Posted: 8:26 pm Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A UGA professor referees the fight over global warming 

By Jim Galloway

If you lose a couple of toes to frostbite this morning, all Marshall Shepherd asks is this: Don’t blame the polar vortex.

The previous deep freeze could be attributed to that mystical force spiraling over the North Pole. The current one is just a traditional, run-of-the-mill cold snap.

SheperdMarshall-23686-121_260_220_220_90_bor2_98AFB8_s_c1

Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society

If Shepherd seems a little touchy about it, you can’t blame him. The University of Georgia professor has spent a good part of this month trying to rescue the phrase from a tug of war between Rush Limbaugh and the White House.

Putting out such fires — protecting his science, in other words — has been his job for the past year as president of the American Meteorological Society.

The latest incident began with the dry, cold blast that shattered pipes, killed plants and closed schools across metro Atlanta — and much of the Eastern United States. Limbaugh pronounced the explanation for the weather to be part of the leftist, global-warming conspiracy.

“Do you know what the polar vortex is? Have you ever heard of it? Well, they just created it for this week,” the conservative radio provocateur said that cold Monday. “Wackos are saying it’s a great example of climate change.”

Believe it or not, the White House listens to Limbaugh.

Two days later, John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s science adviser, was featured in the YouTube video above. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States, as we speak, is a pattern we can see with increasing frequency as global warming continues,” Holdren said — after throwing in a few caveats.

Enter Shepherd as referee. Limbaugh was dead wrong, the AMS president said. But the White House “was a bit heavy-handed as well,” he said in an interview this week.

A bit of background: The polar vortex has had an official presence in the meteorological lexicon since 1959. Limbaugh’s lack of exposure notwithstanding, references date further, to the 1940s, Shepherd said.

Think of a jet stream of cold air that circles above the North Pole (and the South Pole, too) like water around a drain. Every now and then, a piece of the vortex runs off track — freezing the bejeezus out of everyone in its wake.

The question is why. The White House cited research that points to the Earth’s increasing temperature as a counterintuitive reason for that particular dose of arctic air.

Like most scientists, Shepherd believes the data overwhelmingly support global warming — which has now been rechristened as climate change. But in politics, 80 percent certainty is called a landslide. In science, it’s a call for more data.

So Shepherd, unlike the Obama administration, wasn’t quite ready to tie the hot topic of global warming to a rampaging polar vortex.

“I think it’s actually quite plausible, but from my lens, it’s a bit too early to completely anchor that as a conclusive reason,” Shepherd said in a White House-sponsored conversation of experts on the Internet.

Shepherd’s term as president of the American Meteorological Society ends next month with a five-day conference at the Georgia World Congress Center. He will leave his post as he entered it — concerned about the gap between what science has proved and what the general public is prepared to believe.

“In this state, it’s still a bit tricky,” Shepherd said. Georgia doesn’t compare to North Carolina, where state lawmakers forbade discussions of climate change. “But I still think there are some challenges,” he added.

There is the general frustration when it comes to the acceptance of global warming. Shepherd’s message for those who point to the continued existence of cold weather: Just because it’s night, you can’t argue that the sun has disappeared.

But there’s more to his worry. A great deal of on-the-ground data are being generated as well, which will need to be absorbed by your city, county and state governments. Because global warming is coming to your neighborhood.

Shepherd said one of his doctoral students is about to publish a paper showing a substantial increase in extreme weather events around Atlanta that can be tied to climate change. The same study picks out counties that will be particularly vulnerable to drought in South Georgia.

Then there’s the Georgia coast. I asked Shepherd whether residents there had accepted the fact that sea levels are rising — another consequence of climate change. He referred me to Charles Hopkinson, another UGA professor and director of the Georgia Sea Grant College Program.

“We’ve spent the last five years working with communities to get them to rethink their vulnerability to flood and rising waters,” Hopkinson said.

It is possible that the closer you live to big water, the more likely it is you believe in global warming. Hopkinson said his group is finishing up a study for Tybee Island, near Savannah, on the impact that rising sea levels will have on that community.

The community of St. Mary’s, farther south, is interested, too. All have been felt the impact of skyrocketing costs for federally subsidized flood insurance. Make the right preparations and file the right paperwork, and everybody in the community gets a 5 percent break on their flood insurance, Hopkinson said.

This is how ideological barriers are breached in America. We don’t have to believe in science. We have insurance companies to do that for us.

17 comments
RoadScholar
RoadScholar

And here it is that I thought the polar vortex was between Limbaugh's ears and in his heart!

potstirrer
potstirrer

Walk out-side with NO COAT to feel all that global warming.

