Dr. Jason Box on Warm Arctic, Cold Continents

February 6, 2014

Dark Snow Blog:

As I begin planning for another Greenland expedition to study ice melt, I decided to explore whether the cold eastern North America, was part of what some scientists are calling the Warm Arctic – Cold Continents pattern. Examination of US NCEP NCAR Reanalysis data reveals that YES, the story has an important Arctic climate dimension.

While it’s easy to understand that abnormal summer warmth promotes high melting, winter warming also promotes melting through the loss of snow, ice, and land “cold content”. The higher the ground temperature, the fewer degrees of heating it takes to reach the melting point. Thus, winter warming preconditions the surface for earlier melt onset and more melting overall.

That’s one reason why this January’s Arctic climate concerns me. Greenland temperatures have remained more than 5 degrees C above average after the first week of the year. The snowpack heating the abnormal warmth increase the likelihood of an earlier melt onset and above average Greenland melting this coming summer.


5 day average running temperature anomaly for the region 61 to 82 deg. north latitude and 30-65 deg. west longitude

The Arctic north of 77 degrees north latitude, essentially the Arctic Ocean has also, according to this climate data, been abnormally warm much of January 2014.


Examining the geographic pattern of temperature departure from normal, a.k.a. the temperature anomalies, we see a Warm Arctic – Cold Continents pattern.


The average of the first 33 days of 2014, above average temperatures prevail for Greenland, Baffin Island, Alaska, the Arctic Ocean, the north Atlantic, and the western US with while the eastern North America, northern Europe and Siberia are feeling anomalous cold.


Below is a map representing the period I was in San Francisco for the AGU meeting. I recall skidding on a thin ice layer the morning of 8 Dec walking across Yerba Beuena park. At this time, the whole US was feeling the cold.


The figure below represents the US for the region bounded by 70 to 105 longitude west and 38 to 55 latitude north. Just as impressive as the cold is the abnormal warmth 10-20 Jan. We call this “weather whiplash”.


A climate change connection?

Dr. James Overland and colleagues at NOAA have reported on the Warm Arctic – Cold Continents pattern, occurring December 2009 and 2010. Overland  writes:

“In the last five years, we’ve seen the jet stream take on more a wavy shape (left hand map below) instead of the more typical nice oval around the North Pole (right hand map below). This waviness is leading to colder weather down in the eastern U.S. and eastern Asia. Whether this is normal randomness or related to the significant climate changes occurring in the Arctic is not entirely clear, especially when considering individual events, but less sea ice and snow cover in the Arctic and relatively warmer Arctic air temperatures at the end of autumn suggest a more wavy pattern to the jet stream and more variability between the straight and wavy pattern.”



Thanks Peter Sinclair for some text comments.


14 Responses to “Dr. Jason Box on Warm Arctic, Cold Continents”

  1. climatebob Says:

    Jennifer Francis does a very well researched and convincing lecture on the changes in the jet stream caused by the diminishing Arctic ice cover but the period it relates to is extremely short. If it really is a portent of things to come then I would be very concerned about what the future holds for countries in the Northern hemisphere. We still have four or five million square kilometers of ice left but if it gets down to a million or so in the next few years then things could go very badly very quickly.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Let’s see if I got this right. The average temperature of the Greenland ice sheet (at least in the south) is about -20 C, so you would need ~100 cal. to melt a gram of it (20 cal to raise it to O C, and 80 cal to turn it to water). So we are seemingly 5% of the way to melting some quantity of ice near the surface of the ice sheet and it’s only February?

  3. rayduray Says:

    The BBC offers an interesting perspective on the battering that SW England has been getting this winter. Infrastructure that has survived since the era of Queen Victoria is being destroyed. Forecast: This coming Saturday will very likely be one of the most dramatic storm days of this season.

    Forewarning of Saturday’s massive storm: http://tinyurl.com/l9ed3uz

    BBC Video of damage already incurred:

    • rayduray Says:


      This is the BBC Video. Sorry about the miscue.

      • redskylite Says:

        Thanks for sharing that, I wonder how far it is worth them going in to repair the destroyed track, if a conveyor belt of weather systems are still lined up, (and what might happen in subsequent years) I used to live in that area of the U.K Somerset and Dorset, till I left for N.Z via the Middle and Far East, never saw anything remotely like that.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          That section of track looks like main line. Can the folks to the west afford to be cut off for very long? if not, they had better fabricate some sort of steel bridge until it calms down enough to do masonry. From the scenes in the other video clips, the track runs for miles on top of the seawall, and this will likely not be the only collapse.

  4. If this pattern continues over years, we have a positive feedback. The more Arctic melting, more cold mid latitude, more fossil fuel burned, more co2, more arctic warming… We have to break out of the cycle.

  5. […] The Arctic Sea Ice Blog has a lot more on the current situation. Also, Jason Box has this video released a few days ago and written up at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: […]

  6. limogerry Says:

    I’m pleased to see the Potsdam study cites man made temperature anomalies and natural variation in its swirl of attribution to changes in these patterns without any definitive answer or quantification of how much of either is causing the change. Just keep those research dollars flowing, you know the keywords to use…

  7. […] Dr. Joe Romm reports on a new study that provides more detail on  the drying of the western US, this winter’s Polar Vortex, and the “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” paradox. […]

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