Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change Interacts With the Polar Vortex

Over the past few years, the term Polar Vortex has dominated the broadcast weather media — gaining recent notoriety due to increasingly extreme weather events associated with a number of disruptions to Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns. In short, this swirl of cold air over the furthest north regions is being intensely disrupted by warm air invasions — both at the surface and in the upper levels of the atmosphere. A subject that we’ll explore further as part of this analysis.

Take the recent extreme February warming at the North Pole in which temperatures there rose to above freezing even as a major cold snap slammed into Europe this week. We’ve seen such varied headlines as Yes the North Pole is Warmer than Europe Right Now and Arctic Warm Event Stuns Scientists.

When it’s warmer at the pole than in Europe, it’s a sign that the weather is clearly out of whack. Especially when temperatures in a region spanning tens of thousands of square miles over the Arctic rocket to between 40 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Scientists are notably concerned. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change characterized the polar warming event as:

…an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying — it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.

But what’s driving all this? Dr. Mann gives us a bit of a hint by describing our climate as an angry beast that’s being poked.

(Polar Amplification writ large. The entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line has been 8.64 degrees Celsius warmer than normal for all of 2018 thus far. This is an extraordinary departure for a region that plays a critical role in how the Earth’s climate system functions. Image source: DMI.)

Perhaps another way to say it is that it’s a warming atmosphere that’s prodding the Jet Stream to take a chunk out of the Polar Vortex.

How might this work?

First, surface warming in the Arctic caused by increased radiative forcing from rising greenhouse gas levels and by follow-on reductions of Arctic sea ice and snow result in less temperature difference between the Pole and the Equator. This surface warming translates into higher levels of the atmosphere through convection.

Temperature difference is what drives the upper level winds. So a lower difference in temperature causes these winds to slow. When the Jet Stream winds slow, they tend to meander — forming large ridges and deep troughs. The elongated ridges and troughs eventually break like waves — pushing against the circulation of the Polar Vortex.

(NOAA graphic shows how a weak jet stream results in changes in atmospheric circulation and increased disruption of the Polar Vortex.)

When this happens, the speed of the winds that make up the Polar Vortex slow down and sometimes reverse. This results in the collapse of the column of upper level air held aloft by the Vortex’s winds. When the air collapses, it compresses, causing the stratosphere to warm. This falling column of warm air then can end up acting like an atmospheric wedge — driving the Polar Vortex apart and causing it to split.

The split then tends to generate smaller funnels that capture polar air and pull it south. Beneath the funnels, it can be quite cold as Arctic air invades places like North America or the UK (as happened this week). But at the Pole, where the cold air should typically reside, it warms up enormously.

That’s how, under a regime of human-forced climate change, you can end up with periods where temperatures are warmer at the Pole than they are in Europe.

It’s worth noting that Polar Vortex collapse events did occur in the past. But not in such a way that generated the kinds of historically extreme Arctic temperatures we see today. The primary driver for the recently increased extremity of weather driven by Polar Vortex collapse events being human-caused climate change, Polar Amplification, and related influences on the Jet Stream.

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Warm Arctic Winds Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Blast East Face of Greenland Ice Sheet

Last night, at around 9 PM Eastern Time, a broad region just south of the North Pole was undergoing an extraordinary warm-up. Temperatures along the 37 W Longitude line just 80 miles south of the pole had surged to 33 degrees Fahrenheit. A reading warmer than a region of central Michigan thousands of miles to the south but running over an area of sea ice more accustomed to -5 F or lower temperatures during the great dark of the December night.

image

(Knife of warm air drives above freezing temperatures to within 80 miles of the North Pole on December 1 of 2014. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

It was the much warmer than normal core of an intense and anomalous Arctic heat surge. One that blasted up over Svalbard and flooded into the high Arctic. Meeting with a similar but weaker air surge to the south, both surface and upper layers of the Arctic Ocean atmosphere hosted a joining of rivers of warm air.

This warm air double envelopment neatly sliced the polar vortex in twain. The remnant cold air cores at the Jet Stream level slipped down over both the Canadian Archipelago and Central Asia. Leaving open the lane for warm, maritime air to surge over the Arctic Ocean region.

image

(Jet Stream level atmospheric circulation shows polar vortex cut in two with one circulation over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the other over Yamal, Siberia — scene to the freakish methane blowholes earlier this year. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

It is a pattern of negative phase Arctic Oscillation (AO) — featuring a warming in the central Arctic which flushes the cold air out. But this ripping of the polar vortex in half is also related to polar amplification due to the human heat forcing. In which the high Arctic has warmed dramatically in comparison with the rest of the globe. So the heat anomalies we see now are much higher than they would otherwise be, with abnormal warmth remaining even into a positive phase of the AO (which we may see a bit more of, should El Nino finally emerge).

It’s a feature also related to a warming of the upper atmosphere at stratospheric levels. Such Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) events can often be associated with the kind of polar vortex split we are seeing now. And, from recent observations, we find temperatures over the Arctic Stratosphere are now in record range.

According to weather blogger, Matthew Holliday:

Even though I wouldn’t categorize this as a *sudden* stratospheric event as of yet, the warming that has already occurred will likely have effects by middle December. In fact, the warming that has occurred is currently at record levels for this time of year.

Recent scientific studies have also indicated an increasing prevalence of SSW events as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise.

Extraordinary Arctic Warming

For much of November, readings in the Arctic as a whole have ranged from +1.5 to +2.5 degrees Celsius above the global average. A region featuring the highest global anomalies in a world that just saw its hottest ten months in the past 136 years, and probably its hottest ten months in many thousands of years. A region well known for its cold — but warming far faster than almost anywhere else.

Global anomaly Dec 1

(The Arctic hits an extraordinary early December +3.16 C positive anomaly on the first day of the month amidst a flood of warm air from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Image source: The University of Maine. Data Source: Global Forecast System Model.)

Today, beset by this abnormal heat, overall Arctic departures hit 3.16 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. Regions within this warm zone showed readings well above 36 F higher than average. A kind of winter Arctic heatwave. One that will keep worsening as the human heat forcing continues its terrible advance.

Near Freezing Temperatures Over Zachariae Glacier During Meteorological Winter

Much of the added heat expanded through the region between the North Pole and Greenland, wrapping in a surface circulation that has tended more and more to envelop the frozen isle, Baffin Bay and the accompanying Canadian Archipelago.

image

(Warm front off Atlantic Ocean featuring blow torch like wind flow over the Zahcariae Glacier collides with Greenland, pushes far into Arctic Ocean. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: Data Source: UCAR, OSCAR, NCEP.)

This morning, some of that circulation and its entrapped warm air flow rode up over the East Coast of Greenland, surging over the ocean-facing cliffs of the Zachariae Glacier. Pushing temperatures to almost above freezing in a period where much deeper cold should be firmly established.

A great flood of abnormal winter warmth and moisture. The leading edge of a flow of ocean and atmospheric heat driven all too obviously by human warming.

Links:

UCAR

James Hansen: If It’s Warm, Why is it So Damned Cold?

Earth Nullschool

University of Maine

OSCAR

NCEP

Global Forecast System Model

National Climate Data Center

Changes in Northern Hemisphere Stratospheric Variability Under Increased CO2 Concentrations

Hat Tip to Wili

Big Arctic Warm-Up To Drive Freak Thanksgiving Snowstorm For US East Coast

If current trends continue, the eastern half of the US is in for one extraordinary winter.

Just last week, a strong late-fall Arctic warming flushed chill air out over the Great Lakes, setting off a lake effect snowstorm in Buffalo that buried the city in one year’s worth of snowfall in just two days.

This week’s extreme weather prelude brought a major warm snap that set off rainfall, sent temperatures surging to 62 degrees in Buffalo and pushed rivers in the area above flood stage. An odd northward hot air surge ahead of the next blow. One that will be fueled by a similar, out of the ordinary, Arctic heat-up that is predicted to fling a freakish Thanksgiving snowstorm at the US East Coast on Wednesday.

Maximum Snowfall Potentials Thanksgiving Storm

(Maximum snowfall potentials for the predicted Thanksgiving Snowstorm as provided by the National Weather Service.)

