Warm Arctic Storm Tearing Sea Ice to Shreds amidst Big 2016 Heat Spike

Abnormal. Unprecedented. Remarkable. Extreme. These words are supposed to describe unusual events, but in the weird world we’re now entering, the extreme has become commonplace. Some people call this emerging state of affairs ‘the new normal.’ A more direct descriptor is ‘spiraling into climate chaos.’

Chaos is an apt word to describe the scene in the Arctic this week as one of the most powerful summer cyclones ever to form rages in a place that has just experienced a record-shattering influx of atmospheric heat. This storm is hammering the sea ice, pushing it nearly to the second-lowest extent on record. But worse may be still to come as a very weak and diffuse ice pack is predicted to face off against a storm that’s expected to significantly reintensify on both Friday and Tuesday.

Record Arctic Heat

The Arctic. It’s a place we typically associate with frozen things. Due to the billions and billions of tons of heat-trapping gasses dumped into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels, now it’s a place that’s thawing at a disturbingly fast pace. The region could best be described in these few words — record abnormal warmth in 2016.

(This graphic from University of California, Irvine Ph.D. candidate Zack Labe is a visual measure of a stunning jump in Arctic temperatures for 2016. So much heat in the Arctic has profound implications, not just for the Arctic ice and environment, but for the rest of the world as well. In other words — warming that happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.)

So far, 2016 has seen temperatures in the Arctic that are well above the warmest previous year ever recorded. This big spike in a decades-long trend includes, for this single year, about 35 percent of all the temperature rise experienced there since the late 1940s. It’s like taking more than a third of all the warming in the Arctic seen over the past 68 years and cramming it into just one year. It’s insane.

The Warm Storm Generator

Heat in the Arctic doesn’t just emerge there. It comes, largely, in the form of energy transfer.

Heat-trapping gasses warm the atmosphere in an uneven fashion. The way these gasses absorb solar radiation results in more heat trapping during the dark of night. And the Arctic experiences a thing called polar night which lasts for months.

As a result, the Arctic already gets a slightly more powerful nudge from global warming than the rest of the world. As the cold begins to fail in the Arctic, a number of amplifying feedbacks come into play that further multiply the warmth.


(A dance of cyclones. GFS model rendering by Earth Nullschool shows a strong influx of heat from the Eurasian Continent and the Barents and Kara Seas feeding into a bombing low-pressure system on Monday at 12:00 UTC. The low is predicted to meet up with the currently raging Arctic cyclone by late Monday or early Tuesday. Combined, these lows are expected to drop into the 960s to 970s mb level, extending the scope of the strong event and possibly resulting in the most powerful cyclone ever to have formed this time of year in the Arctic Basin. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Arctic heats up, its natural barriers to heat coming up from the ocean or from the south begin to fail. The more evenly-warmed surface of the ocean transfers some of its heat north and pumps this added energy into the Arctic air. The lower sea-ice levels cause this water to warm even more, its dark surface trapping more of the summer sun’s warmth than the white ice ever could.

The polar Jet Stream begins to weaken as the relative difference between Arctic and lower-latitude temperatures drops. In the Jet Stream’s meanders, strong warm winds blow in from the ever-hotter continents and ocean surfaces of the mid and upper latitudes.

It’s a simple physical property of the atmosphere that burgeoning heat often seeks out the cold. It rises as it flows toward the Pole, and when it collides with these chilly pockets, the result can be an atmospheric maelstrom.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2016 Smashes Sea Ice

Such was the case earlier this week as a warm tongue of air flowed up into area of the Laptev Sea from Siberia. This warm flow tapped moisture from the Kara and Barents Seas and fed into a developing storm system (see article here). Pressures at the storm’s center rapidly fell and by late Monday, August 15th, had dropped to 966.5 millibars. The result was one of the strongest cyclones ever to form over the Arctic Ocean during August.

