb.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Speaking of Michael...it seems to be gradually weakening. Darn. I was hoping it could go for Category 4.


Man I was hoping for a cat4 but since its over cooler waters and such it will weaken more.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

You do know Michael is a Cat 2 now, He's past his peak and will only weaken due to colder waters.

Really?? I had no idea...

Obvious sarcasm is obvious.
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Quoting yoboi:



do they have solar panels at the white house??


I have no idea. I will say that, while I am a Democrat, this president -- I will vote for him for a lot of other reasons -- has not exactly been a leader on the climate front. In this, I'm not going to sing anybody's praises on the political front terribly much.

And the truth is that there are a lot of hard economic realities that come with figuring out how to really change this stuff quickly. It's a tough sell in a time when most of us are tightening our belts -- in my case, that's actually literal at the moment. To be fair, I suppose I could afford more food if I quit smoking. :P

But we really don't have a lot of time to not only make the case, and not only provide the means, but to really change stuff. I'd really like to see the politicos everywhere (except the little island countries -- they're already pissed and fighting, because they will cease to exist) really get on it. So far, most have really dropped the ball.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

Yeah, I was talking about it and I was told by a few people in here that even though Leslie was large, her winds wasn't strong enough to cause up-welling.



I can't understand why some people here didn't think about it like we did. A large system barely moving is going to cause up-welling. Wash, I guess great minds think alike. ay mate!!

Hey, at one time the NHC discounted the effect. I guess after umpteen days of affecting the current location something had to give.
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Quoting wxwonder1:
Looks like an anticyclone-type feature set up to the southwest of 90L.

Oddly enough the shear directly over the LLC of 90L has increased.
With that upper high to the SW and the ULL to the E, 90L is in a wind tunnel of shear between the two features.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Speaking of Michael...it seems to be gradually weakening. Darn. I was hoping it could go for Category 4.


You do know Michael is a Cat 2 now, He's past his peak and will only weaken due to colder waters.
Also 6mph forward speed doesn't help either.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I've changed my profile picture to Hurricane Michael in honor of it being the first major of the season.

I changed mine cause I like Michael.
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At least Micheal is beautifully weakening.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16439
lol
Quoting darbyderp:


yep. came out of nowhere, and only just stopped where i'm at. (st. augustine)

who said cooler temps were coming? can i kiss you?
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Look at the thunderstorm action over Florida.


yep. came out of nowhere, and only just stopped where i'm at. (st. augustine)

who said cooler temps were coming? can i kiss you?
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90L is a pretender...
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 7912
259. yoboi
Quoting LurkyMcLurkerson:


Ha! I hear you.

There are a lot of people who do need to hear it, a lot. I'm not hoping they'll buy a CFL lightbulb, exactly, I'm hoping they'll start making their governments really start doing things, that it'll become something we all share in taking seriously (not just putting responsibility for it on the backs of the folks least able to do a whole lot.)

I'm really feeling pretty awful about the world we're making for -- at this point, not our grandkids -- the kids we know right now, the ones in preschool and elementary school and still 6 months old and only just learning about how to hit stuff with other stuff.

Because there is going to be a lot of starvation if we don't start getting our governments to do stuff. They're going to be adults in a world I don't really want to think about, at this rate. I don't mean that as a guilt trip, I mean that as _urgency_. We're seeing it hitting already, and we really need folks to get that we don't have a whole lot of time to really do something about it.



do they have solar panels at the white house??
Member Since: August 25, 2010 Posts: 7 Comments: 2336
Quoting wxwonder1:
Looks like an anticyclone-type feature set up to the southwest of 90L.



Oddly enough the shear directly over the LLC of 90L has increased.



This time of the year a swirl can surprise you.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Speaking of Michael...it seems to be gradually weakening. Darn. I was hoping it could go for Category 4.



Michael is indeed weakening slowly. The eye is becoming smaller and less defined.
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Looks like an anticyclone-type feature set up to the southwest of 90L.



Oddly enough the shear directly over the LLC of 90L has increased.



Member Since: September 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 103
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 7912
Speaking of Michael...it seems to be gradually weakening. Darn. I was hoping it could go for Category 4.

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Quoting redwagon:

Isaac's always really wanted to come to TX but keeps getting batted back into field by the TX high. Maybe
the third time will be a charm...
You could sure use the rain. Very wet summer here in FLA. Had two lightning bolts today strike <1/2 mile away scaring daylights out of us.
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I've changed my profile picture to Hurricane Michael in honor of it being the first major of the season.
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251. angelafritz (Admin)
Quoting Neapolitan:
I'm out for the evening, but on another note, I just want to say how pleased I am that Angela and/or Dr. Masters chose to include one of my Arctic sea ice charts in this evening's blog post. I hope people here find it as helpful in visualizing the ongoing situation at the North Pole as others elsewhere have.


I didn't write the caption -- I was going to include a little more of a shout out to you but Jeff ended up writing it and I don't know if he's made the connection yet. :)

Really great image idea... definitely a "death spiral."
Quoting CybrTeddy:


Worth noting that many, many storms have intensified over virtually zero TCHP - however high TCHP is necessary when a storm is as stationary as Leslie is especially given its size. Knew that upwelling would be a problem for Leslie, however once it begins to go north you will find that upwelling will not be a problem as the forward speed increases.



Very true. any idea how far Leslie has traveled all week? From what I have seen, it's not very far.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
Quoting jascott1967:


I know GW is heppening, I just don't need to be reminded of it everyday. It reminds me of Douglas Adams writting about the human race being compelled to speak as often as possible for fear their mouths would stop working.


Ha! I hear you.

