The US will be a land of extremes as a high amplitude jet stream…the story of this winter continues to impact the US as very abnormally cold temperatures impact the Central US and (later) the Great Lakes region, with very abnormal heat spreading northward into the Eastern third of the country mid-week. Sunday, much of the Great Plains were experiencing temperatures 20-25 degrees F above normal (~10-12 degrees C). As the week progresses, the jet stream amplitude over North America will intensify and bring highs of 30 degrees F (15+ C) or greater above normal mid-week to the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys into the mid-Atlantic and New England states. This means mid-Spring highs on the East Coast and a resumption of well below freezing temps over the Central and Northern Plains.
In addition to the abnormal temperatures, another major story will be potentially heavy rainfall across a wide swath of the Midwest and Deep South ahead of the accompanying cold front which will push eastward mid-week. Abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will aid in the generation of rainfall, some of which will help short term drought conditions, but could also produce flash flooding.
The Arctic Ocean has been experiencing an extraordinarily warm winter with consistent high heat to the region (relative to regional norms). As a result, sea ice has been suffering severely as the combination of high amplitude high pressure ridging and ocean cyclones push heat, wave action and wind into the sea ice sheet, along with very abnormal sea surface temperature right up against the sea ice (9-18 degrees F/5-10 degrees C above normal). Sea ice extent is currently running at the lowest on record in the history of human civilization, rapid melting already in progress in the northern Bering Sea, and 2017 annual sea ice volume was the lowest on record. The current max extent this season occurred on February 6th. The current earliest maximum peak extent is February 25th in 2015. The current record year for record minimum peak extent is 2017…2018 is currently beating that record and has the 2nd lowest year-to-date volume as well.
The sea ice is showing some signs of refreezing after its early February peak. However, more extreme heat is to come as more storms from both the Bering Sea and the North Atlantic advance heat and moisture into the Arctic Ocean this week. One storm will move over far Eastern Siberia and into the Chukchi Sea on Tuesday. Wednesday, another, stronger storm will approach Greenland, moving over the Canadian Archipelago Thursday, slowly shifting toward the Beaufort Sea Friday.
Note the last two sea level pressure images for 2/23 and 2/24. Not only the strength of the cyclone (in blue) but the tightly packed lines of equal pressure (isobars) between the low pressure system and the strong high pressure system over the Barents Sea, north of Scandinavia. These tightly packed isobars represent a very strong pressure gradient which will result in very strong southerly wind gusts (near hurricane-force) and intense wave action striking the sea ice sheet of the Arctic Ocean mid to late week. This in combination with the very warm, moist air moving into the region will make for a “blow torch” of heat from the Atlantic, eroding the cold conditions of the Arctic, stunting the freeze season further. This will likely lead to further ceasing or recession of sea ice as well.
I’ve been tracking the Arctic all season and there has been a shocking level of persistent warmth in the region with 2-3 degrees C above normal temps (for the region) being quite common many more extreme day higher than that. The Arctic Ocean basin may experience, as a region, anomalous temperatures of an incredible 6-8 degrees C above normal Tuesday-Saturday. This is relative to the 1981-2010 average. However, as climate change is abruptly warming the Arctic region, leading to rapid sea ice loss compared to the past, relative to the late 19th and mid 18th centuries (in the early era of human generated climate change), the anomalies are likely 0.7 or 1 degree C higher than that, respectively.
The implications for the collapse of sea ice are quite serious. The sea ice sheet regulates the jet stream by making the Arctic region permanently cold across a wide area. As long it it remains permanent with only modest seasonal melt, it can behave much like a continental ice sheet would behave on the atmosphere (like in Antarctica). The jet stream exists because the Arctic atmosphere is cold throughout the vertical column. The strong temperature gradient with the mid-latitudes is what makes it exist. But with abrupt warming of the Arctic caused by the collapsing ice sheet (which feeds back on accelerating such a collapse), this weakens the jet stream and has been causing it to become wavier with increasingly more extreme and frequent high amplitude patterns (which feedback and melt the Arctic more). Such research has been conducted by scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and others, showing the jet stream slowing and becoming higher in amplitude since the 1960s. Such abrupt warming also leads events such as “sudden stratospheric warming” and “splitting” of the polar vortex, supporting Arctic blasts to the south and abundant heat transport to the Arctic.
If the ice sheet collapses completely (no more in summer, low to little meaningful extent in the polar night), you get even more abrupt warming of the sea surface from below and above through collapse of the ocean thermocline (persistently cold water “cap” atop somewhat warmer water) and air temperature inversion (warmer air atop cold surface air) as well as from the much reduced albedo (white, reflective surface). The warming atmospheric column with height further reduces the temperature gradient with the mid-latitudes, weakening the jet further and causing more extreme “wave action”, greater blocking patterns as you get these big waves and little eastward progression of systems and the polar jet actually retreats farther north. This can dramatically shift precipitation patterns northward could cause much hotter, drier conditions in the mid-latitudes. It’s been a major concern for a long time in in climate change science, but a process thought to be of concern in the “high emissions” scenarios of the mid to late 21st century as increasing aridity across the mid-latitudes would destroy forests and not allow crops to be grown where they are currently grown because of increasing extreme heat (or storms). So this would have impacts not only in the Arctic, but also in the mid-latitudes. Unfortunately, a recent phrase has been increasing use the past few years. “Faster than expected”. Some prominent researchers openly admit an ice-free Arctic may be possible before 2020. See also HERE.
I’ll have more on the situation in the Arctic this week as well as the heavy rainfall in the US. Also, keep an eye on Tropical Storm Gita approaching New Zealand to start the week!
–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey