Brrrrr. It's cold, unusually cold, even for January<NO1><NO>. Frozen citrus in Florida. Trains stuck in snowdrifts in Illinois. Ice choking the Mississippi River. If they aren't tossing boiling water into icy air, TV weathercasters are explaining the "polar vortex" -#8212; that ridge of Arctic air responsible for plunging temperatures and frosty winds from the Rockies to the Atlantic.
And, right on cue, the cold snap has produced a windy chorus of climate-change skeptics.
In Washington, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., checked the temperature -#8212; below freezing -#8212; and declared the notion of human-induced climate change as "almost laughable." His GOP colleague Ted Cruz of Texas chimed right in. "It's cold," he said. "Al Gore told me this wouldn't happen."
In today's letters to the editor, one writer invites "self-appointed climate change experts" to tell him when global warming will start. Another letter says only, "So this is what climate change looks like?"
Well, it may be.
Now -#8212; here's the disclaimer -#8212; no specific weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. Summer heat and winter cold aren't anything new. The same can be said for tornadoes and blizzards, deluges and droughts.
What is different is their intensity, their unpredictability and their increasing frequency, not just in the United States but around the world.
The severe weather dominating this week's headlines follows holiday flooding in Britain, super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, catastrophic tornadoes in Oklahoma and raging wildfires in drought-stricken Australia -#8212; just a sampling of last year's severe weather conditions.
Climate scientists have long predicted that changing weather patterns would accompany rising average temperatures and increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The same is true for reductions in rainfall and snowfall, such as we're experiencing now in California.
Insurers, who must account for losses and plan for future claims, also have concluded that climate change and extreme weather conditions are connected.
"Our figures indicate a trend towards an increase in extreme weather events that can only be fully explained by climate change," Peter Hoppe, a risk research expert for the insurer Munich Re, told Scientific American.
That was in 2011. It's even clearer today. But just as spring follows winter, we're confident that smug dismissals of climate change will follow the snow for years to come.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here