Earth Day
9:09 am
Sun April 22, 2012

How has your local climate changed? The Weather Underground shows you

A popular Ann Arbor-based online weather service is offering a new feature on its website. At the Weather Underground’s “Climate Change Center,” you can see how your local climate has changed over the years.

Detailed graphs display historical information for temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. The data goes back to the 1700s in some cases.

It also shows how your local climate is expected to change in the future based on current climate models.

Co-founder of the Weather Underground Jeff Masters said they launched the new tool in honor of Earth Day. One of the goals of the site, he said, is to help people understand the differences between climate and weather.

“Climate is what you expect based on past history of weather,” Masters says, “but weather is what you get. It’s got lots of random variations. You see a lot of extremes both on cold and hot sides, but they average out over a period of time. And to really understand where the weather of the future might fall, you have to look at how the climate, the long-term statistics over a period of 30 years or more, might be changing.”

To see the historical information, you pick a weather station from a map. The data is then displayed on a graph.

“So if you go back over the past hundred years, well in Ann Arbor for instance, what has the temperature done? And if you look at the graph, it’s gone up about two degrees Fahrenheit over the last hundred years,” said Masters.

The conversation around climate change has been mired in political controversy for more than a decade.

Masters said there’s very little controversy among the top climate scientists - humans have changed the climate. He compares weather to game of dice – and with a warmer climate – he says we’ve loaded the dice toward more extreme weather events.  

“Now the dice are loaded, in fact, sometimes I like to say we have an extra spot on the dice. So now instead of rolling double sixes, well maybe now we can roll a thirteen and get a previously unprecedented type of weather event.”

Events like record high temperatures in winter, and early tornado seasons are all recent signs of these unusual weather events.

Masters said other online weather sites offer some information on climate, but not to this level of detail.

The Weather Underground takes the topic seriously, he said. In addition to the local climate information, they offer information on the arguments used against climate change on their new Climate Change Center site.

 “What people need to understand is that the climate is changing. Yes, there have been natural changes to climate in the past, but this time around it’s humans that are mostly responsible. And there is widespread agreement among our top climate scientists on this fact. There is very little controversy,” said Masters.

“The controversy has been manufactured by heavily moneyed interests that are interested in protecting profits. And we shouldn’t be listening to these voices that say a) climate change isn’t happening, or b) that it’s natural, or c) that scientists don’t agree. None of those things are true.”

Masters said he receives a lot of hate mail both personally and on the blogs he writes for the Weather Underground.

“You do see a lot of flak when you do present the best science out there, and we’re willing to take that flak,” said Masters.