John Buntin is a GOVERNING staff writer. He covers health care, public safety and urban affairs.E-mail: email@example.com
Florida state climatologist David Zierden is also an activist.
In this era of instant climate information from The Weather Channel, Weatherunderground.com and Accuweather.com, the United States' 49 state climatologists might seem like dinosaurs. But instead of facing extinction, state climate offices are experiencing a golden age of influence, thanks to the efforts of action-oriented climatologists like David Zierden.
Zierden, who studied at Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, embodies something new: the climatologist as activist. He's played a leading role in the Southeast Climate Consortium--one of the most impressive examples of applied climatology. It uses cutting-edge modeling to predict the likely impact of the El Niño/La Niña weather cycle on the Southeast United States. Zierden has also worked with local governments, such as Tampa Bay Water, to help them understand what increasingly variable rainfall might mean for customers in the future.
Local initiatives, Zierden concedes, "aren't going to stop what's going on globally or the impact of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." But he insists that they can still make a difference.
"Temperatures around urban centers such as Miami-Ft. Lauderdale have already warmed 1 to 2 degrees, just due to urban growth, sprawl and the heat island effect," Zierden says. "If we can plan more effectively, we can certainly stop that from happening."