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In March 2000, climate scientist David Viner made a bold prediction. Within a few years, because of global warming, snowfall in Britain would become "a very rare and exciting event," the senior research scientist at Britain's Climatic Research Unit told the Independent. "Children just aren't going to know what snow is."
Almost 10 years later, they know. All of them do. A NASA satellite image in early January showed snow covering the whole of Britain-and the British weren't alone. The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab reports that the Northern Hemisphere in December had the second-greatest snow cover for that month since 1966, when records began.
Before temperatures began to climb in mid-January, the snow and frigid cold were having an impact, especially on travel, in many parts of the world. In Madrid, the government enlisted the Spanish army to clear roads. In England, shortages of rock salt and grit to melt ice on roads were becoming a political issue, as the population reeled from a mistaken forecast of a mild winter by the nation's weather service. In France, hundreds of train windows had to be replaced because of damage from ice shards sent flying by high-speed trains passing each other. In Norway, there were reports of engine oil freezing.
The cold snap extended as far east as China and Korea, which both registered record snowfalls, and as far west as the United States. In Florida, economists predicted that damage to citrus crops would be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For animals, the cost was higher. Thousands of tropical fish in Florida turned up dead and iguanas reportedly became catatonic from the cold and fell dead from trees.
Climate scientists who push man-made global warming theories aren't easily impressed by a record cold winter. After developing new ways to measure ocean temperatures, Mojib Latif, a member of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now believes that up to half of the warming of the past few decades came from changing ocean patterns. With the ocean cycle shifting, he and colleagues stated in a 2008 paper, the earth may be in for 20 to 30 years of cooling. Latif still believes in global warming; he just thinks it may be offset by ocean patterns for a few decades.
Climate scientist Viner, for one, doesn't seem to be buying it. Now head of a British program that raises awareness about global warming, he stands by his decade-old prediction about British snowfall. "This winter is just a little cooler than average," Viner told the Daily Mail, "and I still think that snow will become an increasingly rare event."