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Is more CO2 beneficial for Earth's ecosystems?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:47 PM GMT on November 20, 2009

We should emit as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as possible and oppose efforts to regulate CO2 emissions, because more CO2 is good for the Earth. That's the take-home message of an audacious TV ad that was run this fall by the advocacy group, CO2isgreen.com. "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life", the ad proclaims.

It's the brainchild of H. Leighton Steward, a retired oil industry executive, and Corbin J. Robertson, Jr., chief executive and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine, in return for royalties. According to an article in the Washington Post, the ad ran this fall in New Mexico and Montana, which have key Congressmen that CO2isgreen.com hopes to sway. The ads form part of a major PR campaign being waged by the fossil fuel industry and its allies in advance of the crucial U.N. Climate Change Conference, which will be held December 7 - 18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At that meeting, the leaders of the world will gather to negotiate an agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement will be the world's road map for dealing with climate change, and the stakes are huge.

Figure 1. Screen shot of the new ad by the advocacy group CO2isgreen.com.

Let's consider the scientific accuracy of the ad's three main points:

1) "Congress is considering a law that would classify CO2 as pollution. This will cost us jobs".
Well, this is a reasonable concern. Fossil fuels represent the foundation upon which modern civilization is built. The marvelous inventions of civilized life that have brought increased health, lifespan, and prosperity to billions of people are largely due to the use of fossil fuels. Regulating CO2 and moving to non-fossil fuel based energy sources won't be cheap or easy, and there is a potential for significant economic harm if our politicians bungle the job. The fossil fuel industry employs millions of people, and some of these jobs will no doubt be lost as new "green" energy sources are developed. However, the longer-term economic benefits of moving to a less fossil fuel-intensive economy, plus the jobs created as a result, must be weighed against the shorter term economic disruption that may occur.

2) "There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant".
Webster's dictionary defines a pollutant as "man-made waste that contaminates an environment". Webster's defines "contaminate" as "to make inferior or impure". CO2 is man-made waste, and there is scientific evidence that added CO2 can make our atmosphere "inferior" to its present state, or else the EPA would not be considering regulations. As just one example, when CO2 is dissolved in the oceans, the water grows more acidic. Corals and other creatures that build shells out of calcium carbonate cannot form their shells if the acidity passes a critical level--their shells will dissolve. Thus, for these organisms, CO2 is definitely a pollutant. Several shell-building planktonic organisms, such as coccolithophorids, pteropods, and foraminifera, form an important basis of the food chain in cold ocean waters, and the continued increase in CO2 emissions have many scientists very concerned about a collapse of the oceanic food chain in these regions in coming decades. Presumably, CO2isgreen.com is taking the very narrow view that a pollutant is something that harms human health when breathed. The more important question is, how does CO2 emitted by fossil fuel generation, plus all the effects that come with it, impact human health and the health of Earth's ecosystems?

3) "Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth's ecosystems, and support more plant and animal life".
It is true that many plants grow faster under enhanced CO2--the so-called "CO2 fertilization effect". Just ask your neighborhood commercial indoor marijuana grower, who probably grows his or her plants in an enhanced CO2 environment. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that crop yields under unstressed conditions increased by 0 - 25% for a doubling of CO2, and that growth of young tree stands also increased. However, the IPCC noted that ground level ozone pollution will limit the CO2 fertilization effect. Ozone pollution is caused by emissions from fossil fuel burning, and will increase in a warmer world since the chemical reactions that create ozone act more efficiently at higher temperatures. Furthermore, the higher temperatures, increased drought, and increased insect pests that added CO2 is likely to bring to the atmosphere via greenhouse effect warming will induce major stresses to plants that will counteract the CO2 fertilization effect. A 2009 paper by Battisti and Naylor in Science titled, "Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat", reported that the 2003 heat wave in Europe--featuring temperatures predicted to be the norm by the end of the century--reduced harvests of fruits and grains by 21 - 36%. The 2007 IPCC report noted, "even slight warming decreases yields in seasonally and low latitude regions". Most of the world's population at risk of starvation live in such regions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa).

