If global warming is occurring, why was the winter of 2007-2008 so cold and snowy?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:38 PM GMT on March 14, 2008

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The planet was much snowier and warmer than usual during the winter of 2007-2008, according to statistics released today by the National Climatic Data Center. Snow cover extent over the Northern Hemisphere during the period December 2007 - February 2008 was the fourth greatest on record, and was the greatest on record for January. Satellite-derived snow cover records extend back to 1967. Some regions of the Middle East, such as Baghdad, Iraq saw their first snow in living memory, and seasonal snowfall records were broken in Wisconsin and a few places in the Northeastern U.S. Surprisingly, the winter also ranked much above average in temperature--it was the 16th warmest December through February period in the 128-year global record. This puts the winter of 2007-2008 in the warmest 13% of all winters. Temperatures this winter were a bit cooler than recent winters because of an ongoing strong La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which has dramatically cooled the ocean surface waters. By one measure (the surface pressure difference between Darwin and Tahiti), February 2008 was the strongest February La Niña event on record. The last time we had a winter this cool was during 2000-2001, which also happened to be the last time we had a major winter La Niña event.


Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for the winter of 2007-2008. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

A normal winter for the U.S.
December 2007 through February 2008 was about average in the contiguous U.S.--the 54th coolest winter on record in the 113 year period of record. The average temperature was 33.2°F (0.6°C), which was 0.2°F (0.1°C) above the 20th Century mean. It was the 18th wettest December-February in the 1895-2008 record. New York experienced its wettest winter on record, and the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Vermont experienced their second-wettest winter on record. Only the South received below normal levels of precipitation, mostly due to a dry winter in Texas.

All time winter snowfall records have already been set in some portions of the Northeast U.S. and Wisconsin. As of March 12, Madison, WI had accumulated 92 inches of snow, smashing the previous seasonal snowfall record of 76.1 inches (193.3 cm) of snow in the winter of 1978-1979. Two locations in the Northeast have set new winter snowfall records, and more records will fall if an average amount of snow falls in March. By the end of February, new snowfall records for the season-to-date were also set in both Telluride and Aspen, Colorado.

An exceptionally warm winter in Northern Europe and Asia, cold in Central Asia
Northern Asia and northern Europe experienced an exceptionally warm winter, with Sweden and Finland recording their warmest winters ever, and Norway, its second warmest. Conversely, Tajikistan recorded its coldest winter in 30 years, and heavy snows in Kazakhstan caused severe flooding when they melted. Snow storms and cold weather in China this winter killed 129 people and did over $21 billion in damage.

Why did we see a cool winter, if global warming is occurring?
It is important to understand the difference between weather and climate. Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. What we experience in one particular season or year is "weather". Weather has a large variation from year to year, with cool seasons and years mixed in with warms ones. "Climate" is the weather measured on scales of tens of years or longer. One cool winter or year is not an indication that the climate is cooling back to normal. The climate is warming, and unless we see a series of several years of cool conditions, this year's cool winter merely represents a normal fluctuation of the weather. Relatively cool weather is to be expected globally during a strong La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and relatively warm weather is expected during an El Niño event. We shouldn't expect to see record warmth for the globe unless an El Niño event is occurring.

Why did we see record snows this winter, if global warming is occurring?
Beware of global warming skeptics trumpeting record snowfalls this winter as an excuse to doubt that global warming is occurring. One should primarily look at global temperatures on a scale of decades to judge the validity of global warming. Dr. Ricky Rood, who writes our Climate Change blog, put it this way in his current blog, Creeping Onset of Spring and in an earlier blog, Water, water, water:

This year has been very snowy in the northern hemisphere. That it is snowy does not suggest that it is colder. If it gets warmer, it does not mean that we no longer see freezing temperatures in places like Michigan. If it gets warmer there is more water in the atmosphere, and when there is precipitation there will be more precipitation, and if it is below freezing, then that precipitation will be ice and snow. The high mountains near the coast, like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada would expect more snow. This is also true for the high altitudes parts of Greenland and Antarctica. From a climate point of view it is more important to look at snow cover in the late winter and early spring. Is the snow melting earlier?