(We’ve probably never seen the ice so thin near the Pole during August. Zack Labe‘s rendering of SSMIS sea ice concentration measures from late July to August 17 shows a stunning degree of thinning and loss. Note the large, low-concentration holes opening up near the Pole in the final few frames.)

The storm rampaged through the Arctic. Pulling in strong winds and heavy surf, it smashed the sea ice, driving daily extent losses to 110,000 square kilometers on Tuesday and greatly thinning a vulnerable tongue of ice running out toward the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, near the Pole, great gaps 50 to 100 miles wide have opened up, revealing water that is 80 percent clear of ice.

The storm subsequently weakened, with pressures rising today into the 985 mb range. But over the next few days, the system is predicted to reintensify — first on Friday to around 971 to 978 mb as it approaches the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and then again on Tuesday to around 963 to 976 mb when it loops back toward the Laptev.

Central Arctic Basin Sea Ice lowest Ever Recorded

(AMSR2 and SSMIS sensor reanalysis shows that 2016 Arctic sea ice area [black line] in the Central Arctic Basin — a key region for indicating sea ice health — hit new record lows over recent days. A signal pointing to risk that a challenge to 2012 records may emerge in some measures over the coming days as the 2016 cyclone is expected to re-intensify. Image source: The Great White Con.)

In each case, the storm is predicted to draw on heat, moisture, and low-pressure cells riding up from the south, with the first stream of energy feeding into this low from over the Beaufort and Bering Seas and northeastern Siberia, and the second running up from the Barents and Kara Seas, western Siberia and northeastern Europe (you can see the succession of lows and moisture here in this model run by Climate Reanalyzer).

If this happens, we’ll be coming out of a situation where a warmth-fueled Arctic cyclone will have bombed to record or near-record strength on two to three separate occasions, all the while applying its buzz-saw winds, waves and Coriolis forces to the sea ice — a full-blown nightmare Arctic sea-ice melt scenario in the midst of a record-hot year.

UPDATE (8/19):

A recent report by expert ice observer Neven over at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog (which is very informative) finds that storm impacts thus far have been significant, if not yet quite as extraordinary as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012. Overall sea ice area measures (not just those in the Central Arctic Basin indicated above) according to Wipneus have dropped into second lowest on record just below the 2007 line. Extent, meanwhile, in the JAXA measure after falling an average of 90,000 square kilometers per day, is today at third lowest on record — trailing 2007 by just 30,000 kilometers. Tracking for end of year now appears most likely to fall into a range near 2007 in many measures. But the current storm appears to have provided a potential for a stronger downward trend for the ice in which some measures (particularly various regional measures) have the potential to approach or exceed 2012.

Arctic Sea ice Chukchi

(Peering through the clouds on August 19 in this LANCE MODIS satellite shot we find that sea ice in the Chukchi appears to have been greatly reduced and thinned by the current cyclone. Loss and thinning of the ice bridge with the main pack means that this ice may have also suffered separation. Toward the Laptev, sea ice in the pack between that Arctic sea and the Pole is extraordinarily mobile and becoming more diffuse. These observed conditions still present a potential for large daily losses and further reductions in total sea ice coverage. So current tracking comes with a ‘risk of downside’ caveat. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

One final point is that we are entering La Nina and such events tend to increase heat transport toward the Arctic and particularly into the Arctic Ocean. For this reason El Nino year +1 or El Nino year +2  can tend to present higher risk for greater sea ice melt totals. As such, and dramatic as the heat and melt in the Arctic has been for this year, it’s worth noting that what we may be watching is a set-up for 2017 or 2018 to see worsening conditions. La Nina is currently expected to be weak, so the related North Atlantic influence (NAO) that has been so devastating to the ice during the recent record warm years may be somewhat muted. We’ll have to see.