A storm that may dump more than a foot of snow along a swath from Virginia to Maine and set off blizzard-like conditions as a low pressure rapidly intensifies in a raging storm track torching away off the New England Coast.

Such major predicted and potential snowfall amounts are more reminiscent of a significant January event than what is typically seen for a Thanksgiving period which usually features cold placidity. But this Thanksgiving is predicted to be anything but placid as coastal gales and record-challenging snowfalls are likely to sock holidayers in and generate travel snarls throughout the Mid Atlantic and Northeast.

Mangled Jet Stream Thanksgiving

(Planetary wave pattern over Eastern US with intensified storm track in association with predicted strong winter storm for Thanksgiving in the Wednesday GFS model run. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The spurs to this most recent Arctic invasion are two high amplitude Jet Stream Waves — one over Alaska and one near Svalbard. Together, these upper level flows are pulling yet more warm air into an already warmer than normal Arctic. These invasions coincide with yet another form of upper level warming — Sudden Stratosphere Warming (SSW). A kind of warm air catapult up from the troposphere and into the Arctic from over the Asian Continent.

A combined set of conditions that is generating a baked atmospheric cake set of warming for the Arctic and driving the southern edge of the polar vortex southward over the Eastern US.

Overall, Arctic heat anomalies are expected to spike as high as 3.5 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average by the wee hours of Sunday morning this week. A very strong warm departure for November even in the current age of human-driven climate change and polar heat amplification.

Polar Amplification on Sunday morning of Nov 20 2014

(Very strong early season polar warming and amplification during late November shoves cold air out over North America and Eastern Asia in the GFS model run. Note that average temperatures in this measure are based on the already warmer than normal 1979-2000 period. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Last year, similar events drove cold air invasions through the Eastern half of the US and greatly intensified the North Atlantic storm track. As a result, the UK experienced its stormiest winter on record. This year, warm waters in the equatorial Pacific and off the US East Coast may well keep the storm track oriented along the Gulf Stream. This would result in much stronger events for the Eastern US and potentially quite powerful Nor’easter type coastal storms should the current pattern persist.

Links:

The National Weather Service

Climate Reanalyzer

East Coast on Alert For Thanksgiving Storm

Buffalo’s Climate Change Driven Mega Snow-Flood

 

Winter of 2013-2014 Sees Most Extreme Dipole on Record: How a Strong Emerging El Nino Conspired With Climate Change to Ignite Record Drought in California and Collapse the Polar Vortex

Dipole. It’s a word often used among meteorologists and climate scientists. But what does it mean?

In weather terms we can simply think of it as this: one side hot, one side cold. So, as a basic principle, it’s pretty direct. But in a world where extremes between hot and cold are becoming more intense, in North America which has just experienced its most extreme dipole anomaly since record keeping began in 1960, it’s also something that’s important to understand as it relates to ongoing human-caused climate change.

For a recent blockbuster scientific paper by Dr. Simon Wang and associates and published in Geophysical Research Letters has now linked this extreme temperature differential, related polar vortex collapse events, and the California drought with both ongoing physical changes to the Earth System due to human caused climate change and to the first rumblings of a monster El Nino in the Pacific.

Envisioning a Dipole Pushed into An Extreme Form by Climate Change

But to understand how an excessively extreme dipole relates to the historic events of the winter of 2013-2014, it helps to open up one’s imagination. It helps to describe the ground-breaking information provided by Dr. Wang’s new paper in descriptive terms. It helps to, at first, envision a wave. Then to imagine the up-slope of the wave forming a hot, red shape. Now imagine the down-slope forming a cold, blue shape. Now think of this wave growing more intense, extending further in both its up-slope and in its down-slope. Growing hotter on the up-slope side and comparatively colder on the down-slope side.

Polar Vortex Collapse January 19

(GFS Model summary of Polar Vortex Collapse event on January 19, 2014 shows 850 mb temperatures over the Eastern US colder than the same temperatures over parts of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. 850 mb temperatures over St. Augustine, FL are the same as 850 mb temperatures over central Greenland. Anomalies on the hot side of the dipole in the Arctic hit +40 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.  Anomalies on the cold side of the dipole hit more than -35 degrees F in some places. Note the twin, dense high pressure systems sitting sentinel just off the California Coast and deflecting storms north into Alaska. Image source: NOAA/GFS.)

Having established the wave form and related temperature extremes, lay the shape over North America and adjacent Pacific Ocean. The up-slope covers the Eastern Pacific, Alaska, a section of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, Western Canada and the Western US. The down-slope swings from the eastern side of the Beaufort, on in through Central and Eastern Canada and bisects the US diagonally from the Dakotas to the Gulf Coast east of Texas.

Now let’s envision this wave as a flow of upper level air called the Jet Stream and let’s think about the various atmospheric aspects that feed it. Looking west, we happen upon a very warm pool of water in the Western Pacific east of the Philippines. This warm pool is the source of an El Nino that will likely occur within one years time. A heat pocket given added intensity by both rising atmospheric temperatures and strong winds transferring that added energy into the vast Pacific Ocean. The heat waits, wanting to spread out across the Pacific surface in an energetic return to the air. But, for now, it simmers in its deep pool, providing energy for the powerful dipole we’ve just described.

The heat from this warm pool radiates into the atmosphere creating lift. Further north, a cold pocket is driven south by another strong atmospheric wave pattern over the Asian continent. The cold air pocket runs south over Japan. The hot and the cold difference generates a very strong upper level synoptic (horizontal form weather patterns stretching more than 1,000 kilometers) wind pattern that stretches all the way across the Pacific Ocean.

The winds run southwest to northeast until they encounter the hot bulge of our already described dipole over the Eastern Pacific near the US west coast and Canada. This warm current turned the already rapid winds due north where they rushed up over Alaska and into a sea ice pack far weaker than in decades past. A sea ice sheet gradually thinning, breaking up, and venting heat from a warming Arctic Ocean below. And so these, already strong, winds were not turned back by the now much weaker cold until they had driven far, far into the Arctic Ocean (and it is here that we must give a hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis, who finds her predictions regarding sea ice loss and high amplitude Jet Stream waves again validated).

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Upper level wind pattern on January 23, 2014 shows a polar vortex that has essentially been ripped in half by the warm side of the west coast dipole and the high amplitude Jet Stream wave forming over top of it. Image source: University of Washington.)

Now imagine a strong dome of high pressure forming in the wake of this powerful and ongoing wind flow, sheltered and growing ever stronger on the hot side of the dipole. Imagine it blocking the path of storms, even as it concentrated heat and warmth. Imagine California receiving 1/4 or less of its typical winter rainfall as a result. A most recent and extreme insult to years of drought forcing authorities to ration water in many places.

Now return to that strong wind finally being turned south somewhere in the far, far north, in the Beaufort Sea just south of the North Pole. Then imagine these now cold-laden winds rushing south. Running over Hudson Bay and eastern Canada. Roaring over the Great Lakes and carrying with them a cyclone of cold Arctic air that should have remained in the far north. The polar vortex that should have stayed over places like Svalbard but instead collapsed under the warm wind flow and shifted far south to places like Toronto or Chicago or Detroit or Washington DC.

Now at last imagine another synoptic pattern as the Arctic air of the polar vortex encounters the warmth of the Gulf Stream. This pattern is laden with powerful storms that bomb out over the UK again and again, resulting in the stormiest winter for that island nation in over 200 years.

And here we have the dipole of the winter of 2013 and 2014. A west coast that was hot, hotter than usual all the way from California to the far north of Alaska and an East Coast that from Canada to the Gulf Coast became the repository for cold, cold Arctic air that was shoved south as the polar vortex collapsed down the steep face of the one of the largest and longest lasting Jet Stream waves on record.

(Dr. Francis explains how polar amplification results in higher amplitude Jet Stream wave patterns.)

Dipole. One side hot. One side cold. But, in this case, in the case of the winter of 2013-2014, it’s a historic and anomalous dipole. A freak born of the climate change we’ve caused mixing up with the Pacific Ocean heat of a rising El Nino. A record hot, dry winter for the US West that ignites wildfires in winter and forces the government to ration California water resources. A severe dry spell that closes farms and drives US food prices up by 15%. A record cold, stormy winter in the Eastern US and a series of super-intense storms screaming across the North Atlantic to submerge Somerset and rip massive chunks out of a rocky UK coastline.

This clear picture of a climate-change caused event was this week provided through the groundbreaking new research by Dr. Wang and fellows. These top scientists engaged climate models and analyzed past records to find the culprits of the weather extremes we witnessed during this past winter. And what they found was a very high correlation in the models with the extreme dipole over North America and the Arctic, an oncoming El Nino, and climate change driven impacts.

For not only was this year’s dipole the most extreme on record, it was also likely made far more extreme by an emerging Monster El Nino acting in concert with severe global-warming related reductions in Arctic sea ice cover, increases in Pacific Ocean heat and atmospheric moisture content, and related changes to the upper level air flows of the Northern Hemisphere polar Jet Stream.

Links:

Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought, ENSO Precursor and Anthropogenic Warming Footprint

NOAA/GFS

University of Washington

Read Further Excellent Reporting on the Wang Report Here:

California Drought/Polar Vortex Jet Stream Pattern Linked to Global Warming

Bombshell Study Ties Epic California Drought ‘Frigid East’ To Manmade Climate Change

Large and Growing List of Scientific Studies Linking Human Climate Change to Current Weather Extremes (hat tip to Weather Underground)

Changing the Face of Mother Nature

The Seasonal Atmospheric Response to Projected Sea Ice Loss in the Late 21rst Century

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid Latitudes

Influence of Low Arctic Sea Ice Minima on Anomalously Cold Eurasian Winters

Impact of Sea Ice Cover Changes on the Northern Hemisphere Winter Circulation

Impact of Declining Arctic Sea Ice on Winter Snowfall

Large Scale Atmospheric Circulation Changes Associated with the Recent Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

A Link Between Reduced Kara-Barents Sea Ice and Cold Winter Extremes Over Northern Continents

Northern Hemisphere Winter Snow Anomalies

Impact of Projected Future Sea Ice Reduction on Extratropical Storminess and the NAO

Cold Winter Extremes in Northern Continents Linked to Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Precipitation Shifts Over Western North America as a Result of Declining Sea Ice Cover

Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Reduces Available Water in the American West

Interdecadal Connection Between Arctic Temperature and Summer Precipitation Over the Yangtze River Valley in the CMIP5 Historical Simulations

Potential Impacts of the Arctic on Interannual and Interdecadal Summer Precipitation in China

Influence of Arctic Sea Ice on European Summer Precipitation

On the Relationship Between Winter Sea Ice and Summer Atmospheric Circulation over Eurasia

(Partial list, view the rest here)

 

 

Sea Ice Loss, Human Warming Places Earth Under Ongoing Fire of Severe Weather Events Through Early 2014, Likelihood of Extremes For Some Regions Increases by 500%

Heat overburden at the roof of our world. It’s a dangerous signal that the first, worst effects of human-caused climate change are starting to ramp up. And it’s a signal we are receiving now. A strong message coinciding with a world-wide barrage of some of the worst January and February weather extremes ever experienced in human reckoning.

An Ongoing Arctic Heat Amplification

Ever since December, the Arctic has been experiencing what could well be called a heat wave during winter-time. Average temperatures have ranged between 2 and 7 degrees Celsius above normal winter time readings (1979-2000) over the entire Arctic basin. Local readings frequently exceed 20 degrees Celsius above average over large zones that shift and swell, circulating in a great cloud of abnormal warmth around the roof of the world.

Today is no different.

Global Temp amomaly March 4

(Global Temperature Anomaly on March 4, 2014 showing a warmer than normal world sitting beneath an ominously hot Arctic. Image source: University of Maine.)

Average temperatures for the entire Arctic are 4.16 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 base line, putting these readings in a range about 6 degrees Celsius above Arctic temperatures during the 1880s. When compared to global average warming of about .8 C above 1880s norms, this is an extreme heat departure that places the Arctic region well out of balance with both its traditional climate and with global climate at large.

Local large hot zones with temperatures ranging between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius above average appear east of Svalbard, in the Arctic Ocean north of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and over a broad swath of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. These zones of warmth are as odd as they are somewhat horrific, creating regions where temperatures are higher than they would otherwise be in April or, in some cases, late May.

Sea Ice Melt Over a Warming Arctic Ocean

This ongoing condition of extreme Arctic heat is a symptom of overall Arctic amplification set off by a number of strong feedbacks now underway. These include sea ice measures that are currently at or near record low values (February saw new record lows in both extent and area measures) as well as a large and growing local emission of greenhouse gasses from polar stores long locked away by the boreal cold. Arctic geography also contributes to the problem as a thinning layer of sea ice rests atop an ocean that is swiftly soaking up the heat resulting from human warming.

During winter time, the combination of thin sea ice, warm ocean, and higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses generates excess warmth over and near the Arctic Ocean basin. The warmer waters, having trapped solar heat all summer long, now vent the warmth into the polar atmosphere through the sparse, cracked, and greatly diminished sea ice. And while this increasing heat imbalance has been shown to be lengthening the melt season by 5 days per decade, it is also stretching its influence well into winter time as ocean heat now continually bleeds through a thinning and ever more perforated layer of sea ice.

Other effects include an overburden of greenhouse gasses trapping long wave radiation to a greater extent in the polar zone while the already warmer than usual condition creates weaknesses in the Jet Stream that generate large atmospheric waves. The south-north protrusions of these waves invade far into the Arctic Ocean basin over Svalbard and Alaska, transporting yet more heat into the Arctic from lower latitudes.

The net effect is the extraordinary Arctic warming we are now seeing.

Earth Under Continuous Fire of Extreme Weather

This rapidly increasing warmth at the Arctic pole generates a variety of weather instabilities that ripple on through the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the ongoing impacts of equatorial warming or such warming in concert with the far-flung effects of polar amplification and an increase in the hydrological cycle of about 6% are causing a number of extraordinary events over the Southern Hemisphere.

In short, the barrage of extreme weather is now entirely global in nature. A brutal if amazing phenomena directly associated with a human-heated climate system.

Extreme weather map

(Map of extreme weather events throughout the world from January 1 through February 14. Note that it is now difficult to find a region that is currently not experiencing exceptional weather. Image source: Japanese Meteorological Agency.)

Over the western US, Canada, and Alaska, a Jet Stream ridge that has persisted for a year has generated both abnormally warm conditions for this region, with Alaska experiencing its third hottest January on record, and an extreme drought for California that is among the worst in its history. This drought is now poised to push US food prices up by between 10-15 percent as California officials are forced to cut off water flows to farmers.

Only the most powerful of storm systems are able to penetrate the ridge. And the result, for the US West Coast, is a condition that either includes drought or heavy precipitation and flooding events. A condition that became plainly apparent as winter storm Titan dumped as much as 5 inches of rainfall over drought-stricken southern California, setting off landslides and flash floods that sent enormous waves of water and topsoil rushing down roads and gullies alike. And though the storms came, the drought still remains.

Added to the list of extremes for the Western US are a number of early starts and/or late ends to fire seasons with California, Arizona and New Mexico all experiencing wildfires during the period of December through February.

Moving east, we encounter the down-sloping trough that is the flip side of the ridge bringing warmth and drought to deluge conditions to the west. So, for the Eastern and Central United States, we see the transport of chill air down from the Arctic Ocean, over Canada and deep into a zone from The Dakotas to Texas to Maine. As a result, we have seen winter storm after winter storm surge down into these regions, dumping snow, ice, and heavy rain while occasionally coming into conflict with Gulf warmth and moisture to spark tornadoes and thunderstorms over snow-covered regions.

One cannot separate the warm air invasion over Alaska and the heat radiating out of the perforated sea ice from the numerous polar vortex collapse events that have led to this extreme winter weather over Central and Eastern parts of the US. And so, it is also impossible to ignore the warping and deleterious impacts of human-caused climate change on the world’s weather.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in its latest extreme weather assessment notes:

In the winter a deep reservoir of cold air becomes established through the atmosphere over the Arctic because of the lack of sunlight. This is usually held over high latitudes by the Jet Stream, a fast moving band of air 10 km up in the atmosphere which drives weather. This year, a “kink” in the jet stream allowed the reservoir of cold air to move southwards across the USA. A blocking pattern meant it was locked into place, keeping severe weather systems over much of the Eastern United States extending down to northeast Mexico.

