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Clouds act like curtains on the atmospheric window of the planet. When there are no clouds, the sun can warm the Earth, but that heat escapes and the air temperatures stay frigid. If there are thick clouds, more of the sun’s energy is bounced back into space, but heat escaping from the Earth’s surface is partly trapped. In the case of Greenland in 2012, the clouds were like sheer curtains that let the sunlight in, but kept enough of that heat inside to warm the air near the surface.