2016, however, is not entirely out of the woods. Thin ice in the Chukchi and an increasingly thin and diffuse pack extending from the Pole toward the Laptev remain very vulnerable to late season flash melt and compaction. Model runs today indicate the current set of storms tending to restrengthen on one or two occasions back to the 970s or 960s before finally ebbing on Wednesday. After this, some models show a tendency to flip toward a strong high pressure influence which would again wrench the ice (this time toward compaction). So the troubling 2016 Arctic melt drama is still far from over.


Powerful Arctic Cyclone to Blow Hole in Thinning Sea Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Arctic Cyclone Update 1

Arctic Cyclone Update 2

NASA: Implications of a Warming Arctic

Zack Labe

Tropical Tidbits

JAXA Sea Ice

Earth Nullschool

The Great White Con

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Bill h


Record Global Heat — Huge Springtime Arctic Warm-up to Crush Sea Ice, Drive Extreme Jet Stream Dip into Europe

We know now, as soon as the middle of April, that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. That not only will it be the hottest year, but that it will crush any other previous record hot year by a wide margin.

NASA GISS head — Gavin Schmidt — in a recent tweet estimated that 2016 would fall into a range near 1.32 C above the 1880-1899 average that NASA uses for its preindustrial baseline. By comparison, 2015 — which was the most recent hottest year on record after 2014 (three in a row!) — hit 1.07 C above the 1880-1899 average.

GISS Temperature Map First Quarter of 2016

(According to NASA, the first three months of 2016 were 1.25 C above the NASA 20th Century baseline and a ridiculous 1.47 C above the 1880 through 1899 preindustrial average. Image source: NASA GISS.)

As a result, 2016 will likely have jumped by about a quarter of a degree Celsius in a single year. If every year from 2016 on warmed up so fast the world would surpass the dreaded 2 C mark by 2019 and rocket to about +22 C above 19th Century averages by 2100. That’s not going to happen. Why? Because natural variability assisted greenhouse gas warming from fossil fuels to kick 2016 higher in the form of a serious heavyweight El Nino. But it’s a decent exercise to show how ridiculously fast the world is expected to warm from 2015 to 2016. And in the 2014-2016 string of three record warm years in a row we are basically expecting a 0.40 C jump above the then record warm year of 2010. Given that the world has warmed, on average by about 0.15 C to 0.20 C per decade since the late 1970s, what we’re expecting to see is about two decades worth of warming all cram-jammed into the past three years.

More Severe Arctic Heat is on the Way

But the Earth, as of this Earth Day, hasn’t warmed evenly. A far, far greater portion of that excess heat has stooped over the Arctic. During the first three months of 2016, the Arctic region above 66 degrees North Latitude has been fully 4.5 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century baseline. That’s a departure more than three times that of the rest of the Earth. And that’s bad news for anyone concerned about sea ice, or polar bears, or Arctic carbon feedbacks, or predictable seasons, or extreme droughts and floods, or the Jet Stream, or Greenland melt, or sea level rise, or … well, you get the picture.

One region, at the boundary between the Arctic Ocean and the Greenland Sea near Svalbard, has been particularly warm. So warm, in fact, that sea surfaces now devour slabs of Arctic Ocean ice blown into it by winds running out of the Arctic in a matter of days. It takes a lot of ocean warmth to have this kind of effect on sea ice. A particularly ferocious amount of heat for the ocean to exhibit so early on in the melt season.

Ice Devoured by Warm Greenland Sea

(Neven posted this excellent blog tracking a ferocious amount of heat in the region of the Greenland and Barents Sea. Arctic Sea Ice Forum commenter Andreas T provided this graphical representation of sea ice disintegration as it was blown into waters just to the north of Svalbard earlier this week.)

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate how relatively hot the Arctic is now is the fact that sea ice in the region is melting fast. So fast that current extent measures by JAXA are at their lowest levels on record. It’s a precipitous rate of melt that’s about one week ahead of any of the previous fastest melt season. Or you could just look at the number of Arctic freezing degree days recorded at CIRES and find one more measure added to NASA or record low sea ice pointing toward the obvious fact that this year, for the Arctic, has been one of just absolutely ludicrous warmth.