To get more CO2 in the air, we have to mine, transport, and burn fossil fuels, and potentially fight wars to protect them. This creates a host of effects highly detrimental to people and ecosystems:

1) Particle pollution, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides emitted as a result of burning coal and operating motor vehicles cause over $118 billion in health and other damages per year in the U.S., according to a Congressionally-ordered National Academy of Sciences study released last month. The study said this was a "substantial underestimate", as it did not consider climate change-related costs, or pollution emissions from a wide variety of other sources.

2) Oil and natural gas drilling and oil spills have had catastrophic effects on many ecosystems over the past century, and will continue to do so. Coal mining via mountaintop removal has laid waste to vast regions of the Appalachians, obliterating over 700 miles of rivers and streams. Failures of slurry ponds dams such as the one that failed in December 2008 in Tennessee have contaminated numerous ecosystems, and killed hundreds (the Buffalo Creek, WV dam failure of 1972 killed 125, and a 1966 slurry pond dam failure in Aberfan, Wales killed 144, including 126 schoolchildren). The Physicians for Social Responsibility put out a report this week called Coal's Assault on Human Health that details many more examples of how coal is bad for ecosystems and human health.

3) Coal mining accidents killed 65 miners in the U.S. in 2006, and kill tens of thousands of miners worldwide each year (China has averaged 6,000 deaths per year this decade). Tens of thousands of miners contract black lung disease each year, as well.

The Greening of Planet Earth
Fossil fuel industry-funded Public Relations campaigns focusing on the benefits of CO2 for life on Earth are nothing new. In 2006, I blogged about a TV ad run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that proclaimed, "as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke, it's what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life.". In 1991, coal giant Western Fuels founded an organization called "The Greening Earth Society" which spent $250,000 to produce the video, "The Greening of Planet Earth" (available on Youtube). The 30-minute movie features scientists who describe in glowing terms the tremendous increases in plant growth that will occur due to increased CO2. Set to appropriately stirring music, the movie concludes: "The future also holds great promise. And contributing to this promise is the positive effect that carbon dioxide has upon our world. Crop plants will continue to grow more productively, contributing to ever-greater supplies of food. Forests will extend their ranges. Grasses will grow where none grow now. And great tracts of barren land we be reclaimed. In fact, it is not inconceivable that the vitality of our biosphere could rise by a full order of magnitude over the next few centuries, to a new, greening Planet Earth". According to Boston Globe investigative reporter Ross Gelbspan in his book The Heat is On, the movie was shown extensively in Washington D.C. and in the capitals of OPEC nations, and was the favorite movie of President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu. It's interesting to note that The Greening Earth Society shares the same mailing address and fax number as the Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a fossil fuel industry front group that was given $35 million to fight climate change regulation in 2008. According to the creators of desmogblog.com, a website dedicated to "Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science", that money, plus an extra $5 million, was shuffled to a new industry front group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and used to help fund the "Clean Coal" TV ads that dominated the airwaves during the November 2008 election. The details are in the excellent new book, Climate Cover-up, written by desmogblog.com co-founder James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore.

The CO2isgreen.com ad is beautifully produced, with multiple windows depicting flowing pictures of flowers blooming, animals grazing, crops growing, and the sun shining over these grand scenes of nature's bounty, all set to the soothing sound track of some slick New Age music. Who wouldn't want to live in such a world? Unfortunately, this is a fantasy world created by fossil fuel industry Public Relations people, and we live in the real world where physics and science rule. Oil is not clean, coal is worse, and the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels that accompany the enhanced-CO2 world we live in are already causing massive environmental destruction. Add in the immense environmental damage likely to occur as a result of the coming climate change storm, and the fantasy that more CO2 will be good for the world dissolves into a nightmare for a huge proportion of Earth's ecosystems--and the people who depend upon them for life.

