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The Rubber Meets the Road

Will someone please tell me whether I should buy snow tires? Living in Boston, I've survived decades of commuting, carpooling, and even ski trips without buying snow tires. I just didn't need them. Then came last winter -- sidewalks like icy canyons, weeks below freezing, and I frequently found myself stuck at home when my mere summer tires couldn't get me out of the driveway. My dad said he hadn’t seen a winter like it since he was in college -- when they had cars called “Packard”. So what’s going on?

Polar Vortex and Snow TirePolar Vortex and Snow TireThe Polar Vortex is what’s going on, or maybe going down. Polar Vortex sounds like an icy Dunkin Donuts drink, but it’s really a swirling column of air that forms each winter over the Arctic Sea, confining the arctic weather and giving us moderate winters... until two years ago. It’s a comforting thought; our hemisphere’s coldest air spiraling gracefully over the North Pole all winter, and I'm saving $400 not getting snow tires.

But now some climate scientists say Global Warming could be causing arctic weather to escape the Polar Vortex and come our way. So, those were polar snowstorms hitting us every week last January. Now I feel better. It turns out that some climate scientists correctly forecast our last two brutal winters, based on growing instability of the Polar Vortex, but didn’t publicize their predictions beyond scientific journals. You can’t blame them for playing it safe since any climate scientist who is not a denier is a likely target for harassment. 2009's bogus “Climategate” uncovered only snarky email chatter and suggestions about probing data. Big deal. But the threat of empty accusations intimidates climate scientists, making them hesitant to publicize alarming (but valid) predictions for fear of being chased with pitchforks by the (internet) village mob.

So, the climatologists won’t tell me whether I should buy snows. And my dad remembers some nasty winters, but we both live in a different climate from when we were young. That’s Global Warming for you; nobody knows for sure how the climate will change, or when it will stop changing. We might get more bone-chilling winters or, poof, no more winters ever, and me stuck with $400 worth of useless rubber. But TV snow tire ads show that those treads can handle anything. Invulnerability; I’ll buy that. Time to check out those spring snow tire sales.