As Winter progresses into Spring, temperatures typically moderate — closing in on baseline averages. And this year has been no exception. However, readings for the entire Arctic have tended to range between 1.5 and 2.5 C above average over the past two weeks. These are some seriously hot departures for Spring. Enough to keep Arctic heat in record ranges for 2016.

Three Powerful Warm Wind Events to Strike the Arctic in Concert

But over the coming five days, a series of south-to-north warm wind events is expected to push even these seasonally excessive readings higher.

Extreme Springtime warming in the Arctic

(GFS model forecasts predict Arctic temperatures to rise into a range between 3 and 5 C above normal for this time of year over the coming week. Such departures are in record ranges and will likely result in rapid snow and sea ice melt even as it drives a wedge of cold air out of the Arctic and over Europe — setting up a high risk of very severe weather events. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The first event is predicted to originate over the Yamal Peninsula of Russia during Saturday and Sunday — lasting on into Monday and Tuesday. There, temperatures are expected to rise into the (scorching for the Arctic at this time of year) mid 30s (F) as strong, warm winds blow over about 1,000 miles of western Russia and on up into the Kara and Laptev seas which are predicted to, likewise, experience near or above freezing temperatures. Over the entire region, temperatures are expected to range between 18 and 36 degrees F (10-20 C) above typical daily averages for this time of year. Snow and sea ice melt melt rates in this already rapidly thawing region will almost certainly pick up pace in the face of these obnoxiously unseasonable readings.

A second warm wind event is predicted to heat up Greenland, Baffin Bay, the mouth of Hudson Bay and a chunk of the Canadian Archipelago on Monday and Tuesday. A 1,500 mile synoptic southeast to northwest air flow is expected to originate in the Central North Atlantic. Running along the back of a high pressure system rooted between Iceland and Southeastern Greenland, these winds will ram a broad front of above-freezing airs over a rapidly melting Baffin Bay, dramatically warm the southern 2/3 of Greenland, and flush a comparable warm air pulse into the outlets of Hudson Bay. Temperatures in this broad zone are also expected to hit 18-36 F (10-20 C) above average readings. And its effects will likely be strong enough to initiate another strong early season melt spike for Greenland in addition to aiding in driving a quickening pace of melt for Baffin and Hudson bays.

Shattered Ice Beaufort and Chukchi

(Shattered sea ice over the Beaufort and Chukchi looks as if it’s been fractured from a blow from Thor’s mythical hammer Mjolnir. Open water and very thin ice openings stretch as wide as 60 miles in some sections. A warm wind event later this week is expected to provide still more melt pressure to this already greatly weakened sea ice. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

A final warm wind event will be fed by a big warm up across Alaska predicted to settle in on Wednesday and Thursday. There, temperatures in Central Alaska are expected to rise into the lower 60s as two stalled out lows to the south pull warmer airs up from the Pacific Ocean. This heat is expected to invade the Chukchi and Beaufort seas driving temperatures to near or above freezing over Arctic Ocean surfaces that have already witnessed a great shattering of ice and an opening of dark, heat-venting open water holes. There the anomaly spike will be slightly milder — in the range of 15-32 F (8-18 C) above average. Such heat will provide melt stress to the fractured Beaufort, likely making more permanent the wide array of open water and thin ice spaces as the push toward Summer advances.

Mangled Jet Stream to Bring Storms to Europe

As all this heat bullies its way into the Arctic, a flood of cold air is expected to flee out of the region and on down a big dip in the Jet Stream — making a late-season invasion across the North Atlantic and into Europe. There, as we’ve seen previously during recent warm wind invasions of the Arctic during Fall, Winter and Spring, warm air from the south tends to cause cold to break out and then to dive down the trough lines. And there’s a huge trough predicted to dig in over Europe.

We should expect some rather severe weather to accompany this Springtime onrush of colder air — including potentially extreme thunderstorms, flooding, and even instances of late April snowfall over parts of Norway, Sweden, Scotland, the Alps, and sections of Germany.