This ‘kink’ and related blocking pattern the WMO mentions is also the leading edge of the advance of cold Arctic air over the North Atlantic which combined with ocean heat and moisture to aim intense storms at Western Europe. In essence, a powerful planetary wave or Rossby Wave type feature:

Planetary Wave

(The Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream takes on Planetary Wave pattern with an extreme high amplitude ridge over the Western US, Canada, Alaska and the Beaufort Sea and a deep, cold trough digging into the Eastern US and spreading out over the North Atlantic on February 26th. Image source: University of Washington.)

For as we look yet further East we come to a North Atlantic Ocean that has been little more than the barrel of a gun firing a two and a half month long barrage of storms at England and Western Europe. For the Jet Stream, at this point, is intensified by Arctic air fleeing from a warming north coming into contact with the also warming waters of the North Atlantic. In this region, the planetary wave feature developed with severe and lasting consequences for England, France, Portugal and Venice.

The upshot was the wettest period in over 250 years for England as well as the windiest period since at least the 1960s. During February, two of these storms generated 80-100 mph winds and waves off Ireland and the UK that were the highest ever recorded for this region. Meanwhile, the powerful storm surges associated with these storms reshaped the English coastline, uncovered bombs dropped during World War II and unearthed the stumps of an ancient forest that spread from England to France before it was buried in the floods of glacial melt at the end of the last ice age. The battering continues through early March with England suffering losses in excess of 1 billion dollars.

The storms ripping across the Atlantic also resulted in the loss of over 21,000 sea birds and have heavily impacted France, Spain and Portugal with record rains, gales and tidal flooding. During early February, a series of gales also drove high tides along the coast of Italy and spurred flooding in Venice.

As storms slammed into coastal western Europe, strange fires were also burning along Arctic shores as a very dry and windy winter sparked blazes along the coastlines of Norway. These fires, some of the worst in Norway’s history, occurred during January and February, months that have never seen wildfires before. So the strange story of flood and fire that tends to come with climate change may seem yet more radical and extreme when we include what has happened over this section of Europe during 2014.

By the time we enter Eastern Europe, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Russia we again encounter an up-slope in the Jet Stream along with related periods of heat and drought. Record highs were set throughout a zone from Germany to Slovenia to Russia. Germany experienced January temperatures that were 2.8 degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average while Russia experienced heat anomalies approaching 10 degrees Celsius hotter than normal that persisted for up to a week in length. In Turkey, farmers frantically drilled into drying lake-beds for water as both warmer and drier than normal conditions combined with ground water depletion to generate severe agricultural stress.

But the strain for Israel, which experienced lowest ever winter rainfalls and one of the worst droughts in its history, was far worse. According to the Israeli Water Agency’s March 4 Statement, water supplies across the country were now at record low levels:

“Such low supply during this period has never before been documented and is unprecedented in Water Authority records,” the agency said. “The negative records broken in February are much more dramatic and significant than those of January.”

Drought-stressed Jordan has also been forced to ration water supplies, with rainfall levels now only 34 percent of that received during a typical January and February.

Abnormal warmth and drought also extended into China as most parts of the ancient empire received between 50-80 percent below average rainfall. Temperatures averaged over the entire country were the warmest seen since at least 1961. The warmth and dryness resulted in record low river and lake levels across the country with China’s largest lake turning into a sea of cracked mud and grasses.

In Singapore and nearby Malaysia, a two month-long heatwave is now among the worst ever recorded for this region. The situation has been worsened as nearby forest fires have combined with industrial pollution to produce a kind of all-encompassing smog. A nasty brew that cut visibility in the region to less than one kilometer.

Smoke Smog Singapore Maylaysia

(Smoke and smog from fires and industrial activity visible over Singapore and Malaysia. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

One would think that, with major heat anomalies occurring over the Arctic, the far removed Southern Hemisphere would be somehow insulated from impacts. But whether from far-reaching Arctic influence or simply from other factors related to human-caused climate change, austral regions were among the hardest hit by the, now global, spate of extreme weather events.

Australia’s record 2013 heatwave didn’t miss a beat as a hottest ever summer continued on through January and February. A period in the middle of January showed exceptionally severe high temperatures with World Meteorological Agency reports noting:

One of the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record affected southeast Australia over the period from 13 to 18 January 2014. The major area affected by the heatwave consisted of Victoria, Tasmania (particularly the western half), southern New South Wales away from the coast, and the southern half of South Australia. Over most parts of this region, it ranked alongside the heatwaves of January-February 2009, January 1939 and (from the limited information available) January 1908 as the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record.

A number of site records were set during the summer, including:

• Melbourne had seven 40ºC days; annual average is one day

• Adelaide had 11 days of 42ºC or above; annual average is one day

• Canberra had 19 days of 35ºC or above; annual average is 5.4 days

While Australia was sweltering under its hottest summer on record, south-central Brazil was suffering its worst-ever drought. By mid February, Brazil had been forced to ration water in over 140 of its cities. The result is that neighborhoods in some of Brazil’s largest cities only receive water once every three days. During this, extraordinarily intense, period of heat and dryness, untold damage was done to Brazil’s crops. But, by early March, a doubling of prices for coffee coming out of Brazil gave some scope to the damage. January was also Brazil’s hottest on record and the combination of extreme heat and dryness pushed the nation’s water reservoirs for southeastern and west-central regions to below 41 percent of capacity driving utility water storage levels to a critically low 19 percent.

In near mirror to the US weather flip-flop, northern Brazil experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, apparently gaining back the lion’s share of moisture lost in the south and stalling a two year drought affecting north-eastern regions.

In combination, these crazy weather extremes are thought to have done nearly $5 billion in damages to Brazil’s crops so far this year, on top of $9 billion in losses last year. Losses run the gambit from coffee to beef, soy, citrus, and sugarcane. It is worth noting that Brazil is the largest producer of all these foodstuffs with the one exception being soy.

The same drought impacting Brazil also damaged crops in Paraguay and Argentina with soybeans among the hardest hit.

Given the ongoing extreme weather impacts, it is worth noting that world soybean prices are now up by more than 9 percent over the 2012-2013 period with almost all foodstuffs seeing price increases in the global marketplace. The UN FAO food index remained over 200 through late January, a dangerously high indicator that shows numerous countries having difficulty supplying affordable food to their populations.

Extremes Cover the Globe

The above list does little justice to the depth and scope of extremes experienced, merely serving to highlight some of the most notable or severe instances. In general, it could well be said that the world climate crisis is rapidly turning into a world severe weather crisis. January and February are usually rather calm months for the globe, weather-wise. So the fact that we are seeing record storms, rainfall, snowfall, floods, fires, droughts, winds, and heatwaves in every corner of the globe during what should be a relatively mild period is cause for serious concern.

And many scientists are taking notice. For example, Omar Baddour, Chief of the WMO’s data division observes an amazing ramping up of extreme weather events worldwide, citing preliminary model assessments in an interview with The Guardian, he notes:

“We need more time to assess whether this is unusual [on a global level] but if you look at the events in individual regions, like the heatwave in Australia or the cold in the US, it looks very unusual indeed. Next month we will publish a major report showing the likelihood of extreme heatwaves is increased 500% [with climate change].”

The shadow climate change casts has grown very long and there is little that has not now been touched by it. But, sadly and unfortunately, even under a regime of full mitigation and adaptation, the worst effects are yet to come. If we are wise, we will do our best to mitigate as much as we can and work together to adapt to the rest.

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Links:

The World Meteorological Organization

University of Maine

University of Washington

Japan Meteorological Agency

Lance-Modis

UK Endures Endless Barrage of Storms

Ice-free Season Getting Longer by Five Days Per Decade

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires in California

For Arizona and New Mexico, Climate Change and a Mangled Jet Stream Means Fire Season Now Starts in February

World Food Security in the Cross Hairs of Human-Caused Climate Change

Arctic Wildfires in Winter

California Storms Didn’t End Drought

The Biggest Disaster You’ve Never Heard of

Haze Shrouds Malaysia

Brazil Rations Water in Over 140 Cities

World Begins 2014 With Unusual Number of Extreme Weather Events

Brazil Loses Billions as Crops Reduced By Wacky Weather

The Storms of Arctic Warming: Polar Amplification, Vortex Disruption to Set off Extreme Weather Events For US, UK Yet Again

It’s happening again.

