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What You Missed in We the Geeks: “Weather is Your Mood and Climate is Your Personality”

In this week's We The Geek's Google+ hangout, we spoke with leading meteorologists, climate scientists, and weather experts about why temperatures dipped to such frigid lows this week, how weather experts turn raw data into useful forecasts, and what we know about extreme weather events in the context of a changing climate.

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Summing up the distinction between short-term changes in the weather and long term climate trends in today’s "We the Geeks" Hangout, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, President of the American Meteorological Society, used nine simple words: "weather is your mood and climate is your personality." He later highlighted a need among scientists to correct the misperception that cold snaps disprove climate change, comparing it to the rationale: “because its night time, the sun went away.”

Those insights and more were shared at today’s "We the Geeks" Google+ Hangout on the "Polar Vortex" and Extreme Weather.

The live discussion kicked off with an explanation of the mechanics of the polar vortex phenomenon by leading National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Researcher Jim Overland, who said the shape of the circulating vortex of cold air—when it’s stable—is actually "just like the vortex going out of your bathtub." (You can watch a two-minute explainer video of the Polar Vortex by President Obama’s Science Advisor John P. Holdren, here).

Emmy-award winning meteorologist at Climate Central, Bernadette Woods Placky spoke emphatically about the importance of weather and climate data that are collected by the Federal Government each day from satellites and other instruments, saying, "I don’t think most of the public realizes how valuable it is—it’s how we can sit in an office and know what’s going on somewhere else in the country, or somewhere else in the world."

Weather Channel meteorologist Stephanie Abrams and Washington Post Weather Editor Jason Samenow both stressed the importance of getting information about climate and weather events from sources that are credible and rigorous. Abrams explained that the most important thing for citizens is "educating yourself and making sure you’re using the right websites…with the correct data." Samenow echoed that. "It’s all about trusted sources," he said.

Samenow followed up with a call to the weather-savvy community of climate experts, saying, "I want to encourage us weather enthusiasts to be leaders in communicating weather information to our families and to our communities—to pass on the warnings to them so that you can help those who might not be as plugged into the weather as we are."

One of the Hangout’s moderators—White House Office of Science and Technology Policy polar science expert Brendan Kelly also pointed out—and NOAA’s Overland echoed—that the kind of robust discussions going on among experts about this week’s Polar Vortex are actually a very good thing, saying, "it’s important to recognize that in the science world, the fact that there is a good vigorous discussion going on...that’s how science works."

Capping off the Hangout, Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Domestic Policy Council Dan Utech described some of the many proactive steps the Obama Administration is taking to prepare communities across the United States for the kinds of extreme-weather impacts that are expected to increase in frequency and severity as the climate changes, including the Task Force of State, Local, and Tribal leaders that President Obama recently established to look at how we can best prepare communities for on-the-ground impacts. (You can learn more about these and many other steps here and here).

Thanks to all of the geeky experts who joined today’s conversation. Stay tuned for information about more to come right here, or by following #WeTheGeeks on Twitter. And don’t forget to follow some of the US Government’s geekiest climate experts: @Utech44 @whitehouseostp @WhiteHouseCEQ @NOAAclimate @EarthVitalSigns and @usgcrp.

Becky Fried is a Senior Communications Advisor and Web Editor at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy