The end of snow? Not this week

This week the NY Times reported, “Officials braced for as much as three feet of snow and high winds that could cause widespread power failures.”  This could eclipse the snow record from 2006, which was just a few flakes short of 27 inches.  The Times dutifully discussed commonsense safety measures, including staying indoors and stocking up on food and other supplies.  The writers offered no explanation for the upcoming blizzard other than calling it a bad nor’easter.  They missed the global warming angle, instead leaving it to others to blame global warming for cold and snow.

One year ago, the NYT published an opinion piece entitled “The end of snow?”  Bemoaning the lack of suitable venues with enough snow to hold the winter Olympics, the article was clear in its conclusion: “The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter.”

What a difference a year makes.  While a blizzard of NY City proportions would have been welcome in Sochi a few weeks before the last winter Olympics, a warmer and drier Sochi doesn’t mean the rest of the planet is also warm and dry.  New York and Boston could only wish for warm and dry this week.

Rather than blame the lousy Sochi Olympic snow on global warming, perhaps look at Sochi itself.  “Sochi has a warm humid temperate climate.”  Sochi is actually quite warm in February, “[w]ith daily highs around 50°F throughout the month, exceeding 62°F or dropping below 40°F only one day in ten.”  Did global warming or a bad decision by the Olympic organizing committee explain the lack of Olympic snow?  Perhaps Sochi would have been a better venue for the summer Olympics.

Why not hold the winter Olympics in Colorado instead of Sochi?  Vail’s legendary back bowls opened Thanksgiving weekend last year, much earlier than normal.  Vail’s executive vice president described it: “This year is extraordinary. It’s rare to have conditions this good, this early in the season.”  Is that due to global warming?  Or is Sochi’s lack of cold and snow due to global warming, as the NY Times piece suggests?  Or are any and all variations of weather due to global warming?

The basis for the “The End of Snow?” is this: “The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s.”  NASA informs us, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth's warmest since 1880.”  That’s it, then.  Settled science.

That’s like using 10 years of NFL statistics to proclaim Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.  What if we looked at a longer time frame – say, 10,000 years?  In this context, 2014 “is among the 3 percent coldest years.”

Far more useful would be healthy dose of the scientific method.  Formulate a theory and see if the observed data support the theory.  If yes, the theory stands; if no, the theory is wrong and should be replaced.  Otherwise we are left, at best, with junk science, and at worst, with a hoax.  Either way, it’s fun to watch the Times twist itself into pretzels making contradictory observations to support a single theory.  Their slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” has become “Fit the News to Support What We Print.”

Brian C Joondeph, M.D., MPS, a Denver-based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government.  Twitter @retinaldoctor.