Deep Trough Predicted for Europe

(A very deep Arctic trough is expected to dig into Europe and the Mediterranean this coming week bringing with it the likelihood of some very severe weather. Image source: ECMWF/Severe Weather EU.)

Likely increased rates of sea ice melt, a severe blow to record low snow packs around the Arctic and a likely freakish cold air and severe weather invasion of Europe are all a result of this extreme Arctic heat playing havoc with typical weather and seasonality. By the middle of next week, temperature anomalies for the entire Arctic may rise to as high as 5 C above the already much warmer than normal 1981 to 2010 average. In such a case, we could hardly expect weather or climate conditions to be normal and there appears to be a big helping of weirdness and extreme effects coming down the pipe over the next seven days.


We Already Know 2016 Will be the Hottest Year on Record

Gavin Schmidt’s Estimate for End 2016 Temperatures Crushes Previous Hottest Years

Neven Sea Ice




Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Climate Reanalyzer


ECMWF/Severe Weather EU

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andreas T

Arctic Heatwave Drives Deadly Asian Cold Snap

In the Arctic today, there’s a warm wind howling over Siberia. It’s a wind blowing from the northwest. A wind originating from the Arctic Ocean. Siberia is warming up today because warm air blew in from the direction of the North Pole. This should strike everyone as ridiculously, insanely odd.


In Okinawa it snowed for the first time since 1977 this weekend. In Taiwan, a cold snap turned deadly killing 85 as tens of thousands more huddled in homes that lacked any form of central heating. In South Korea, 500 flights were grounded due to unseasonable weather. In Hong Kong, the temperature was 3 C — the same temperature as a region near the southwestern coast of Svalbard east of Greenland and above the Arctic Circle.

What the hell is going on? In short, a global warming driven heat-up of the Arctic has punched a hole in the Jet Stream and driven chill, Arctic air all the way into portions of Southeast Asia that seldom ever see temperatures go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius).

An Arctic Super-Warmed By Climate Change

Temperatures in the Arctic are just off the charts warm for this time of year. It’s the sad result for a region that now sits in the bull’s eye of rapid heat accumulation due to human greenhouse gas emissions forcing the world above 400 parts per million CO2 and 485 parts per million CO2e. CO2 levels alone that have not been seen in at least 3 million years and a ridiculous total heat forcing at the top of the atmosphere that likely hasn’t been seen for all of the past 10 million years.

Arctic Heatwave, Southeast Asian Chill

(Extreme heat in the High Arctic brings summer-like seasonality to that region even as a record cold snap grips sections of Southeast Asia. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s the kind of heat forcing that has a profound, far-ranging impacts. Impacts, that for many regions of our world, start in the Arctic.

There, in the long dark of polar night, all that overburden of greenhouse gasses is doing its work to re-radiate the sun’s heat. And the ocean sitting beneath the inexorably thinning and greatly reduced sea ice is also transporting that accumulated heat into the Arctic air. Firing off weather systems that run northward in Kamikaze fashion. Surging up through the gauntlet of Greenland chill along that increasingly dangerous storm bombification zone of the North Atlantic. Howling over Svalbard and into the Arctic itself. Giant heat engines aimed directly at the Arctic’s heart.

And heat the Arctic in strange and stunning fashion all of these various processes do — with a large region of extreme, above average temperatures stretching from the North Pole itself, to the northeast tip of Greenland, all throughout a quarter-pie section of the High Arctic above the 80th parallel, on into the Kara, the Laptev, and finally terminating in what should be deeply frozen North-Central Siberia. This entire vast region features temperatures in the range of 20 degrees Celsius or more (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for this time of year. For today, for this vast section of the Arctic, it’s as if the Winter Season did not exist.

