Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December Thaw At North Pole Worrisome, And Has All The Weather Geeks Talking

The area of green you see curling up from the Atlantic
Ocean up to the North Pole indicate the rare
thaw this week at the top of the world.
The pinks and purples represent the more typical
minus 20 or so readings up that way 
This morning, it's was just a degree or two above freezing at the North Pole.

It gets above freezing there in the summer all the time, but in Dark December? Most observers have never seen such a thing.

Writing in Slate, Eric Holthaus quoted James Morison, the principal investigator of the Nortn Pole Environmenal Observatory, who said he never heard of temperatures above freezing in the wintertime there.

Its usually about 20 below at the top of the world this time of year. The North Pole is deep in winter darkness, so the sun surely can't heat things up.

After all, when we get our worst cold waves here in tropical Vermont and elsewhere in the good ole' USA, the air comes straight down from the North Pole.

So what the hell?

There's an incredibly strong storm in the North Atlantic, fed in large part by the massive storm that unleashed tornadoes and flooding in the United States in recent days. It's so strong that it flung a warm front all the way to the North Pole. Air from near Spain ended up there, and so it's warm.

It's one of the strongest storms on record in the North Atlantic, and is pummeling Iceland with hurricane force winds, and slamming flood-weary Britain with gales and more heavy rains. (The British Met Office names winter storms. For the record, this one is named Frank.)

Of course, scientist, climate change experts and plain old weather geeks like me want to know why this storm is so special, and why it made it so warm at the North Pole. It's warmer there than it is Oklahoma City this morning.

El Nino, that cyclical patch of warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, gets blamed for everything, including Donald Trump, so why not blame the North Pole heat wave on that?

The current El Nino is the strongest on record, and probably contributed to that epic storm in the United States. Since that big U.S. storm was a key ingredient in the giant storm in the Atlantic Ocean, the El Nino connection is plausible.

However, El Nino usually doesn't influence the weather in the North Atlantic and Europe as much as it does in the Americas, so the connection here is possibly iffy.

Environmental blogger Robert Scribbler worries the severe storm and the push of warm air far into the Arctic is a symptom of atmospheric changes wrought by global warming.

Ice melting off Greenland appears to be helping change ocean currents and creating a zone of colder than normal water in the North Atlantic. This, in turn, might be shifting atmospheric currents to create stronger storms in the North Atlantic, and sometimes causing those storms to fling warm air toward the high Arctic, goes the theory.

Additionally, some scientists think climate change is weakening the jet stream up north, allowing storms like this to punch through some warm air, or displacing the "polar vortex" southward on occasion, causing issues like the big New England arctic freeze and snow attack last winter.

This idea is still being tested and debated in the scientific community, but signs are pointing in this direction.

Of course, we have to be careful about blaming global warming on individual weather events. All kinds of forces drive individual storms and weather systems. This could well be a fluke, just a weird moment of Arctic heat driven by a strong storm and maybe El Nino.

However, there does seem to be a rising tide of more and more frequent weird weather events. This North Pole thaw certainly qualifies as weird. These trends could be pointing to global warming messing around with the already chaotic physics that is the world's weather.

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