Hacked emails purport to show climate scientists' cover-up
A hacker broke into an email server at the Climate Research Unit of the UK's University of East Anglia this week and posted ten years worth of private email exchanges between leading scientists who've published research linking humans to climate change. Realclimate.org has an interesting response to the debacle, saying the emails are a "presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12)". They show one example of a "cherry-picked" distortion of one of the emails that global warming contrarians are using to try to discredit the science of climate change, and successfully refute the distortion, in my mind. The realclimate groups adds:

"More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to "get rid of the Medieval Warm Period", no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no "marching orders" from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn't much to it".

There's not a person alive who would not look bad if their private emails made public, taken out of context, and subjected to attack. The reputations of all the scientists involved will suffer, as will understanding of the science of climate change. Global warming contrarians have not been able to effectively dispute the reality of human-caused climate change by publishing peer-reviewed scientific articles, so they've done what any effective (and unethical) politician would do--resort to personal attacks of dubious merit on their opponents, in an attempt to muddy the waters and distract people from the facts. That's politics, and it's not too surprising to see this sort of ugly episode in a game where the stakes are so high.

None of the so-called "smoking gun" emails the contrarians are excited about change what I pointed out in in my previous post: Arctic sea ice was at a new record low this month, human-emitted greenhouse gases are largely to blame, and the polar ice cap is expected to melt by 2030, throwing the climate into a dangerous new unstable mode.

I'll have a new post on Monday.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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This kind of environmental extremism nonsense will lead only to human misery and the destruction of millions of lives.

An alien reading this blog would expect to find on earth conditions that existed in industrial centers such as Gary, IN and Pittsburgh, PA in the 70's. (Which, was when by the way, we were warned continually of the impending doom of global cooling.)

Dr Master's growing distress over the pending lack of an agreement next month in Copenhagen is the driving force that produces this kind of nonsense. Instead of wringing his hands over this, why does he not come up with concrete ideas that will create GREEN jobs that pay what coal mining jobs or other manufacturing jobs pay...i.e. somewhere north of $60k a year???

I believe in responsible environmental policy. But, we have to find a balance between good policy and allowing people to earn a decent living. Dr Masters, put on your blog pictures of downtown Pittsburgh, Birmingham, AL or Charleston, WV from 1975 and now. Let all of these youngsters who weren't around back then see the environmental strides that we have already made!!! If you can dig up statistics from back then, you can surely dig up some pictures to make a comparison. But you won't do this because it will not support your beliefs and it will cause believers to consider other alternatives.

Nonsensical environmentalism has already destroyed many productive industries and their corresponding jobs (and lives). Thankfully, the little guy in American who has been the big loser in this movement has finally woken up and is fighting back. You know, the little guy...the 62 year old guy sweeping floors in a Wal-Mart for not much more than minimum wage who used to be a coal miner making good money.
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Quoting Bordonaro:
The Earth's atmosphere is a "closed system". Everything we burn goes into the closed troposphere and circles the Earth, except for ozone and SO4 which goes into the stratosphere and eats away at our protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere. Until all the 6.8 billion residents get on the same page, we are putting ourselves in danger. The atmosphere and the oceans will only absorb so much CO2.

You don't quite have that part correct...
The chemical species that make it to the stratosphere are the ones that are the most stable and not susceptible to photolysis or oxidation in the troposphere. Once they are at the level of stratospheric ozone, then they get enough of the more-energetic UV to be active reactants.

And ozone is not transported to the stratosphere, CFCs are. (And, no, we do not burn those...they don't burn, period...precisely why they were invented in the first place.)

And are you trying to talk sulfur dioxide? That is SO2, which precipitates, hence H2SO4, or sulfuric acid...acid rain.
I don't think it makes it to the stratosphere, except by volcano.
Where it is part of the sunlight-blocking effect.
Which cools the surface.
Which favorably effects the solubility of CO2 in sea water.