Figure 2. Average February arctic sea ice coverage as observed by satellites between 1979 and 2008. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Arctic sea ice recovers a bit
It will be interesting to see if this year's heavy Northern Hemisphere snow cover melts earlier than usual, as this will have a big impact on the annual Arctic sea ice melt. We're starting off with more ice surface area in the Arctic than in the past four years--February 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was greater than each of the previous four years, thanks to cooler than usual temperatures over much of the Canadian Arctic. However, this was still the fifth lowest ice extent on record for the month of February, and 8% below its extent in 1979 when satellite measurements began, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. February was the third straight month that a new monthly minimum Arctic sea ice record was not set, following a string of five months in a row where monthly records were set. The extra sea ice extent will help to reduce the amount of melting this summer, but this effect will probably be overshadowed by the fact that natural wind patterns have forced a large amount of thick, multi-year ice out of the Arctic this winter. This has left much of the sea ice very thin, making it very vulnerable to melting. For the first time on record, the edge of thin first-year ice has pushed beyond the North Pole. IF we get another relatively warm and sunny summer in the Arctic in 2008, we will likely see Arctic sea ice loss surpassing last year's astounding collapse.

Annual WeatherDance contest ready for registration!
Armchair forecasters, now's your chance to shine! WeatherDance, based on teams in the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments, allows players to predict which team's city will be hotter or colder on game day in each round of the Big Dance. Beginning March 17, players can make their forecasts at the Weather Dance Web site at: www.weatherdance.org. The site will be updated with cities promptly after NCAA seeding announcements. Team selection occurs March 16 for men and March 17 for women. First round Weather Dance selections must be entered by 11:59 p.m. EST March 19. Players can register now and receive periodic reminders as the game progresses.

"Officially, Weather Dance began as a class project to get students involved in weather forecasting, but we kept it around because it got popular. People think they can do better forecasting than the meteorologists. Well, here's their shot!" said Perry Samson, WeatherDance creator, co-founder of the The Weather Underground, Inc., and Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

This is the third year for the game. Last year more than 2,000 people played. Most play merely for the thrill, but many science teachers involve their classes as part of meteorology units. The winning teacher will receive an invitation and $500 to join the Texas Tech/University of Michigan Storm Chasing team this spring for a day of tornado chasing. Other winners will receive a Weather Underground umbrella or a copy of the book "Extreme Weather," by Christopher C. Burt.

Jeff Masters

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174. sebastianjer
1:47 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Is there any one on this blog who remembers Jimmy Carter's presidency? Sadly I voted for him lol
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 1030 Comments: 11197
173. Michfan
5:49 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Fact's loosely mixed with opinion. Different blog please.
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172. Michfan
5:44 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Good report on current crop imports, exports and supplies from the USDA:

Link

Wheat

WHEAT: Projected U.S. wheat ending stocks for 2007/08 are lowered 30 million bushels
this month on higher projected food use and exports. Food use is raised 5 million bushels
based on the latest mill grind data from the U.S. Bureau of Census. Hard red spring wheat
food use is increased on indications that discounts for spring wheat relative to winter during
the first half of the marketing year encouraged heavier use. Exports are raised 25 million
bushels based on the pace of export sales and shipments and on continued export
restrictions by major competitor countries. Despite record prices, export commitments for
U.S. wheat continue to accumulate raising prospects for higher exports of hard red winter,
hard red spring, and durum wheat than projected last month. Ending stocks are projected
at 242 million bushels with stocks-to-use dropping to 10 percent, the lowest since 1946/47.
The projected range for the season-average farm price is narrowed 5 cents on each end to
$6.50 to $6.80 per bushel.
Global 2007/08 wheat production is raised 1.4 million tons this month mostly on increases
for Brazil and India, up 0.4 million and 0.9 million tons, respectively, and in line with
government estimates. Also raised slightly is output for Australia and EU-27 based on the
latest revisions to government estimates. Partly offsetting is a reduction for Saudi Arabia
based on lower-than-expected area.


Production is actually up worldwide. We are actually exporting more than we normally do. Interesting.

And corn sells for less than wheat does at least according to this report.

