More Evidence: Arctic Warming Effect on Jet Stream = More Extremes

June 8, 2012

If you have not seen the video above from my “This is Not Cool” series at Yale Climate Forum, take some time to watch. It was based on the most current research that is beginning to explain the increasingly erratic swings in northern hemisphere weather patterns over recent years. Now a team from Cornell has published yet another paper underlining those findings, which explain why climate change is producing not only unprecedented warm events like this recent spring, but also wild swings into record-breaking snow and ice storms.

Cornell University: 

The dramatic melt-off of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is hitting closer to home than millions of Americans might think. That’s because melting Arctic sea ice can trigger a domino effect leading to increased odds of severe winter weather outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere’s middle latitudes — think the “Snowmageddon” storm that hamstrung Washington, D.C., during February 2010.

Cornell’s Charles H. Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and Bruce C. Monger, senior research associate in the same department, detail this phenomenon in a paper published in the June issue of the journal Oceanography.

“Everyone thinks of Arctic climate change as this remote phenomenon that has little effect on our everyday lives,” Greene said. “But what goes on in the Arctic remotely forces our weather patterns here.”

Negative Arctic Oscillation conditions are associated with higher pressure in the Arctic and a weakened polar vortex (yellow arrows). A weakened jet stream (black arrows) is characterized by larger-amplitude meanders in its trajectory and a reduction in the wave speed of those meanders.

A warmer Earth increases the melting of sea ice during summer, exposing more dark ocean water to incoming sunlight. This causes increased absorption of solar radiation and excess summertime heating of the ocean — further accelerating the ice melt. The excess heat is released to the atmosphere, especially during the autumn, decreasing the temperature and atmospheric pressure gradients between the Arctic and middle latitudes.

A diminished latitudinal pressure gradient is linked to a weakening of the winds associated with the polar vortex and jet stream. Since the polar vortex normally retains the cold Arctic air masses up above the Arctic Circle, its weakening allows the cold air to invade lower latitudes.

The recent observations present a new twist to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) — a natural pattern of climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere. Before humans began warming the planet, the Arctic’s climate system naturally oscillated between conditions favorable and those unfavorable for invasions of cold Arctic air.

Greene says, “What’s happening now is that we are changing the climate system, especially in the Arctic, and that’s increasing the odds for the negative AO conditions that favor cold air invasions and severe winter weather outbreaks.

“It’s something to think about given our recent history,” Greene continued. This past winter, an extended cold snap descended on central and eastern Europe in mid-January, with temperatures approaching -22 Fahrenheit and snowdrifts reaching rooftops. And, of course, there were the record snowstorms fresh in the memories of residents from several eastern U.S. cities, such as Washington, New York and Philadelphia, as well as many other parts of the Eastern Seaboard during the previous two years.

But wait — Greene and Monger’s paper is being published just after one of the warmest winters in the eastern U.S. on record. How does that relate?

“It’s a great demonstration of the complexities of our climate system and how they influence our regional weather patterns,” Greene said. In any particular region, many factors can have an influence, including the El Nino/La Nina cycle. This winter, La Nina in the Pacific shifted undulations in the jet stream so that while many parts of the Northern Hemisphere were hit by the severe winter weather patterns expected during a bout of negative AO conditions, much of the eastern United States basked in the warm tropical air that swung north with the jet stream.

“It turns out that while the eastern U.S. missed out on the cold and snow this winter, and experienced record-breaking warmth during March, many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere were not so fortunate,” Greene said.

Europe and Alaska experienced record-breaking winter storms, and the global average temperature during March 2012 was cooler than any other March since 1999.

“A lot of times people say, ‘Wait a second, which is it going to be – more snow or more warming?’ Well, it depends on a lot of factors, and I guess this was a really good winter demonstrating that,” Greene said. “What we can expect, however, is the Arctic wildcard stacking the deck in favor of more severe winter outbreaks in the future.”

19 Responses to “More Evidence: Arctic Warming Effect on Jet Stream = More Extremes”

  1. Linking prolonged weather extreme events like snowstorms, cold spells, drought, and storm flooding to polar amplification caused by anthropogenic global warming;

    Could be the key triggering event that finally causes a breakthrough change in public opinions about the impact of climate change;

    and finally result in a shift in public attitudes toward greenhouse gas mitigation and support for action to reduce GHG emissions.

    Unfortunately, increased loss of the summer Arctic ice pack will continue.

    Keeping apprised of current research on this issue is of paramount importance. Good work on bringing this to my attention over the last couple of months.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      right. will be tracking arctic sea ice thru the summer and have a summary at peak melt in september.

  2. […] background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 7:07 […]

  3. Nick Carter Says:

    I wonder if anyone’s been following Sec. of State Clinton’s visit to the Arctic, and the pressure on the Obama Administration to sign the 1973 Law Of the Sea Treaty, LOST. Political conservative bloggers screamed that it was an attempt to sign away U.S. Sovereignty, but other, more astute observers found that the Treaty is all part of the chaos that Adm. Titley talks about; shipping and mineral rights, enforcement, insurance, etc. in an ever-melting Arctic. My oil and gas climate doubter friends keep trying to avoid all the the climate evidence, all the while their colleagues are pushing further north in the pursuit of black gold. Ironic, ain’t it.

  4. […] lower 48 states of the USA) be impacting our weather, especially winter months? This story, from Climate Denial Crock Of The Week connects the dots: “If you have not seen the video above from my “This is Not Cool” […]

  5. […] 48 states of the USA) be impacting our weather, especially winter months? This story, from Climate Denial Crock Of The Week connects the dots: “If you have not seen the video above from my “This is Not Cool” […]

  6. […] Temperature Hits Stunning 76.6°FArctic melting will trigger unusual weather in the mid-latitudes:2012/06/08: PSinclair: More Evidence: Arctic Warming Effect on Jet Stream = More Extremes2012/06/06: Eureka: Cornell researchers warn that Arctic ice melt is setting stage for severe […]

  7. […] A Lazy Jet The winter forecast is always a riddle – wrapped in an enigma. It’s a little like predicting where the S&P 500 will be next February. Good luck. Last winter was a slushy speed-bump, while 2010-2011 brought punishing snowstorms for much of America. There’s a growing body of evidence that rapid melting in the Arctic is influencing our winters. Every day last month an area of ice the size of the state of Maine (!) melted at the top of the world. Water cycles warmth back into the atmosphere faster than ice. The Arctic is now warming twice as fast as the USA. This is slowing jet stream winds, allowing weather patterns to get “stuck”; falling into a persistent rut. Will Arctic Amplification play a role in our upcoming winter? Probably. Arctic ice is at a record low – 20 percent lower than the previous record in 2007, roughly HALF the size it was back in the 70s. Expect the unexpected. A sunny, lukewarm weekend is on tap; highs may top 80 F. A few clippers will push chilly, Canadian air south of the border next week. A little rain Monday gives way to blustery 50s Tuesday; a 1 in 3 chance of flurries (way) up north. 99F. in Madison this week – snowflakes the next? Hang on tight. * image above: […]

  8. […] a bit outrageous, but there’s sound science to back up that theory. Peter Sinclair’s Science Crocks has more details on the paper referenced above – more details on  “polar […]

  9. […] a bit outrageous, but there’s sound science to back up that theory. Peter Sinclair’s Science Crocks has more details on the paper referenced above – more details on  “polar […]

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