I have absolutely no problem with smart use of any and all available resources and long-term improvement in technology to better use our resources in the future, BTW.

"the Earth's climate will be in such disarray that many will perish"
Really, based on what? A grain of salt to go along with that climate-kills-people source might be needed, here.
The sea level rise in that Day After Tomorrow movie was as fictional as Gore's book cover.
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From what the models are showing, this "Noreaster" will be weak, could even dissipate near NE. It's the possible storm next week that could be an issue and we could be talking about the first snow of the season for some, maybe the Northeast Coastline. We'll see what happens, if this curent storm was strong, severe weather would be forecasted for Cenral Florida, as with all GOM emerging storms, starts out with rain then a squall line forms along a front as the low heads to the NE USA. Models were showing this earlier this week, but Central Florida will be lucky enough to get a shower if the models verify.
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Thanks for the information Dr. Masters. Not that I agree with everything posted. CO2 is a necessity of life as we all know.
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Thank you Storm for your analysis. Next week looks to be very interesting with the potential development of another major N'easter and colder temps for the Eastern CONUS.
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67. SOI = Southern Oscillation Index
PAC = Pacific
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Quoting StormW:
If anyone is interested, based on the MJO, should ya feel like keeping tabs, the SOI should continue to rise, and further warming of the PAC should slow.

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My opinion is that all residents of the Earth are supposed to be "good stewards" of all our natural resources. We should limit our energy usage and recycle plastics, steel, glass and aluminum containers. There is free and renewable energy sources, wind, hydro-electric, tidal and solar power available, to produce all of our electricity needs, world wide. Modern technology should try to tap those sources for our transportation needs also.

The Earth's atmosphere is a "closed system". Everything we burn goes into the closed troposphere and circles the Earth, except for ozone and SO4 which goes into the stratosphere and eats away at our protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere. Until all the 6.8 billion residents get on the same page, we are putting ourselves in danger. The atmosphere and the oceans will only absorb so much CO2.

Do we really want to find out where the "tipping point" is? For those people who want to just "use and abuse" the planet, continue your "destructive ways"! I pray and hope if that happens that I am not alive to witness it, because the Earth's climate will be in such disarray that many will perish.
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Assuming that all of it isn't made up, which is getting rather tough to believe considering the volume of stuff...

One of the emails from the CRU, ummm, issue is telling as to the frame of mind of our leading climate researchers...and lacking objectivity.

From: Phil Jones
To: Kevin Trenberth , Grant Foster
Subject: Re: ENSO blamed over warming - paper in JGR
Date: Wed Aug 5 16:14:34 2009
Cc: "J. Salinger" , James Annan , b.mullan@niwa.co.nz, Gavin Schmidt , Mike Mann , j.renwick@niwa.co.nz

Hi all,
Agree with Kevin that Tom Karl has too much to do. Tom Wigley is semi
retired and like Mike Wallace may not be responsive to requests from JGR.
We have Ben Santer in common ! Dave Thompson is a good suggestion.
I'd go for one of Tom Peterson or Dave Easterling.
To get a spread, I'd go with 3 US, One Australian and one in Europe.
So Neville Nicholls and David Parker.
All of them know the sorts of things to say - about our comment and the awful original, without any prompting.


At 15:50 05/08/2009, Kevin Trenberth wrote:
… see below

Grant Foster wrote:

I've completed most of the submission to JGR, but there are three required entries I
hope you can help me with.

3) Suggested Reviewers to Include
Please list the names of 5 experts who are knowledgeable in your area and could give
an unbiased review of your work. Please do not list colleagues who are close associates,
collaborators, or family members.

The above is normal. You are usually asked to suggest your reviewers for a journal article.

But to say: "All of them know the sorts of things to say - about our comment and the awful original, without any prompting." doesn't lead us to believe that the suggested reviewers are those that "could give
an unbiased review of your work"!

The "peer-review" status, at least among the AGW circles, just took a hit, IMO.