The projected season-average farm prices for corn and sorghum are unchanged this month
at $3.75 to $4.25 per bushel and $3.65 to $4.15 per bushel, respectively. The barley
season-average price is projected at $3.95 to $4.15 per bushel, narrowed and lowered from
$3.85 to $4.35 per bushel last month based on prices received by farmers to date. The
projected oats farm price range is narrowed 15 cents on each end to $2.40 to $2.60 per
bushel.


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170. MisterPerfect
5:33 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
160.

I assume the 20% that like him are ignorant or they just don't care.


Please link me to this poll. And I seriously doubt the poll asked if "they HATED Bush"...which is totally ignorant of you. If anything its a poll on approval rating. Which is a mere opinion poll. Polls aren't always the best way to prove points. If I made a poll questioning that Hip-Hop music is utter garbage outside of the London Symphony the results would be staggering in disapproval of Hip Hop. But hey, you're the one that called 20% of an undisclosed number of people ignorant. Read more buddy.
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168. Michfan
5:31 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
When you factor in energy dependence, pollution, and the future of the species left on a shrinking energy reserve it shouldn't be an issue. I don't even see how there could, in good conscience, be so much controversy.

I completely agree but the argument could be that we need to get the hell off of oil because we are too dependent on it, it will go away sometime in the future, and that there are cleaner alternatives to it. I think sometimes people lump it all into GW to make it more of an issue that it needs to be. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get the hell off of oil, but Americans need to speak with their wallets and votes to get anything accomplished. Thats how a capitalistic society works.
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167. Michfan
5:09 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
I have to correct myself on this:

Entitlements is the first thing that needs to be fixed in the federal budget before anything else. We are already 24 billion in the hole.

I meant 34 trillion. Source:

Link
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166. franck
5:18 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
We don't have a wheat shortage per se. Yes, there is more corn investment, but at the same time wheat, which is a superior sustenance grain for humans, is being exported in greater quantities due to stronger foreign purchasing power (weak dollar). If you see only a few loaves of wheat on the Wal-Mart shelves in the near future it will be because it has gone to $5 per loaf and Wal-Mart shoppers on average can't afford it. I'll be one of them.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
165. NEwxguy
5:19 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
boy,did I click on the wrong button, I was trying to get to the wunderground tropical blog
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164. HAARP
5:17 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
More:
Link

Global

Link

Hoax

Link
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163. latitude25
5:18 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Of course they were.

Their history and religion played a big part in it.
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162. sullivanweather
1:16 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
But Lat,

The Japanese weren't fighting us based on religious reasons...
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159. latitude25
5:11 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
LOL Mich

Sulli, I don't believe that. If it were true, the Japanese would not be speaking to us.
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157. sullivanweather
1:06 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Re 152:

Actually, we spent billions an billions creating our enemy for the next generation. *sigh*
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156. Michfan
4:58 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
But see, it isn't, but because its amount is tied to Green house gases it is influenced by their activity in a complex process. Again its just there and the gases matter.

Remember Fractions of a degree can be catastrophic when billions of people are factored in.


See this is kind of where the circular argument with GW starts (not putting you on the spot but it brings up a good point). Some say that the man-made emissions and additions result in the Earth warming therefore increasing the amount of Water Vapor that the earth can hold resulting in GW. Others point to the fact that there is so much of it in the atmosphere to begin with that this warming simply can't be caused by the small amounts of man-made emissions. You can kind of go round and round with this one. Its most likely why people probably use the glacial records more often. I still want to know why the DOE doesn't use Water Vapor in its calculations.

Then here is another little tidbit to ponder:

No one really debates that the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming Period existed based on historical data, so would that not show that the Earth in of itself does have some variability that closely mimics what we are seeing during our lifetime?
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153. sullivanweather
1:00 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
why Venus is so hot

Well, that's simple.