Owl Gore's main interest in Global warming hysteria is all related to $$$$$$$!

I want my light bulbs back!!!

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

All this mentioning of global warming/climate change and not one mention of the high activity of sunspots, solar winds, increase of cosmic rays, etc., etc. due to the sun???  Makes you wonder about Jimmie boys intentions and those of the "scientist" Marshall Shepherd.

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

Reposted - this was deleted:  The left has confused natural global warming since the last relatively recent glaciation period (when man hunted Woolly Mammoths) with supposed man induced global warming (AGW). There is no evidence of AGW, but world socialists are using such a claim for transfer payments from wealthier countries to poorer ones, giving government grants if researchers go along, and favoring businesses capitalizing from the false fear.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/01/22/chill_out_121316.html : "If the globe is warming, can America do anything about it? No. What we do now is pointless. Even if all Americans replaced cars with bicycles, switched to fluorescent light bulbs, got solar water heaters, etc., it would have no discernible effect on the climate. China builds a new coal-fueled power plant almost every week; each one obliterates any carbon reduction from all our windmills and solar panels."

Natural global warming until the next cyclical ice age is not going to swamp us from rising oceans as alarmists claim, and is actually increasing agricultural temperate zones (but not even yet to the level of the Medieval Warm Period). For the last two decades, we have not had any global warming and it looks like we are in a cooling period with less sun activity. Pesky facts don't seem to slow the left's agenda, though; but the public is no longer being terrorized as they are properly discounting the hyperbole.

Bernie31
Bernie31

My Money is on the Meteorologist, the ole Blow Hard is doing what he does Best generate Revenue.

bigyat
bigyat

Rush Limbaugh DOES NOT lclaim that the polar vortex does not exist or is some new creation.  Instead, like Mr. Shepherd, he said you cannot link the recent one to climate change/global warming.  Below is a transcript of his discussion on the topic where he quotesa Business Insider article on the subject.  I will await a correction.

"Yet if you listen to the news media, it’s still in full swing, and it explains this cold snap. I have here in my formerly nicotine-stained fingers a website. It’s Business Insider, of all things, that explains the polar vortex.

Now, I want to read this to you. “As tundra-like temperatures and wind chills as cold as 70 below zero fan out across the country, everyone is blaming the ‘polar vortex.’ Polar vortexes, though, are nothing new. They occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center.

Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour. The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards." 

TryReason
TryReason

@potstirrer You have absolutely no understanding of statistics, do you? The entire U.S. is less than 2% of the land mass in the world and you think that the temperature in the isolated area where you live within that 2% is indicative of global temperatures? I think you need to stir the pot with something more than abject stupidity. 

TryReason
TryReason

@MiltonMan - And, like the "Centrist", I'm sure you have stellar scientific credentials. Remind me again why you think you have the education to determine who is a scientist and who is not? Those fluctuations in the sun you mentioned have always happened and have a minimal to no effect on the temperatures here on earth. Climate change has to do with carbon dioxide trapping excess energy and that hasn't happened before to the extent it's happening now. You might want to open a book and read up a little about the atmosphere on Venus. 

TryReason
TryReason

@The_Centrist I'm sure you have an extensive background in science. What's your Ph.D. in again?

The-Centrist
The-Centrist

Absolute nonsense.

Global climate change is affecting us now - our food prices, our taxes (to support things like FEMA), as well as the cost of everyday things like the price you pay to insure your home.

And it's getting worse.

Our grandchildren will rise up and curse us for our naive willingness to listen to happy talk from shysters like Limbaugh.

AuntieChrist
AuntieChrist

@TryReason@MiltonMan   "You might want to open a book and read up a little about the atmosphere on Venus."

Someone offered miltonman a book once before. He said "No thank you, I already have one."

Baumer_1
Baumer_1

Well...Centrist doesn't know any better. She had no training or experience to know how quantitative data analysis works.

For example, she doesn't understand that her critiques are controlled for in these climate models...nor does she know what 'controlling for' means.

I guess that is what you get with the worst education system in the USA. Way to go conservatives.

Heck...even those insurance companies are concerned. We all know them to be uber liberal.

The-Centrist
The-Centrist

oops - meant to reply to my doppelganger, Bernie, not you.

You're spot on....

TryReason
TryReason

@The_Centrist Gotta love the "Centrist" who can't make a comment without using the word "liberal" and combining it with a denigrating comment. Yes, he's at the center of the far right.

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

You are a sockpuppet hypocritically using my screen name.

LIBERAL Scum.