Political hailstorm follows Climate Service announcement

When is a snowstorm more than just a snowstorm? When that storm hits Washington and coincides with the announcement of a new federal agency and Web site intended to be bellwethers for global climate change.

Then it becomes a perfect political storm.

Global warming skeptics by the dozen couldn’t resist pointing out the irony they saw in Commerce Secretary Gary Locke holding a teleconference to talk up the Climate.gov Web site rather than do it in person because unusually severe winter weather closed down the capital.

“It’s not the first time inclement weather has put a chill on official efforts to tackle climate change,” wrote Louise Radnofsky for the Wall Street Journal’s "Washington Wire" blog. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to leave the Copenhagen summit early in December to get back to D.C. before the blizzard known as Snowpocalypse grounded all flights.”

Climate.gov provides information for scientists, educators, businesspeople and the general public through tools such as the Global Climate Dashboard, an interactive graphic display of temperature, carbon dioxide and sea level changes.

The Web site is the initial public face of the proposed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service — think National Weather Service for climate — which would provide forecasts to farmers, resource managers, businesspeople and others who study or are affected by climate change. Administration officials want to launch the new service Oct. 1 by reorganizing existing NOAA resources, a move that requires approval from congressional Appropriations committees but no new legislation.

Some of those who snickered at Locke’s snowbound teleconference don’t trust the government to play it straight when it comes to climate data. Climate.gov will be “like Alice's rabbit hole, leading to a world of disinformation where climate data will mean whatever Locke and [NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco] want it to mean,” wrote the editors of Investors Business Daily.

But using one bad mid-Atlantic winter storm to prove or disprove long-term global warming is a fool’s game, Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh reminds us. “There is some evidence that climate change could in fact make such massive snowstorms more common, even as the world continues to warm.” Come again? “Hotter air can hold more moisture, so when a storm gathers it can unleash massive amounts of snow.”

Still, global warming skeptics must feel like they've been on a roll lately. Last November, e-mail messages stolen from some leading climate scientists and posted online purport to show that researchers had manipulated data to bolster the case for man-made climate change. In January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it had significantly overstated the case when it predicted that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

The black eyes seem to be having an effect on public opinion in one English-speaking nation. A February poll for BBC News of 1,001 adults found that 25 percent of respondents did not think global warming was happening, up from 15 percent who felt that way last November.

"It is very unusual indeed to see such a dramatic shift in opinion in such a short period," Michael Simmonds, managing director of polling firm Populus, told BBC News.

About as unusual as three feet of snow in D.C. But who’s counting?

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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