In my last 2 State of the Pole posts (Dec and Jan), I noted that the Hudson Bay, the Baffin and Newfoundland Seas and Canadian Archipelago region was witnessing something astonishing: sea ice was forming weeks to months late. I identified a leading cause for this condition: for the 2nd winter in a row, the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation were registering historical negative values. When they’re in their negative phase, both of these climatological phenomena allow arctic air to flow south and impact the U.S. and Europe because the polar jet stream weakens and meanders further south than it normally does. As colder air is allowed to move south, warmer air is allowed to move north. While the eastern U.S. and Europe have experienced a colder than normal winter along with more precipitation than normal, northeastern Canada has experienced the opposite: the warmest 30-day period in mid-winter on record. Of course, the fact that the Arctic has undergone rapid, significant changes in the past decade are also part of the reason for this occurrence. Our influence on the climate system has loaded the die. With each toss, there is a higher chance that extreme weather events will occur.
The climate change denial zombies love to point out snowstorms and cold air outbreaks in the U.S. during winter. They somehow think it means their patron saint James Inhofe was correct when he stated that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind. While they’re busy pointing out that yes, indeed, it does snow in winter, they try very hard to ignore the fact that seas that should be frozen by December 1st remain unfrozen in late January. Has it been cold along the eastern U.S.? Yes, 5–11°F below average for the 30-day period between 17 December 2010 to 15 January 2011. During that same time, however, northeastern Canada witnessed surface temperatures from 16 to greater than 38°F above average – for 30 days! Recall that in my write-up of NASA’s and NOAA’s global temperature analysis for 2010, both agencies identified December as being among the warmest Decembers on record globally. Despite one of the strongest La Ninas on record and a slow emergence from the sun’s latest cycle minimum, December was still warm compared to over 100 years of global temperature records at 0.67°F above average. One of the drawbacks of looking at the global average is the possibility of masking averages that might indicate something important occurring over smaller regions – like northeast Canada.
I have a feeling these kinds of numbers don’t really register with most people. After all, how many of us live near Hudson Bay or the Baffin Sea? I don’t; I’ve never been near the places. So before I share additional details about I’m going to try to “bring it home” by pretending the temperature anomalies didn’t occur in northeastern Canada, but along the Front Range of Colorado, a place with which I’m more familiar.
According to the Boulder NWS WFO, Denver’s average temperature for December is 30.3°F; January‘s is 29.2°F. If the edge of Canada’s extreme warmth settled over the Denver area, the daily temperatures would average out to 46°F. If the core of that extreme warmth were over the area instead, our temperatures would average 58°F! Again, the numbers may not mean much. So instead of feeling like December or January, it would feel either like April, when the average temperature for the month is normally 47.6°F, or it would feel like May, whose average temperature is 57.2°F. And not just for 1 or 2 days, which would still garner attention, but over 30 days! That’s how extreme the warmth for northeastern Canada has been. Now, further imagine if while the east coast was experiencing 5-11°F below average temperatures, Denver was experiencing April- or May-type warmth. That kind of circumstance would certainly be covered, even by the corporate media. Unfortunately, northeastern Canada isn’t the middle of the U.S. Alas, few people are even aware that this even occurred.
To add to the context, here are some specific examples of what’s happened (italics original emphasis, bold mine):
To put this picture into even sharper focus, let’s take a look at Coral Harbour, located at the northwest corner of Hudson Bay in the province of Nunavut. On a typical mid-January day, the town drops to a low of –34°C (–29.2°F) and reaches a high of just -26°C (–14.8°F). Compare that to what Coral Harbour actually experienced in the first twelve days of January 2011, as reported by Environment Canada (see table at left).
- After New Year’s Day, the town went 11 days without getting down to its average daily high.
- On the 6th of the month, the low temperature was –3.7°C (25.3°F). That’s a remarkable 30°C (54°F) above average.
- On both the 5th and 6th, Coral Harbor inched above the freezing mark. Before this year, temperatures above 0°C (32°F) had never been recorded in the entire three months of January, February, and March.
What I hope this shows is that even month-long temperature averages obscure some incredible details. Following on the example above, imagine if Denver recorded an 84°F in December or January. Your first reaction is probably something like, “That’s absurd! Something like that could never happen.” Well, something like that did happen – and it happened in a place that climate scientists have been warning for decades would suffer the majority of the effects of our race’s collective actions.
Some additional details for the weather geeks among us (again, bold emphasis mine):
The extremes have been just as impressive when you look high in the atmosphere above these areas. Typically the midpoint of the atmosphere’s mass—the 500-millibar (500 hPa) level—rests around 5 kilometers (3 miles) above sea level during the Arctic midwinter. In mid-December, a vast bubble of high pressure formed in the vicinity of Greenland. At the center of this high, the 500-mb surface rose to more than 5.8 kilometers, a sign of remarkably mild air below. Stu Ostro (The Weather Channel) found that this was the most extreme 500-mb anomaly anywhere on the planet in weather analyses dating back to 1948. Details are at the conclusion of Ostro’s year-end blog post.
Farther west, a separate monster high developed over Alaska last week. According to Richard Thoman (National Weather Service, Fairbanks), the 500-mb height over both Nome and Kotzebue rose to 582 decameters (5.82 km). That’s not only a January record: those are the highest values ever observed at those points outside of June, July, and August.
Record-shattering doesn’t begin to describe the 1st observation. Summer-time conditions in January over Alaska is simply mind-boggling. Moving forward, absent rapid and extensive climate action, these records are not likely to stand for very long. The Arctic, as I mentioned above, is one of the first places that will show the effects of global warming. Heck, it’s already showing the effects; the evidence, however, is being largely ignored outside of climate scientist and activist circles.
When you see or hear that the globe is “only” 1°F warmer than the 20th century average, I hope these kind of events that are growing more extreme with each passing year come to mind. That should set up the next question: “If global temperatures are expected to rise between 2.5°F and 11.5°F* by the end of this century, and even those projections are starting to look rosy, what kind of extreme events can we also look forward to?” Because it’s not necessarily the averages that will cause problems; the extremes are the events that will cause the most devastation and cost the most from which to recover.
*That’s an additional 1-10°F beyond what has already been observed.
Cross-posted at SquareState.