There are a lot of people who do need to hear it, a lot. I'm not hoping they'll buy a CFL lightbulb, exactly, I'm hoping they'll start making their governments really start doing things, that it'll become something we all share in taking seriously (not just putting responsibility for it on the backs of the folks least able to do a whole lot.)

I'm really feeling pretty awful about the world we're making for -- at this point, not our grandkids -- the kids we know right now, the ones in preschool and elementary school and still 6 months old and only just learning about how to hit stuff with other stuff.

Because there is going to be a lot of starvation if we don't start getting our governments to do stuff. They're going to be adults in a world I don't really want to think about, at this rate. I don't mean that as a guilt trip, I mean that as _urgency_. We're seeing it hitting already, and we really need folks to get that we don't have a whole lot of time to really do something about it.
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Well, I still can't get over these melt rates.

At the rate melting has been averaging (by volume) over the past 5 years, if it continues we will have an ice free AUGUST in 7 to 10 years.

Not a "melt down" in August, but the entire month will be ice-free.

This is 10 years out if the trend is linear.

It is 7 years out if the trend is exponential.


I wonder what an ICE FREE Arctic August will do for September SST?!
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Quoting unknowncomic:
I agree very little hope for 90L to strengthen, but interesting that latest model track of BAM-S has 90L crossing FL then moving back west again into the Gulf.


Isaac's always really wanted to come to TX but keeps getting batted back into field by the TX high. Maybe
the third time will be a charm...
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245. yoboi
Quoting unknowncomic:
I agree very little hope for 90L to strengthen, but interesting that latest model track of BAM-S has 90L crossing FL then moving back west again into the Gulf.




ivan part 2???
Member Since: August 25, 2010 Posts: 7 Comments: 2336
AL, 90, 2012090618, 282N, 883W, 25, 1010, LO
AL, 90, 2012090700, 284N, 886W, 25, 1010, LO
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Thank you for the great news. Hopefully we will know how to take advantage of the missing ice and create new shipping routes.
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Quoting unknowncomic:
I agree very little hope for 90L to strengthen, but interesting that latest model track of BAM-S has 90L crossing FL then moving back west again into the Gulf.

its confused.
Member Since: March 6, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 243
Quoting wxwonder1:
Good Evening. Looks like its curtains for 90L as dry air is gradually becoming more and more absorbed into its LLC.
I agree very little hope for 90L to strengthen, but interesting that latest model track of BAM-S has 90L crossing FL then moving back west again into the Gulf.

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For West Palm Beach...

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Quoting AussieStorm:
Does anyone want to argue with about this now???


SINCE LESLIE HAS BEEN MOVING LITTLE...IT IS PRODUCING UPWELLING
RESULTING IN LOWER SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES IN THE AREA. THE
UPWELLING IN COMBINATION WITH THE SHEAR WOULD NOT FAVOR ANY
SIGNIFICANT STRENGTHENING UNTIL LESLIE BEGINS TO MOVE NORTHWARD OVER
UNDISTURBED WARMER WATERS IN A DAY OR TWO. THE NHC FORECAST CALLS
FOR A MODEST STRENGTHENING BEGINNING IN 24 HOURS.

TCHC/OHC is OVERRATED????? I guess the NHC doesn't think so.


Worth noting that many, many storms have intensified over virtually zero TCHP, so in that regards yes it is over rated by some on here - however high TCHP is necessary when a storm is as stationary as Leslie is especially given its size. Knew that upwelling would be a problem for Leslie, however once it begins to go north you will find that upwelling will not be a problem as the forward speed increases.

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Quoting LurkyMcLurkerson:


You know, I do actually get what you're getting at; I'm a current smoker, and few things wind up pissing me off more than people trying to get me to quit by telling me a bunch of stuff I already know, thank you much. It's not like I think it's _good_ for me.

Though it might be good for others, because I'm not sure I can vouch for the continued health and well being of those around me if I haven't had my morning cigarette with coffee. :P

The thing is, though, it's not that they're not _right_, it's that they miss the point. I don't smoke because I'm not aware of how bad for me it is. I smoke because I'm an addict, partly, and I smoke because it's a stupid small short term pleasure in a world that can be pretty damn short on those sometimes.

Global warming is happening. I find it really hard to find ways to argue that we're measurably upping the CO2 in the atmosphere, we know mechanisms that make that mean more stored heat/energy, and yet somehow that's not, um, storing more heat/energy.

What to do about that is not easy, actually -- my personal opinion is that telling random people to cut emissions without realizing that we're putting that on a lot of people who can't _afford_ alternatives right now is stupid. We need to make stuff affordable for everyday people to do, not just guilt trip people about how they haven't bought a new Prius (I've _never_ owned a car that was that new.)

But to me, arguing that global warming isn't happening or that we're not contributing to it plenty would be a little like me puffing away on my Camel Light while telling people that it won't hurt me. It will bite me in the ass someday, most likely. I have a relative with emphysema, I know the score. That's a separate issue from the "ok, then what?" of it.


I know GW is heppening, I just don't need to be reminded of it everyday. It reminds me of Douglas Adams writting about the human race being compelled to speak as often as possible for fear their mouths would stop working.
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Yes.I also thought the hype mania of Bermuda having to prepare for a cat 3 4 or 5 like some people were saying was a bit much.My peak intensity for Leslie was a cat 2 with winds of 105-110mph.The steering currents just wasn't in this storms favor and thank goodness Micheal intensified more than forecast as he will pull Leslie more eastward away from them.

Yeah, that is a good thing.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15932
Good Evening. Looks like its curtains for 90L as dry air is gradually becoming more and more absorbed into its LLC.
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Quoting wxchaser97:

First I don't know what happened and second Wash, I'm pretty sure, is a woman.
oh ok. i wouldnt know. i dont know any of yall.
Member Since: March 6, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 243

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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.