02/18/2014 10:48 am ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

Snow Blind

It snowed heavily in New York this week.


This winter has quickly developed into one that will be hard to shake. Here in the Northeast, we've had what seems like a long run of single digit temperature days. So far this winter, there have been 18 in my county alone. That's single digits, 22 degrees below freezing, all of them below 10 F, a number of them below even zero. In the country as a whole, the average temperature dropped below 18 F on January 6.

The last time that happened was in 1998.

This has had a number of unfortunate consequences. More traffic accidents, especially in places where snow and ice are an anomaly (see Atlanta, Georgia). Accumulating snow days for suburban school kids (but not Mayor de Blasio's; NYC's new Mayor seems to have an aversion to shutting the schools). A run on salt that has left many municipalities struggling to replenish supplies. And...

A renewed push by the crazies to brand global warming a hoax.

I suppose this last result was predictable. The climate change deniers have been beating the "jury is still out" drum for years, asserting that we have neither sufficient evidence nor science to claim the earth is warming as a consequence of man's growing carbon footprint. Every time we hit a cold snap, a number of them come out of the woodwork and dust off their Al Gore jokes. This time has been no different. The day after that average plummeted to 18 F, Ted Cruz was waylaid leaving the Senate by reporters seeking comment on the then on-going debate over extending unemployment benefits. Cruz ignored them. "It's cold," he said, "Al Gore told me this wouldn't happen."

He, unfortunately, was not the worst.

On New Year's Day, Donald Trump weighed in with the suggestion that "This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice." The curse and the caps are Trump's; the last reference was to the climate scientists trapped at year's end off the coast of Antarctica in the MV Akademik Shokalskij when that Russian-flagged vessel couldn't break through the ice. The next day, January 2, a Louisiana Republican, reacting to the cold winter, claimed that "'Global warming' isn't so warm these days."

For its part, the Drudge Report routinely pairs its "Global Warming Intensifies" headline with cold weather reports. Its side by sides suggest that a record snowfall in Chicago, or record low temperatures nationwide, somehow refute Gore's inconvenient truth. Neither Drudge... nor the Congressman... nor The Donald explains how this occurs.

And the reason they don't is...

They can't.

Global warming is a long term climatological phenomenon. It is distinct from weather, which is localized and variable. Though large numbers of weather-based data points -- after taking into account any relevant local variables -- can be used to help prove global warming (or disprove it if the evidence warranted), a single occurrence is useless. This in itself should silence Trump and Drudge. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is real. The basis for this consensus is a mountain of data demonstrating the phenomenon over time and an equally large number of predicted outcomes consistent with the original hypothesis.

The deniers are simply ignoring this data and these outcomes. In fact, they are in roughly the same position as the creationists who think the earth was formed in six days. There is no support for their claim. Like the creationists, therefore, they invent proof. In the case of the creationists, it's proof from the authority of an ostensibly inerrant Bible; in the case of the deniers, it's proof from their ostensibly inerrant observations (as Sen. Cruz put it, "It's cold").

Neither, of course, allows the conclusion its proponents desire. We learned long ago that the Bible is hardly inerrant, let alone sufficient to refute the Big Bang, and any elementary school kid can tell you not to infer long term trends from single data points. The additional irony on climate change, however, is that not even the single data points deniers fix upon support their denial. The MV Akademik Shokalskij got stuck in ice that itself had broken away from the Antarctic glacier, turning a usually navigable part of the Ross Sea into an ice-laden obstacle course.

Guess why the ice broke away from the glacier, Donald?

Similarly, snow in Chicago is generally a lake effect phenomenon. Cold air from the north passes over unfrozen warmer water in Lake Michigan, creating the best recipe (below freezing ambient air coupled with a lot of moisture from the lake) for intense snowfalls inland. As the earth has warmed, that lake has remained wet, as it were, for longer periods of time during the winter. What global warming predicts in Chicago, therefore, is that winter snows will be worse than usual.

Something Drudge should note the next time he gets all wrapped up in winter in the windy city.

Meanwhile, I gotta run.

I live next to a lake.

And have to shovel the snow.