Extreme Warmth in the Arctic, Cold in Southeast Asia


(Gale force northwesterly winds bring much warmer than usual temperatures to Northeastern Siberia even as record cold hits Southeast Asia. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Just off the coast of Svalbard the current temperature is 3.7 C (or 39 degrees F). That’s the same reading that Taipei City Taiwan, thousands of miles to the south and sitting in the ridiculously warm Southwest Pacific, saw yesterday. Running along the zero degree Longitude line to 85 North, just a few hundred miles from the North Pole, we find 1 C or 34 F temperatures. Temperatures run near or even above freezing along a vast section of ice-covered waters in the Arctic Ocean above 80 North Latitude and on toward the coast of Siberia. There at 74.5 North and 87.55 East, a freakishly warm northwest wind howling out of the Arctic Ocean is pushing temperatures to -1.4 C (29.5 F and above the point at which salty ocean water freezes). It’s colder now in the hills of North Vietnam at 20.1 North Latitude, 103.9 East Longitude with temperatures there hitting -1.5 C (29.3 F).

This is worth repeating — it’s colder in North Vietnam than it is on the shores of Arctic Siberia. Something, most definitely is not right with the weather.

Predictable Seasons Disrupted

To understand what, we need to think for a little bit about atmospheric physics. In a normal world — meaning the world in which we’re used to living, the same world in which human civilization developed and evolved — cold remains mostly locked in the Arctic. Heat remains most highly concentrated at the Equator. This is due to the fact that at the greenhouse gas levels of the Holocene (in the range of 275 parts per million CO2 and 600 parts per billion methane) solar insolation — or the direct heating of the Earth’s surface by the sun’s rays — was more-so in the driver’s seat. The blanket of greenhouse gasses was in that nice Goldilocks zone where its heat trapping ability was just enough to keep the Equator hot, the mid Latitudes mostly warm, and the poles cold. Just right.

This just right atmospheric heat balance with cold at the poles and heat at the Equator set up a large temperature difference between the low Latitudes and the Poles. This high degree of thermal difference, in turn, drove strong circumpolar winds called the Jet Stream that mostly kept the climate zones stable and locked in place. In the north, it was cold, as it should be. And, in the south, it was hot, as it should be. That rapidly moving wall of upper level air did its part to keep the climates divided and stable. To keep the seasons we now know in their appropriate phases and predictable progressions — Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall (please see Dr Jennifer Francis — Jet Stream and Climate Change).

But now, with greenhouse gasses rocketing to above 400 parts per million CO2 and above 1830 parts per billion methane, the Goldilocks zone for human climate is no more. Now, the purity of polar cold has been violated by floods of heat rushing up from the south and oozing up through the ocean itself. Now, that kind regulator of the seasons — the Jet Stream — has been driven into a helter-skelter tangle. And this is why it’s warmer in the Arctic than it is in parts of Southeast Asia.

Arctic Heat Drives Asian Chill

Polar Vortex Disrupted

(Warm air injected into the Arctic through a weakness in the Jet Stream over the North Atlantic drives a polar vortex disruption, strong trough formation over Eastern Siberia and a record Asian cold snap. Image source: University of Washington Jet Stream Analysis)

And it’s exactly the kind of scenario that happened this weekend through today. A weakness in the Jet Stream just west of the United Kingdom developed — allowing warm air to flood northward into the Arctic. While the UK and sections of the Arctic began to experience warm temperatures more usual for Spring and Summer in the affected regions, polar cold was driven southward — this time down another weakness in the Jet Stream that developed over Siberia through Southeast Asia.

It’s the kind of polar vortex disruption, distortion and collapse that we’ve seen so much of during recent Winters. A pattern of warm north, cold south that is the very upshot of a rapidly warming world and an equally swiftly destabilizing climate system.


East Asian Cold Snap ‘Kills 85 in Taiwan’

Deaths in Japan and Taiwan as Record Cold Snap hits East Asia

Climate Reanalyzer

University of Washington Jet Stream Analysis

Earth Nullschool

Dr Jennifer Francis — Jet Stream and Climate Change

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Ryan in New England


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