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Courtroom Climate: Global warming suits from children; measuring snowfall

Kevin Williams

The most recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society had a couple of reports of possible interest to the readership of this newspaper.

In the first report, it was shown that grade school-aged children are increasingly appearing as plaintiffs in lawsuits involving global warming.

In one Oregon case, an 11 year old filed a lawsuit against the State of Oregon and Gov. John Kitzhaber claiming “failure to protect the public trust and to protect the state’s natural resources from the impacts of climate change.”

But before you cheer on the legal chutzpah of these youngsters, note that there are various nonprofit organizations who are largely behind these cases. In fact, these organizations have supported similar cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Mary Christina Wood, a professor at the Oregon University of Law who is credited with creating the legal framework of these suits, was quoted as saying: “having young people as plaintiffs in the cases gives added moral authority. We should be getting youths in front of the courts, not polar bears.”

To me, it does not seem totally ethical to be using 11 year olds to sue the government. I also find it remarkable and quite arrogant to think that there are those who believe that judicial activism can somehow change the world’s climate. (I would also love to hear the argument that a colder world is better than a warmer world.)

Speaking of colder worlds, the other article of interest in the bulletin pertained to the accurate measuring of snowfall.

While the measurement of precipitation might seem straightforward, as in using a bucket to collect rain or a snowboard onto which one collects snow and then measuring each with a ruler, it is not that simple for snowfall.

The wind can impact the accuracy of measuring snowfall and snow depth. For example, on windy days, snowflakes are not evenly collected in snowfall gauges, giving causing inaccurate readings.

There are now new methods being tested to accurately measure snowfall and snow depth, including gauges that have special wind shields to more accurately collect the falling flakes. Additionally, super sensitive satellite imagery is now being employed to measure snow fall and snow depth.

But the measuring of snow remains imperfect. As I have said before, accurately determining snowfall is part science and part art. This is partly why in forensic investigations it is usually necessary to give a range for snowfall and snow depth so as to cover the inherent variability of snowfall measuring.

Regardless, we should be grateful here in the Rochester and Buffalo areas that our airport weather stations provide measured snowfall at all. Incredibly, at some airports in the nation snowfall is no longer measured and to determine snowfall one must use data from nearby cooperative observers who often only measure snowfall on a once-per-day basis.

Kevin Williams is president of weather-track.com and director of meteorology for News 10NBC.

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