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Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze Next Article in Science (2 of 32) »

By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: February 10, 2010
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WASHINGTON — As millions of people along the East Coast hole up PRINT Friday.
in their snowbound homes, the two sides in the climate-change  
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debate are seizing on the mounting drifts to bolster their arguments.
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Skeptics of global warming are using
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After a Slow Start, a Snowstorm global cooling, they taunt.
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Most climate scientists respond that the ferocious storms Awesome
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are consistent with forecasts that a heating planet will 4 . Northeast China Branches Out in Flushing
produce more frequent and more intense weather events. 5 . Personal Health: Less Invasive Hip Surgeries
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But some independent climate experts say the blizzards in the Northeast no more prove 6 . Television Review | 'Faces of America': Genealogy
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that the planet is cooling than the lack of snow in Vancouver or the downpours in
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As an illustration of their point of view, the family of Senator James M. Inhofe,
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Republican of Oklahoma, a leading climate skeptic in Congress, built a six-foot-tall igloo 1 0 . Diary That Inspired Faulkner Discovered
on Capitol Hill and put a cardboard sign on top that read “Al Gore’s New Home.”
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The extreme weather, Mr. Inhofe said by e-mail, reinforced doubts about scientists’
conclusion that global warming was “unequivocal” and most likely caused by human
activity.
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Nonsense, responded Joseph Romm, a climate-change expert and former Energy


Department official who writes about climate issues at the liberal Center for American
Progress.

“Ideologues in the Senate keep pushing the anti-scientific disinformation that big
snowstorms are evidence against human-caused global warming,” Mr. Romm wrote on
Wednesday.

It is perhaps not coincidental that the snowstorm scuffle is playing out against a
background of recent climate controversies: In recent months, global-warming critics
have assailed a 2007 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change and have claimed that e-mail messages and documents plucked from a server at a
climate research center in Britain raise doubts about the academic integrity of some
climate scientists. Earlier this week, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative
commentators made light of the fact that the announcement of the creation of a new
federal climate service on Monday had to be conducted by conference call, rather than
news conference, because the federal government was shuttered by the storm.

Matt Drudge, who delights in tweaking climate-change enthusiasts, noted on his Web
sitethat a Senate hearing on global warming this week was canceled because of the
weather.

As the first blizzard howled last weekend, the Virginia Republican Party put up an
advertisement on the Web — titled “12 Inches of Global Warming” — criticizing two
Virginia Democrats, Representatives Rick Boucher and Tom Perriello, who voted for the
federal cap-and-trade legislation last year. The advertisement urges voters to call Mr.
Boucher and Mr. Perriello to ask if they will help with the shoveling.

Speculating on the meaning of severe weather events is not new. Hurricane Katrina in
2005 and a deadly heat wave in Europe in the summer of 2003 incited similar arguments
about what such extremes might — or might not — say about the planet’s climate.

But climate scientists say that no single episode of severe weather can be blamed for global
climate trends while noting evidence that such events will probably become more frequent
as global temperatures rise.

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who writes on the Weather Underground blog, said that the
recent snows do not, by themselves, demonstrate anything about the long-term trajectory
of the planet. Climate is, by definition, a measure of decades and centuries, not months or
years.

But Dr. Masters also said that government and academic studies had consistently
predicted an increasing frequency of just these kinds of record-setting storms because
warmer air carries more moisture.

“Of course,” he wrote on his blog Wednesday as new snows produced white-out conditions
in much of the Eastern half of the country, “both climate-change contrarians and climate-
change scientists agree that no single weather event can be blamed on climate change.

“However,” he continued, “one can ‘load the dice’ in favor of events that used to be rare —
or unheard of — if the climate is changing to a new state.”

A federal government report issued last year, intended to be the authoritative statement of
known climate trends in the United States, pointed to the likelihood of more frequent
snowstorms in the Northeast and less frequent snow in the South and Southeast as a
result of long-term temperature and precipitation patterns. The Climate Impacts report,
from the multiagency United States Global Change Research Program, also projected
more intense drought in the Southwest and more powerful Gulf Coast hurricanes because
of warming.

In other words, if the government scientists are correct, look for more snow.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 11, 2010, on page Next Article in Science (2 of 32) »
A1 of the New York edition.

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Past Coverage
Weather History (September 16, 2008)
ERNEN JOURNAL; As Alps Warm, a Snow-Deprived Ski Resort Sells for $1 (January 22, 2008)
Precipitation Across U.S. Intensifies Over 50 Years (December 5, 2007)
THE SKI ISSUE | GLOBAL WARMING; Resorts Prepare for a Future Without Skis (December 2, 2007)

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