-Embarrassed for science
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62. interesting...thanks for the update :)

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Thanks, StormW.

Please forward this if you have relatives, friends, colleagues in Delaware.

from Delmarvanow.com

GEORGETOWN (Delaware): County officials urges homeowners to report storm damage
Staff Report %u2022 November 19, 2009

GEORGETOWN %u2014 County officials are asking more residents to come forward to report property damage during last week's storm.

Since Nov. 16, nearly 100 property owners have come forward already, county administrator said, but mainly from residential properties. Anyone with damages to automobiles, homes, businesses, or other property is asked to report.

County emergency officials are collecting the information to determine whether or not federal aid is required.

%u201CWe know there is other damage to commercial properties out there,%u201D Sussex County Emergency Operations Director Joe Thomas said. %u201CWe really need to hear from those owners, and we need to hear from them right away so that we have the %u2018critical mass%u2019 necessary for federal support.%u201D

The Delaware Emergency Management Agency is now in the process of compiling damage reports to apply for federal assistance. Without enough damage, though, Sussex County and Delaware could fall short in earning a disaster declaration, which would pave the way for individual assistance, such as low-interest loans, for homeowners and businesses.

To report damage, please call the Sussex County EOC at (302) 856-7366 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Property owners and residents should be prepared to speak in detail about the type of damage suffered, what caused it, the location, and whether they have insurance. Damage must be as a result of the storm between Wednesday, Nov. 11, and Sunday, Nov. 15.
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58. i hear ya...hopefully, you will get rain this week. that would certainly help things a bit.
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Quoting pearlandaggie:

Hopefully this above average rainfall pans out this winter. The lower peninsula is on the cusp of falling back into a pretty hefty drought.

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Nuttin In SEFL'

Chance of Rain 20%
83° F | 67° F

Partly Cloudy
83° F | 67° F

Chance of Rain 30%
85° F | 67° F

Chance of Rain 20%
81° F | 65° F

Chance of Rain 30%
81° F | 65° F

Doesn't get any more flat lined than that. I always wonder what exactly the MET's round here get paid for most of the time.
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Whatyou talkin' 'bout, Willis!
Re-invented, and Dee-licious -- Alone, or with Vodka, if you wish.

Black Cherry & Peach, too!

I saw Presslord drop by...any news from Portlight re Virginia?
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55. 789
Quoting StormW:

Good!...soon as I put out my forecast, gotta go for coffee!

im good furnace rebuild today get ready for cold weather !
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I think even a strong extratropical system in the GOM this time of year could drop copious amount of rain in a short time through southern GA and N Fla which don't really need anymore rain right now
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To jeffs713, yeah, he didn't necessarily say it would be tropical, but some sort of storm, maybe extratropical or subtropical?I still think it was a good call.
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49. 789
Quoting StormW:
hey stormW how ya doin !
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Please make a effort to support the Portlight Honor Walks,..

People Helping people is always a good thing to support.
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I like you Pat but I have hated the taste of Fresca from the day it was introduced.

Relax and enjoy a Cold Fresca
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What's the scoop on the possible nor-easter that was being mentioned yesterday?
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just wanted to tell tampaspin.......nice little website dude!
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42. oh, my! LOL...how about a Moxie? LMAO
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or perhaps a Tab !!!! lol
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40. Fresca!?!?! LOL...showing your age, Pat! :)
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We can stray into current weather sport..as the GOM is active.

It's what we do here..

Relax and enjoy a Cold Fresca.

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
721 am CST Friday Nov 20 2009

sounding discussion...

The atmosphere remains dry and stable with a precipitable water
value of 0.57 inches and a lifted index value of 7.1. A large
surface inversion is present along with light and variable winds from
the surface up to 700 mb and out of the west aloft.


