Global warming has met its match, frozen stiff by below zero temperatures across the Northern Plains and buried beneath seven feet of snow in the whitened wastes of upstate New York, according to climate change denialists.
"Global warming strikes America! Brrrr!" Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler tweeted on Tuesday. "Bills-Jets game may get canceled due to catastrophic global warming," added Bryan Fischer, the voice of the conservative American Family Association.
Meanwhile, US climate scientists were releasing new monthly data that shows 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record worldwide — despite this fall's early cold snap and the "polar vortex" that brought Arctic temperatures to much of the lower 48 states last winter.
Globally, temperatures from the New Year through Halloween were the highest on record for that period, running more than 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.67 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday. October temperatures worldwide were the warmest for the month in the entire 135-year history of weather records.
Responding to the climate change denialists, comedian and talk-show host Stephen Colbert tweeted: "Global warming isn't real because I was cold today! Also great news: World hunger is over because I just ate."
The American West "continued to be much warmer than average," NOAA said. While the Mississippi Valley region recorded below-average temperatures, no state charted a record low. And all 12 states in the Northeast saw above-normal temperatures and seven had more rainfall than average.
But back to this late-autumn cold snap. It's neither proof that climate change is bunk nor evidence that warming will bring bigger, more intense storms, says Marshall Shepherd, the former president of the American Meteorological Society.
"I would take this for what it's worth," Shepherd told VICE News. "It's just a big snowstorm."
Citing it in the political debate over climate change is "a bit careless,"said Shepherd, who runs the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. "It doesn't say a lot about climate change being real and it certainly does not say that climate change isn't real."
Climate scientists often say they can't link any specific storm to climate change. Instead, a warmer climate loads the dice in favor of more extreme events. As Shepherd puts it: "Weather is your mood; climate is your personality."
And what happened in Buffalo is a common hazard around the Great Lakes. The water this time of year is warmer than the surrounding land — so when cold air blows over it, the water vapor above turns to snow that dumps onshore, a phenomenon called lake-effect snow.
"That's just basic physics and meteorology," Shepherd said.
But there is a growing debate among scientists about whether climate change is making bursts of Arctic air like the ones that swept across the United States in the past week more likely to happen. The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than lower latitudes, and the hot question is whether or how that affects the polar jet stream — the fast-running atmospheric current that drives much of the weather across the Northern Hemisphere. When it dips sharply southward, frigid air roars southward and temperatures plunge.
For years, scientists believed the much-larger tropics held a bigger influence over weather in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, said Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at the Massachusetts-based forecasting firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research. But, he added, an emerging theory about the role of the Arctic in driving mid-latitude temperature "is going a little bit against the conventional wisdom."
"Scientists are trying to wrap their heads around this string of weird winters," Cohen told VICE News. "Is it random? Some scientists argue this string of weird winters is random, and there's others, such as myself, who are arguing there is some climate forcing behind it."
Follow Matt Smith on Twitter: @mattsmithatl