Record Arctic Cyclone Leaves Ice Shaken and Stirred

June 11, 2018



Weather watchers may be more preoccupied of late with storms popping off in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Pacific, but a very unusual cyclone also spun up over the Arctic this week—and it could spell more bad news for the region’s ailing sea ice.

The Arctic is no stranger to cyclones, but the latest no-name storm, which emerged in the Kara sea north of Siberia, has garnered attention both for its size and timing. The storm’s central pressure (a measure of its strength) bottomed out Thursday at about 966 millibars, placing it par with the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, one of the most extreme summertime storms in recent memory. That storm reached a minimum central pressure 963-966 millibars, depending on which analysis you trust.

The new storm’s occurrence in June is also noteworthy. Big cyclones like this don’t normally start hitting the Arctic until late summer. The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 spun up in August as did a major storm in 2016.

“Preliminarily, this storm could rank in the Top 10 for Arctic Cyclones in June as well as for the summer (June through August) in strength,” Steven Cavallo, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma, told Earther via email.

Xiangdong Zhang, a scientist at the International Arctic Research Center who specializes in Arctic cyclones, cited a few factors responsible for the storm’s formation, including low sea ice cover in the North Atlantic which has increased the amount of heat in the atmosphere, a strong temperature gradient between land and sea, and the stratospheric polar vortex, an area of low pressure just above the storm.

“This storm is very quick-moving and occurring earlier in the season,” University of California, Irvine Ph.D. candidate Zack Labe told Earther via Twitter direct message. “Its impacts to sea ice are likely not comparable to these other strong cyclones that have occurred later in the summer.”

Labe noted that early summer storms can favor cooler, cloudier conditions, slowing down the loss of sea ice, which typically bottoms out in September. However, he added that a storm of this strength “may precondition the ice for easier melt later in the season.”

Zhang said that due to the storm’s location, it can transport more sea ice out of the Arctic through the passage between Greenland and Svalbard known as the Fram Straight. “This will contribute to Arctic sea ice decrease, in particular thick ice,” he said.

Below, animation of the 2012 storm, which contributed to the extreme low ice minimum that year.

5 Responses to “Record Arctic Cyclone Leaves Ice Shaken and Stirred”

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  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Zack Labe: “Its impacts to sea ice are likely not comparable to these other strong cyclones that have occurred later in the summer.”

    The thinner the ice, the more likely it is to stack and overlap. Notice in the 2012 animation the early wind flows pushing directly into the ice edge.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Straining to come up with a wry James Bond reference, but not succeeding…..

  4. […] Record Arctic Cyclone Leaves Ice Shaken and Stirred […]

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