A story that starts in the Arctic where abnormally warm temperatures for this time of year are in the process of disrupting the polar vortex, shoving its node out of the Arctic Ocean and pushing it all the way south over Hudson and Baffin Bay. The result is a core of extreme cold shoved much closer to related warmer, southerly regions. A highly unstable event that is likely to spawn extreme weather for the US and UK yet again.

This polar heat amplification and related extreme weather is a signature of human-caused global warming. And though it wears a grotesque mask of what some would call a normal Arctic oscillation, it is anything but.

Our rapid production of greenhouse gasses since 1880 has caused the Arctic to warm, on average, by about 5.3 F (3.0 C). This rapid increase in warming is nearly 4 times that of the global average and resulted in temperatures for the Arctic, during the 20th Century, reaching a range not seen in at least 44,000 years and likely 120,000 years. Since warming has continued well into the first and second decades of the 21rst Century, Arctic temperature excursions are likely outside even that extreme range and may well now be approaching averages when parts of today’s Arctic first began to freeze and glaciate.

NASA Arctic Heat Amplification

(Arctic temperature increase from 1880 to 2012. Image source: Tamino. Data source: NASA GISS.)

The causes of this rapid Arctic amplification are manifold. First, human greenhouse gas emissions added more heat to the oceans and atmosphere. The polar sea ice, sitting atop a warming ocean went though a period of recession from the 1920s through the 1950s, hovered in about the same zone during the 60s and 70s and then commenced a more rapid melt phase from the 1980s onward.

Loss of Sea Ice and a Changing Jet Stream

Loss of sea ice reduced northern polar albedo (reflectivity) by a total of 4% since 1980 which increased Arctic heat capture by an amazing 6.4 watts per meter squared (more than 4 times that of human CO2 forcing over the entire globe). As a result, the seas under the Arctic ice cap began to even more rapidly warm. By 2012 the warming was intense enough to have reduced end-summer sea ice volume by 80 percent since 1979. Now, during winter time, a perforated and much diminished sheet of sea ice bleeds ocean heat into the Arctic atmosphere. As a result, cold air tends to be shoved out of the Arctic Ocean basin more and more often.

piomas-trnd2

(Sea ice volume losses with exponential trend. Image source: Wipneus. Data Source: PIOMAS.)

This bleeding of oceanic heat has bent the Jet Stream ever northward over two zones — one over Svalbard and one over Alaska. And both these Jet Stream weaknesses allow warmer air to rush into the Arctic from the south. These various heat forcings cause the winter time polar vortex to wobble uneasily over a warming Arctic Ocean even as it is more frequently ripped apart by warm air incursions through the oceanic weak points. Meanwhile, these vortex disruption and collapse events spill cold air southward over the continents and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet one more Polar Vortex Disruption

And for this winter, such Arctic heat driven polar vortex disruption and collapse events have been the norm. This week is featuring yet one more — sparking extreme weather that will revisit both the US and UK over the coming days.

T2_anom_satellite1

(Climate Change Institute Map Showing Arctic Heat Anomaly 2.68 C above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, the Arctic temperature anomaly was 2.68 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. Areas near Svalbard, Alaska, and Baffin Bay showed extraordinary temperature departures in the range of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius above average. Meanwhile a zone of cold, Arctic air has been shoved southward over the US, setting up extreme temperature differentials over a relatively small area and putting in place conditions ripe for extreme weather.

A Tale of Three Storms

A large Pacific storm now in the process of leaping over the west coast blocking pattern is forecast to dump up to 5 inches of rain on a parched California before injecting itself into the highly unstable atmosphere over the central and eastern US. Areas in the center of the US such as Oklahoma may experience a range of weather from thunderstorms to tornadoes and precipitation running the gambit between snow, hail, ice, and rain. This system is predicted to spread out, covering a massive swath from Texas to Maine and incorporating at least two low pressure systems. It will draw in a deep flow of warmth and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and this warm and moisture laden air will abruptly collide with the much colder Arctic air to the north. Extreme rain, ice and snowfall are certainly possible as this intense event is expected to last from Saturday through Monday.

Across the Atlantic, as the Jet Stream invades southward and picks up speed, a gale formed to the south of Greenland and Iceland before barreling on into the storm ravaged shores of England and France. The gales and storms this winter for the region have been relentless, resulting in the stormiest winter ever on record for England and creating conditions so battering and exhausting that more than 21,000 sea birds are thought to have tragically lost their lives in at sea before washing up on French shores.

Now a strong double barrel low pressure system is bringing gale force winds and heavy rains back to a United Kingdom that has suffered an almost constant assault of storms since the middle of December. Flood warnings have again been issued for multiple counties and regions just north of London, which experienced 60 degree temperatures earlier this week, are expected to see snow. The storm is expected to sweep through the UK on Friday and Saturday before exiting Sunday. A storm of similar intensity is then expected to return to the UK on Monday where the process of gales and floods are likely to again repeat.

Sediment outflow England France Storms

(Sediment outflow from the swollen rivers of England and France on January 26 as yet another storm encroaches. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

In total, this worst continuous period of storms in UK history, has resulted in over a billion dollars in damages. Meanwhile, the storms are expected to continue through at least early March.

Overall, these extraordinary conditions cannot be entirely separated from the still-high temperature deviations occurring in the Arctic. Usually, by this time of year, the ice is solid enough and the warm air incursions are weak enough to allow at least some minor re-establishment of the polar vortex. Not so for 2014. The above average temperatures throughout the Arctic continue and show little sign of abatement as we head into March and the end of sea ice freeze season.

Links:

NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

Winter Storm Encroaches

NASA Lance-Modis

PIOMAS

The Climate Change Institute

NASA GISS

Arctic Hotter Than at Any Time in at Least 44,000 Years

Polar Albedo Loss Due to Ice Melt Twice that Predicted by Models

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Tamino

Wipneus

21,000 Sea Birds Lost Due to Extreme North Atlantic Storms

When Average is the New Cold: Despite Hype From Climate Change Deniers, US Temps for January 2014 Were an Island of Average in a Near Record Hot World

By all accounts, weather during January of 2014 was freakish, extreme and odd. The eastern half of the US suffered from severe, though brief cold snaps along with a train of extreme weather stemming from two strong polar vortex collapse events. The western half of the US suffered from extended drought and unusual warmth as California, at the epicenter of dryness, found itself fighting major wildfires during winter.

Both sets of extremes were strongly influenced by a powerful high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that funneled warm, dry air into the Western US and stormy Arctic air into the Eastern States. A weather condition that, according to scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, stems from an ongoing build up of Arctic heat and a related erosion of northern polar sea ice.

Warm Air Invasion for Arctic Feb 24

(University of Washington model projection for Monday, February 24 shows strong west-coast blocking pattern with powerful warm air invasion of the Arctic and related countervailing trough over the US East Coast that has been the typical pattern since about April of 2013. A set of conditions persisting for 11 months that has led to extreme weather and climate events from Alaska to California to the East Coast. Image source: University of Washington.)

Meandering Jet Streams. Blocking patterns lasting 11 months. Cold air flushed out of the Arctic and into Canada and the Eastern US by warm air invasions. Related Polar Vortex collapses. Winter fires in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Norway. Such events are what the start of weather extremes caused by human-spurred climate change look like.

If you were to tell your neighborhood climate change denier such a thing, your words would have likely fallen on deaf ears. For if the winter weather in the Northeast, or anywhere for that matter, was extreme, so were the cries from various sources claiming that such weather was a clear repudiation of the titanic volume of scientific evidence now supporting an empirically obvious human-caused warming. The climate change denier’s eyes, ever and anon, were blind to excessive warmth in the west, over the Pacific Ocean and thrusting deep into the Arctic itself.

But despite the often shrill cries of climate change denial, evidence again leveled a crushing blow to the contrarian point of view.

For according to NASA and NOAA, global temperatures were again among the hottest on average for the month. NASA found that January was 2014 was the 3rd hottest on record, while the NOAA measure showed the month as 4th hottest.

NCDC January 2013 4th hottest

(Global temperature departures from the average. Image source: NOAA/NCDC.)