Previous discussion... /issued 358 am CST Friday Nov 20 2009/

latest surface analysis continue to show a 1023mb high over
Tennessee Valley and an inverted trough from south Texas to
central Oklahoma. Northeast flow was noted over north central and
northeast Gulf. Upper air analysis showed the wave axis from the
Texas Panhandle to El Paso region. Infrared satellite imagery showed
convection along the Texas coast and from north central Texas to
the hills. Initial planer fields revealed decreasing Theta-E
values with height over the west Gulf and much of Texas ahead of
the wave. Isotach analysis at 250 revealed the southern stream of
100 to 110 knots at the base and back side of the wave. All in
all...an active 100 knot jet stream across Mexico to the north
Gulf to North Texas. Short and Middle Range models continue to push
the wave east through the next 36 hours becoming negatively tilted
from arklatex region to the forecast area by Saturday afternoon.
Surface low track continues across the south half of forecast
area...GFS is a little faster around Saturday afternoon while
European model (ecmwf) tracks the low across Saturday night. 00z sounding reveal a
strong inversion from 900 to 800mb and that inversion stays in
place through tonight. Theta-E decreasing with height will exist
above this layer for Saturday. In addition...the close proximity
of the upper level wave/low with a 500mb temperatures -14 to possibly
-18c across the area will yield a lapse rate supporting thunder.
However...we need surface base temperatures in the 70s and that air mass
will remain south of land areas Saturday...a few strong storms
may occur on coastal waters. Will carry isolated thunder Saturday
but most convection will remain near the coast Saturday. Will see
some clearing Sunday. A second system will affect the area with a
slight chance of rain Tuesday and another dry system for
Thursday...both will keep temperatures at or below norms for next week.

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39. 789
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:

Hi, 789, you saw this (below) already, maybe? I posted similar on previous blog.
Some State Emergency Management sites (like Virginia's) have the best current situation reports; some don't.

[& Atmo, thnks. I left post on previous blog. Always seems I'm caught mid-typing when there's a new blog.]

Gov. proclaims disaster in southeast Nebraska

by North Platte Bulletin Staff - 11/19/2009

Gov. Dave Heineman signed a state disaster declaration Thursday after a severe winter storm hit southeast Nebraska early this week.

The storm produced high winds and heavy wet snow in Gage, Jefferson, Nemaha, Pawnee, Richardson, and Thayer Counties.

Preliminary damage estimates total more than $3 million, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Nearly 500 residences were still without power late Thursday, according to news reports.

“High winds and heavy snow caused power lines to fall and power poles to break, along with significant damage to area roads and trees," said NEMA Assistant Director Al Berndt. "The extent of the damage means this will likely be a long-term process for these counties. We will work closely with local agencies to help move the recovery along.”

The disaster declaration makes state resources available to help with recovery. NEMA officials continue to work with local and county emergency managers to assess the scope of damage, and will coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine whether thresholds for federal assistance have been met.

thank you for your reposting ill go to the state site thanks !
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Surf,and what would the topic be?
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dr.NO!, is that you?

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and what topic would you like us to stay on Surf? GW....
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Why are there so many unrelated comments on this blog post with random photos of weather radar and stuff like that? Stay on topic people!
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was worried about that blob moving further south any chance of wet thanksgiving in central fla hope not going camping with the mouse....
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local radar showing most of the action offshore...
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GOM IR loop

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Thanks Dr. M interesting thoughts if they were not from big oil.... well maybe they would carry some weight....I would think the opposite would be more beneficial in the long term..... Still not convinced about CC but that is for another day look forward to next update...
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Ha Ha Ha. Frauds and liars. Fudging and hiding data. This whole global warming/ climate change house of cards is fixing to collapse. Make sure your out of the house when it does.
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Hey, StormW :) good morning :)
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A fine kettle of fish we have here, Ollie.
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Quoting presslord:
It takes a significant degree of testicular fortitude for Dr. Masters to broach this subject so forcefully here......I admire his integrity...

Yep i agree wether you agree with him or not. His deligence should be admired.
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Category 6™


Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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