Not only does Venus receive more thermal energy than does the Earth the atmosphere is about 100 times thicker. Venus has the atmosphere that one can compare to a dense liquid rather than air. Even if the atmosphere of Venus was predominately a different molecule than CO2, due its density it would be comparably hot.
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151. Michfan
4:56 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Entitlements is the first thing that needs to be fixed in the federal budget before anything else. We are already 24 billion in the hole with Medicare as is and its only going to get worse. Everyone in Congress keeps ignoring the issue and hoping it will either go away or to let someone else deal with it. Someone has to have the balls to say no more and revamp the entire system because our current structure can not support it any longer.
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150. auburn (Mod)
11:55 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
We have the technology available to us right now to produce electricity and store it usng hydrogen. This should be where money is invested.
build your own...LOL(I am)

Link
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147. sullivanweather
12:54 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Re 143:

The best part about this grid is that it can be controlled digitally through home computers rather than one central operating center. Hence, blackouts becomes non-existant.

It's better to run the grid off of literally millions of home computers rather than one source, such as the power plant or transfer stations...
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146. Michfan
4:53 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
139. auburn 4:50 PM GMT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
127. Michfan 11:41 AM CDT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
Not to mention the more corn that is used for biofuel results in less corn for food supplies and feeds. We already have a big wheat shortage which is driving up the prices of feed overall. We don't need to add to it even more.

People don't realise that their are presently farmers being paid NOT to grow corn
to keep the price up. It is called farm subsidies. ...


Prices are also being driven up by the soaring demand from China and India because of their population and economic explosion. Demand is simply out pacing supply.
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145. latitude25
4:52 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
I hope Obama has a plan to tax people than can afford all of that
and give it to people that can't.

The largest demographic in this country is heading for retirement and
a fixed income.

Social Security, Medicare/aid, Health Care all need to be fixed at the same time.

Maybe he has a plan to tax Cuba.

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144. auburn (Mod)
11:53 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
140. latitude25 11:50 AM CDT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
Not any more auburn.


Still happens around here...we went from growing corn and cotton to growing sod
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143. atmoaggie
4:51 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Installing a smart grid will help consumers
produce electricity at home through solar panels or wind turbines, and be able to sell electricity back
through the grid for other consumers


Now that sounds cool.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
141. sullivanweather
12:47 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Michael,

The point I was trying to make is that we need to just change our mindset on fuels completely.

Bio-fuel (no matter the source), fossil fuel...it all needs to go.

We have the technology available to us right now to produce electricity and store it usng hydrogen. This should be where money is invested.

Obama does have some very good plans, though. Like developing a smart grid.

Obama will
invest federal money to leverage additional state and private sector funds to help create a digitally
connected power grid. Creating a smart grid will also help insulate against terrorism concerns because
our grid today is virtually unprotected from terrorists. Installing a smart grid will help consumers
produce electricity at home through solar panels or wind turbines, and be able to sell electricity back
through the grid for other consumers, and help consumers reduce their energy use during peak hours
when electricity is more expensive. Obama will direct federal resources to the most vulnerable and
congested areas and rural areas where significant renewable energy sources are located, as well as
work toward national transformation of our energy grid in partnership with states and utilities
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140. latitude25
4:50 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Not any more auburn.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
139. auburn (Mod)
11:44 AM CDT on March 14, 2008
127. Michfan 11:41 AM CDT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
Not to mention the more corn that is used for biofuel results in less corn for food supplies and feeds. We already have a big wheat shortage which is driving up the prices of feed overall. We don't need to add to it even more.

People don't realise that their are presently farmers being paid NOT to grow corn
to keep the price up. It is called farm subsidies. ...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
138. Michfan
4:42 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
128. JFLORIDA 4:41 PM GMT on March 14, 2008 Hide this comment.

The fact that water vapor holds the majority of the heat in our Earth's atmosphere, thereby being the most influential greenhouse gas due to its dominance. When it is taken fully into context along with CO2, etc.. then our impact to GW is in some degree minimized in the big picture.

Wait no,no,no water vapor is not relevant. Period. Dont go on from there. There are toxins that such a minuscule amount will kill you. I wouldn't go on to say they are harmless.


Your skirting my point and failed to quote the rest of what i said to make your own. Please don't do that again. Its highly annoying.

I never said that the gases that we put out there are harmless. Look at the report and his references. According to it water vapor makes up the majority of the greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, thereby making the influence of other greenhouse gases small in the overall picture.

Now this is what one has to ponder when reading the linked report:

Does Water Vapor remain constant throughout the time period for which scientists debate global warming over? If so then water vapor is a moot point. Debate the science not the opinion.
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137. atmoaggie
4:42 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Wait no,no,no water vapor is not relevant

Very relevant, as is tropospheric ozone, NOx, etc.