In the most recent NOAA assessment, we see large areas of hottest ever temperatures ranging from Brazil, the South Atlantic, South Africa, the Western Pacific north and east of Australia and New Guinea, the North-Central Atlantic, the southern tip of Greenland, and the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska. Cooler than average regions were relegated to the Eastern US, the North Atlantic south of Greenland, north-central Siberia, and areas of the southern ocean south of Cape Horn and New Zealand.

It is worth noting that no regions of the globe showed record coldest readings despite small zones in the eastern US that experienced 8th and 12th coldest years on record. But despite these isolated cool zones, ever the fodder for climate change denial cherry picking, the global balance tipped heavily toward heat.

Moving on to the Continental US, we can clearly see from NOAA’s assessment that:

The average temperature for the contiguous United States during January was 30.3°F, or 0.1°F below the 20th century average. The January 2014 temperature ranked near the middle of the 120-year period of record, and was the coldest January since 2011. Despite some of the coldest Arctic air outbreaks to impact the East in several years, no state had their coldest January on record.

So despite the hype and a number of cold Arctic air outbursts, average temperatures for the contiguous US were merely average — one of the few average temperature zones in a near record-hot world. That these overall average readings would seem cold to us now is a clear sign that we are growing all too used to above average warmth and heat.

Links:

NOAA/NCDC

NASA/GISS

University of Washington

Arctic Heat in Winter — February 2 Temperature Anomaly Hits +13 F For Entire Arctic

Heat just keeps flooding into the Arctic. And as late winter progresses to early spring, this inexorable influx of warmth may have profound impacts to both world weather and to the eventual state of sea ice by the end of summer 2014.

After a record warmth event shattered all time high temperatures across Alaska and resulted in melt-spurred avalanches that cut off Valdez from the mainland, heat in the high Arctic continued to intensify through late Sunday. According to reports from The Climate Change Institute, the Arctic temperature anomaly hit +7.07 C (nearly +13 F) above daily averages for the entire Arctic on February 2.

By Monday, this exceptional Arctic heat spike had faded somewhat, dropping to a still extreme +6.14 C (+11 F) above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 t0 2000 average.

Daily temperature anomaly feb 3

(Daily temperature anomaly from the Climate Change Institute. Data compiled from NASA and NOAA global monitors, satellite data and model analysis.)

Note the extraordinarily hot readings of +36 F over a large area of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas coinciding with almost as extreme instances of warmth along the west coast of Greenland and throughout a region over Svalbard stretching on toward Arctic Russia.

Current temperatures in Svalbard mirror those in Gaithersburg, Maryland, thousands of miles to the south, with both sitting at 32 degrees F according to reports from Weather Underground. Svalbard is less than 600 miles from the North Pole and temperatures there are currently pushing the freezing mark, a level not typically breached in Svalbard until May.

Arctic sea ice near all-time lows

The exceptional Arctic heat has kept both sea ice extent and area near all time lows this winter with NSIDC showing extent and areas measures at their 3rd lowest for this date. Sea ice area anomaly is now 1.014 million square kilometers below the already low 1979 to 2008 mean, a significant negative deviation for winter.

As a result, some areas that are usually frozen solid by this time of year show little or no ice. The Bering Sea, for example, remains about 3/4ths open ocean. This is an extraordinary event as the Bering ice pack is usually approaching the Aleutians by this time of year. But, as we can see in the map below, huge patches of open water for this and other areas remain.

Cryosphere Snow and Ice Feb 3

(Snow and ice extent for February 3, 2014. Note that the ice edge is far behind the 1979 to 2000 average limit line in all basins. Image source: Climate Change Institute.)

With the end of the freeze season about 30 days away, it would take a significant switch to cold to make up for the current ice lag. Meanwhile, Jet Stream models show the pace of heat influx to Arctic regions remaining high at least through the end of this week. Notably, a strong, warm-core high pressure system is predicted to develop in the region of the Bering Strait by Friday. This developing zone is projected to drive yet one more flood of warmth almost all the way to the North Pole:

Warm core high pressure

(Jet Stream model predictions for Friday, February 7th show warm core high pressure system over extreme eastern Russia and Bering Strait. Image source: The University of Washington.)

In this pattern, the polar vortexes remain disassociated from the Arctic, with one being centered over Siberia and the other finding an almost permanent residence near Hudson Bay. It is also worth noting that this Jet Stream forecast also indicates a high likelihood of severe weather for the eastern US by February 7th as well.

Arctic heat likely to continue to shove cold air, instability extreme weather south

Though the polar vortex collapse related Arctic air invasion of the US last week has now mostly faded, as noted above, Jet Stream models indicate continued major Arctic air outflows from the much hotter than usual Arctic into Canada and the US. This continued instability sets the stage for a major battle between hot and cold air as regions southward warm up in anticipation of the advance of spring. The result is likely to bring numerous episodes of severe weather outbursts throughout the month of February. So we cannot rule out strong to extreme rain/snow events, thunderstorms, flooding and potential tornadoes as February progresses. As has been typical with the current Jet Stream pattern, the Central and Eastern US are most likely to be effected by these strong storm events. And, as we have seen with the increasingly severe climate-change driven extreme weather events of the past decade, the potential continues for record or near-record events.

Shifting west, a set of weaknesses in the high amplitude blocking pattern is likely to allow a stream of moisture to filter in over the parched western states. Unfortunately, this rain will probably arrive too little, too late to prevent major troubles for states like California come spring. In short, it would take a major inundation to alleviate drought conditions for the moisture-starved west. And a weakened, but still sputtering, blocking pattern isn’t likely to deliver the kind of moisture needed to end California’s 13 year drought. That said, any relief is likely a welcome change to those living through the worst conditions in at least 4 decades.

No Great Lakes freeze for 2014

In parting, I’ll leave you with a clear sign that, while the heat in the Arctic is plainly historic, the cold it drove into the US this winter was merely a noteworthy after-effect. The Great Lakes which, prior to the mid 20th Century, used to freeze solid almost every year, despite the recent cold snaps, remain ice free over a broad area.

The last year all the Great Lakes froze solid? 1979…

Great Lakes with Substantial Portion still ice-free

(Great Lakes with substantial portion still ice-free. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Links:

Arctic Heatwave Sets off Hottest Ever Winter Time Temperatures for Alaska

NASA: Lance-Modis

The Climate Change Institute

The University of Washington

Weather Underground

NSIDC

Cryosphere Today

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half by Anomalous Jet Stream, High Arctic Experiencing 32 Degree F Above Average Temperatures Over Broad Region

A dangerous and weather-wrecking polar heat amplification in the Arctic set off by human-caused global warming keeps kicking into higher and higher gear…

What models predicted earlier this week and what we reported on Thursday has finally happened. A major influx of record-breaking winter warmth has flooded into the high Arctic, disrupting the polar vortex to the point that it is currently ripped in twain.

Average temperatures over a broad area of the north polar region are now in excess of 20 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) above daily norms for this time of year. Areas from Alaska to Norway to Greenland to the North Pole are experiencing record or near record highs. Meanwhile, the circumpolar Jet Stream has been malformed into an extraordinarily exaggerated north-south Rossby Wave pattern. An extreme amplification of a blocking pattern that has been in place for more than 10 months, pumping a continual flow of heat into the Arctic, and which, this winter, has resulted in numerous North American cold snaps comparable to those that used to happen in the 1980s and 1990s.

Polar temperature anomaly Jan 26

(Global temperature anomaly vs the 1985 to 1996 mean. Note the large regions of the High Arctic experiencing temperatures that are 20 degrees C above average or higher. Image source: NOAA)

The result is a kind of north-south flip-flop in temperatures following a polar vortex that has been ripped in half by a surge of anomalous warmth and a periodic pulsing of the Arctic’s remnant cold southward over the continents.

Yesterday, the high temperature in Svalbard, for example, less than 600 miles from the North Pole peaked at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, near all-time record warmth for this frigid region. In contrast, the high for Bethesda Maryland, thousands of miles to the south, was nine degrees lower at 23 Fahrenheit.

Hottest or near hottest ever temperatures in the Arctic are, in this case, comparable to moderately colder than average weather over Siberia and the Eastern US (As seen in the NOAA temperature anomaly map above. It is also worth noting that the 1985-1996 base-line temperature for the above map is already about .5 C above the 1880 average. So this map doesn’t take into account the full extent and impact of human-caused warming.).

