Boston—The morning temperature here was negative three degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it harder to shovel the four feet of snow outside.
Boston is having the second-coldest February in its history, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature has averaged 19.6 degrees Fahrenheit, colder than any year since 1934. The city has only been at or above the freezing mark for 28 hours in the entire month so far, or 7.7 percent of the time, according to the National Weather Service. It's so cold the salt and friction of the car tires don't even melt the snow on the roads, making travel dangerous and difficult.
Speaking of snow, there is plenty of it. The Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, Mass., which says it is home of the longest climate record in the nation, reports that it has an average snow depth of 46 inches, "the greatest snow depth ever measured in our 130 year existence." The Observatory reports that February 2015 is "the snowiest February on record, as well as the snowiest month on record." The National Weather Service reports that for Boston, too, it is the snowiest month on record, with at least 58.5 inches of snow so far in February. That brings the season's total snowfall here this season to 95.7 inches, the city's third snowiest winter on record, according to the National Weather Service.
Since it is so cold and miserable outside, I've been spending some time indoors, curled up in front of the computer watching comedy. No, not the 40th anniversary program of Saturday Night Live, but The New York Times newspaper coverage of climate change, which in this context is bitterly humorous.
There was the February 9, 2014, Times article headlined "The End of Snow," which ran on the front page of the paper's Sunday Review section, and which the ever-shrewd Matt Drudge remembered, and linked from his Drudge Report site, amid the snowmaggeddon roughly a year later. "In the Northeast, more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters," the article warned. "It's easy to blame the big oil companies and the billions of dollars they spend on influencing the media and popular opinion. But the real reason is a lack of knowledge. I know, because I, too, was ignorant until I began researching the issue for a book on the future of snow…. This is no longer a scientific debate. It is scientific fact."
But that article was just one of many. Others ran not in the opinion sections but in the news columns. "Rising Temperatures Threaten Fundamental Change for Ski Slopes," was the headline over a December 2012 dispatch from New Hampshire by the Times' Katharine Q. Seelye. "Scientists say that climate change means the long-term outlook for skiers everywhere is bleak," she reported. "The threat of global warming hangs over almost every resort, from Sugarloaf in Maine to Squaw Valley in California. As temperatures rise, analysts predict that scores of the nation's ski centers, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish."
"As Snow Fades, California Ski Resorts Are Left High and Very Dry," was the headline over another Times news article, from November of 2014. It reported, "The ski industry, which expects higher temperatures, less snow and shorter seasons in the coming decades, is seen a bit like the canary in the coal mine of climatology."
None of this is to say that global climate change is nonexistent, or that human activity may not contribute to it, or that it may not make sense to consider some policy actions to avert the chances of potentially damaging consequences, such as sea level rise. The Web site Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists funded by government and foundations, reports that some climate scientists suggest that global warming could "paradoxically" be behind the "non-stop sucker punches of frigid air," but acknowledges that "many people who study the dynamics of the atmosphere are dubious about the connection." The cold and snow could be a matter of "natural fluctuations" or "random shifts," Climate Central says.
Meanwhile, the cold is hardly limited to Boston. WTMJ radio in Wisconsin reports that ice cover on the Great Lakes was about 58 percent. That's higher than the average of 51 percent. "2014 saw the second highest amount of ice ever on the Great Lakes with 92.5 percent ice cover at its peak," the radio station reported.
Nor is the climate change panic limited to the pages of The New York Times. Divest Harvard, a group that wants to fight climate change by getting Harvard University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, picked last week, of all times, to storm the Harvard president's office in Cambridge for an overnight sit-in to draw attention to its goals.
It's certainly possible that 30 years from now, the snow-is-over crowd will be proven right, and that instead of shoveling snow in Boston we'll be sunbathing. But the evidence from this winter, at least, is that if climate-change "science" consists of making testable predictions, the debate on snow isn't over yet.