CO2 is not a very effective greenhouse gas compared to water vapor. All along the GW argument has been that warming will cause more water vapor to be present. But then, as Dr. Masters and Ricky Rood correctly point out, more precip (and clouds) would result...a negative feedback daytime, positve nighttime, also far more powerful than CO2 as a longwave energy absorber and reemitter. CO2 in ability and concentration is miniscule in comparison.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
134. latitude25
4:44 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Mich, we have a wheat shortage because they converted to corn. Cause they are making a lot more money on corn.
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133. lindenii
4:43 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Hey afcjags03,

You are so right about post # 95.

What she should have done is reference the link with a leader like the following...

Known causes of global climate change, like cyclical eccentricities in Earth's rotation and orbit, as well as variations in the sun's energy output, are the primary causes of climate cycles measured over the last half million years. However, secondary greenhouse effects stemming from changes in the ability of a warming atmosphere to support greater concentrations of gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide also appear to play a significant role. As demonstrated in the data above, of all Earth's greenhouse gases, water vapor is by far the dominant player.

The ability of humans to influence greenhouse water vapor is negligible. As such, individuals and groups whose agenda it is to require that human beings are the cause of global warming must discount or ignore the effects of water vapor to preserve their arguments, citing numbers similar to those in Table 4b . If political correctness and staying out of trouble aren't high priorities for you, go ahead and ask them how water vapor was handled in their models or statistics. Chances are, it wasn't!


I have decided that the global warming folks just don't get it. Data gathered with the new intrumentation cannot simply be compared to data gathered before its introduction. It is like trying to evaluate the typing skills of a person who type 80 words a minute years ago on a maunal typewriter with the person who can type 120 words a minute using the latest computer based unit. It is not even close to being fair or accurate.

So, rather than being angry and frustrated on their intransigence, I will now reimind myself that they just don't get it and that time will be the only way to convice them otherwise as the weather plays out according to its rules and not theirs.
132. latitude25
4:40 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
and we should fight the efforts of big oil and big agri-business to undermine
this emerging industry.


This is probably the funniest one line I have ever read.

But it does play into that paraniod agenda.

Big Agri-business is making a fortune off of bio-fuel. They are not undermining it. LOL

They are promoting it! rotfl
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131. franck
4:41 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Thanks Patrap.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
129. atmoaggie
4:42 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
About the storm coming in S Fl, there is plenty of lightning out over the GoM now:

Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
127. Michfan
4:39 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
Not to mention the more corn that is used for biofuel results in less corn for food supplies and feeds. We already have a big wheat shortage which is driving up the prices of feed overall. We don't need to add to it even more.
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126. sullivanweather
12:34 PM EDT on March 14, 2008
Re 113:

Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of
biofuels and fuel infrastructure.


Develop the Next Generation of Biofuels: Barack Obama will work to ensure that advanced
biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol, are developed and incorporated into our national supply
as soon as possible. Corn ethanol is the most successful alternative fuel commercially available
in the U.S. today, and we should fight the efforts of big oil and big agri-business to undermine
this emerging industry. But it represents only a drop in the bucket of our energy demands and
making ethanol from corn has some significant limitations. Today we produce about 5 billion
gallons of corn-based ethanol per year while we use about 140 billion gallons of gasoline.
Even if we are able to double – or even triple – production of ethanol from corn this will still
offset only about 10 percent of our gasoline demand.



That makes no sense. Biofuels aren't the answer. There's much better, cleaner althernatives. Also, using corn is perhaps the worst way to 'harvest' biofuels.

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125. afcjags03
4:35 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
114. JFLORIDA 4:28 PM GMT on March 14, 2008
afcjags03 4:24 PM GMT on March 14, 2008

You cant pick the exception, then say its inaccuracy extends the entire field. You should go through all available data sets if you are concerned.


Oh I am concerned, but for every scientific article I read, there is something to offset it through another. So like I say, its matter of who you think knows what they are talking about.

Everyone agrees we need to limit our effects on the environment, after that, people tend to go their different ways.
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About JeffMasters

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