The Jet Stream anomaly that linked a very large and powerful flood of warm air from the Pacific with another less powerful warm air invasion riding up over Western Europe setting off such major polar temperature extremes is now plainly visible in the University of Washington upper air flow graphic below:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half Jan 26

(Polar vortex ripped in half. Image source: University of Washington.)

On the Pacific side, we see a powerful ridge in the Jet Stream invading deep into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas before again turning south. Some of the warmer air carried up by this extreme northward thrust of the Jet, however, bleeds further north, spilling up and over the North Pole. There it links with the second warm air thrust coming up from Europe. To the south, the polar vortex is now misaligned and severed. The two resulting, lesser, cold vortexes are now centered hundreds of miles to the south of their typical zones — with one over Hudson Bay and the other over the Yedoma region of Siberia.

Over the next week, model forecasts predict this severing of the polar vortex to continue with the current, anomalous, pattern remaining in play at least until February 2nd.

What we are observing is the start of the tumultuous and stormy throws of an imperiled winter in the Northern Hemisphere. A crisis that is bound to continue and worsen for at least some time. One that, if we don’t stop our greenhouse gas emissions soon, will certainly progress to a period in our not too distant future when winter no longer exists, perhaps a century or two from now. But make no mistake, these episodes of extreme polar warmth during wintertime that flush the cold air out and southward are no less than the palpitating heart of winter thrumming with the terrible arrhythmia of its eventual demise.

Links:

NOAA

University of Washington

Svalbard Weather Forecast, Weather Underground

Arctic Ice Graphs

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Shatter Alaska’s All-Time Record High for January?

62 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the all time record high for anywhere in the state of Alaska for the month of January. 57 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature measured earlier this week in southern Alaska.

And forecasts call for warmer weather from Friday through Monday…

Across Alaska, temperatures are as much a 30 degrees above average for this time of year. This record winter warmth has pushed Alaska’s average temperature, according to reports from Anchorage, to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, the lower 48, hundreds of miles to the south, is experiencing average temperatures of 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Though 24 degrees is not typically seen as a heat wave, readings in the upper 50s and lower 60s for Alaska in January may as well be. If these same temperature extremes were occurring during summer, some parts of Alaska would be experiencing a 90+ degree scorcher.

Mangled Jet Stream, Anomalous 10 Month Blocking Pattern to Blame

What we are witnessing is what amounts to a ten month long warm air invasion of the Arctic, with Alaska at ground zero. Human-caused global warming has resulted in an amplification of polar temperatures well above the typical average. Now the region is experiencing readings that range of 15-30 degrees warmer than normal.

This massive temperature increase (also associated with a reduction of land and sea ice) is causing a weakening in the polar Jet Stream which is allowing more warm air to invade the Arctic from the south. Early last spring, a weakness in the Jet resulted in a powerful and extraordinarily persistent blocking pattern forming over Alaska. Warm air flooded continuously up and over Alaska, occasionally penetrating deep into the Arctic Ocean region. Heat wave after heat wave impacted Alaska, which set numerous all-time record high temperatures during the summer of 2013.

This anomalous heat flooded in and spilled out around the Arctic Circle, disgorging so much hot air that the term ‘Arctic Heat Wave’ became common parlance. Now, this historic and extraordinary pattern has continued for 1o months running. A kind of persistence that may well give new meaning to the term blocking pattern.

south to north weather pattern Alaska

(Image source: NASA)

The wave pattern stretches so high into the upper latitudes that what we are seeing is weather systems more often rise up from the south and travel northward over Alaska and into the Arctic, than proceed in their typical east-west progression.
The west-east weather train is broken. And a strange south-north train from equator to Arctic is instead set in place.

In the above image sequence, provided by NASA, the heat and associated moisture flow all the way from the equatorial region near Hawaii, up over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean waters before flooding on through Alaska and into the high Arctic. The extraordinarily powerful and persistent blocking pattern has linked the deep tropics to the high Arctic in unprecedented and anomalous fashion. Especially when one considers that the current pattern has lasted for almost an entire year.

This it the kind of extreme weather pattern that Dr. Jennifer Francis warned about. The kind of pattern Dr. Jeff Masters continues to point out in his cutting edge blog — Weather Underground. In my view, we ignore Dr. Francis and Dr. Masters at our risk. Their observations hold true to what is happening now and they are very useful tools for predicting the weather of a world in which human global warming has now become the primary driver of the world’s climate. Without the actual and ongoing context that is human warming, the few meteorologists still associated with climate change deniers scramble to find the increasingly rare analogs in past climate that match today’s extreme weather. But there is no analog to warmest ever temperatures in Alaska and polar temperatures that are now hotter than they were at any time over at least the past 44,000 years. And there is certainly no analog to CO2 levels higher than they’ve been at any time during the past 4.5 million years.

For this is the disrupted Jet Stream pattern not only directly responsible for the anomalous Arctic heat Alaska is now experiencing. It is also the cause of colder air being driven out of the Arctic and southward over the US, causing multiple cold snaps and extreme winter weather events in the lower 48. For the warm air influx, both at the surface and at the upper levels of the atmosphere, result in multiple polar vortex collapse events.

Polar Vortex to be Ripped in Half

And we are in the midst of just such a polar vortex collapse now. Over the past week, warmer air has flooded the high Arctic, weakening the polar vortex as the center of cold air began to split and streamed down over the continents. By Monday, these warm wedges of air, driving up over both Svalbard in the east and Alaska in the west, will have completely separated the polar vortex into two disassociated cold centers.

In essence, the polar vortex will have been ripped in half by a pincer style warm air invasion from the south. Who knew that atmospheric warming would come to mimic the battlefield tactics of Germans rumbling over the fields of France during World War II? But here we are:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Image source: University of Washington)

In the above image, we can plainly see the much warmer than normal air wedge driving up from the south and over Alaska in association with the now, ten month old, blocking pattern and related Rossby wave feature over the Pacific and North America. A second, albeit weaker, wedge drives in over Europe and across Svalbard. The net result is a ‘pincer’ of warm air invading the Arctic and cutting the polar vortex in half.

Note that one cold air vortex is predicted to be centered over Eastern Canada near Hudson Bay (Monday). The other is shown to be driven south to Russian Kamchatka near the Sea of Okhotsk. Perhaps coincidentally, this cold air core is very close to the Amur region of Russia and China that experienced a 150 year flood event just this summer. A flood event also associated with anomalous Jet Stream patterns linking polar, temperate, ocean and monsoonal storm patterns (see Song of Flood and Fire and Requiem for Flooded Cities).

Under this pattern the Arctic and especially Alaska will continue to experience record or near-record warmth, while the lower 48 continues to suffer the repeated blows of extreme winter weather as the conditions that are supposed to be affecting the Polar region are instead mercilessly driven southward by a human caused warming and polar vortex collapse event.

Links:

Jet Stream Flip Flop: Alaska is Warmer than Lower 48 Again

Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern for Much of US

The Arctic Heatwave: Greenland, Siberia, Alaska Heat Domes and a Mangled Jet Stream

From Archangel to Alaska, Heat Waves Now Flank the Central Arctic

NASA

Dr. Jennifer Francis, Top Climatologists, Explain how Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Produce Extreme Weather

Weather Underground

Arctic Temperatures Now Hottest Seen in at Least 44,000 Years

Cold Snap for the US? It’s the Collapsing Polar Vortex, Stupid.

University of Washington

A Song of Flood and Fire

A Requiem for Flooded Cities

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

This is What Human-Caused Climate Change Looks Like: Arctic to Warm, West Coast to Bake, Polar Vortex to Collapse and Flood Eastern US With Arctic Air

Well, the forecast is in. And it appears we are about to receive yet another helping of winter weather extremes driven by human caused climate change.

ECMWF and NOAA models both show mid and upper level warmth increasing over the polar region. This warmth, over the next week, will invade toward the surface, collapsing the polar vortex and driving Arctic cold into both Siberia and North America. In the image below, you can see that mid level cold is cut in half by warmth flooding into the polar zone resulting in both the polar vortex collapse and ejection toward southern latitudes all while severely malforming the circumpolar Jet Stream.

ECMWF Jan 26

(ECMWF 850 hPa temperature and pressure gradient for the Northern Hemisphere. Image source ECMWF)

Note that mid level atmospheric temperatures are about the same over the Central Arctic as they are over Central Europe, a much lower latitude. Also note how the polar cold, typically centered over the Arctic is driven away and further south into two distinct zones — one over Siberia, the other over North America. Already, observations in the high Arctic show temperatures as much as 30 degrees F above average for this time of year and such anomalies are projected to expand as this second vortex collapse of the season progresses.

This new temperature flux will make the fixed Rossby wave ridge and trough pattern very intense, forming high velocity upper level wind flows over much of the US. To the north, the Jet will invade Alaska. To the south, it will dig deep into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing cold Arctic air into direct contact with moist, warm tropical air. The result may well be a spectacular and dangerous series of winter storms over the next two weeks for the Central and Eastern US.

So you may wish to stay abreast of local weather reports as this most recent collapse series could pack quite a punch while spawning a variety of very extreme weather conditions.

Jet Stream Flow January 22

(ECMWF upper level wind flow over the US for January 22. Note the deep low over southeastern Canada and the powerful associated Jet Stream flow riding along the U shaped trough in the current blocking pattern.)

The vortex disruption, collapse, and flushing of cold air out of the Arctic and further south is forecast to result in a strong cold snap for the Eastern and Central US. Negative anomalies are projected to reach as low as -47 degrees F below average in some locations near the Great Lakes. According to these forecasts the cold may be about as strong but last a bit longer than the previous cold snap spurred by the early January polar vortex collapse.

Meanwhile, strong positive temperature anomalies up to +26 F are expected to dominate the US southwest, a region already suffering some of its driest conditions in a century. Such record warmth is likely to further exacerbate what has come to be a freakish and anomalous period of winter wildfires in the most drought stricken zones along the US West Coast.

ECMWF Vortex Collapse and Cold Snap

(ECMWF temperature forecast for January 23, 2014. Note the vertical line of temperature anomalies almost perfectly bisecting the North American Continent.)

This kind of extreme weather pattern almost perfectly models predictions by prominent polar researchers like Dr. Jennifer Francis, who projected increasingly anomalous Jet Stream patterns, blocking patterns, meandering, and cut off flows due to the massive Arctic melt having occurred since 1979. The retreat of snow and ice, both on land and at sea, results in more warm air invasions into the high Arctic and can directly spur just the kind of weather disruption predicted in the forecast above.

In the trough zones, periodic and powerful cold snaps are far more likely as the polar vortex collapses and cold, Arctic air is flushed south. In these troughs, storms are more frequent and powerful, amped up by the extreme temperature differences and by higher atmospheric moisture content due to overall warming. In the ridge zones, anomalous warmth, drought, and fires are experienced as the over-riding warm, dry air floods up through these regions and into the Arctic.

This is exactly the kind of dynamic we would expect from a warming world. From a world experiencing a powerful amplification of warmth in the northern polar zone. Such a pattern will likely continue to intensify until it is disrupted by large melt outflows from Greenland and from Baffin Island.

Links:

ECMWF

Premiering Next Week: Revenge of the Polar Vortex

Cold Snap for the US? It’s the Collapsing Polar Vortex, Stupid

Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern for Most of US

The Polar Vortex is Probably Coming Back

Arctic Ice Graphs

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires…

Cold Snap For US? It’s the Global Warming-Induced COLLAPSING Polar Vortex, Stupid

Polar Jet Stream Configuration January 8

(Current Polar Jet Stream Configuration. Note the powerful Rossby-Wave zonal flow associated with the 9 month old Pacific Blocking Pattern continuing to flood the Arctic with warmer air and disrupting/collapsing the seasonal polar vortex while shoving Arctic air south over Canada and the US. Image source: University of Washington.)

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A massive rash of human-warming induced extreme weather sweeps across the US and, not surprisingly, the mainstream media has gotten its climate change messaging somewhat wrong again..

In a rather admirable attempt to show how human caused warming is creating and influencing the recent spate of extreme weather, numerous articles have all implicated the, now much renowned, polar vortex in a massive, 20-year, cold snap gripping much of the nation.

Over and over, media reports are the same: Polar Vortex Grips Nation!

Two Sides to The Polar Vortex Story: Human Warming and A Disrupted Arctic Cyclone

In all honesty, it’s hard not to chuckle at how the media has gotten the story somewhat wrong. A polar vortex is, in essence, a semi-permanent storm or cyclone that forms in the high Arctic during winter months. The existence of a polar vortex in the high Arctic is a normal condition. And the meteorological features it creates tend to trap colder air in its swiftly circling winds. Such a condition results in very cold temperatures in the far north, while warmer conditions tend to prevail much further south. The net result is keeping Arctic cold locked in the Arctic where it belongs as, usually, the storm centers in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole.

But this winter, as in recent winters, something a bit out of the ordinary happened. The polar vortex shifted southward as it unraveled, causing the current US cold snap. And since these powerful Arctic cyclones pack quite a punch the related effects have been extraordinary and extreme — powerful winter storms, school and business closings due to the cold, and freak freezing episodes all over the US.

All that said, the anomalous movements and impacts of the polar vortex during 2014 are only half of the story. The other half involves how human-caused warming is directly influencing the vortex, altering its course and intensity, pushing it far beyond the limits of its typical Arctic confines.

Increasing Arctic heat resulting from loss of sea ice, worldwide ocean warming, and amplifying feedbacks to human warming have opened the door to more and more warm air invasions into the high Arctic. During winter time, the net effect of these warm air invasions is to disrupt the polar vortex, resulting in its more frequent weakening and collapse all while periodically shoving its storm center south.

In the current diversion and collapse, the polar vortex was severely disrupted while being shoved into the lower latitudes crossing Canada and the Continental US. The result was a rash of extremes not seen in the US in at least 20 years.

An Evolving Scientific Awareness of Human Warming’s Devastating Impacts

As early as 2001, scientific studies had found evidence for a correlation between weakening of the polar vortex and periodic cold conditions in the temperate latitudes (see NASA study here). Meanwhile, further studies (see links below) in recent years established a link between declining Arctic sea ice and Jet Stream configurations that brought on polar vortex weakening and collapse.

rossby wave 2

(Normal Jet Stream Pattern A vs disrupted Rossby-type pattern C. During winter, C is often the result of warmer air disrupting, weakening and/or collapsing the polar vortex. Image source: Commons.)

When the polar vortex weakens or collapses, warm air is drawn into its core. This causes an unwinding of the storm system and a displacement of its cold air and energy further south. The storm, as it unwinds, flings a powerful cold front to the south, driving bone-chilling Arctic air into some temperate regions even as the High Arctic takes on an unusual degree of heat (for the Arctic during winter time).

Current heat anomaly maps clearly display this condition:

Global anomaly temps

(Image source: NOAA)

Note the prevailing, much warmer than average conditions over much of the Arctic, with cooler than average conditions over the US due to collapse and anomalous movement of the polar vortex. This was the very severe winter storm and extreme weather producing pattern that we warned of earlier in December.

Disruptions of the polar vortex have been predicted by climate scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, Dr. James Hansen, and Dr. Jeff Masters, among others, who have warned of more extreme weather caused by, among other things, loss of polar sea ice. Dr. Hansen, in particular, has warned of very intense storms as Arctic melt continues to ramp up and more of the Arctic’s cold is pushed episodically southward where it will inevitably confront the warming temperate and tropical zones. In the end, Hansen warns of frontal systems packing the strength of hurricanes large enough to span entire continents. These are the powerful effects of continued Arctic warming and of which the current polar vortex collapse is but a symptom.

Let us all hope we are not unwise enough to push the climate system far enough to generate the kinds of storms Hansen fears. To that dark and not so distant future, what we are seeing now is merely prelude.

Links:

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid-Latitudes

A Link Between Reduced Barents-Kara Sea Ice and Winter Extremes over Northern Continents

Arctic Ice Loss Amplified Superstorm Sandy Violence

Stratospheric Harbingers of Anomalous Weather

NOAA

University of Washington

Winter 2013-2014: Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern For Most of US

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